SUMMARY: I regularly brew French Press coffee at home and love the method. As a full immersion method, it has a characteristic depth of flavor. However, I also love making pour over coffee. For me, the difference between a French Press and pour over coffee comes down to the body and clarity. Brew a French Press when you want to highlight a coffee’s depth and body, and use a filter pour over when you want to highlight sweetness and acidity.
Most coffee geeks I know use both a French Press and a pour over. Actually, I have two French Press sizes at home, along with multiple pour-over drippers like the Hario V60 and the Chemex. I use them all regularly since each extracts a unique flavor from coffee.
But, in general, what is better, French Press or pour over? And, how do the flavors, caffeine, and overall strength compare? In this article, I’ll explore the differences between pour over and French Press brewing, along with how I decide which method is right for which coffee!
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What Is The Difference Between French Press and Pour Over Coffee? Here’s the 101
Pour over coffee and French Press represent two fundamentally different brewing methods. Pour over gets its name because you pour the water over the grounds, relying on gravity and percolation. A filter keeps coffee particles out of your cup, resulting in a light body and clean taste. French Press, however, is an immersion brewing method, meaning coffee grounds steep in hot water for 4-5. Most presses have a metal filter, meaning oils and some coffee particles give the brew a heavy body.
French Press vs Pour Over Coffee: The Details
Now that you understand the basic difference between these brewing methods, let’s explore the details of each to learn more about how they compare.
French Coffee Press
The coffee press gets its name because, after brewing, you press down the metal filter attached to the lid (the plunger) to push the coffee grounds to the bottom. This unfiltered coffee—meaning there is no paper filter—results in a thick-textured coffee with an intense flavor similar to a Moka pot. Do not be surprised to find fine coffee particles and oils in French press coffee.
Pour Over Coffee
Pour-over coffee, also called drip coffee or filter coffee, uses gravity and a paper filter to brew. Pour over methods usually use a cone-like structure above your coffee pot that holds the filter and grounds, allowing water to flow through. There are many pour over coffee maker designs, but they all follow this principle. The hot water will slowly fall through the coffee and drip from the bottom, leaving the coffee particles and oils in the filter. This filtering results in clean flavors and a light body.
Drip coffee brewing usually refers to the automatic coffee maker people have at home, which is just the automated machine version of pour-over brewing.
Read More: Why Is Pour Over Better Than Drip?
As you can tell from the graphic, there are crucial differences between the French press and pour-over coffee. For many, the most noticeable difference is the taste and mouthfeel: French press has a full-bodied flavor with more intensity and richness. This taste comes from the coffee oils and fine particles that make it through the metal filter. Many describe this coffee texture as “muddy.”
But filtered coffee from a pour over method removes all the coffee grounds, including the fine particles and most of the oils. This filtering creates a light body and a smooth taste. With more complex coffees that contain delicate acidity and unique tasting notes, you will probably find that the pour over method makes them taste better.
Another huge consideration is how much coffee you want and how much time you have. With a French press, you can brew large amounts (up to 4 cups) with little to no babysitting. But unless you have the large 8-cup Chemex brewer, pour over methods usually produce 1-2 cups at a time and require constant attention.
Pour Over vs French Press Grind
All brewing methods require you to break apart a coffee bean into smaller pieces so that hot water can extract the coffee flavors from the inside of the bean—this is called coffee grinding. The ideal coffee grinder creates equally-sized coffee grounds for an even extraction. Smaller particles have more surface area and extract more, and larger particles are the opposite.
For a French press, the ground coffee beans should be larger than the standard grind for drip brewing. A proper size would resemble Koshur salt, as particles this big will be more easily trapped by the metal filter.
But a pour-over grind can be much smaller because the paper filter will still block these particles from reaching your brew. Dialing in the grind size for pour-over coffee takes practice since small changes affect the speed of the drip. When your coffee drips too slowly, the grind is too small. And if it drips too quickly, the grind is too big. Because of this factor, trying to use a French press grind on a dripper or vice versa can cause problems.
Pour Over Coffee vs French Press Taste
When choosing between pour-over or French press methods, the flavor is the biggest consideration. Immersion brewing and a metal filter mean that French press coffee will have some coffee grounds in the liquid as well as coffee oil contributing to the mouthfeel. The taste is strong and full-bodied and pairs nicely with darker roasts that highlight chocolate and nutty flavors.
But the filter in a coffee dripper removes the particles and oils, resulting in a clean-tasting cup with a light body. I recommend brewing with a pour over method with lighter roasts that have delicate acidity—those sweet notes will likely get lost in unfiltered coffee. Or, for something in between, consider the AeroPress. Read about the difference between the French Press and AeroPress to learn more.
See Also: Learn why siphon coffee is both immersion and filtered (and tastes so good!)
French Press vs Pour Over Caffeine
Brewed coffee from both methods will have caffeine, and it is difficult to say how much you will extract unless you control all the brewing parameters. Water temperature, grind size, and brewing time all affect the extraction of
However, an academic study of coffee caffeine content found that the French press creates a slightly higher concentration of caffeine—742 milligrams per liter compared to pour-over’s 692 milligrams per liter.
Brewing Ratio Differences
Both brewing methods generally use the same ratio of coffee grounds to water, which ranges between 1:15 and 1:17. The French press’s intense flavor can make it seem like it has a tighter ratio. But usually, that is an artifact of the coffee oils/particles that give it a heavy body.
Is French Press Coffee Good?
A French Press can be incredibly delicious, as the full immersion extracts coffee uniquely compared to filter methods. I generally prefer to use the French press for darker roasts, although I’ve also made delicate tea-like brews with Ethiopian coffee.
French press coffee also pairs nicely with milk or cream since the intense flavor will hold up to those additives.
What Makes French Press Coffee Bad?
Most complaints about the French press coffee maker involve people disliking the mouthfeel of coffee particles in the brewed coffee. They might also think it produces bitter coffee. For folks who do not want coffee grounds in the brew, you are best to stick with a filtered method.
But if you are getting bitter flavors from your French press brewing, chances are you are simply over-extracting the coffee. You can read the details about fixing bitter coffee, but the short fix is to use a larger grind and/or brew for a shorter time. Also, make sure to decant the coffee into a coffee pot after brewing–if coffee sits in the French press it will continue to extract and cause bitter flavors.
Which Is Better French Press or Pour Over?
Coffee drinkers can endlessly argue over which method is better, but the truth is that it comes down to preference. And besides flavor, you might change your method depending on how many people will be drinking the coffee. French press is particularly useful for brewing 4 plus cups without having to babysit it.
If you already have a drip coffee maker at home and enjoy the taste, a manual dripper will have a similar taste to that, and hopefully, you can get more complex flavors over time when making it by hand. If you normally brew coffee just for yourself, a small dripper like a Hario V60 or Kalita Wave is ideal, but you can also read this guide to the best pour over coffee makers.
Cold Brew Coffee
One benefit of a French Press is the ability to make cold brew, which substitutes hot water for room temperature water. This brewing process creates super smooth flavors and makes it simple to make iced coffee in the morning. In this case, the French Press is your vessel for combining coffee and water, and the plunger makes it simple to remove the coffee grounds after the cold brew extracts for 18-24 hours.
Preparing cold brew for the week is convenient for having fast coffee on a busy morning. But you can also make iced coffee at home with a pour-over dripper, it just takes longer.
Pour Over vs French Press vs Drip
Another issue is the choice between an automatic pour over coffee maker or French Press. An automatic drip coffee maker is a filter method that automates the water temperature and pouring. You can only control how much coffee you put in the filter basket, which limits how much you can adjust brewing parameters—read more about why pour over coffee is better.
At home, I normally brew with an AeroPress, V60, or Chemex, but I will still use a French Press every once in a while. And, I would always prefer using the French Press over an automatic coffee maker because it gives you the flexibility to dial in the extraction.
The Clever Dripper: French Press and Pour Over Combined
If you have still not chosen a winner between pour over vs French press and feel like you would enjoy both equally, you should probably learn about the Clever Coffee Dripper. The clever dripper combines the best of both brewing methods through a unique shut-off valve on the bottom of the dripper.
The valve restricts hot water from falling from the bottom, which creates an immersion environment. After 3-4 minutes of brewing, you can open the valve and allow the water to fall through your filter. The result is a balance between the bold flavors of French press with the clarity of filtered coffee. The Hario Immersion Dripper is another fantastic option that achieves this blend.
Note: Siphon coffee also combines full immersion with a filter to create a unique brew.
Before you finalize your decision on the best brewing method for you, let’s wrap up by answering some of the most commonly asked questions people have when deciding between a pour over or French Press.
Is French Press or pour over stronger?
Coffee strength depends on many factors, especially brewing ratio and water temperature. However, those being equal, French Press coffee is usually stronger than a pour over brew, since it is less filtered and has a full-bodied/rich flavor. Pour over coffee tends to have a cleaner taste due to the paper filter.
Does French press have more caffeine than pour over?
While the difference is not huge, the French press does have slightly more caffeine than a pour over, all other factors being equal. The French press has 742 milligrams of caffeine per liter compared to 692 milligrams per liter for pour-over methods.
Should I choose pour over or French press coffee?
If you like strong/bold flavors and do not mind coffee oils and particles in your brew, choose the French press brewer. But if you want a clean cup free of coffee mud and with clear flavors, go with a manual dripper.
Conclusion: Is Pour Over or French Press Better?
As you now know, the difference between French Press and pour over coffee is that they are fundamentally different brewing methods. I firmly believe that the best coffee is the kind you love the most—there is no need for snobbery or dogmatism in the specialty coffee world. So choose the coffee brewer that provides the flavor you enjoy the most. And if you can afford both brewers, switching between them is a fun way to notice the different qualities of coffee!
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