French Press vs Chemex – Should you Drip, Plunge, or do Both?
What does your perfect morning coffee taste like?
On intense mornings, I like my brew rich and full-bodied. On sluggish afternoons, I make sure my coffee is clean and bright.
To achieve my ideal cup, it’s usually a choice between The Chemex vs French Press.
But, which method should you really trust to make that ‘perfect’ brew? Let's pair up the French Press vs drip coffee brewing and see which tickles your fancy.
This coffee wonder is the brainchild of Peter J. Schlumbohm, Ph.D. , a doctor of chemistry. He used his Erlenmeyer flask and laboratory glass funnel as inspirations in creating a coffee-making device back in 1941, and is now warmly welcomed in the modern coffee scene.
In a nutshell, this is how the Chemex method works:
Set up your Chemex brewer with its paper filter. Put your desired amount of coffee, soak the medium coarse grounds, and let your coffee ‘bloom’ for half a minute.
Remember that using a circular/swirling motion when you pour is important to soak the grounds evenly.
Here’s an easy-to-follow video that you can also use as a guide on how to brew the Chemex way:
In addition to its Museum of Modern Art-worthy beauty, the Chemex brewer and the method itself are preferred by coffee enthusiasts for the undeniably clean and flavorful brew it offers up.
The French Press
It was in the late 1920s that the French Press method got its footing in the coffee scene. And it was only decades later, from the 1950s onward, that it began to spread around Europe, Britain, and eventually, the United States.
The three to five-minute French Press brewing method is favored by many because it is fuss-free and easy to follow.
You start by soaking your coarse grounds with the boiled water and let the coffee ‘bloom’ or bubble up for thirty seconds. Pour your remaining water and let your coffee brew for about three to four minutes.When the time’s up, you can push the plunger down to the bottom of the carafe.
This video can give you an idea on how easy it is to brew the French press way.
The French Press method proves to be popular with coffee lovers, not only because it’s easy to use, but most especially due to its heavy and full-bodied brew.
The Showdown: Chemex vs Frenchpress
Alright - down to business - French Press vs Drip.
I love how these methods make use of super affordable brewers, so I’d say they’re both winners when it comes to cost of equipment.
Let’s see how each one sizes up against the other in terms of important coffee-making aspects like preparation time, convenience, portability, and quality of end product/brew:
#1 - Time: From Bean > Brew
There are days when you have the luxury of time to prepare your favorite brew, and to savor it sip by sip. More often than not though, you don’t - and you need a good cup of joe as soon as you possibly can.
With Chemex, the entire process will take about five to six minutes. You can expect to take about a couple of minutes on the filter set-up, rinsing, and coffee ‘blooming’ process. The brewing time itself is four minutes.
On the other hand, when you make a French press brew, you don’t need to set up a filter. You also have the option to NOT pre-heat your brewer and cup if you’re really in a rush. Overall, the brewing process itself is about three to four minutes.
WINNER: The French press method takes the prize for this category, even if it’s just by a minute. Since you don’t set up a filter and rinse with the French press, you can dedicate a bit more time for brewing, which is especially helpful if you want a stronger cup.
#2 - Ease of Brewing
You’ll start your Chemex brew by first grinding your beans, aiming to achieve a medium coarse grind.
It’s also darn important that you use Chemex filters, and not just your ordinary ones. Chemex filters are especially made to fit the mouth of the brewer, and are also thicker than other brands to ensure a more precise filtration process. The end product is a cleaner brew, free of sediments or undesirable ‘gunk’.
The second pour, which comes after the ‘bloom’, is also a rather tricky task as you cannot just do a straight pour on the grounds. You start with a wiggling motion, and move to a gentle spiral to ensure that you get an even soaking.
An even soak is necessary to ensure that the grounds are subjected to a consistent temperature and brew time. Both these aspects can affect how much of the good elements in the grounds get into your brew.
With the French Press method, you need to give the same dedicated attention to the grinding process, but you need not tinker with filter set-up as the plunger already has a built-in mesh that acts as filter.
Pouring after the bloom (refers to the release of carbon dioxide in freshly roasted coffee as the water reaches your grinds) does not require you to do a patterned or deliberate movement either. The contact time for the French press method should only be up to four minutes to achieve the ideal brew, making a straight pour more advisable.
You’ll need to slowly and steadily press the plunger down once you’re done with the brewing process. This is to ensure that the coffee grounds stay at the bottom part of the carafe, separate from your brew.
Now both methods have important aspects that need a bit of extra effort. Let’s break the tie by checking how each one fares with the cleanup stage.
Since you achieve a mostly sediment-free brew with a Chemex, cleanup should take no more than thirty to forty-five seconds.
On the other hand, the French press brewing method leaves plenty of coffee grounds at the bottom of your carafe. Expect cleanup, especially of its small parts, to take no less than three minutes.
WINNER: The Chemex definitely seals the deal for the convenience aspect with its quick and easy cleanup.
#3 - Portability
Unlike their fancier and more modern counterparts, the Chemex and French press brewers do not involve plugging in and complicated buttons, making them good contenders in the portability category.
A classic six-cup Chemex brewer stands around 8.5 inches and is lightweight at less than two pounds. It is made of non-porous borosilicate glass, and comes with no metal or plastic casing. Its original design also does not feature a handle.
You’ll find your typical French press slightly smaller in height at less than eight inches, but it is similar in weight to the Chemex. What makes the biggest difference though, is that the French press is usually a combination of a borosilicate glass carafe, stainless steel casing, or with more recent designs - an insulated plastic shell.
WINNER: The French press brewer is the runaway victor for portability - thanks to its less fragile components and convenient design.
#4 - Quality of End Product/Brew
You start with the same medium coarse grind for both the Chemex and the French Press method. At the end of the brewing process though, you get what matters most - the coffee you’re about to drink.
The Chemex method’s filtering process is what sets it apart. It makes use of an especially made filter that is 20 to 30 percent thicker than others, so it screens out more unwanted particles. You end up with a cup that is bright, clean, and clear - perfect for sipping.
Unfortunately the Chemex filter is a double edged sword - it can filter out the coffee oils that give the resulting drink its distinct flavor. So while the result is a bright brew, you might lose the richness that’s also elemental in a good cup of joe.
The French Press on the other hand skips this paper filter stage. It relies on the mesh found at the bottom of the plunger, and pays more dedicated attention to the brewing.
You in turn get more of the natural oils from your coffee grounds, as well as the flavors those oils help deliver. The end result is a rich, aromatic, and full-bodied drink that is robust and satisfying.
However, the French Press method also leaves more sediments at the bottom of your brewer. And it’s almost inevitable that some of the ground coffee ‘dust’ may escape, and get into the brew. Thus, you can potentially end up with a bit more gunk than you’d like.
WINNER: Each method offers up different quality brews. The Chemex gives you bright and clean coffee, while the French press delivers a flavorful and full-bodied cup. I personally find the latter more satisfying, but again, taste preferences are subjective. The winner boils down to how you want your coffee.
The fact that you're considering one of these coffee makers says a lot about you. You want something you can brew at home with. You want something that's easy on the eye. You want something that you can brew for one, or many. You don't plan on taking it around the world with you. You appreciate damn smooth coffee.
Sound like you?
The Chemex and the French Press seem similar, but they are not.
The Chemex is better suited for pour over coffee fanatics. It's a little harder to master, but the payout is fine tasting, clean, smooth filter coffee.
The French Press makes a unique cup, but it's a little sedimenty (avoid that last sip!) Thats OK though, because its simple to use, and requires no gimmicky filters or pouring techniques.
For us, it's the Chemex!
The Chemex brewer is definitely one art piece and coffee equipment that coffee lovers will want to have on their breakfast tables.
If you are willing to dedicate a little more time to preparing your cuppa, and you prefer a lighter, cleaner brew, using a Chemex is your boy.
If you’re like me though who needs his coffee rich, aromatic, and flavor-packed in as less time as possible, the French press will deliver what you require. The method does leave some fine particles in your drink, but this also adds body to your usual brew.
The French press gets plus points for being so easy to carry around too - it can go from your kitchen to your picnic or camping site with little to no effort in packing.
Whenever I feel like getting a heavy, full-flavored brew, I use the Bodum Chambord French Press. It’s been earning raves for its durable design that features an insulated outer shell and its extra thick clear glass pot made of borosilicate glass. It also has a BPS/BPA-free lid.
So, should you go for the Chemex or the French press to get that ‘perfect’ cup?
Well why not go for both?!
Go for whichever fits your available time or your preferred cuppa at the moment. Just make sure to pick fresh, quality beans, follow the brewing instructions, and discover the wonders that these two classic methods have to offer.