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Moka Pot vs. French Press – Old School Coffee Maker Showdown

The Moka pot vs French Press battle (well, its not that dramatic) is ongoing amongst coffee lovers across the globe.

In the world of coffee snobs, everyone has a strong opinion about which one produces the best brew. And opinions are not exactly helpful if you're trying to decide between the two products; the expression "each to their own" applies in the world of coffee.

I use both, often, so I'm going to (attempt to) give you an unbiased overview of each device along with pros and cons to help make the decision a little easier for you.

The Moka Pot

moka pot

Moka pots are often referred to as "stovetop espresso makers" due to the concentrated and, if you're very skilled or very lucky, creamy nature of the coffee they produce. In contrast, it’s also called 'The Cowboy Method' for brewing coffee, which may give you an idea of what will happen if you are NOT very skilled, or lucky, when firing a Moka pot up.

The magic behind the Moka pot is in its brew method. The pot is divided into three chambers: one for water, one for grounds and one for the final product. The pot is placed on your stove, and the bottom is filled with hot water (1). You'll typically find them crafted from aluminium or stainless steel because they must be placed on your range-top stove to brew - flame or no flame. 

As the water begins to boil, the steam pressure pushes the water upward through the coffee grounds (2). The extracted coffee is then sent up through a spout and sprayed into the top of the pot. It's not hard to see that the Moka Pot method of brewing relies on steam in a way that is similar to the mechanism in pressure cookers.

"...the Moka pot has been with us ... due to its ability to produce a viscous, appropriately dense espresso with no electricity or fancy equipment." Blue Bottle Coffee

Moka pot lovers prefer this method because of the strength and intensity of the coffee, as well as the high degree of customization available during brewing.

The French Press

french press

French press coffee can be described as full-bodied or heavy due to the nature of the brew method (brew first thing under the "French Press" heading). This means French presses are a staple in any artisan coffee shop you'll walk into because serious coffee fanatics prefer the richer taste of a French press over plain old drip.

Creation of this brew is achieved through a very precise steeping process. Coarsely ground coffee is covered with almost-boiling water and left to steep for a short, yet exact, period (3). Immediately before serving, the wet grounds are tamped firmly into the bottom of the carafe with a fine-mesh plunger to keep them out of the final extraction.

Loyal French pressers say the overall extraction and mouth feel of this method is superior to any other brew (4). While the general method has been boiled down to a science, those who live and die by the French press still develop their own unique stylistic twist on the traditional method - there is quite a bit of room for customization!

The Showdown: Moka Pot vs French Press

Illustration of Moka port vs french press

​If I compared every aspect of these two products we'd be here for days. That being said, lets take a brief look at the features that should make the biggest impact on your decision.

#1 - Time: From Bean > Brew

Prep time should always be a big factor to consider when looking into a new brewing method. How much time are you willing to spend preparing your coffee? Is this for a morning commute or a leisurely weekend treat? Are you patient?

For a Moka pot, the biggest time investment is going to be heating the water. 

Brewed coffee from moka pot

Once the water reaches boiling, the actual extraction doesn't take very long. However, you won't want to leave the pot unattended, because there's a high likelihood you'll end up with bitter coffee. If you prepare your basket of grounds ahead of time, you'll need 10 minutes start to finish.

For a French press, you can't prep anything ahead of time. Each batch of coffee needs to be ground as freshly as possible. The water must be heated to just under boiling separately, and the steeping and plunging process will take about five minutes on top of that. It's possible to get a good routine established, but you'll still need 10-15 minutes for the whole process.

WINNER: While it's close, the Moka pot wins this round for taking less time to prep, brew and clean up.

#2 - Grind Flexibility & Convenience

Your Moka pot has a special brew basket that you fill with ground coffee. The nice thing about these pots is that you can grab your favorite pre-ground coffee because the standard grind setting works just fine. If you prefer to grind your beans, however, there is plenty of room to fine-tune your grind. Just be sure not to go too fine; otherwise the water won't be able to push through the grounds, and you'll end up with a weak extraction (our worst nightmare)

Because the French press relies so heavily on steeping, the coffee needs to be ground as coarsely as possible to maximize surface area for extraction.

What does this mean?

It means you'll need to invest in a grinder if you want the best quality brew because the best brews come from very coarsely ground beans. If you plan just to throw your standard fine grinds into your French Press, don't expect a great brew.

WINNER: If you already have a grinder - it's a tie. If not, this one goes to the Moka pot for allowing the use of pre-ground coffee.

#3 - Ease of Brewing

Moka pot on stove

Moka pots do require a little skill, in the beginning, and even the pros concede there is always room for technique improvement. The one major complaint about Moka pots is the potential for under-extraction - it happens more often then you'd like.

Typically, when this happens, it's an issue of grind size or tamping. Both of these issues can be resolved though it may take several brews to figure out what combination of tamping technique and grind size yields the best extraction for you. Be aware that tamping must be done lightly; too hard and you'll limit the water getting through the grinds.

The French Press requires a certain level of skill, but in my opinion, the brew method is more reliable. As long as you follow the steps laid out here you are guaranteed a strong, delicious brew. As with Moka pots, there is always room for tweaking and improving your technique, but there are fewer variables to consider.

WINNER: This one goes to the French press. Both methods yield great coffee, but the French press is a little more foolproof.

#4 - The End Result - Quality

Ease of Brewing

Moka pots produce coffee under pressure, similar to the mechanism for brewing espresso (5). However, Moka pots extract at a much lower pressure than espresso machines, so it isn't exactly a replacement. It does still offer a much more concentrated brew than drip or French press, though. There is also the possibility of achieving a bit of sweet crema in a Moka pot brew.

The French Press relies on the oils and flavors roasted in the bean to produce the best brew: this leaves you with much more room for flavor variation. Steeping also tends to leave a heavy, sometimes oily mouth feel without necessarily delivering extra flavor.

Some people enjoy this, so that is a matter of personal preference. Overall, French presses extract very nuanced flavor and give even lighter roasted coffees a full-bodied feel.​

WINNER: Debatable - The Moka pot offers a much punchier cup of coffee (think 'Italian espresso'). The French Press leaves you with a smooth, aromatic blend.

THE VERDICT

Moka pots require more skill and a longer period of trial-and-error to achieve the perfect brew. But, once you get there, you have the ability to produce both weaker and stronger brews with a near-espresso-quality extraction at home.

If you're like me, and you enjoy experimenting while still having an extreme degree of control over how your coffee turns out, I highly recommend the Moka pot. Check out the best moka pot models here. Bialetti - who just happen to be the inventor of the Moka pot - have been keeping customers happy with the Moka Express for years.

Oh, what’s that – you’re cursed with an Induction stove?

Bialetti has you covered with the sleek little Bialetti Venus Moka pot: made with the induction cooktop in mind. The design means you can, and should, take it camping (if you have a portable induction heat plate, that is). With a six cup capacity (per serving) you'll be keeping your whole household - or campsite - high (on caffeine) and happy.

But, in case you feel drawn to the simplicity of the French Press - check out the top French press models as voted by French press experts in this guide.

FAQs

Is Moka coffee as strong as espresso?

Moka (pot) coffee is not as strong as espresso but still more concentrated than regular drip coffee. The Moka pot produces a very rich and intensely flavored cup of coffee that falls behind a regular espresso and cold brew, but still beats the French press and drip in terms of caffeine (6).

​What size Moka pot for 1 person?

Moka pots come in various sizes - get one that makes enough brew for your needs. If you get a Bialetti stovetop espresso makers you can choose from a 1-cup, 3-cup, 6-cup, 9/10-cup, and even 12-cup size. Keep in mind that you're likely to dilute Moka pot coffee as it's too rich for most to drink straight up. 

Why is my Moka pot coffee bitter?

Your Moka pot coffee tastes bitter because you probably over-extracted your coffee grounds. This usually happens when the water tank is too full, which leads to boiled coffee resulting in a bitter tasting cup of joe. Yikes!


References:

  1. (n.d.). How to Brew in a Moka Pot: Stumptown Coffee Roasters Blog. Retrieved from https://www.stumptowncoffee.com/blog/brew-guides-moka-pot
  2. (n.d.). Moka Pot Brewing Guide - How to Make Moka Pot Coffee. Retrieved from https://bluebottlecoffee.com/preparation-guides/bialetti-moka-pot
  3. Solano, F. (2016, June 9). French Press - The History & Brewing Guide. Retrieved from https://www.perfectdailygrind.com/2015/05/french-press-the-history-brewing-guide/
  4. (n.d.). Brewing: French Press or Plunger Pot. Retrieved from https://www.coffeereview.com/coffee-reference/from-crop-to-cup/brewing/french-press-or-plunger-pot/
  5. S. (2017, August 18). A Comprehensive Guide to Home Espresso - With and Without an Espresso Machine. Retrieved from https://driftaway.coffee/comprehensive-guide-home-espresso-without-espresso-machine/
  6. Bedo, S. (2018, October 5). How much caffeine is in your coffee. Retrieved from https://www.themorningbulletin.com.au/news/coffee-study-measures-caffeine-content-to-see-what/3541954/
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  • Alex
  • September 6, 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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