So you make your own coffee. Good on you. Brewing coffee at home saves money, and can become a deliciously rewarding passion.
In this article, we’re going to compare two highly popular processes for making coffee: the French press method, and the pour over method. We’ll look at what it takes to brew a cuppa using these approaches, and analyze aspects like time, convenience, cost and flavor. Ultimately, this article is going to help you decide which type of coffee maker you ought to invest in. Finally, we’ll end with a list of our favorite French presses and pour over sets.
How They Work
The French press is basically a jug (called a carafe) with a lid that’s fitted with a filter-covered plunger. You’ve probably seen them around.
Here’s how you make coffee in one. Start by heating up some water. You measure the grounds into the carafe, and once the kettle’s boiled, you pour in some hot water. You wait around four minutes, and then you gently press down on the plunger, until it’s dropped as far as it can go. Voila – your fresh coffee is ready to serve. If you like, you can start the process off by pre-warming your French press with a swill of hot water. I do this in cold weather, or when I want my coffee piping hot.
A pour over, on the other hand, can take many shapes. You can even DIY your own. Below we’ll fill you in on our favorite pour overs, but the most basic type is simply a jug, a funnel of some sort, and a filter of your choice.
Here’s how you use a pour over set. Boil some water; place the funnel in your jug, and the filter in the funnel. Rinse the filter with hot water to get rid of that papery flavor, and throw out the rinsing water. Measure fresh grounds into the filter. In a spiral motion, pour over just enough water to saturate the grounds. Wait 30 seconds for the coffee to “bloom”: this gets rid of carbon dioxide gases in the grounds that negatively affect the flavor. Then, slowly pour in the rest of the water. Try to keep pouring for up to two minutes. Once the water has finished dripping into the jug – this happens in a matter of moments – your coffee is ready to savor.
I know you’re seeing some major differences here already. Let’s look at these in further detail.
French Press vs. Pour Over – Analyzing the Details
These methods both produce fresh coffee. But coffee aficionados claim the resulting cups are quite different. There are also some notable differences in the processes that are used.
Here’s what we’re going to attempt to find out: does one method trump the other?
The equipment for both these methods is a lot lighter on your bank balance than an automatic coffee machine would be. And even within this lower-end price range, there’s tons of variation in what you can expect to spend on a French press or pour over. You can purchase a basic French press for under $20, or a dedicated pour over funnel and a pack of filters for around the same price.
However, with the pour over method, you will need to keep purchasing filters. It’s a small cost, but it does add up, and because there are no additional costs to using a French press – the filter is built-in – you can expect to spend more, long term, when you’re using a pour over.
Most cost effective: while the initial costs can be similar, the fact that you don’t have to buy filters for a French press makes it cheaper to use in the long run.
When you’re using the French press, the time you wait for your grounds to steep really depends on the type of grounds you’re using. Experts suggest that you could experiment to see what brings the best out of a particular blend. But in general, to make a strong cuppa joe, you’d steep for as long as 4 minutes.
When you’re making coffee with a pour over, if you’re practiced, the process also takes 3 to 4 minutes. And cleanup for both sets of equipment is pretty simple. It’s a quick rinse with warm water, and some models can even go in the dishwasher. So there’s hardly anything to set either method apart here.
Quickest method: both methods take very little time for preparation and cleanup.
The time you can expect to spend on one of these methods may not be giving us a lot to discuss… but the convenience aspect certainly does.
To put it simply, your seven-year-old could treat you to a cup of coffee made with a French press, if he or she has learned how to safely handle hot water. But even for adults, it takes several tries to master the pour over method.
This doesn’t have to be a problem. Some of you prefer the finicky methods of doing things; you enjoy mastering the craft, and I get that. If you have a fancy pour over setup it can be a fun focal point when you’re entertaining. Or it can be relaxing daily ritual that makes that fresh brew taste extra special. But some people don’t need the added hassle in their life, and that makes perfect sense. Certainly, those who are used to using a pour over don’t find it too tricky or time consuming. But there is a learning curve to the process, and even once you’re comfortable with it, there are a few more steps than when you use a French press.
Easiest to use: there’s no learning curve to using the French press, and the French press method has fewer steps than the pour over method.
It’s very hard to pick which method’s equipment comes out on top when it comes to life span and wear and tear… because both a French press and a pour over set could be made of so many different materials.
The Chemex is a gorgeous looking, highly popular pour over. It’s made of glass and will break easily: it’s not a good idea to pack it up and take it with you when you travel. But you get many other kinds of pour overs, including ones made of stainless steel. Even your inexpensive, dedicated pour over jug and separate funnel can be stainless steel.
The same is true for a French press. The most common sets have carafes crafted from glass, and once again, these can break. But you get solid stainless steel ones too, which are pretty hardy and travel-proof.
Perhaps the kicker here is the filter issue with the French press. My experience with French presses is that often, the filter is the first component to break: it tears, or comes away from the press. Once the filter is no longer functional, you basically have to throw the whole thing away (though there are some lovely DIY projects you could attempt with the carafe). It makes sense that the delicate filter would be weakest component in a coffee making set, and with a pour over, you get to replace the filter whenever you choose – usually with every use. So, although the difference is slight, and depends vastly on which model you pick, a pour over could end up standing wear and tear better than a French press.
Most durable: although this really depends on which model you pick, a pour over lasts longer due to having replaceable filters.
We kept the best for last. Because when you make coffee at home, you get to tweak the flavor of your brew until you hit the method that makes your ideal cuppa. And the two methods we’re reviewing here really do differ enormously when it comes to taste.
When you make coffee in a French press, the grounds stay in contact with hot water the whole time. This results in a really punchy brew. It’s thick, rich and robust. It also tends to be a bit bitter, and gritty – especially as the filter starts to show signs of wear and let more grounds through.
With the pour over method, the finished brew doesn’t come into contact with the grounds. The filter paper you use is also finer than the mesh filter of a French press. The resulting coffee is clean, smooth, and fragrant. A pour over set can really bring out the flavor of expensive or specialty grounds. However, there’s less kick.
Taste is crucial, but I don’t think there’s a winner here. Which method will taste best to you depends entirely upon your preferences.
Best flavor: French press is best for those who love a bitter, powerful cuppa, while the pour over is ideal for those who enjoy a clean, fragrant brew.
Both methods are quick and delicious… and they both have their drawbacks. To end up a happy buyer, pick the method that best suits your personal preferences.
You’ll enjoy the French press if:
- you like a strong and punchy cup of coffee
- you don’t mind bitterness or a little grit in your cup
- you prefer the coffee making process to be as simple as possible
You’ll enjoy a pour over set if:
- you enjoy smooth, clean coffee
- you appreciate small rituals
- you feel it would be fun to entertain guests with a more involved coffee-making process
Our Favorite Pour Overs and French Presses
If you’re shopping for coffee making equipment, do yourself a favor: pop over to Amazon and take a look at these wildly popular sets.
- A shiny stainless steel press with a bonus travel canister.
- A high-quality glass press.
- A slick-looking black press.
- A budget-friendly press.
Pour over sets:
- The classic Chemex.
- A shiny, budget-friendly stainless steel funnel and an inexpensive stainless steel gooseneck coffee jug.
- A slick, black insulated set.
- A showstopping glass and ceramic set.