In manual home coffee brewing, two methods reign supreme: the pour-over and the French press. Depending on your time constraints, patience, tools, flavor preferences, and current coffee stockpile situation, one method may be better. If you're unsure of which one to choose, this guide will help you compare the two options.
French Press vs. Pour-Over: What's the Difference?
Also known as a cafetiere, the French press coffee pot has been around since the mid-1800s when a Frenchman boiled water for coffee. Legend has it, he neglected to put the coffee into the pot, so he added it once the water was boiling. He used a metal screen to filter the beverage and didn't expect it to be such a delicious cup of coffee, but it was. The French press wasn't patented until 1929 by an Italian inventor, and since then, it's been improved in a number of ways.
The French press is a form of immersion brewing. The coffee grounds and water mix directly together for much of the brewing process, typically about four minutes, before being filtered out using the metal mesh in the device’s plunger. The resulting coffee is typically bold and rich in flavor.
The pour-over coffee idea started with Amalie Auguste Melitta Bentz in Germany in 1908. As a housewife who wasn't content with the bitter coffee her percolator produced, she decided to try another method to brew coffee and realized the immense difference between her creation and the standard percolators of the time.
In pour-over, coffee grounds are placed in a pour-over dripper with a filter and water is poured over the top of it. The coffee trickles slowly into a carafe or cup at the bottom. There are numerous sizes and shapes of pour-over drippers out there, from cone-shaped Hario V60s, to flat bottomed drippers such as the Kalita Wave or our very own Stagg Dripper. The resulting coffee is characterized by lighter, brighter notes than immersion brewing and espresso.
Pour-Over Advantages and Considerations
There are many advantages to the pour-over process, and some considerations for you to “pore over” as you decide whether this method is best for you.
Pour-over is one the most popular brewing methods for specialty coffee because it allows the coffee’s unique flavors to shine through. As the coffee world has become more meticulous in its sourcing and processing of coffee, with increased traceability visible on the bags you buy at the store or from your local roaster, this method has taken hold as the best way to showcase the origin and flavors of each individual coffee.
Pour-over gives you the most amount of control over your brewing process, from the temperature of water, to the time, to the rate of flow of water from your kettle, the ratio of coffee to water, and the size of the grounds you use. All these can have a significant impact on the final flavor in your cup, and they are all fun to experiment with. You can make specific adjustments to suit the roast level or type of coffee you are brewing, and you can go down boundless rabbit holes to learn different techniques. They even have competitions for pour-over such as the World Barista Championships. It’s an art and a sport and the results are delicious.
Overall, the pour-over method takes patience and technique. It’s a hands-on process that you need to be present for, and has multiple steps. It may be intimidating to begin with, but over time you may find the process becomes meditative and soothing, five minutes of your morning purely dedicated to a quiet and artful process, with delicious results. If you’re just starting out, you’ll need to equip yourself with specific tools, most notably a gooseneck kettle, as the rate of flow from a regular kettle is not ideal for pour-over. You’ll also need to always ensure you have coffee filters in stock!
French Press Advantages and Considerations
Like pour-over coffee, French press has several perks and drawbacks.
As with a pour-over coffee process, you’ll receive a delicious cup of coffee with a French press. The coffee has an incredibly rich, smooth flavor and you’ll notice bolder notes. If you’re just getting into brewing coffee at home and are more familiar with diner coffee and espresso-based drinks, the results of a French press will be reassuringly familiar.
French press is a cost-effective method since it doesn't require you to purchase filters and too much additional gear and it’s easy to batch brew a full pot to share. It’s an easily portable device you can take with you traveling, and requires less work to prepare than pour-over: just pour, wait, and plunge.
While some coffee connoisseurs rave about the finished product, French press produces a strong-tasting, full-bodied coffee, and depending on the level of filtration in your device, there may be some sediment in your cup. If you’re looking for the cleanest cup of coffee you can find, this might not be the method for you.
Essentially, both pour-over and French press can produce a delicious cup of coffee. However, between the two of these coffee-making methods, each one has certain attributes that may make it better suited to you.
Is French Press or Pour-Over Easier?
Each method is relatively easy to catch on to once you learn its basic steps. With that being said, the French press is easier to use from the get-go. This is especially the case if you're using this type of coffee maker in the morning when you first wake up.
Is French Press or Pour-Over Faster?
While a single cup of pour-over comes close, the French press is a quicker method of making coffee when considering the additional steps in pour-over. You can be done in about five minutes.
Is the Ratio for French Press Coffee and Pour-Over Coffee the Same?
French press coffee uses a higher ratio for coffee than pour-over coffee, between 1:12 and 1:16. The ratio for pour-over coffee ranges from 1:15 to 1:17.
What Are the Best Beans for French Press and Pour-Over Coffee?
Medium to dark roast coffee beans are excellent with the French press method. The French press takes the flavorful oils of the beans and adds them to the coffee, producing rich notes and highlighting chocolatey and nutty flavors.
The pour-over coffee method works well for medium and light roast beans. It’s fantastic for highlighting the finer nuances of delicately roasted coffees and bringing out bright, fruity and floral notes.
For both methods, you can use any roast level you like, but you may need to tweak your recipe to suit the roast: using higher water temperatures for lighter roasts, and lower water temperatures for darker roasts.
Gear to Make the Best Pour-Over Coffee
Getting the correct brewing gear can radically transform the results of your pour-over. For starters, you’ll need a dripper and our flat-bottomed Stagg Dripper offers incredible consistency. Cone-shaped drippers can require more finesse to use and if you’re just starting out, a flat-bottomed dripper may be your best bet. This shape offers the most consistency, and our drippers include ratio aids so you can get the correct ratio of coffee to water, every time.
You’ll also need a gooseneck kettle with a precision pour spout. Our Stagg EKG Electric Pour-Over Kettle is the gold standard of this type of kettle. It’s used by champion baristas and in many specialty cafes, while being intuitive and easy enough for the brewing beginner. The spout provides the optimal flow rate for a perfect pour-over and variable temperature control means you can follow recipes precisely and experiment with different temperatures.
We always recommend using freshly ground coffee, and a good burr grinder is what you need. It’s a considerable step up from a blade grinder, and we offer two incredible grinders: the Opus Conical Burr Grinder covers everything from espresso to cold brew, while Ode Brew Grinder allows you to really get into the nitty gritty of different pour-over grinds.
A high-quality scale can ensure you're measuring the right amount of coffee each time, and *checks cupboard* you’ll always need to have some paper filters in stock!
Gear to Make the Best French Press Coffee
In contrast to pour-over, French press requires less gear. That said, you’re going to want to make sure the gear you’re using is the best. Enter Clara French Press, our uniquely designed French press that has everything from ratio aids and all-directional pour, to vacuum insulated walls ensuring the optimal brewing temperature and keeping your coffee warm for your second and third cups. Clara even comes with a wooden spoon, so you can make sure your grounds are thoroughly mingled without scratching the non-stick interior. A kettle with variable temperature control is also a good idea, so you can get the optimal temperature for extraction, and with a wide spout for quick pouring, our Corvo EKG is the ideal French press companion.
Whether you choose easy and time-saving or exquisite and process-heavy, both French press and pour-over can help you achieve the cup of coffee you desire, but it boils down to a matter of preference. A great brew bar has both!