French Press vs Chemex (AKA Pour Over vs French Press)

What does your perfect cup of coffee taste like?  

To kick off my mornings with energy and vigor, I like my brew rich and full-bodied. And for relaxing on those lazy afternoons, I make sure my coffee is clean and bright. The choice then, usually comes down to: The Chemex vs French Press

So which method should you trust to make that ‘perfect’ brew? Let's compare the French Press vs drip coffee brewing and see which one tickles your fancy.

The Chemex Coffee Maker

the chemex classic series and its box

This coffee wonder is the brainchild of Peter J. Schlumbohm, Ph.D., a doctor of chemistry. Inspired by his laboratory equipment, he created this coffee-making device back in 1941 (1). A device that occupies a pride of place in the modern coffee scene.

In addition to its beauty, the Chemex is preferred by coffee enthusiasts for the undeniably clean and flavorful brew it offers.

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 (medium coarse grounds), soak the coffee 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:

Note: You can also use the Chemex coffee maker for making cold brew!

The French Press

a bodum french press made of glass with stainless steel frame and mesh filter

It was in the late 1920s that the French Press method found its footing in the coffee scene (2). It was only decades later, from the 1950s onward, that it began to spread around Europe, Britain, and eventually, the United States.

The 3-5 minute French Press brewing method is fuss-free. Not to mention the heavy and full-bodied brew that most of us adore

You start by soaking your coarse ground coffee with the hot water and let the coffee ‘bloom’ or bubble up for thirty seconds. Then pour your remaining water and let your coffee brew for about three to four minutes. When the time’s up, push the plunger down to the bottom of the carafe.

You can see in this video how easy it is to brew coffee the French press way.

The Showdown: Chemex/Pour Over vs Frenchpress

comparing chemex vs french press products and brewing methods

Alright, down to business. French Press vs Drip.

I love how both these brewing methods make use of super affordable coffee makers, so I’d say they’re both winners when it comes to the cost of equipment.

Now, let’s see how they size up against the other in terms of important coffee-making aspects like preparation time, convenience, portability, and quality of end product/brew:

Time: From Bean > Brew

There are days when you have the luxury of time to prepare your favorite brew and savor it sip by sip. More often than not, though, you don’t .But you still need a good cup of joe as soon as possible.

Chemex: With this coffee maker, the entire process will take about five to six minutes. You can expect to spend a couple of minutes on the filter set-up, rinsing, and coffee ‘blooming’ process. The brewing time itself will be four minutes.

French Press: On the other hand, you don’t need to set up a filter with the French Press. You also don’t have to pre-heat your brewer and cup if you’re in a rush. Overall, the brewing process itself is about three to four minutes.

WINNER: The French Press method takes the prize in 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 brew.

a cup of latte with a clock as art - clearly not a clean cup of coffee

Ease of Brewing

Chemex: You’ll start your Chemex brew by first grinding your beans to a medium coarse grind.

It’s also darn important that you use Chemex filters, and not just your ordinary ones. Chemex filters are custom made to fit the mouth of the brewer. They are also thicker than other brands to ensure a more precise filtration process (1). 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.

kettle pouring hot water into and a Chemex Classic Series carafe

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 (3).

Here’s a link to our in-depth Chemex brewing guide so you can check out the process in more detail.

French Press: With this coffee maker, you need to give the same dedicated attention to the grinding process to achieve a coarse grind. But you don’t need to set up a paper filter as the plunger already has a built-in mesh filter.

Pouring after the bloom 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 ensures that the coffee grounds stay at the bottom part of the carafe, separate from your brew.

pushing the metal stick into the pot to make French Press coffee

Our friends at Blue Bottle Coffee have this little nugget of wisdom to offer about this method (4):

To achieve a full expression of the coffee, decant it immediately after brewing so it doesn’t become bitter or chalky. - Blue Bottle Coffee

And I agree with them. Decantering is a small tip that yields a huge improvement. Read our French Press brewing guide here for more brewing hacks.

Tie-breaker: 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.

Portability

Unlike their fancier and more modern counterparts, the Chemex and French press brewers do not involve plugging in or complicated buttons, making them good contenders in the portability category.

Chemex: A classic six-cup Chemex brewer stands around 8.5 inches tall and weighs less than two pounds. It is made of non-porous borosilicate glass and has no metal or plastic casing, so it definitely lies in the fragile end of the spectrum. It is not a giant by any means, but Death Wish Coffee does point out a drawback (5):

The Chemex is not great for making a single cup of coffee. - Death Wish Coffee

French Press: Your typical French press is slightly smaller in height at just under eight inches, but it is similar in weight to the Chemex. What makes the biggest difference, though, is the sturdy construction. The French Press is usually a combination of a borosilicate glass carafe and a stainless steel casing (or, as with more recent designs, an insulated plastic shell). Another amazing French Press we love is the Frieling USA, which is made of double wall stainless steel.​

WINNER: The French Press brewer is the runaway victor for portability - thanks to its less fragile components and convenient design.

Quality of End Product/Brew

You could use the same coffee bean and yet, you’d get different results from the Chemex and French Press method. So it all comes down to what matters most - the coffee you’re about to drink. So what's the difference between French Press coffee and Chemex coffee? 

Chemex: The Chemex method’s filtering process is what sets it apart. It makes use of a custom made paper filter that is 20 to 30 percent thicker than others, so it screens out more unwanted particles (1). You end up with a cup that is bright, clean, and clear - perfect for sipping.

Unfortunately, the Chemex paper 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, clean cup of coffee, you might lose the richness that’s also elemental in a good cup of joe.

bubbles forming in brewed coffee

French Press: This method, on the other hand, skips this paper filter stage. It relies on the mesh at the bottom of the plunger, and focuses on the brewing.

As a result, you get more natural oils from your coffee grounds, as well as the flavors those oils help deliver. French Press coffee 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 a different style of brew. 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 VERDICT

The fact that you're considering one of these coffee makers says a lot about you. You want something to brew coffee at home. Something easy on the eye,and can brew one cup or many. And you don't plan on taking it around the world with you. But above all - you appreciate damn smooth coffee. Sound like you?

The French Press and the Chemex seem similar, but they are not.

kettle for making hot water, chemex carafe, and coffee filter in front of a guy

The Chemex is better suited for pour over or drip coffee fanatics. It's a little harder to master, but the payout is fine tasting, clean, smooth filter coffee. Read our review of the Chemex here. The Chemex brewer is definitely a piece of art that coffee lovers will want to spruce up their breakfast tables. If you are willing to dedicate a little more time to prepare your cuppa, and you prefer a lighter, cleaner brew, Chemex is your boy.

The French Press makes a unique cup of brew, but it's a little sediment-y (avoid that last sip!) That’s OK though, because it's simple to use, and requires no disposable, gimmicky filters (it comes with its own mesh filter) or pouring techniques. It's still a staple in every coffee lover’s brewing arsenal. Take a look at the best french press coffee makers here.

pouring hot French press coffee from a pot to a cup

So, should you go for the Chemex or the French press to get that ‘perfect’ cup? Go for whichever one fits your available time or your preferred cuppa joe. Just make sure to pick fresh, quality beans, and follow the brewing instructions to get the coffee of your dreams.

Or why not go for both?! And discover the wonders that these two classic methods have to offer.

FAQs

Whats the best type of bean for French Press brewing?

The kind of coffee bean you use in your French Press or Chemex will make a world of difference in the final result. When brewing with Chemex, you’ll get the best results with a light/medium roast single-origin Arabica bean as it will highlight the subtle flavor profiles of the coffee. When brewing with a French Press, it’s preferable to use a medium/dark roast bean. It could be single origin or an Arabica blend or even an Arabica & Robusta blend as the darker roast and brewing style emphasizes the classic coffee flavor and heavy body. To know more, read about the best coffee beans in the world here.

What coffee to water ratio should I use in a French Press vs Chemex?

Generally speaking, the coffee to water ratio should be higher in a French Press compared to Chemex. SCAA’s “golden ratio” of 55 grams of coffee per liter of water works like a charm with the Chemex. However, for the French Press, start with 77 grams of coffee per liter of water.

How do I keep my brewed coffee hot?

Keeping brewed coffee hot is a challenge that every coffee lover faces on a daily basis. That’s why you will find dozens of solutions to the problem. In our opinion, though, there’s only one thing that works - thermal insulation. Whether you use a travel mug or thermos or a simple hand woven cup warmer. To learn more, read our article on how to keep your coffee hot (as well as the myths surrounding it).


References

  1. Chemex. (n.d.). Filters. Retrieved from https://www.chemexcoffeemaker.com/filters.html
  2. Engber, D. (2014, May 30). Who Made That French Press. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/01/magazine/who-made-that-french-press.html
  3. Cho, N. (2014, June 26). Coffee Science: How To Make The Best Pour Over Coffee At Home. Retrieved from https://www.seriouseats.com/2014/06/make-better-pourover-coffee-how-pourover-works-temperature-timing.html
  4. Blue Bottle Coffee. (n.d.). French Press. Retrieved from https://bluebottlecoffee.com/preparation-guides/french-press
  5. Death Wish Coffee. (2018, December 23). Why I Love Brewing Coffee In A Chemex. Retrieved from https://www.deathwishcoffee.com/blogs/news/love-chemex-brewing
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  • Alex
  • August 21, 2019
Alex
 

Alex is the Founder and Editor of Homegrounds.co. He is passionate about brewing amazing coffee at home, and teaching others to do the same.

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