Chemex vs French press: Everything You Need to Know

People who say that "coffee is coffee" probably have something wrong with their taste buds. Every brewing method produces coffee, but with varying flavors, strength, and many other qualities.

Just to get it out of the way, Chemex is pronounced like chemistry (with a hard "k").

Chemex and French press are often compared and contrasted. You can ask 100 coffee drinkers what they prefer, and there's a good chance you'll get a 50/50 response. There's no clear winner. However, some factors could influence your choice (health considerations that we'll look at a bit later).

In this guide, we'll look at the biggest differences between the two to give you some food (or coffee) for thought if you're thinking about purchasing one or the other.

French press vs Chemex: The 8 Main Differences

Technically speaking, Chemex is both a brand and a brewing method. It's part of the umbrella of pour-over coffee. Essentially, it involves manually pouring hot water over coffee grounds that are in a filter. Sounds simple enough, but as we'll discover, there's a slight learning curve.

A French press is also a manual brewing method. To brew French press coffee, you have to immerse the grounds in water and then push the grounds to the bottom of the cylindrical container to separate them from the coffee. It's easier to master and arguably faster from start to finish.

These are the main differences.

  1. Coffee machine - Each device is fundamentally different. Both have caveats.
  2. Brewing process - In many ways, both methods are similar. The differences are in how the coffee is extracted.
  3. Coffee grind - To get the perfect cup of coffee, you need first to grind fresh whole beans, and second, choose the best grind for the brewing method.
  4. Caffeine per cup - Not a clear difference, as caffeine content depends on the roast, the beans, and coffee to water ratio.
  5. Taste - Here's where it gets interesting. Chemex and French press taste completely different.
  6. Acidity/Bitterness - The type of roast and beans can influence acidity and bitterness. Chemex paper filters produce clean-tasting coffee.
  7. Flavor profile - Every coffee bean has a unique aroma, and Chemex and French press bring out that aroma differently.
  8. Price - Both are reasonably priced. Coffee capacity and materials are the main things to look for.

Let's look at each one in more detail.

Chemex vs French Pressr

1) Coffee Machine

Starting with the visually obvious — these coffee brewers don't look anything like each other. And that's because the French press is an immersion method, while Chemex is an infusion method. Immersion means the coffee grounds are immersed in water, and infusion means hot water is passed through the grounds (in this case, using gravity).

Chemex

The Chemex was invented by the German serial inventor, Dr. Peter Schlumbohm. He had a knack for designing practical yet beautiful devices that made everyday life easier. In addition to the 1941 patent for the Chemex, the mad scientist filed over 300 patents in his lifetime.

The Chemex has a distinct hourglass shape and consists of two main parts — the bottom (carafe) and the top where the filter is inserted. On the subject of filters, traditionally, Chemex uses paper filters. However, you can get an aftermarket permanent mesh filter (like the Coava Cone), which you don't have to replace.

There are three model series of the Chemex. Keep in mind that most coffee maker manufacturers use a 5 oz cup standard measurement. We did the math to make it easier for you.

  • Classic Series
    • FUNNEX - a portable 5-15 oz version
    • 3-cup - 16 oz
    • 6-cup - 30 oz
    • 8-cup - 40 oz
    • 10-cup - 50 oz
  • Glass Handle Series
    • 3-cup - 16 oz
    • 6-cup - 30 oz
    • 8-cup - 40 oz
    • 10-cup - 50 oz
  • Handblown Series
    • 3-cup - 16 oz
    • 5-cup - 25 oz
    • 8-cup - 40 oz
    • 13-cup - 65 oz

French Press

Despite the name, the French press was first patented by Italians in the 1920s (plural because more than one was involved). The idea came from separating tomato juice from tomato solids.

The classic French press device consists of a cylindrical body made of glass, stainless steel or plastic, metal or nylon filter, and a plunger. To operate it, you put in the ground coffee, pour in hot water, and after 3-5 minutes, you push the plunger (which is attached to the filter) down to separate the grounds. If that's hard to visualize, imagine raking leaves — in this case, the rake is the filter, and the leaves are the coffee grounds.

French press devices are known by different names depending on the country you're in, but they remain popular among coffee enthusiasts as a cheap, quick way to enjoy full-flavored coffee.

Neither Chemex nor French press requires electricity — a big plus if you want to be quiet in the morning or late at night. Plus, they're both ultra-low maintenance, have few moving parts and are easy to clean. Most French press and Chemex models are dishwasher safe, too.

2) Chemex vs French Press: Coffee Brewing Process

Before brewing coffee, make sure the coffee makers are clean and dry. Optionally, you can warm up the container with hot water to help retain heat better.

Another step both have in common is grinding the beans. Grind your favorite whole beans. It doesn't matter what the roast is: light, medium, or dark. Every roast has distinct qualities and flavors. Ensure the beans are fresh and use the grounds within 15 minutes. Otherwise, the coffee won't be as good.

Note: we recommend using a high-quality burr grinder for a consistent grind.

Here are step-by-step guides to brewing Chemex and French press.

How to make coffee in a Chemex:

Step 1: Grind your favorite whole beans to a medium-coarse grind (this means slightly more coarse than "regular" medium and not quite coarse-coarse). At this step, we'd also recommend heating some water until it boils.

Step 2: Grab a paper filter and fold it into a cone shape. If you need help, you can follow Chemex's Filter Folding 101 Guide. You can also buy pre-folded filters for under $10/100 filters. Some baristas and coffee connoisseurs recommend pre-wetting the filter to remove the "paper" taste. However, this step is optional. If you're using a permanent filter, you can insert it without pre-wetting.

Step 3: Coffee-to-water ratios can be tricky to master. To start with, use one heaping tablespoon of ground coffee for every 5 oz of water. Note: different roasts and coffee beans may require some ratio adjustments, so don't write off that new coffee right away.

Step 4: Take the water you heated in Step 1 - ideally, it should be around 200° F. In other words, it should not be actively boiling at this point. Pour a small amount of water over the grounds to "bloom" them. This process is vital to bring the coffee grounds to life. Let the grounds bloom for about 30 seconds.

Step 5: After the grounds have bloomed pour in more hot water in a spiral motion. Note: the water level should not go higher than the top of the Chemex. Once a minute or two has gone by, pour in the rest of the water in the same spiral motion.

Step 6: Once all the water has dripped through, you can remove the filter and the top of the Chemex and pour yourself a fresh, aromatic cup of coffee.

Step 7: Luckily, you don't need special equipment to keep your coffee hot. Chemex states that you can put the carafe on low heat for an extended period of time with no risk of breaking. Just make sure you let it cool off before washing it.

How to make coffee in a French press:

Step 1: Grind your favorite whole beans to a coarse grind. At this step, we'd also recommend heating some water until it boils.

Step 2: Add a tablespoon of ground coffee for every 5 oz of water. If you find the coffee too weak or too strong after brewing, you can adjust the ratio by either adding more coffee or water the next time you brew. Every coffee guide has different proportions, but anywhere from 1:10 to 1:16 is considered OK.

Step 3: At this step, begin pouring the hot water that you heated. It shouldn't be actively boiling, and for flavor's sake, measure the temperature and only pour water that's around 200° F. Some guides recommend pouring in some of the water to bloom the grounds (like you would with the Chemex) and stirring for a few seconds until finally pouring in the rest.

Step 4: After you've added all the water, set the filter/plunger on top of the French press (but do not press down), set your timer for 4 minutes. There's no absolute consensus on time, but generally, 3-5 minutes is good.

Step 5: This is where Chemex vs French press coffee really differs — once the timer goes off, press the plunger down slowly and evenly.

Step 6: We recommend serving the coffee right away. It may become too strong, bitter, or acidic when the grounds steep for too long. If you don't plan on drinking all of the coffee, transfer it to another container.

As you can see, both brewing methods have similarities: coffee-water ratio, amount and temperature of the water, and the relative time it takes to brew a cup, The differences lie in the grind, the extraction method (infusion vs. immersion) and the pouring method.

3) Coffee Grind

Chemex: A medium grind is considered the best.

French press: A coarse grind is considered best, although some people say you can use a medium grind like the Chemex. To fine-tune your pressing, follow this rule: if it's too difficult to push down the plunger, your grind was also fine, and if it goes down with ease, the grind was too coarse. Look for the Goldilocks point, where it's just enough pressure.

4) Caffeine Per Cup

Both brewing methods will produce the same caffeine per cup if you use the same beans/roast and coffee-water ratio. Interestingly, coffee manufacturers like to boast about having super-strong coffee but never back it up with data.

According to Medical News Today, the average 8 oz cup of brewed coffee contains about 95 mg of caffeine. Extrapolating from that, the standard 5 oz cup of coffee has roughly 60 mg of caffeine.

The bottom line is, the only way to know for sure is to measure the amount of caffeine (not feasible to do at home).

5) Chemex vs French press: Taste

Chemex: According to reviews (and logic), Chemex brews a clean, smooth cup of coffee. The taste is more refined and makes the coffee bean shine with all its flavor notes. Arabica beans are fruity, flowery and immensely enjoyable.

French press: If you were to measure Chemex vs French press coffee oils, you'd find that French press contains more oils and sediments. Some people prefer this deeper, richer taste. However, recent studies have shown that unfiltered coffee (like in a French press) may increase "bad" cholesterol. Don't sweat it. If you keep your intake to under four cups a day and visit your doctor for a regular check-up, you should be fine.

6) Chemex vs French press: Acidity and Bitterness

Like with taste, Chemex coffee is less acidic and bitter than the French press. Of course, the roast and type of coffee play a role in this, but the paper filter captures many essential oils, which are responsible for the undesirable acidity/bitterness.

If not served immediately, French press coffee may become bitter and rancid. Make sure to keep your coffee makers clean, too.

7) Chemex vs French press: Flavor Profile

Flavor is taste + aroma. Chemex has fruitier, flowerier notes and a clean-smelling coffee. French press produces a rich, deep, complex cacophony of flavor that can only be matched if you use a permanent Chemex filter (which will make your coffee taste and smell similar to the French press).

8) Chemex vs French press: Price

Chemex: $40-$110 depending on the size. Handblown Chemex are about twice as expensive as the Classic and Glass Handle Series. You can buy paper filters in bulk for under $10/100 filters.

French Press: There are French presses for as low as $20 for entry-level coffee makers and as high as $200 for more advanced presses made of high-end materials.

Final Thoughts

You can read as many Chemex vs French press Reddit threads and articles as you want, but the only way to find out which one is for you is by trying both.

Both brewing methods are similar in coffee to water ratios, the amount of water, and relative brewing time. And they're different mainly in flavor, taste, body and how they extract the most out of the coffee grounds.

We can't tell you what you'll like most — if you're still in doubt, visit your local coffee shop and try them out.

Happy brewing!

Renat Mamatazin

Renat Mamatkazin

2021/04/22

Founder and owner of Lion Coffee and 3ChampsRoastery, 1st place winner of Ukrainian Barista Championship 2017. Interested in travelling, football and Formula-1 (besides coffee, of course).

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