There’s a big world of coffee out there, and it can be overwhelming if you’re a newbie (or a not-so-new newbie).
Even if you’ve found and perfected your favorite AeroPress (or moka pot, or percolator, or insert other favorite) brewing method, that doesn’t mean you’ll know what to do with a French press or an espresso machine.
That’s what we’re here to talk about today: the difference between French press and espresso, how you can make your own at home, and best of all, which tastes better.
By the end of this article, you will hopefully have most, if not all, of your coffee questions answered and can gallivant off to your local coffee shop for a delicious brew.
After Reading this Article, You Will . . .
French Press Quick Summary
French presses are one of the simplest, fastest, and cheapest ways to brew coffee. And no, instant coffee doesn’t count.
The humble yet oh-so-delicious French press consists of three parts: the carafe or vessel, the sieve or filter, and the plunger, the latter two of which are connected.
The History of French Press
The first French press prototype was patented in 1852 by Frenchmen, Jacques-Victor Delforge and Henri-Otto Mayer. The concept took a tour of the European and underwent several design modifications over the next century, ultimately circling back to France, where it was manufactured under the name of Chambord, giving us the classic coffee press that we know today.
With only three parts, it’s not difficult to use. After coarsely grinding your beans, preferably medium or dark roast, pour them into the vessel. Then, pour your water in, gently stir, and wait about four minutes.
Once your slurry has steeped, plunge down the sieve to separate the grounds from the coffee.
The Resulting Brew
The French press method highlights the main flavors of the coffee beans (preferably dark roast), bringing their biggest players to the forefront. Rich lipids and textured silt are protagonists in this brew. The resulting coffee is thick and robust.
My Personal Pick
The resulting brew is, to me, what good coffee should taste like. It’s thick, rich, and robustly-flavored. I love using roasts that have notes of chocolate, bourbon, or hickory. Those dark and deep flavors come through beautifully in a French press!
Espresso Quick Summary
Espresso translates to “express,” as coffee is literally “expressed” from the espresso machine. It was invented during the grand era of steam power as a way to brew coffee faster than ever before.
Espresso is significantly more complicated than a French press. For one, you need a machine to make it, as well as 132 pounds per square inch of pressure to produce the perfect little cup of joy (3).
The History of Espresso
Even then, their designs made only coffee, and that was not the espresso we drink today (2). The original designs couldn’t produce enough pressure to create espresso, at least not without burning the baristas or the coffee itself. That didn’t occur till 1948, making it a fairly new invention.
The good news is the machine does most of the work for you. After prepping your coffee cake or puck (of compact finely ground beans), you insert the portafilter (a device that holds the puck and looks like a lever) into the machine and wait.
First, low-pressure water flows through to wet the puck of compressed coffee grounds (like the blooming stage in a French press). Then it will force at least 9 pounds of steamy pressure through the tightly-compacted puck.
Fun Fact: The price of espresso is regulated by the local Italian governments to ensure that all citizens are able to enjoy it at a reasonable cost. Until recently, one shot of espresso (table service not included) would cost you just one euro (4)! This regulation is similar to the French government’s laws regarding baguette prices, in case you’re familiar with that. If only!
The Resulting Brew
This steam-and-pressure brewing method produces a potent cup of coffee with a frothy emulsion known as crema that rises to the top as the coffee is pressed out. The resulting coffee is a smooth and compact convergence of flavor and aroma.
That right there is the incredibly simplified version.
For more detail, I recommend checking out James Hoffmann’s video detailing how he makes espresso and the many different ways to go about it. I promise you’ll emerge having learned something new, craving an espresso, and hankering for a new coffee tool or two.
The Main Differences Between French Press Coffee & Espresso
|Brewing Method||Grind Size||Water Temperature||Brewing Time||Flavor Profile||Bean-to-Water Ratio Avg.||Caffeine Levels|
|Immersion||Coarse||195°F - 205°F (90 - 96°C)||4 minutes||Full-bodied, rich||1:15||Per cup: 80-200 mg|
|High-Pressure||Fine||200°F (93°C)||25-30 seconds||Intense, strong||1:2||Per shot: 75 mg|
Instrument + Brewing Process
Well, these instruments couldn’t get much more different. One is automatic, the other manual.
One starts at $25, the other several hundred dollars or more.
Made up of simple components, the French press is a classic example of the immersion brewing process; you pour your grounds and water in, let them mingle, and then push the plunger down to separate the liquids and solids. While different factors may influence the final product, the brewing process is relatively simple.
The standard French press is composed of a glass carafe with a handle and a lid that is fitted with a mesh filter at the end of a metal plunger.
The standard recipe calls for about four minutes of steeping time. This is where the immersion brewing comes into play. By leaving the grounds and water together for a lengthy amount of time, the extraction process can occur.
Allowing the grounds time to steep with the water is immersion brewing at its finest. Espresso machines require high pressure to create that delicious brew. French presses require only time.
Espresso machines use a significant amount of pressure and steam to produce one little cup of bright coffee. And, as you might imagine, they’re very intricate machines.
The four main components are the pump, water source, boiler, and, last but not least, the grouphead.
When it comes to water, some machines connect directly to a water supply, while others have refillable water reservoirs instead.
The pump and boiler situation will vary depending on the machine too. Most at-home machines will have a vibratory pump and a single boiler system, meaning you won’t be able to simultaneously heat water and froth milk. Of course, you could always shell out the big bucks to avoid such an issue, but I leave that up to you.
The group head is the part you’ll be most familiar with, as it includes the portafilter. This is the piece where all the water is pushed through and into the puck (of packed coffee grounds), so you can have a delicious shot of espresso.
Espresso machines are amazing inventions, but I find their steam wands to be the most magical accessory of all. With one, you can froth your own milk, which opens up endless possibilities drink-wise (hello, homemade cappuccinos!).
French presses sadly do not come with a steam wand, but a girl can dream!
Flavor & Mouthfeel
You might notice several similarities between French press coffee and espresso. They’re both thick and strong, to say the least.
But one significant difference is that French press coffee feels heavy and dark, whereas espresso is bright and concentrated.
Another difference is the strength. Unless you’re making a French press-o, French press has anywhere from a 1:12 - 1:18 coffee-to-water ratio. And while French press coffee is robust, it’s also relatively hydrating. Espresso, on the other hand, is
Strength + Caffeine
While strength (concentration) and caffeine aren’t exactly the same thing, they do go hand in hand.
We know that espresso, with a 1:2 coffee-to-water ratio, is quite a bit stronger than your typical French press brew with around a 1:15 ratio, but what about caffeine?
According to the Istituto Nazionale Espresso Italiano, to be classified as espresso, the caffeine content must be less than 100 mg per cup (5).
However, most shots of espresso have around 60-64 mg of caffeine; the USDA claims 1 ounce (29.5 ml) of espresso contains about 62.8 mg of caffeine (6).
So, far less than the maximum of 100 mg per shot.
In general, you can expect to get somewhere between 75-120 mg of caffeine out of 8 ounces (236 ml) of French press coffee.
While that may seem like a lot more, remember that those 62 mg are per shot (~1 oz or 30ml) of espresso. So, a double shot has already hit the maximum caffeine content that you could get out of 8 ounces (236 ml) of French press.
If you’re a coffee nerd with a buck to spare, you could invest in a caffeine meter to test out your local coffee shop’s espresso and see how consistent their caffeine ratings are.
Keep in mind that the caffeine content also depends on the type of bean used, roasting method, and how fresh they are post-roast.
French presses can be used to make a variety of different drinks, which I touch on in this article here. To give you the short answer, French presses can make tea (yep!), American coffee, cold brew, iced coffee, and French press-o (its own take on espresso).
If that’s not enough variety for you, remember that you can always doctor your brews too. I take mine with a hefty sprinkle of cinnamon, but you can break out the milk, sugar, and/or creamer should you wish.
In some ways, espresso machines provide more versatility, despite producing only one (or two, depending on the machine) drinks: espresso and, in some cases, filtered coffee. One such example of a dual machine is the DeLonghi COM532M.
Even if your machine can’t make American coffee too, I’d still consider it to be very versatile. Why? For two reasons. First, you can also add hot water to your espresso to dilute it down to an americano style coffee. And. The treasured steam wand—which can seriously take your coffee game up a notch.
Espresso is used in a ton of loved drinks, but here are some of my favorites: mocha, latte, flat white, red eye, and the Americano.
Ideal Roast & Grind
French presses call for coarsely ground beans, usually either a medium or dark roast. The long steeping time and immersion brewing process don’t mix well with lighter roasts. They tend to become sour and over-extracted instead of rich and delectable.
Meanwhile, espressos need finely ground beans to push all that water through. For a deliciously rich espresso, stick with medium or dark roasts.
To get even more specific, most espresso blends are made with Arabica beans, the most predominant coffee crop out there. However, you’re always welcome to switch to Robusta for a richer crema and higher caffeine content. Robusta is not as commonly used as Arabica as the beans are known for being more bitter. To each their own!
To find out more about making the best crema possible, check out this helpful study published in Food Research International in 2018.
Comparing Costs & Equipment — French Press vs Espresso
To fully cover this, let’s compare the price ranges of several respected French press and espresso machine brands.
However, I am also going to add an espresso copycat category that includes equipment that creates coffee that is espresso-like, but not espresso. We’ve got to even the playing field somehow!
Please note that the prices on the French presses will vary based on the material and size. For example, stainless steel French presses generally cost more than glass ones, due to the double-insulation and potential vacuum seal.
- Bodum: $10 - $82 (affiliate link)
- Espro: $40 - $120 (affiliate link)
- Mueller: $27 (affiliate link)
- Barista Warrior: $50 (affiliate link)
Your average French press should only set you back by about $20. If you want something a little nicer (say, made of stainless steel and/or vacuum-sealed), that number will creep up to $60-$140.
Still, once you buy a French press, that’s it. You don’t have to buy filters or anything aside from the coffee itself, assuming you don’t need to replace a part. It’s a fairly simple and reasonable investment, considering the amount of coffee it can brew in one go.
- De’Longhi: $170 - $1,700 (affiliate link)
- Breville: $350 - $2,800 (affiliate link)
- Illy: $150 - $600 (affiliate link)
- Gaggia: $300 - $2,500 (affiliate link)
Whew! That’ll put a dent in your paycheck!
The price of your espresso machine depends on its features, materials, and reputation. For a starter home espresso machine, expect to invest between $200-$500.
However, you won’t be able to use an espresso machine without a very nice grinder. Some machines come with built-in grinders, others not so much. After buying an espresso machine, expect to make another investment into a high-quality grinder.
My father is a known lover of the moka pot, but I’m more of an AeroPress fan myself. Both are great options and equally worth experimenting with!
If you want to upgrade from an espresso copycat but aren’t ready to invest in a machine yet, try Wacaco’s Nanopresso. With this portable coffee bullet, you can make a decent shot of espresso by repeatedly pressing a button. Homemade pressure for the win!
Or if you’d rather ogle at the coolest espresso machine I’ve ever seen before, let me introduce you to the Bezzera Verticale - Eagle. You’re welcome.
Comparing Prep & Clean Up Time — French Press vs Espresso
Total Time — 5 minutes
When I make coffee in my French press, it takes me about five minutes from start to finish, and that includes grinding my beans. Cleaning it out requires a good wash of the filter with hot, soapy water and a wipe-down of the carafe. As simple as can be!
You won’t need any fancy whirligigs or cleaning products to make your French press shine, but then again, it can’t make espresso. It’s a trade-off!
Total Time — 5 minutes 30 seconds approx.
I had to source externally for this section as I sadly do not have an espresso machine—YET! The day may soon come when I will splurge and buy myself a glorious machine. Until then, we will rely on Kristina (our team recipe expert) and her in-depth review of her DeLonghi EC850 (affiliate link).
According to Kristina, it takes precisely 3 minutes and 45 seconds to make a shot of espresso after prepping her ingredients. Prep time (measuring and grinding the beans) included, it took her 5 minutes and 30 seconds. Not too shabby!
Cleaning an espresso machine, no matter what kind you have, is more complicated than cleaning a French press. But, to find your basic cleaning routine, you must first consider how many shots you make a day.
Let’s say you make one shot a day. You really only need to wipe it down after each use and flush the group head before going to bed. Easy peasy!
If you’re making four or more coffees a day, then you need to backflush it every day using a cleaning blank or blind portafilter. While we’re not going into the details of cleaning an espresso machine here, you can find out more in this brief video.
Which is Better?
Don’t ask me! Go out, try both for yourself, and see which one you like better.
Truth be told, your preference depends on what you enjoy and need out of your morning cup. If you want coffee for coffee’s sake, I recommend going with a French press. It’s less expensive, and you can make a lot in just four minutes flat.
But if you prefer a quick, wake-up shot or vie for strong flavors just as much as the caffeine, an espresso machine could be the right choice for you.
French Press Is Best for Those Who…
Like a more hydrating, “American” style brew
Love dark, sludgier brews
Need multiple cups in one go
Enjoy robust flavor profiles
Espresso Is Best For Those Who…
Can afford an espresso machine
Prefer a small but potent concentrate
Hate gritty or sludgy textures
Want one shot (maybe two) and that’s it
Like being able to steam their own milk at home
Believe me, I’d love to have a steam wand, as I’ve mentioned before. But when I think about how easy it is to make coffee in my French press and how much I love it, I find it hard to justify buying an espresso machine.
That’s just me, though! Your coffee experiences and preferences could be totally different than mine. Listen to your gut and go from there.
Our Favorite Method for Brewing Espresso
There are plenty of ways to brew espresso and espresso lookalikes. If you can’t afford a big, beautiful espresso machine but crave it, try one of the following:
- Moka pot
But if you want a starter machine for home use, our lovely espresso source highly recommends her DeLonghi EC850.
For traditional espresso, you’ll want to aim for close to a 1:2 coffee-to-water ratio: 15 grams of coffee to 30 ml (1 oz) of water.
Grind your beans on the finest setting measuring out the grams into the portafilter. Make sure the grounds are as evenly distributed as possible (you might need to rotate or lightly smack the portafilter), then tamp.
Tamping makes sure the grounds are nice and compact. You don’t need crazy muscles… just let gravity do the work.
Flush the group head by letting a bit of hot water run through it, then attach your portafilter with your fresh puck of grounds and place your coffee cup on top of a small scale under the portafilter.
Let the cup fill with espresso until you get your desired weight: 30 ml in our case. If you don’t have a scale, you can let the machine for 25-30 seconds; just know that the resulting ratio will be less accurate. That’s it; you have an espresso.
You’ll want to finish by dumping the puck of used beans, then run the portafilter under hot water to keep it clean.
That said, if you don’t want to spring for an expensive machine, I personally love my AeroPress, especially when I’m craving an espresso. I can doctor it up to hide the non-espresso-ness if I need to or just drink it as a shot and call it good.
Either way, I’m happy, satisfied, and caffeinated, which is all I need!
Our Favorite French Press Brewing Method
Here’s the truth: you can’t go wrong with ye olde faithful. All you have to do is bloom the grounds, steep for four minutes, and plunge!
But, if you want to kick things up a notch, I’ve got the method for you.
You’ll need an extra ten or so minutes for this recipe, but I promise it’s worth it, particularly if you dislike the sludgy, gritty texture that accompanies French press coffee.
Those in the coffee community may have heard of him already, but if not, let me introduce you to the coffee man, myth, and legend, James Hoffmann.
Along with several collaborators, Hoffmann created a brewing method for the French press that almost doubles its steeping time, without causing over-extraction.
You can check out the full recipe on Hoffmann’s channel here, or read my in-depth explanation, featuring taste-tests and honest takes.
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
This may not sound romantic of me, but comparing French press coffee and espresso feels just about as difficult as comparing a human being with a summery day. With different brewing methods, instruments, and basic requirements, they don’t have much in common.
While they do both create deliciously dark brews, one will make your wallet bleed, while the other will only make it sigh.
At the end of the day, you won’t know which one is right for you until you figure out:
- Your budget
- What you want out of your morning brew
- How much counter space you have
- Which tastes better to you
If you wind up buying yourself an espresso machine, enjoy making those homemade cappuccinos for me. I know I wish I could.
Can I Make Espresso in a French Press?
Technically, no. But you can make an espresso copycat in a French press! Fair warning though: it’s not amazing.
After many failed and moderately successful experiments, I lovingly named this concoction the French press-o.
To be completely honest with you, I think I’d rather shell out the big bucks for an espresso machine than drink French press-o again. But that’s just me!
Espresso Machine vs French Press?
Espresso machines are excellent if you have the funds to purchase one, enjoy a rich shot of caffeine, and have enough time to semi-regularly clean it out.
On the other hand, if you prefer American coffee (8 ounces of hot, dark joy!), a French press may be more your style. They’re far cheaper than espresso machines, can make several cups in one go, and won’t take up as much counter space.
Caffeine in French Press vs Espresso?
French press coffee is actually known for being slightly more caffeinated than filter and drip coffees, so it ranges closer to the 75-120 mg range for the full 8 oz (236 ml) (7).
But espresso, while tiny, packs quite the punch at around 60-65 mg of caffeine per shot, a little under 1 oz. (29.5 ml) .
Espresso vs French Press: Grind?
There’s no such thing as one-grind-size-fits-all, at least not in the modern coffee world.
And so, it would make sense that an espresso machine with all its high-pressure bells and whistles would require a different grind size than the immersion brewing French press.
Espresso machines call for finely ground beans—almost extremely fine. This grind size makes it much harder for the water to flow through, giving the water more time to mingle with the grounds.
French presses call for almost the exact opposite: coarse to medium-coarse. Unlike an espresso machine, French presses have one sieve to separate the grounds from the liquid and can’t risk using fine grounds.
Imagine the devastation that would occur if you put fine grounds in a French press; it wouldn’t be able to filter them out!
French Press vs Espresso Pot?
This “espresso pot” is also called a moka pot, greca, stovetop espresso, and probably a few other nicknames that I’m not familiar with.
Espresso pots use a bit of pressure to create their brew, just not as much as an espresso machine. They also require medium-fine grounds, so consider them two steps closer to espresso than a French press.
Essentially, water moves from the bottom of the espresso pot to the top. As the water heats up, it becomes steam, which then saturates the grounds in the upper chamber. That gorgeous coffee makes it way up to the top, and that’s how you get your espresso look-alike.
Since it’s not an immersion brewing method, espresso pots are definitely closer to real espresso than a French press.
French Press vs Italian Espresso Maker?
Italian espresso makers are also called moka pots, stovetop espresso, espresso pots, and more (see above).
French presses utilize immersion brewing to make their delicious coffee. Italian espresso makers use pressure instead, though not nearly as much as an espresso machine.
While an Italian espresso maker is a lot closer to an espresso machine than a French press, it’s still not quite there. However, they’re far more affordable, so if you’re looking for a gentle way into the world of espresso, this may be the gadget for you.
French Press vs Stovetop Espresso?
Stovetop espressos go by many names, including moka pot, espresso pot, greca, and more (see above).
Stovetop espressos are not an immersion brewing method, unlike the trustworthy French press. They actually use the power of steam to create their coffee, as water travels from the bottom of the pot to the top and saturates the grounds in the middle.
So, if you want to experiment with espresso but don’t want to invest in a machine yet, try out a stovetop pot! If you’re happy and satisfied with American coffee, then stick with a French press.
The choice is up to you.
FoodData Central. (2019, April 1). Fdc.nal.usda.gov; USDA. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/171891/nutrients
Istituto Nazionale Espresso Italiano. (1995, October 10). The Certified Italian Espresso and Cappuccino. http://www.espressoitaliano.org. Retrieved September 27, 2023, from http://www.espressoitaliano.org/files/File/istituzionale_inei_hq_en.pdf
Giuffrida, A. (2022, May 18). Florence coffee bar customer calls police over price of espresso. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/may/18/florence-coffee-bar-customer-calls-police-over-price-of-espresso
National Coffee Association of U.S.A. (n.d.). How to Brew Coffee. Www.ncausa.org. Retrieved May 15, 2023, from
Stamp, J. (2012, June 19). The Long History of the Espresso Machine. Smithsonian; Smithsonian.com.
Zhang, C., Linforth, R., & Fisk, I. D. (2012). Cafestol extraction yield from different coffee brew mechanisms. Food Research International, 49(1), 27-31. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodres.2012.06.032