French Press vs Pour Over: Similarities and Differences

pour over coffee being poured

More and more it seems, the traditional drip coffee maker is being replaced by the trendier, more minimal French Press or Pour Over. But these increasingly popular coffee makers are more than just hip countertop decorations– they’re both surprisingly sophisticated brewing methods that produce coffee with vastly different characteristics. Whether you’re a seasoned brewer, or a casual coffee drinker looking to keep up with the hottest coffee trends, it’s beneficial to know the similarities and differences between these two brewing methods. 

The similarities between the french press and pour over methods are: 

  • Both produce unique, high-quality coffee
  • Both require the brewer to pour hot water over the grounds
  • Both require the use of a kettle 

The differences are: 

  • Pour Over requires a filter, French Press does not
  • French Press takes a little longer than Pour Over 
  • French Press requires more attention than Pour Over 
  • Both Pour Over and French press produce coffees with distinct flavors and mouthfeels
  • French Press takes longer to clean 

So, it’s safe to say that, while neither method is better than the other, both the Pour Over and French Press methods are not one and the same. You’ll want to familiarize yourself with the differences between the two when choosing the right method for your taste and lifestyle. Luckily for you, this post helps you to do just that!

What is a Pour Over? 

Pour Over is as simple as coffee-making gets. There are a few variants of the Pour Over coffee makers from which to choose, but they all share the same basic method: place a filter onto the top of the coffee maker, pour coffee grounds into the filter, pour hot water over the grounds. And there you are! Within minutes, you’ll have freshly-brewed, delicious coffee. 

Preparation

As with any coffee-making method, there are differences of opinion when it comes to how to get the most out of your Pour Over. 

First, you want to heat your water in a kettle to about 205 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature is ideal for coffee extraction without scolding your beans. 

Next, you’ll want to maintain a proper ratio of coffee to water. Too much water and you’re coffee will taste flavorless; too little water and your coffee will be bitter. A good ratio to aim for is around 1:17, coffee to water. I recommend measuring it out on a digital scale. 

After you’ve got your water temperature and ratio figured out, then comes the pour. 

There are two stages to a good “pour” when making Pour Over coffee. The first stage is called the “bloom”. This is the stage when the hot water from your kettle is first introduced to the grounds. When blooming your coffee, you want to pour just enough to saturate the grounds. Then wait for about 30 to 45 seconds, or until the fragrance of the coffee starts to fill the air. Then pour the rest of your water over the grounds. This is the second stage of the pour. 

Some brewers prefer to pour their coffee in a figure-8 pattern, while others like to swirl the coffee while it’s extracting with either a swizzle or by swirling the Pour Over itself. These techniques expose as much of the surface area of your grounds to the water as possible to get every trace of flavor from your beans. 

Equipment

When it comes to Pour Over, you only need four things: 

  1. A Pour-Over coffee maker
  2. A Kettle 
  3. Filters
  4. Coffee

There are two main types of Pour Overs to choose from: the Chemex-style, and the drip. The most common type you’ll see is the Chemex-style Pour Over. This style of Pour Over is usually made of clear glass and is shaped vaguely like an hourglass. This is a fine style to use if you’re making more than one cup of coffee.

But, if you’re only making a single cup of coffee at a time, you might find that the drip-style Pour Over is more your speed. The drip-style Pour Over is typically made from ceramic and is placed on top of your mug. Not only is the drip-style Pour over perfect for single-serving coffee, but the filters are smaller and therefore cheaper than the large filters used for the Chemex-style Pour Overs. However, no matter how cheap, constantly having to buy new filters is one drawback of the Pour Over. 

Cleaning

When compared to the French Press, cleaning a Pour Over couldn’t be simpler. Just toss the filter, and scrub out the inside of the carafe. The shape of a Chemex-style Pour Over can make cleaning a bit of a headache. The neck is narrow and the body is wide. For this reason, I would suggest using a brush to scrub those hard-to-reach areas of your Pour Over. Then, all that’s left to do is rinse out your Pour Over and dry it. 

What is a French Press?

When it comes to simplicity, the French Press has a slight advantage over the Pour Over. As opposed to the Pour Over, the French Press comes with a filter built-in, so you never have to worry about waking up one morning to find that you have no way to strain your coffee. However, when it comes to coffee preparation, the French Press is a little more involved. 

Preparation

For most standard French Presses, about eight tablespoons of coarsely ground coffee will do the trick. Pour the coffee into the French Press, then add the water, heated to around 205 degrees.  

As with the Pour Over, there are two “pours” when making coffee with the French Press. With the first pour, you’ll want to fill the French Press to the halfway point, saturating the grounds. Allow about one minute for the coffee to extract. Next, you’ll want to give the water a quick stir, to agitate the layer of grounds that forms on the surface. Make sure to do this with plastic, rubber, or wooden spoon, as a metal spoon might crack the glass. 

Then, fill the carafe the rest of the way with water before allowing the coffee to steep for four minutes. At this point, you’re ready to press. 

Insert the press into the French Press and push down on the plunger until the filter is down as far it can go. 

Pour the coffee immediately. Letting your coffee over-extract will result in a bitter, unpleasant flavor. 

Equipment

When it comes to French Press, you only need three things: 

  • A French Press 
  • A Kettle 
  • Coffee 

However, there are different grades of French Presses to consider. Because the coffee grounds are sitting on the bottom of the French Press, it’s easy for a few to slip through and find their way into the coffee. The filters of cheaply-made French Presses are infamous for allowing a few too many coffee grounds through. To avoid this, you’ll want to search for a French Press with a filtration system that doesn’t allow any stray coffee grounds through. While the price of higher-quality French Presses can be a little steep, you’ll be glad you spent the extra money. After all, there’s nothing worse than gritty coffee!

Cleaning 

Admittedly, this is an area where the Pour Over has the French Press beat. To clean your French Press, do the following: 

  1. Let it cool: Before touching your french press, let it cool down. The coffee was over 200 degrees after all!
  2. Remove the lid: Remove the lid and the filter from your French Press and set it in the sink. This gives you access to the grounds at the bottom of the carafe.
  3. Clean out the grounds: Either scoop out the grounds with your hand or use a rubber spatula. Whatever you do, don’t use a metal spoon. The glass of a French Press is not very thick and metal can easily break it. 
  4. Soap and water: Add water and a few drops of soap to the carafe, then reattach the lid and pump the plunger up and down until the solution begins to froth and bubble. 
  5. Rinse: Give the French Press a thorough rinsing in the sink. 
  6. Repeat: Repeat steps 4 and 5 until the water in your French Press is clean and there are no visible coffee stains left. 
  7. Deep clean: To keep your French Press in top shape, I recommend a deep clean at least once a week. This will involve completely disassembling your French Press and cleaning each piece. 
  8. Reassemble: Once you’ve given your French Press a thorough cleaning, reassemble it and get ready to make more coffee!

While some brewers recommend disassembling your French Press after every use, I find this unnecessary and tedious. A quick cleaning after every use along with a deep clean once a week should prevent coffee and hard water buildup. However, even at this rate, when compared to the Pour Over, constantly cleaning your French Press can be a bit of a headache. 

Flavor and Mouthfeel 

The processes of making coffee in a Pour-Over vs. a French Press aren’t the only differences. Both methods produce coffee with vastly different characteristics, both in terms of flavor and mouthfeel. This is largely due to their different extraction methods: percolation and immersion. 

Percolation

Percolation is a brewing method where water is poured over coffee grounds before passing through a filter. By reducing the extraction time and filtering the water quickly, this method is meant to produce a cleaner, milder-tasting coffee. Pour Over and traditional drip coffee makers use this extraction method. Percolated coffee is preferred by many for its smoothness and balance, but it can also carry sharper more acidic notes than coffee brewed with the immersion method.

The mouthfeel of percolated coffee is much closer to water, with very low viscosity. This is because only the very finest of the coffee grounds are filtered out during extraction. 

Immersion

Immersion is an extraction method used by the French Press, the Aeropress, and Cold Brew methods. During immersion, coffee grounds are directly introduced to water for some time before being filtered. The idea behind immersion is that the more time the beans spend in the water, the more the coffee takes on the characteristics of the beans. 

Unlike percolation, immersion gives the coffee time to release its oils and dissolve into the water. The result is a bolder, more full-bodied coffee than percolated coffee. However, if you like those brighter, acidic notes, those sharp flavors are often muted during immersion. 

Because you’re getting larger grounds in immersion coffee, you can expect a thicker, more syrupy mouthfeel. 

Immersion vs. Percolation

While there are brewers who swear that immersion is better than percolation, the method you choose is up to you and your tastes. If you like your coffee milder with an occasional bright, acidic pop, Pour Over might be your best option. But, if you prefer bolder, rounder, more full-bodied flavors, French Press is hard to beat! 

Coffee Grind for French Press Vs. Pour Over

When it comes to the grind of your coffee, the French Press is a little more customizable than the Pour Over. 

When grinding coffee for either a Pour Over or a French Press, the standard choice is a coarse grind. As a rule of thumb, you want the grind to be about the same consistency as bread crumbs. 

However, if you’d like to customize your grind, the French Press is the way to go. If you like the thickness and boldness of French Press coffee, you can kick it up further with a finer grind.  The result is closer to espresso than a standard cup of coffee. In fact, some homebrewers without access to expensive espresso machines will swear by the French Press’s ability to approximate espresso’s flavor and consistency. 

Pros and Cons of French Press vs. Pour Over

French Press

Pros: 

  • Versatile: You can customize your grind to suit your coffee to your tastes. 
  • Minimal equipment: With the French Press, everything is self-contained. No more constantly buying filters!
  • Easy to use: Making coffee in the French Press couldn’t be more straightforward. As long as you follow the steps, you’re good to go!

Cons: 

  • Gritty coffee: Unless you buy a high-quality French Press, you can expect some grit in your coffee. 
  • Expensive: Higher-end French Presses can be a little pricey. 
  • Hassle to clean: Constantly having to clean your French Press can be a headache, especially if you’re using it daily. 
  • Time-consuming: While certainly not the most time-consuming way to make coffee, the French Press method is a little more involved than the Pour Over. 

Pour Over

Pros: 

  • Simple: A filter and a carafe; no moving parts; it just doesn’t get any more simple than a Pour Over.
  • Easy to use: Making coffee with a Pour Over is as simple as pouring hot water over coffee grounds. You don’t even have to stir if you don’t want to. 
  • Easy to clean: A little soapy water, a brush, and a minute at most are all you need to keep your Pour Over clean. 

Cons: 

  • Filters: Keeping a steady stock of filters is necessary for Pour Overs. Depending on what type of Pour Over you have, the filters could also be pricey. 
  • Not versatile: The Pour over excels at making one type of coffee. Beyond that, the French Press might be more to your liking. 

Tim S.

Tim loves roasting, brewing, and experimenting with coffee. After years of perfecting this craft, working as a barista, and owning a small coffee service in college, he has decided to share his knowledge with the world.

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