French Press vs Drip: Everything You Need to Know
Drip machines produce nothing but tasteless swill.
French presses are for old-school coffee snobs.
You don't say these things out loud, but you sure think them when someone tries to convince you to try a new way of brewing. Today we'll try to settle the argument between drip coffee fans and French press lovers and help you decide which coffee maker should be center stage in your kitchen.
Before we start: there's really no reason to compare French press vs drip vs pour-over, as drip machines are nothing but automated pour-over carafes. So if you want the mild flavor of drip with the French press's flexibility, look into pour-over devices and techniques.
French Press vs Drip: The 6 Core Differences
Before we go down the rabbit hole of minuscule differences only true coffee aficionados will care about, here's a quick overview of what's to come:
- Brewing. In drip machines, hot water passes through a ground coffee layer and a paper filter, while the French press lets the java steep in hot water before filtering the brew through a metal mesh filter.
- Coffee grind. Pour-over and drip machines call for a medium grind, the one you can get pre-ground or achieve with the cheapest grinders. The ideal French press grind is closer to coarse, as fine particles will slip through the mesh filter and make the brew muddy.
- Coffee machine. The names of both brewing methods say it all. You'll need a French press and a kettle to press a cuppa, while a drip machine is an all-in-one type of device that does all the work for you.
- Caffeine per cup. Caffeine content is a function of the bean type, origin, roast, and grind. Still, if you take the same java, French pressed may be a tad punchier, especially if you do not decant the brew after pressing.
- Acidity. French press is more flexible and can lead to a sour, under-extracted cuppa. This brewing method is also more prone to leaching chlorogenic acid from the bean while steeping, increasing the chance of GERD. Drip coffee is less likely to cause digestive issues.
- Flavor profile. Drip machine paper filters prevent precious essential oils from getting to your cuppa, making it mild, smooth, and somewhat bland. French-pressed java is always rich and full-bodied, with a strong aftertaste and a hint of sediment.
Coffee Machine & Brewing Process
At the core of the French press vs drip coffee battle lies the difference between steeping and dripping.
Drip machines have become a staple in the second half of the 20th century because they made the convoluted process of pour-over brewing automatic and hassle-free. Patented in 1954 in Germany, the Wigomat made most of the paper filters invented half a century earlier. And Mr.Coffee made sure drip machines took America by storm.
What's not to love? As soon as you load the coffee maker with grounds and water, you can start the process and get a steaming cuppa in around 10 minutes. The flavor is extracted from the beans as the hot water first saturates the filter and then slowly drips through to the carafe.
The best thing about drip machines is their simple operation. Even if you chose a model with all the bells and whistles, it's still super easy to operate. And the extra features are nice. You can program the machine to brew coffee by the time you get out of the shower or leave the carafe on the hot plate to keep it warm. Alas, it won't work during a blackout.
Created in the 1920s, the French press was an evolution of a tomato juice separator. It underwent several transformations and gained an extra boost in popularity after The Ipcress File came out in 1965. Still, the French press is mostly used in Europe by tea and coffee lovers, while its US fans are few and far between.
A French press works the same way a teapot does. It lets the beans infuse water with all the goodness before filtering the sediment out. While seemingly easy, this brewing method provides plenty of flexibility to experiment with water temperature, steeping time, and other brewing parameters. For instance, try heating the beaker with hot water before adding the beans. It will enhance the flavor and keep your coffee warm a bit longer.
A French press works great as a portable coffee maker, as it's smallish and doesn't require electricity. As long as you have a convenient hot water source, you can use it in the wild or during a blackout.
French Press Grind vs Drip Grind
Drip machines work best with a medium grind. It's what most brands sell as a pre-ground version of the whole bean. This grind suits pour-over and drip brewing methods because the medium-sized particles cannot seep through the paper filter, and this size ensures optimal extraction time. If you use a coarse grind, water will pass through the beans too quickly, and the under-extracted brew will taste sour. A fine grind will have the reverse effect and produce a bitter cuppa.
With the French press, controlling the extraction time is much easier with a press of a plunger and a timely decanting, so a grind setting should be your top priority. You'll need coarse to medium-coarse grind for French pressing. The goal here is to find the particle size big enough to be stopped by the mesh filters that separate the finished brew from the muddy sludge. Fine grounds will simply pass through the filter, and you'll end up with a mouthful of sediment.
French Press vs Drip: Caffeine
Caffeine content comes down to the extraction duration.
If you take a bag of whole bean coffee, grind it medium and coarse and brew two cups in a drip machine and a French press, the latter is likely to be a bit stronger. As we've established, the French press works by steeping the beans in hot water, and the longer you leave it be, the more caffeine will saturate the brew. That's why experts recommend decanting the finished brew from the French press to avoid over-extraction and bitterness.
Drip coffee is always relatively mild if you don't mess up the grind size and bean-to-water ratio. As the water takes around 5 minutes to pass through the coffee-filled filter and does not come into contact with the beans any longer, there's no way for drip java to get stronger with time.
French Press vs Drip: Acidity and Bitterness
If your coffee tastes sour or bitter, the wrong extraction time is to blame.
With drip coffee, there's little chance of making the wrong move, as all steps are automated. The only thing you can mess up is using the wrong grind size, and that's easily fixed by adjusting the grinder setting or switching to another brand of pre-ground beans.
With the French press, bitterness comes if you leave the brew inside the beaker after pressing. The longer the hot water remains in contact with the grounds, the more caffeine, oils, and chlorogenic acid will end up in your coffee. Not only will it taste bitter, but it will also increase the chances of gastric issues, like GERD and upset stomach.
That's why decanting French pressed coffee is a priority, especially if you brew more than one cuppa at a time. We recommend you use a thermal carafe or travel mug to keep the coffee warm without overheating. After all, drip machines' heating plates are the common culprit of drip coffee tasting bitter when left too long on a plate too hot.
French Press vs Drip: Taste
The flavor is a matter of personal preference.
For many, mild drip coffee has become the flavor associated with home comforts or long workdays in the office. The smooth, light, and well-mannered drip brew isn't too strong or bitter. It's a perfect choice if you want an energy boost without paying too much attention to flavor. Besides, you can drink it black to keep your daily caloric intake under control.
French-pressed java is a bold, full-bodied cousin to espresso. Though it's not as syrupy as espresso, pressed coffee is thicker than drip brew, and it can sometimes overwhelm you with flavor, especially if you're used to drip machines. It's a decadent treat to be enjoyed with a hint of sugar and a dash of milk on a lazy Sunday morning with a crumbly croissant.
You get what you pay for, with a drip machine and French press alike.
Drip machines are the ultimate choice for an office, where dozens of caffeine addicts constantly need refills. High-quality machines can last a few years or up to a decade. As long as you remember to run descaling cycles or use filtered water, a quality drip machine should outlast the warranty.
French presses are even more long-lasting. With no heating elements, moving parts, or electronics, there's nothing to break. Glass beaker is the weakest point, though if you invest in a quality press, it will withstand falls better. With careful handling, the French press should last you a lifetime, and you will likely be able to pass it down to the generations of coffee lovers in your family. For increased durability, consider a French press with a stainless steel beaker. It's indestructible, though it lacks the elegance of clear glass.
Drip vs French Press: Ease of Use
Drip machine wins this round by a landslide.
There's nothing easier than filling the water tank, pouring the grounds, and pressing a button to start the cycle. You may need to use a manual to set a brew timer or program the preferred strength, but in most cases, the machine will do all the work for you without any input. Start the cycle and come back in ten minutes to pour a cuppa.
French press is equally straightforward at first glance. Pour the coffee grounds, add in hot water. Stir, steep, and press. Serve black or with milk and sugar. But once you start, you'll see how much flexibility a French press provides. You can play around with grind size, water temperature, steeping time, and pressing speed. Every factor can affect the flavor of your cuppa, which is a blessing and curse at once. If you like experimenting until you find the perfect technique, the French press will satisfy your curiosity. But if you need your coffee fast and hassle-free, a drip machine is the way to go.
French Press Coffee vs Drip: Price
Ready for some math problems?
First, let's consider the price of coffee per cuppa. Considering both French press and drip machines use a bean to water ratio of 1:15 to 1:18, the amount of grounds per cup will be the same. Whether you brew a pot or a single serving, the price will depend only on how strong you want your cuppa.
Now for the hardware.
French presses are usually cheaper, with prices starting as low as $30. And for a hundred bucks, you'll get an elegant coffee plunger for up to 10 cups. Unless you shatter the beaker, a French press will serve you for decades. Still, it doesn't work without a supplementary hot water source, so you'll need a stovetop or an electric kettle. You can also use your drip or espresso machine's hot water function if you like some variety in your java. To complete your elegant brewing setup, consider investing in an insulated decanter to keep the brew warm.
Drip coffee makers are also a dime a dozen, with the cheapest models available for the same $30. However, they won't last anywhere near as long as a French press. A durable and reliable drip coffee maker will cost up to $200, though it will come with extra perks, like programmable delayed brewing.
Fortunately, there can never be a clear winner in a battle of drip coffee vs French press. We are lucky to live in a world where everyone has a chance to try out a dozen different brewing methods and find their favorite.
So if you enjoy getting mild java at a press of a button, a drip machine is the right choice for your kitchen. And if you love tinkering with brewing parameters and enjoy bold, punchy coffee, the French press is the way to go. Or you could be a rebel and get both for your ever-growing menagerie of coffee-related kitchen gadgets!
French press vs Chemex: which is healthier?It's hard to tell, as Chemex coffee will likely be less caffeinated and less acidic, but it will also be free of the healthy java chemicals, all because of a thick paper filter.
Is Chemex better than a French press?It is if you prefer your coffee light, smooth, and sediment-free. But it's not if you like your java full-bodied, bold, and punchy.
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).