French Press vs Pour Over: Which Method Is Right For You?
French presses and pour overs are both approachable and affordable ways of brewing your coffee mindfully. They have no fancy machine, no buttons, no flashing lights, and no bells or whistles. They offer a morning meditation as you slowly press down a plunger or pour hot water in a spiral. No wonder they are two of the most popular brewing methods for Canadian coffee lovers.
We’ll do a deep-dive on the differences between the French press vs pour over coffee brewing styles to see which one is right for you and your coffee needs.
The French press cafetiere or coffee press is nearly a century old and actually has Italian roots; it was patented in 1929 by Attilio Calimani and Giulio Moneta (1). It kept its popularity over time with its classic build and its timeless brews full of nutritious natural oils.
A French press includes a brew chamber, a plunger, and a filter. Classic French presses have beakers made from glass, BPA-free plastic, or stainless steel. Some offer dual-wall construction, which is better insulated to keep your coffee hot. The filter system of a French press consists of a plunger with up to three mesh plates, usually stainless steel, to hold back the coffee grounds from your brew.
French press is a manual immersion brewing method. Medium coarse ground coffee is steeped in just-boiled water for a few minutes. Then you press the plunger to filter the grounds. The result is rich coffee unparalleled by any other extraction method. It’s my personal daily go-to, and I recommend using medium or dark-roasted beans as the best coffee for a French press.
- Easy to use and clean
- Able to set it and walk away
- Yields iconic rich-tasting coffee
- Last few sips may be “muddy”
- Not ideal for those with high cholesterol
The French press may be a staple at home, but the pour over is the face of third-wave speciality coffee shops. The pour over was invented by Amalie Auguste Melitta Bentz in response to her frustration with leftover sediment in her cups from dissatisfying-tasting percolator coffee (2).
A pour over coffee brewer set-up consists of a carafe, a filter, and a dripper. The dripper can be ceramic, glass, metal, or plastic, and the material influences the taste of your brew, so choose wisely.
The type of filter also has an impact. Reusable metal filters keep the coffee oils, like a French press, whereas reusable cloth ones are an affordable and environmentally conscious way of keeping them out. A compostable paper filter gives the cleanest final cup and makes your life easier when cleaning up.
Pour over is a drip filtration brewing method. You slowly pour hot water over a bed of medium-grind coffee, and gravity draws it down during extraction. Opportunities for experimentation with the final flavour profile are present every step of the way. You’ll get a more nuanced taste of the beans’ characteristic notes in a clean cup.
For more, read about how to make pour over coffee with the best coffee beans for pour over.
- Full control over the brew
- Highlights more complex flavours
- Budget-friendly brewing method
- Takes practice to master
- Has more accessories to handle
The Showdown: Pour Over Coffee Vs French press
Now that we have a sense of the two brewers and what their brewing methods look like, let’s delve into the details of the difference between French press and pour over. While they are similar in some ways, your choice of French press vs pour over greatly impacts the taste of your brews.
Ease Of Use
The French press method is a breeze to get into for many coffee lovers. All you need is fresh coffee beans ground to a medium coarseness, hot water, and four minutes.
We recommend grinding your own coffee beans with a quality burr grinder right before using them rather than relying on pre-ground coffee.
You can step away and have more than enough time to brush your teeth while you wait for your morning cup of good French press coffee. Just be sure to come back in time for the plunge, or you’ll find your finished brew to be bitter-tasting from being over-extracted.
The manual coffee brewing method of pour over coffee makers is much more hands-on. It’s not advisable to dunk water on the coffee grounds and walk away.
It first requires a scale to accurately measure the amount of water and coffee beans to use. Then you need to set your filter. The brewing process for pour over coffee makers requires pouring heated water over medium coarse ground coffee. We suggest using a gooseneck kettle to get the perfect pour.
To start, when pouring, you want to first bloom the grounds and then gently switch to a slow-growing spiral technique. Once you’ve gotten the hang of the pour over method, you’re free to experiment with variables like pouring technique, brew time, and grind size (3).
I like to use a thicker grind and delay the extraction, which provides a more delicate result and a more complex flavour.
It will take persistence and patience to perfect various brewing methods. And it’ll be worth it.
Cleaning a pour over dripper is easier than cleaning a French press. In both cases, discard the wet coffee grounds (not in the sink!). The multi-layer metal filters of a French press take an extra moment of rinsing to clean. Wash the inside of each brewer with warm, soapy water, and many brewers are dishwasher-safe.
Winner: The French press wins with less hands-on involvement. Beginners may feel daunted by the precision and experimentation needed to produce coffee with pour over coffee methods.
French press coffee is pretty customizable. You control grind size, how long you steep your coffee grounds, how much coffee and water you use, and the water temperature.
Avoid a too-fine grind, or a cup of gritty coffee and a headache from trying to get the tiny particles out of your mesh filter await you.
The French press is not limited to making coffee. French presses can be used with cold water to make cold brew. A French press can also double as a manual milk frother, so you can make at-home lattes and cappuccinos. You can use a French press to brew loose-leaf tea.
A pour over affords more control than a French press when brewing hot coffee. Along with the variables already mentioned, you have influence over the speed and style of pouring, and the material and shape of the dripper and filters.
Winner: Tie. The French press lends itself to greater versatility in the types of drinks it makes, but the pour over brewer is more versatile in the styles of coffee it brews. This is a matter of personal taste and coffee intention.
French presses tend to range in size from a 0.5 L capacity to a 1.5 L capacity. They aren’t overly large or heavy, but with a few exceptions, they aren’t the best option for travel. Glass French presses are light but easily breakable. Stainless steel French presses are more durable to withstand life on the move, but they are heavy.
A pour over dripper is typically a much more portable coffee maker, unless it’s made from breakable glass like a Chemex. There are far more suitable travel-friendly options among pour over brewers. There are tiny ones fit for just one or two cups, and there are lightweight and durable stainless steel metal or plastic models. There are even collapsible silicone drippers for backpacking. They slip right into your backpack or travelling case. Just be sure to account for the space needed for filters.
Winner: The pour over takes this round for its greater diversity of options. It comes in a wider range of builds and materials for maximum durability and space optimization.
A French press makes a delicious cup of rich, full, and robust brew that effectively emphasizes hints of caramel in medium roasts and toasted notes of cocoa in dark roasts. At least, that’s what I’ve found with my daily morning brew. The coffee oils lend each perfect cup a full body, creamy mouthfeel, and powerful aroma. It’s unlike any other way of brewing coffee.
A pour over is for coffee connoisseurs who prefer lighter coffee. You’ll taste all of the subtleties noted on your bags of coffee, from hazelnut to molasses to tamarind and more. You’ll be able to look at a coffee flavour wheel, taste everything it refers to, and really build up your palette and refine your expertise (4).
[The Coffee Taster’s Flavour Wheel] is the largest and most collaborative piece of research on coffee flavour ever completed, inspiring a new set of vocabulary for industry professionals.
This is all thanks to a pour over’s unique way of bringing out the inherent properties of coffee beans. Using paper filters, your smooth cup will be crisp, clean, and completely free of oils or sediment. The resulting taste is a stark difference compared to the bold brews of a French press, but you’ll really get the complex nuanced details found in light roasts.
Winner: Pour over. The taste of a French press coffee is unique and perfect for certain types of coffee lovers. But if you want to delve into the full scope of flavour that coffee offers, a pour over achieves this.
Should you choose French press or pour over? Both brewing methods have their charms, and given their low cost, there’s really no reason both brewers can’t grace your coffee bar. A French press coffee maker is easy to use and delivers a bold flavour and full body. The pour over is more portable and produces niche cups of coffee and endless flavours to discover. It’s really up to your personal taste.
Use a French press if:
- You prefer full-bodied coffee.
- You’re new to brewing coffee.
- You want natural oils in the cup for a rich mouthfeel.
Use a pour over if:
- You prefer lighter roast coffee.
- You want total control over brews.
- You prefer a cleaner cup with more complex flavours.
Pour over coffee has a faster brewing time than a French press. A French press needs to have its coffee grounds submerged for about four minutes every time. A pour over is more flexible and faster by a minute or two depending on how quickly you pour and how finely your coffee is ground.
The cleanest way to brew coffee is with a pour over coffee maker, especially using an environmentally friendly unbleached paper filter. This method of brewing is the most effective at eliminating coffee oils like diterpenes, chemicals that are not good for coffee drinkers watching their LDL cholesterol levels, while retaining beneficial polyphenols (5).
Your pour over coffee likely tastes so bitter because it is over-extracted. This usually occurs because the water is too hot or the coffee is ground too fine (6). Use a coarser grind and slightly cooler water temperature next time.
- Solano, F. (2015, May 10). French press – The History & Brewing Guide. Retrieved February 13, 2023, from https://perfectdailygrind.com/2015/05/french-press-the-history-brewing-guide/
- Boydell, H. (2019, January 4). Melitta, Chemex, & More: A History of Pour Over Coffee. Retrieved February 13, 2023, from https://perfectdailygrind.com/2019/01/melitta-chemex-more-a-history-of-pour-over-coffee/
- SanMax, I. M. (2020, July 30). How To Take Your Pour Over Brewing To The Next Level. Retrieved February 12, 2023, from https://perfectdailygrind.com/2020/07/tips-for-next-level-pour-over-coffee-brewing/
- SCA. (2023). The Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel. Retrieved February 13, 2023, from https://sca.coffee/research/coffee-tasters-flavor-wheel
- Moody, L. (2019, October 15). What’s The Healthiest Way To Brew Coffee? We Asked The Experts. Retrieved February 12, 2023, from https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/whats-healthiest-way-to-brew-coffee-pour-over-cold-brew/
- Volcano Coffee Works. (2019, February 18). How to: fix your V60 coffee brewing problems. Retrieved February 12, 2023, from https://volcanocoffeeworks.com/blogs/journal/how-to-fix-your-v60-brewing-problems