While push-button coffee makers and single-serve pods provide convenience, many coffee drinkers believe these methods fail to maximize the flavor potential of the coffee beans. They’re not necessarily wrong…
However, selecting and learning an alternative brewing method that maintains convenience can be challenging. A French press solves these issues by producing a flavorful cup and allowing full control over variables while still being easy to use.
In this article, you will learn why the French press remains a popular choice for convenience and quality through its ability to produce a silky-textured coffee with rich flavor, yielding a sophisticated yet hassle-free brewing experience.
After Reading this Article, You Will . . .
- Know why a French press produces richer flavor, aroma, and body compared to other methods, especially those that use paper filters.
- Appreciate how the French press method allows for full control over brewing variables like grind size, water temp, ratios, and steep time to produce a tailored cup.
- Recognize that French presses are beginner-friendly, requiring minimal effort but still allowing for a meditative brewing experience.
- Gain awareness of some situations where French presses may not be preferable compared to other brewing methods.
- Get answers to common questions around roast level, bitterness, sediment levels, and over-extraction in French press brewing.
The Short Answer
By using a French press, you can enhance the quality and flavor of coffee compared to other brewing methods because of the full-bodied, aromatic cup of coffee that French press is known for.
In short, it’s a more complex flavor profile and mouthfeel.
This is due to the effects of full immersion brewing and the use of a mesh filter (metal or nylon) instead of paper, allowing more coffee oils and sediment to pass through.
The convenience of using a French press compares well to other coffee brewing methods because it is easy to use, quick to brew, and requires minimal attention to detail.
At the same time, brewing with a French press provides opportunities for experimentation and control over various brewing variables such as time, grind size, ratio, and water temperature.
French Press vs Other Coffee Brewing Methods
Let’s take a more in-depth look at several unique benefits that brewing in a French press provides.
Beginner-Friendly + Easy to Use
If you're new to coffee brewing and looking for a beginner-friendly method, then French press might be the perfect brew for you. It’s a user-friendly process that requires no prior knowledge, only grounds, water… and of course the press itself.
No pods, no paper filters, no electricity needed, no high-cost machines.
Simply add coffee grounds and hot water to the French press, let it steep for a few minutes, and then press down the plunger to separate the coffee from the grounds. And, voila, you have a cup of coffee that’s sure to satisfy.
Our article on nailing the coffee-to-water ratio is a great overall French press quick start guide that will have you on your way to your first cup of French press coffee in no time.
Richer Flavor and Aroma + Velvet Body
French press brewing yields a coffee with a fully imbued flavor and aroma thanks to the oils and sediment that are allowed to pass through, resulting in a stronger, more robust taste.
The oils and sediment also gift the coffee with a velvety body and complex profile.
This provides a thicker mouthfeel compared to other methods; for example, drip coffee makers and pour over use paper filters that trap the oils and sediment, resulting in a cleaner taste but less complex flavor profile.
This also means that French press brewing is especially optimal for darker roasted beans. On the traditional roasting scale, we’re talking about anything from City Plus (think “medium level -2”) and darker.
In the simplest terms, this is because darker roasts have a higher solubility than lighter roasts, and more of the oils have been developed and released, meaning their flavor compounds extract more easily.
Dark-roasted coffee also tends to be more porous than lighter roasts. These characteristics make darker roasts able to stand up well to the full immersion brewing of the French press without becoming overly bitter.
Lighter roasts are less porous than darker ones, so their compounds extract more slowly.
So while French press can be used for lighter roasts, pour-over and drip brewing methods—which utilize paper filters—may be better suited since they allow for the extraction of a lighter flavor profile… and are more likely to prevent over-extraction and bitterness at lighter roast levels.
That said, some of these issues can be overcome by blooming lighter roasts in a French press.
Full Control Over Brewing Variables: An Experimenter’s Dream
With a French press, you have full control over factors like grind size, ratio, water temp, and steep time. This allows you to customize your brew to your preferences, unlike some of the automated methods that offer less adjustment flexibility.
While other manual pour-over coffee methods also offer control over the brewing process, they require more attention to detail and skill than a French press.
Let’s start with grind size. As grind size decreases, surface area increases, which encourages extraction (along with contact time and temperature). The recommended grind size for French press is medium-coarse; this is both to prevent over-extraction and to decrease the amount of silt in your cup. After a few brews, you’ll be able to find your sweet spot.
Same thing goes for coffee-to-water ratio and water temperature, which you can play with depending on a few factors, including steep time (4-5 minutes), the roast of your beans, and how strong you like your coffee.
We recommend starting with a 1:15 coffee-to-ratio and checking out our water temperature guide.
As one of the most affordable brewing methods, a French press only requires an initial investment of the press itself alongside coffee grounds and hot water. Other brewing methods can be more expensive due to the need for specialized equipment.
Compared to popular options like drip machines, pour over drippers, and pod brewers, the French press offers strong value for money.
Let’s take a look at some examples proving the French press is a budget-friendly choice for delicious coffee
Costs of French Press Brewing vs. Other Popular Methods
Price range: $10-50
~ $15 - $30
One of the most affordable and highly rated French press options. It comes in 3 sizes—12oz, 34oz, and 51oz, with prices ranging from $15-30.
The 34oz model is the best value at around $20-25. It has a 4.5 star rating with over 17,000 reviews on Amazon.
It has a borosilicate glass and plastic design which reviewers say makes it easy to use and clean. The only downside is it lacks insulation so there are some complaints that coffee won't stay as hot for as long compared to insulated French press brewers.
~ $25 - $40
Another popular budget pick which is an insulated option is Mueller’s stainless steel press.
This model is priced around $25-30 for the 34oz version. It has 4.7 stars with over 30,000 reviews on Amazon.
Not to mention a double insulated stainless steel design, which reviewers say helps keep coffee hotter for longer, and a multi-level filtration system, which reviewers claim brews a “smoother” coffee–as more sediment is removed.
In the budget category, the RAINBEAN Mini is a highly-rated compact model priced at around $10. It is a simpler design constructed of stainless steel and glass components. Reviewers mention it makes smooth coffee with maximum flavor extraction.
Other Popular Brew Methods
Price range: ~$15-30
Comparable in price to the French Press, the Hario V60 is a popular and affordable manual cone. That said, you may also want a gooseneck kettle ($25-$70) to go with it.
This method requires some technique to master but can brew a clean, flavorful cup. The process is meditative though a bit more involved than French press. The durable plastic cone must be cleaned and requires disposable filters.
Drip Coffee Makers
Price range: ~$40-200
You get what you pay for with drip coffee makers. The Bonavita 8-Cup Coffee Maker is a highly-rated drip coffee machine. It evenly saturates coffee grounds and brews at the optimal temperature for excellent flavor. The simple one-touch operation is convenient and fast.
However, it lacks some customizable variables like steep time and water temp, and, for a good quality machine, it requires a substantial initial investment, plus the continued purchase of paper filters.
Price range: ~$100-$600
This pod brewer uses K-cup pods for speed and convenience. Like other entry-level pod systems, it’s compact with a large pod variety, and while it doesn’t have a built-in milk frother like some of the bigger models, you can purchase a stand-alone frother to go with it.
However, it’s worth mentioning that pod systems generate plastic waste and lack brew customization. Not to mention, they give you less choice over the quality and origin of your coffee beans.
Price range: ~$200-$2000
The Breville Bambino is an easy-to-use espresso machine. It heats up quickly and makes cafe-quality espresso. Espresso machines give you free rein over your bean choice, some play with variabes, and crema. Plus you can make your own “barista” style drinks.
However, the high price and learning curve could deter beginners.
You can see why the French press is a popular option for coffee drinkers looking to upgrade their brewing experience without breaking the bank. While automatic coffee makers or espresso machines have their advantages, a basic French press offers solid value.
The minimal investment opens up a world of delightful coffee that extracts robust flavor from fresh beans. Consider the French press as both an effective and economical tool for daily coffee enjoyment.
Portable and Travel-Friendly
French press coffee is ideal for travel since all components are lightweight, compact, and don't require electricity. This makes it easy for you to brew on the go.
That said, you’ll want to think about what kind of travel you’ll be doing. If you’re trip implies some rough-and-tumble for your luggage, a metal French press will keep your mind at ease.
Besides the fact that the French press is portable (especially a metal French press), you can take things a step further, and brew in a French press travel mug (affiliate link), which is basically your brewing vessel and drinking vessel, all-in-one.
From the first aromas released while grinding to the final sip, the act of brewing with a French press can be a calming, meditative experience involving the pouring of water and watching coffee bubble and steep.
It allows one to slow down and fully appreciate each step. This is not unique to French press brewing, but it is a benefit that many coffee enthusiasts appreciate.
In short, French press brewing offers unique benefits compared to other brewing methods.
It provides a richer flavor and aroma, full control over the brewing process, ease of use, travel-friendliness, affordability, and a calming brewing experience that encourages you to pause for a moment without taking any real time out of your day.
When and Why You Might NOT Want to Use a French Press
To be completely transparent, it’s important to know that French press brewing may not be for everyone. Here are some reasons why some people may not want to use a French press:
- Silt in the coffee: Some people find that French press coffee has too much sediment or silt, which can make the coffee gritty and unpleasant to drink. This is especially true if the grind size is too fine.
- Requires more attention to detail: While French press coffee is easy to make, it does require a bit more attention to detail than automatic brewing methods to achieve the desired taste. Unlike automatic drip machines or pods, French press is not a push-button method.
- Cleaning can be a hassle: The grounds cling to the side of the container post-brew, requiring a good rinse to get them out, and the plunger and filter call for disassembly and cleaning every so often. This is a step that cannot be ignored as built-up oils on unwashed gear will add bitter and off-flavors to future brews, and clogged filters will prevent optimal extraction.
- Glass can break: Glass French presses can be fragile and break easily, which is inconvenient and costly. For those concerned about this, a metal French press is a good option.
- Not ideal for large batches: French press coffee is typically brewed in small batches of 1-4 cups (~250-1000 ml), making it less suitable for large groups or events.
- Often not the best choice for lighter roasts and specialty grade coffee: Certain compounds that provide distinct flavors in lighter roasted and specialty grade beans are often better extracted with manual pour over methods.
For many of us, using a French press enhances the quality and flavor of coffee compared to other brewing methods. It provides full control over the brewing process, making it an experimenter's dream.
We also find the French press easy to use, affordable, beginner-friendly, and great for traveling.
While it has a few drawbacks, overall, we enjoy the French press as a worthwhile choice for coffee enthusiasts and beginners alike, who want the best of both worlds when it comes to convenience, experimentation, and flavor.
Is French Press Coffee More Bitter?
French press coffee is not necessarily more bitter than other brewing methods when done correctly. However, if the coffee is over-extracted, it can taste bitter.
Over-extraction occurs if the coffee is ground too fine or if it is steeped for too long (over 5 minutes). To avoid bitterness, it's important to use the correct grind size and steeping time for your coffee beans.
Does French Press Coffee Have Sediment?
Yes, French press coffee can have sediment. The metal or nylon mesh filter in the French press allows some of the coffee oils and fines to pass through, which can give the coffee a slightly thicker mouthfeel and more complex flavor profile compared to other brewing methods.
However, too much sediment can make the coffee gritty and unpleasant to drink. To reduce sediment in your French press coffee, you can use a coarser grind size, pour slowly and carefully, and let the coffee settle before pouring.
Is It Easy to Over-Extract in A French Press?
Yes, it is easy to over-extract in a French press if the coffee is ground too fine or if it is steeped for too long. Over-extraction can result in a bitter and unpleasant taste; to avoid it, make sure to dial in the correct grind size and steeping time for your coffee beans.
Can You Explain in More Detail Why the French Is Press Better for Darker Roasts than Light Roasts?
While it can work for any roast level, darker roasted coffees tend to shine brighter when prepared using the French press compared to lighter roasts.
There are a few key reasons for this. During the roasting process, compounds like chlorogenic acids undergo more thermal breakdown in darker roasts, converting to smaller molecules like quinic acid.
At the same time, total phenolic content that leads to sharp, unpleasant bitterness decreases more substantially with darker roasting levels. Both of these changes have the effect of reducing harsh flavors from compounds extracted during brewing.
Compounds like trigonelline and caffeine that impart flavorful bitterness are also retained more in darker roasts versus lighter roasts. Their presence helps balance out the extraction of other compounds using the French press method.
The French press immerses grounds directly in water without a filter, maximizing extraction. This can draw out more of the bitter, astringent molecules in lighter roasts since these compounds were less degraded during roasting. Darker roasts ultimately blunt this harshness through further thermal changes to phenolic makeup.
Overall, darker roasted coffees undergo greater thermal change during roasting that moderates harsher flavors. This makes them a better fit for full-immersion extraction in a French press compared to lighter roasts where less compromised compounds could dominate the cup.
So for a smooth, balanced brew from bean to cup, the French press often favors a darker over a lighter roast.To help mitigate these issues when brewing light-roasted specialty coffee with a French Press, make sure you bloom.
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