Pour-over versus French press coffee makers: the battle is almost as old as time itself. Both are manual, affordable, and easy to navigate alternatives to their electricity
Pour-over versus French press coffee makers: the battle is almost as old as time itself. Both are manual, affordable, and easy to navigate alternatives to their electricity dependent counterparts. In this article, we will show you a detailed comparison between French press and pour-over coffee makers.
To pour or to plunge, which brewing method would best suit your taste and lifestyle?
What Is A Pour-Over?
Pour-over is a manual coffee brewing method a common technique among not only pour-overs such as the Chemex and the Hario V60, but also other traditional drip coffee makers.
Basically, a constant flow of hot water slowly runs through the coffee grounds so that the coffee taste (coffee soluble) is passed to the hot water before it drains.
A good barista will also perform a small steeping routine before the real filtration. This is done by adding just enough hot water to wet the coffee grounds and letting the ground bed steep and bloom for just 30 seconds at first. You will be surprised how noticeably brighter the brewed coffee becomes. Blooming lets your coffee breathe and releases carbon dioxide faster, reducing the sourness caused by this gas.
What’s so special about pour-over coffee is that the extraction follows the downward pace and flow of water, in other words, the natural pull of gravity. But before the water hits the coffee, you have full control over the pour. The amount, the temperature, the angle, the infusion time, and so on. Everything is manual, so adjusting the pouring technique to get the best cup of coffee becomes both an art and a science.
Advantages Of Pour-Over Methods
Since it’s an infusion coffee brewing method, water flows through the ground bed to effectively extract the coffee soluble from the coffee grounds. This pouring technique allows more time and a constant charge of water for the favorable flavor compounds to be extracted.
Another factor that has a big impact on the final pour-over coffee is the filter. To keep out unwanted oils, annoying grounds, and bitter coffee notes, paper filters are placed in the pour-over device. This means you get a clean cup of filtered coffee with brighter and more vibrant notes.
This is especially the case for the Chemex coffee maker. Unlike most other coffee brewing devices that use your typical paper filter, Chemex calls for a special bonded filter. For better filtration, it is much thicker than the “normal” drip coffee makers. You also need to get a filter for the V60. The latter is also cheaper and a lot easier to find, and if you’re trying to save some bucks, folding the “normal” ones to fit the V60 works well.
As we’ve briefly mentioned above, you have full control over the pour, which will, in turn, significantly affect the coffee-to-water contact time and, ultimately, how your coffee will turn out.
Next you have to be mindful of the way you pour:
- The speed
- The angle
- The infusion time (how long you pour)
A tip for a better pour-over Is using a gooseneck kettle. This special kettle enables you to better control the flow rate and adjust your wrist while pouring.
Another advantage of using a pour-over coffee maker is the ease of cleaning. Since a filter is placed over the brew (which catches all the excesses) all you need to do after making your favorite cup of coffee is discard the filter and rinse the device with water, some soap, and a soft sponge.
However, over time, some coffee oils and minerals may build up inside the pour-over coffee maker. After every six months, you should:
- Fill the device with a mixture of hot water and baking soda (commercial cleaning products or vinegar can work just as well
- Wait for at least 5 minutes or up to a few hours.
- Discard the mix.
- Rinse it with water and use a non-abusive brush with a wooden/plastic handle to gently scrub the surface.
- Rinse it once more.
Disadvantages of Pour-Over Methods
First, you have to wait a bit for the coffee to bloom and expand. Then more waiting is on the way as you let it naturally steep and drain while slowly pouring water over the coffee grounds bed. Thus, this brewing technique takes longer than electric drip machines and other manual brewing methods.
Moreover, since you are directly involved in every single step of brewing the coffee, you can hardly leave the pour-over device while you try to perform other morning routines in the meantime.
A rough estimate of the time it takes to brew a pour-over is 4 to 5 minutes, so it can be time-consuming for those who just want a quick morning recharge before heading out. However, the whole process, along with the sweet aroma of coffee, may be quite calming and stimulating to some to shake themselves out of drowsiness, so this isn’t always a negative.
Ease of Use
As mentioned above, how the cup of coffee turns out depends on your pouring technique. Theoretically speaking, it’s very simple to use. But, like most things in life, it’s easier said than done. There’s a learning curve, so don’t worry if you don’t master the pour-over from day one. There are plenty of mornings for you to test your recipe and adjust your pouring method to achieve great coffee. And it will be worth it!
Pour-overs aren’t very compact or travel friendly. The glass material also poses a higher risk of breaking if not handled carefully.
What is a French Press
A French press is another well-known manual coffee maker. It is also known as a coffee press, a cafetiere, or a coffee plunger.
The working principle of a French press is very simple:
- Add hot water and grounds to the beaker.
- Let it steep.
- Press down the stainless steel plunger. The filter will keep the sludge at the bottom, leaving extracted coffee on top.
Different from the pour-over process, the French press is a prime example of the immersion coffee brewing methods. In a pour-over coffee maker, hot water is essentially infused with coffee extracts as it constantly flows through the ground bed. But in a French Press, ground coffee is immersed in hot water as it steeps and extracts the coffee soluble into the same water over time.
Therefore, what matters here isn’t how you press, but the brewing time. That’s aside from other deciding factors such as the quality of the ground coffee, your brewing ratio, and the temperature of the water.
And since the extracted coffee sits in the same glass carafe as the unwanted coffee grounds, to avoid over-extraction it’s advised to decant the French press coffee brew to a different container if you don’t intend to serve it all at once.
Advantages of the French Press
This part of French press versus pour-over is a bit tricky. To brew French press coffee, it also takes 4 to 5 minutes. However, the difference lies in your involvement in the making of said coffee. While you have to stick by the device every step of the way using the pour-over method, you get to relax more with the French press. Set a timer on your phone and go brush your teeth. A few minutes later you’re back to a pleasant aroma in the air and coffee ready to be served.
Ease of Use
The French Press is very user friendly. Just leave it all to the stainless steel plunger. All you have to be mindful of is timing the brew to avoid over-extraction and under-extraction.
To improve your French press coffee, pay more attention to:
- The grind size of the grounds. It’s best to grind them yourself (course).
- The coffee to water ratio. A good starting point is 1:15.
- The water temperature should be approximately 195-205 degree F.
French press coffee beats out the pour-over in terms of versatility. So what can you brew other than normal hot coffee?
- Cold Brew – By replacing hot water with cold water and extending the steeping time to at least 12 hours you can brew refreshing cold brew coffee.
- Latte, Cappuccino, and other milk based drinks – Add milk, obviously
- Iced Coffee – Add ice
There are many portable French press designs to satisfy your craving for French press coffee anytime and anywhere.
Disadvantages Of French Press Coffee
Lack of Filter
As mentioned above, French presses brew coffee using the immersion brew method. Ground coffee is immersed in the same water the entire time, resulting in a more full-bodied, powerful coffee taste. A strong contributing factor to that strong taste is the filter. The metal filter attached to the plunger rod cannot do as good a job as the paper one, so some coffee oils, grounds and bitter notes can still slip through. So when you use the French press your cups of coffee won’t be as clean as those made using the pour-over method.
Since brewing using a French press doesn’t call for a paper filter, you can’t simply toss the sludge into the trash. That’s why some coffee lovers dread the aftermath when making coffee at home with a French Press.
Though more effort is involved, the process is not complicated.
- Fill the beaker with water and give it some swirls.
- Pour the content into a mesh strainer and discard the sludge. Do not pour it directly into the sink if you don’t want to clog up your drain. Medium and coarse grind and oils have a big impact and build up more than you think.
- If you don’t have a strainer, skip step 1, get a wooden spoon or spatula to get as much sludge as you can out of the beaker. Again, don’t dump it down the sink.
- Use water, soap, and a non-abrasive sponge to clean the beaker and the plunger. If the manufacturer says they are dishwasher friendly, make your life easier in that way. But be sure to check the instructions because not all presses can go in the dishwasher.
If you brew French press often, once in a while make sure to disassemble all of the parts along with the plunger and rod and give them and the beaker a rinse and scrub with a mix of warm water and baking soda (or vinegar). This helps effectively remove the build up of oil and minerals, preventing them from affecting the taste of your coffee.
Because French press is an immersion brew, the taste is going to be much bolder and more intensive. This is simply because when using a French press the coffee has more time to interact with water. More time means more extraction.
Additionally, because the French press uses a mesh filter, a lot more natural oils will make it into your cup. The result is a full-bodied cup that feels really rich in your mouth and can bring out earthy, deep flavors.
This is one of the reasons why it’s really important to get your grounds to the correct degree of coarseness for good French press brew. (If using an automatic grinder, set the dial accordingly and the grounds will be the same size. If using a manual set, screw in one position to have the same size grounds.) Otherwise, you might end up over extracting and the coffee can become too acidic or gritty.
With the addition of the filter, and thanks to a shorter extraction time, coffee made by the pour-over method is much smoother, lighter and cleaner.
Pour-over coffee really brings out bright and floral flavors like fruits and honey. The paper filter does a fantastic job of preventing any sediments, and the result is a remarkably clear cup of coffee.
The Last Word
It’s hard to say which method is better. While some coffee aficionados feel the pour-over brews the best cup of coffee, others swear by the French press. However, it’s up to you to think about your own tastes.
Do pour-over if you prefer a clean and bright brew suitable for specialty coffee, a simpler clean up, and don’t mind a more hands-on brew time.
Do French press if you prefer a strong and full-bodied taste, an easier to pull off process, and more menu versatility.
The beautiful thing about coffee is that there are so many ways to enjoy it. So why not embrace both methods? French presses and pour-over sets are both very inexpensive and you can definitely have both around to drink from whichever you feel like at that point in time. Perhaps use the pour-over on the weekends when taking the time and dedication to make the perfect brew won’t make you stressed about being late for work. Use the French press on other days when you want to walk away to tend to other things while your coffee is brewing.
Either way, remember that good coffee depends a lot more on the quality of the beans and the ground consistency rather than brewing method. You can have a $1,000 coffee maker but if you put stale coffee grounds in it, it will only produce swill!