You want a quick and convenient cup in the morning—but you also want a GOOD cup of coffee. Do you go with the French press or fire up the automatic drip coffee maker?
We have plenty of experience with both brewing methods, and while both have their perks…
in our opinion, one option is far better than the other.
By The End Of This Article, You’ll Have Learned:
- The strengths and weaknesses of both French press and automatic drip brewing techniques.
- How the brewing processes differ and which gives you more control.
- Factors like cleanup, cost over time, environmental impacts, and getting the right grind.
- Whether rich flavor or convenience is more important to your morning coffee routine.
- Which option is far and away the better choice.
So read on to decide if it’s worth following our advice and taking your coffee-making to the next level.
The Short Answer
If coffee flavor is your top priority, French press brewing beats automatic drip coffee hands down.
The immersion process and metal filter allow more oils from the beans to make it into your cup, giving your coffee a thicker, bolder taste that's hard to replicate.
It’s also very easy to change up your brewing variables to experiment and bring out the unique flavors of different beans.
All these benefits are yours with very little additional time or effort required. Drip coffee makers may provide a fraction more convenience in terms of brewing effort, but this comes at the (high) cost of poor extraction and off-flavors—among other drawbacks.
A Brief Introduction to The French Press
The French press, also known as a coffee press or cafetière, has been around for almost a century.
It works by simply immersing your ground coffee in hot water right in the carafe. After a few minutes, you slowly press a filter down to separate the liquid coffee from the grounds.
It’s convenient and getting the brewing basics down is a quick and easy process.
This unique brewing process sets it apart from other methods. With its porous metal or nylon mesh filter, the French press maximizes bolder and “darker” flavor notes by retaining the natural oils from the coffee beans.
This gives your coffee body—also known as mouthfeel. The oils coat your tongue, so the flavors seem to last longer with each sip.
Many coffee enthusiasts feel this brewing method results in an exceptionally complex and full-bodied cup of coffee—especially for medium or darker roasts.
A Brief Introduction to Automatic Drip Coffee Makers
On the other hand, automatic drip coffee makers have been a staple appliance in homes (and offices) for decades now. They brew your coffee directly into a glass or thermal carafe sitting below the filter basket. All you have to do is add ground coffee and water, then press a button.
While very convenient, drip coffee makers also lack control over your brewing process. You can't decide how long to brew or whether to use hotter or cooler water.
The paper filter removes grit, resulting in a cleaner cup, and it also absorbs more natural oils and flavors from your coffee, leaving it lighter and more acidic than a French press.
Drip coffee makers often include a heating element beneath the server to keep the coffee warm, but take care; this can also lead to burnt flavors in your coffee.
Cleanup is simple, but the auto drip's convenience comes at the cost of complexity in your cup.
To brew coffee with a French press, you simply add your ground coffee to the carafe, then pour in hot water. After a few minutes, you slowly press the filter down to separate the liquid from the grounds. Total brewing time is only 3-4 minutes.
With most automatic drip coffee makers, you add ground coffee to the paper filter placed in a basket in the top section. Then you fill the water reservoir and hit the start button.
It takes most machines an average of 5-10 minutes to heat the water, brew through the paper filter, and have your coffee ready in the carafe below.
So the French press involves a little more manual effort. You have to heat and pour the water, watch the time, and plunge the filter yourself. The benefit is that this method produces a much better-tasting cup.
It's pivotal to be able to control your timing when brewing coffee. Too short and your coffee will be weak and watery. Too long and the flavors become overly bitter as the coffee is over-extracted.
The standard French press method is very simple, and you’ll get a decent cup pretty much every time—already better than what a drip machine can produce.
Plus, you have full control over your brew time—so you can experiment to improve from there. Have a darker bean? Shorten your brew time to reduce bitterness. Want more body from a lighter roast? Extend your brew time a bit. You’re in control.
With an automatic drip machine, the water flow rate cannot be adjusted so your brew time is less flexible and will depend on the number of cups you are brewing.
Customization and Control
As we touched on, the French press brewing process gives you full control over the length of brewing time. Beyond that, you’re also in control of several other useful variables—your coffee-to-water ratio, water temperature, and grind size.
While mastering the basics of French press brewing and producing a quality cup is easy—this method opens up a world of experimentation and customization too.
With a drip machine, you have less control over the variables and therefore less possibility for customization. Brew time can be affected by grind size—but not in a positive way.
For example, adding a finer-than-recommended grind in an attempt to adjust flavor is possible. But, because you can’t control the flow rate of the water, it will take the water longer to pass through the grinds—and you risk flooding the basket and having your water spill out over the filter.
With grinds that are too coarse, water will just flow straight through. Sure, you’ll get a faster brew time—but the result will be under-extracted and watery coffee.
Automatic drip coffee makers take the guesswork out of brewing. But they also take away your ability to customize factors that directly influence flavor.
While you get a quick, convenient, and consistent result, you’re left with much less control compared to a French press.
Bottom line: The drip machine is automated; French press lets you play.
Cleaning and Maintenance
Cleaning up after a French press is fairly simple. Just empty the grinds, then rinse out the carafe and rinse off the filter.
Every few brews, give the filter and carafe a good washing with soap and hot water to remove any residual oils.
Because the grinds aren’t captured in a paper filter, it is a little less convenient to remove and discard them. You want them to go in the trash or compost—not rinsed down into the drain where they can cause clogging.
For an automatic drip maker, you throw away the used paper filter holding your grinds and wash your filter basket and the carafe. Depending on the machine, you may have to occasionally de-lime it too.
With a drip machine, it is very important to wash the carafe thoroughly after every use—it may be tempting, but don’t just rinse it out. This is because the heating element can quickly lead to a build-up of burnt coffee on the bottom, adding increasingly off flavors to your future brews if not removed.
Important: Remember not to leave your empty carafe on a hot warming plate and never rinse a hot glass carafe with cold water. Either can cause it to crack and break!
Costs Over Time
A quality French press will cost $30-$50 and last for years (if you don’t drop it). A basic automatic drip coffee maker can run $30-80 initially.
But it’s what follows that may surprise you. A box of 100 paper filters for a drip machine can cost around $8, so those expenses really add up if you’re brewing daily. Glass servers on drip machines are also notorious for cracking and breaking due to the constant heat applied from the warmer.
Considering the extra costs of paper filters alone, a French press will likely be cheaper in the long run if it’s cared for properly (and if you’re worried about dropping it, try a stainless steel model). Its value stretches far beyond the initial investment.
Some feel drip machine paper filters are wasteful (though paper is a renewable resource). The French press gives you just one reusable, washable metal or nylon filter; a paper filter method can be employed, but it’s completely optional.
Automatic drip coffee makers also require additional electrical energy to power the heating elements, server warmer, and water pump.
The French press only requires boiling water yourself on the stovetop, needing no excess energy use otherwise. Its minimal components make for an eco-friendlier option overall.
The Right Grinds
The basic French press brewing method uses a medium-coarse grind.
While there’s plenty of room to adjust grind size for taste with the French press method, coffee ground too fine for a French press will make your coffee overly bitter and muddy—if you can even manage to plunge the filter at the end of your brew time.
Drip coffee makers do best with a medium grind that can handle the flow rate of the boiled water being pumped through, which the paper can filter well.
There is very little flexibility for grind size with drip coffee. If you grind your beans even a little too fine your filter may clog and your water will spill out over your basket and make a mess.
If you use even a slightly coarser than recommended grind, the water will flow right through, leaving you with an extremely under-extracted brew.
While writing this article, I used the two methods myself, using the same beans—a medium-dark roasted Thai arabica.
For the French press, I used a 1:15 coffee-to-water ratio, brewing 300 ml with 20 grams of coffee. I steeped for 3 minutes in my 500ML Bodum Kenya press before plunging.
With the automatic drip, I used a popular Japanese home auto-drip machine—also with a 1:15 coffee-to-water ratio—using 24 g of coffee and 360 ml of water.
The grind size for the French press was medium-coarse, while the grind size for the drip brewing was a just few notches finer on my grinder settings.
The resulting cups highlighted the key differences:
The automatic drip came out somewhat over-extracted, with an unwanted and unpleasant bitter edge, likely due to the much higher water temperature and the very uneven water flow rate over and through the grounds and filter.
However, the paper filter in the basket did capture more sediment, leaving less grit in the bottom of my cup.
In contrast, the French press delivered a fuller-bodied, smoother cup that was less bitter. While there was some fine sediment at the bottom, the overall mouthfeel while thick, was pleasant.
I could distinctly taste more of the chocolate notes and floral notes from the French press whereas the unpleasant bitterness of the drip machine brew had overpowered these flavors.
This quick experiment echoed the results I expected based on the brewing fundamentals.
The immersion process and metal filter of the French press enabled far better extraction and a complexity of flavors that the drip coffee simply couldn't match.
The small tradeoffs in convenience and cleanup are well worth it for the boost in quality I get from my French press.
Unless you need to brew a lot of coffee quickly, or a few minutes of unattended convenience is more important to you than the flavor of your coffee, opt for the French press over drip.
It provides the full flavor from your beans with very little effort and also allows plenty of opportunity for experimentation and customization. You have complete control over a simple process.
The automatic drip gets the job done without hassle, sure. But it strips away natural flavors along with your ability to personalize each cup. Plus it’s almost impossible for an automatic drip machine to extract the best flavors from quality, fresh-roasted beans.
For the best flavor experience and consistent and controllable extraction, the French press is the better choice without question. The small amount of additional effort it requires is repaid tenfold in your cup.
Which Method Extracts More Caffeine from the Coffee Beans?
The French press extracts more caffeine from the beans. The metal filter allows more of the coffee oils and soluble compounds like caffeine to pass through into the final brew compared to a paper filter.
How Long Do the Grounds Stay in Contact with the Water in Each Method?
- French press: 3-4 minutes (you are in control of this).
- Automatic drip: Less than 1 minute as the water flows through the grounds only once.
Which Method Results in Less Sediment/grit in the Final Cup of Coffee?
Automatic drip results in less sediment due to the paper filter capturing more of the fine grounds. French press coffee often has some fine grounds that make it through the metal filter into the final cup.
Which Method Is Easier to Use for a Single Cup of Coffee?
The French press is easier to use for a single cup. Most automatic drip machines are designed to make multiple cups at once. You can try to make a single cup in them but it often doesn't work as well.
Which Method Is Easier to Clean Up After Daily Use?
The automatic drip machine may be slightly easier to clean up daily. You just throw out the paper filter and give the carafe and basket a wash. The French press takes a little extra effort to clean the grinds out before rinsing the carafe and filter.
Which Method Produces Hotter Coffee When Served?
The automatic drip machine produces hotter coffee as it has a warming plate that keeps the finished coffee hot until served. With the French press, you have to serve the coffee immediately after plunging to get it at the hottest temperature.
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