French Press vs Pour Over Coffee: 5 similarities and differences

By Shabbir
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There are countless different ways to make cups of coffee. Each of them is different from one another and has certain pros and cons, making people sometimes feel confused as to which one they should use. In this post, we’ll talk compare two methods – french press vs pour over coffee.

Pour Over and French Press are two very popular brewing methods among coffee drinkers. These two methods are common in some characteristics, but different in some aspects. So what makes them different from each other and which one is better? In this post, we’ll dig into:

  • The specifics of french presses and how they work
  • The specifics of pour over coffee and how it works
  • Comparing both brew methods
  • Comparing the flavor profiles
  • Comparing other factors like sediments and brewing consistency

French Press vs Pour Over Coffee: looking at each method

French Press

The French press, also known as a cafetiere or coffee press, is a round cylinder-shaped glass with a plunger. It normally comes with stainless steel filter which works to direct the grounds to the ending and filter out the coffee.

The French press is quite possibly the most widely-used brewing method in Europe and the US. And unlike it is suggested in its name, the press was first developed by an Italian designer in 1929, and then was promoted and preferred in other area around the world.

French Press is loved due to the fact that it can deliver a very bold and rich taste beverage compared to that produced by other brewing methods.

However, one distinct feature of the french press is that it can produce rather murky coffee as the stainless steel filter does not do a good job of filtering out very small particles.

These small particles are actually what’s responsible for the full-bodied mouthfeel of french press coffee.

For this reason, and because it is an immersion brew, the grounds are usually rather coarse.

Very fine grounds would result in an even muddier coffee and most likely over-extract, ruining the flavor. Instead of a bold cup that brings out the earthy flavors of coffee, you’d end up with a murky, overly acidic cup of coffee.

Check out our favorite french press models.

Pour Over Coffee

While French Press has its share of die-hard proponents, Pour Over coffee has nothing short of its own cult following.

Pour over coffee is made by putting coffee in a paper filter, which is placed in a cone that rests on top of a cup.

You place medium-ground coffee into the filter, and use a slow, steady, circular pour of water(preferably with a gooseneck kettle) over the grounds. A circular pour ensures that the grounds are wet as evenly as possible. Eventually the grounds will become saturated with water, and you have to wait for all the water to drip through before adding more water.

It’s also very important to bloom pour over coffee by just wetting the grounds and letting it sit for a few seconds. You’ll know the coffee is blooming because you’ll see bubbles rapidly rise to the surface.

Keep doing so until you have the desired amount of coffee. 6-8 ounces is a standard cup of coffee.

There are many variations of Pour Over methods. Some users choose drippers to place on a mug, but others choose glass decanters, like the Chemex. What device doesn’t matter, it is up to your own preferences, as the basic brewing method is the same.

Coffee brewed by pour over is generally much cleaner and has a brighter flavor than French press coffee. This may give one more factor for you to consider between the two types. So what more the two methods are different from each other? Keep reading!

Head to head comparison of french press and pour over coffee

1. Brewing process and time

french press vs pour over: french pressFrench press: The French Press is one of the most convenient ways to brew coffee at home. All you need for a nice cup of coffee is the brewer itself, of course, coffee grounds, and hot water.

Simply add your coffee grounds to the french press, add water, let it steep for 4 minutes, and plunge down to separate the grounds and coffee. Pour into a mug and enjoy.

Pour over: Pour over coffee, on the other hand, has the water in contact with coffee grounds for comparatively less time, but it actually takes more effort and time to complete the brew.

On average, it will take about 5 minutes to complete a one cup pour over brew.

The paper filter is far more effective in not letting any grounds pass through and the resulting brew is much cleaner.

Pour over coffee is very similar to the drip coffee you are used to from traditional drip coffee machines. The only difference is that in pour over, you are manually controlling the flow of water, whereas in a dripper, the water flow is controlled by the machine.

Winner: The french press wins as far as time goes. It’s quicker, but only by a little, and the brewing process is less involved. You can set and forget a french press, but you need to constantly attend to a pour over.

2. Ease of brewing and consistency

French press: The french press is much more foolproof and easy to use than a pour over.

The main variable in french press is time: let the coffee steep for exactly four minutes, plunge, and pour out, and provided your grounds are the same consistency and you’re using the same roast and blend, you’re good to go.

It’s very easy to control the consistency of grounds. If using an automatic grinder, then you just need to set the dial accordingly and the grounds will always be the same size. Even if you use a manual grinder, once you have the set screw in the correct position, the grounds will remain consistent from brew to brew.

Pour over: Relatively speaking, pour over is more inconsistent because the brew really depends on your pouring technique. You can control the grind size the same was as you would for a french press, but the main factor here is your pouring technique.

To get the best results in a pour over, you need to pour slowly and steadily in a circular motion, wetting the grounds as evenly as possible.

Unless and until you’ve had tons of practice and can manage to pour the exact same way every single time, a discerning taste bud may be able to notice a difference between one brew and the next.

Practice makes perfect, so if you’re really dedicated to pour over, the pouring technique will eventually become muscle memory and you’ll be able to get a much more consistent brew.

Winner: French press, as it’s much simpler to use and still brews a really damn good cup of coffee.

3. Taste

pour over coffee funnelFrench press: Because french press is an immersion brew, the taste is going to be much bolder and more intense. This is simply because in french press, the coffee has more time to interact with water, and more time means more extraction.

Additionally, because the french press uses a mesh filter, a lot more of the natural oils will make it into your cup. The result is a full-bodied cup that feels really rich in your mouth and really brings out earthy, deep flavors.

As we mentioned above, this is one of the reasons it’s really important to get your grounds to the correct degree of coarseness for a good french press brew. Otherwise you will end up over-extracting and the coffee will become too acidic or gritty.

Pour over: With the addition of the filter and thanks to a shorter extraction time, coffee made by the Pour Over method is much smoother, lighter, and cleaner.

Note: I say shorter exrtraction time because water only comes into contact with the coffee for a short period of time. The reason pour over ends up taking a longer time to brew is because the water can only drip through the filter so fast. So while the total time is greater, the time during which the water actually interacts with coffee is less.

Pour over coffee really brings out bright and floral flavors like fruits and honey. The paper filter does a fantastic job of preventing any sediments, and the result is a remarkably clear up of coffee.

Winner: Tie. Both french press and pour over have their own unique tastes, and it would be unfair to suggest one is better than the other. It’s a matter of personal preference. I, for example, prefer french press. My neighbor swears by pour-over.

4. Sediments

French press: French press is generally a much grittier coffee with more sediment. This is mainly because the steel mesh filter is not very fine, and allows many finer, smaller grounds of coffee to get into the final brew.

This is not an altogether bad thing, as those grounds are very fine anyway and they tend to settle to the bottom of the cup. Most of your sips won’t be gritty, but you’ll see it at the bottom of the cup.

However, you may notice that the coffee continues to steep and become more concentrated as the smaller grinds continue to interact with water.

Pour over: Pour over coffee is probably the cleanest kind of cup you’ll ever brew. The paper filter does a much better job of preventing any sediments from leaking through than the french press steel mesh.

As a result, pour over coffee is nearly transparent and you can feel the smoothness in your mouth. The best way to find out this difference is to take a sip of french press coffee and a sip of pour over coffee one after another.

The heavier mouthfeel of french press is very noticeable, as is the smooth, clear mouthfeel of pour over.

Winner: I am going to call this one a tie, too. I personally prefer thicker mouthfeel, so I would go for a french press. However, many people may not enjoy that sensation and would prefer a smoother cup.

5. Cost and convenience

As far as equipment goes, french press and pour over both use almost the same amount of equipment. The only difference is that a pour over brew needs a paper filter, while a french press doesn’t.

Otherwise, both methods require:

  • A kettle to heat water
  • A brewing apparatus(french press or pour over funnel)
  • A coffee grinder
  • A scale for precision brewing(optional)
  • A mug to drink from

Here’s where things get interesting, though. There are collapsible pour over funnels that flatten into a disc, which are really easy to carry around with you by throwing into a backpack or a suitcase. It almost makes the added inconvenience of a paper filter forgettable.

Glass french presses are quite delicate and difficult to pack, unless you wrap them and stuff them really well with a bunch of t-shirts or some sort of padding.

On the other hand, there are travel french presses made of stainless steel which are quite rugged. The only problem with those is that the grounds remain in contact with the water(though separated by the steel mesh), so the coffee can get bitter really fast if you don’t drink the coffee immediately.

Both methods have their pros and cons, and I’ve traveled with french presses back in my french press obsession days, and I’ve also traveled with paper filters.

One last point I’d like to add here though is that a regular kettle is fine for french press, but a gooseneck kettle will result in a much better pour over brew since the consistency of the pour is really critical.

Winner: It’s a tie here again. In terms of cost, both are quite similar. While french presses require less equipment and can easily be taken on the road, collapsible pour over funnels flatten into really portable discs and may even be considered easier to take along.

The last word

It is hard to say which method is better. While some coffee aficionados feel that pour over brews the best coffee, others swear by the French press.

So there is no definitive answer. The beautiful thing about coffee is that there are so many different ways to enjoy it! I would suggest that since you’ve gone through this article, try the method you are leaning towards, and if you’re happy with the results, stick to it.

Otherwise, you can try the other method and see how that works for you.

Or you can be a true coffee fanatic and just keep both :). French presses and drippers are both very inexpensive and you can definitely have both around to drink from whichever you feel like at that point in time.

As a final takeaway, I’d like to remind you that good coffee depends a lot more on the quality of beans and the ground consistency rather than the brewing method.

You can have a $1,000 espresso machine but if you put stale coffee grounds in it, it will only produce swill!

Finally, we’d love to hear from you. What has your experience been like with french press and pour over, and which do you suggest?

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About Shabbir

Shab is the Chief Caffeine Officer at Coffee Brewster. When he's not weighing out coffee beans for his next brew, you can find him writing about his passion: coffee.