In the world of coffee making, there may not be many two more popular ways to brew than the Pour Over and French Press. Both can be found in cafes around the world, and each have their own unique following and drinkers with their own preferences.
The main difference between the two comes down to pressure, time and gravity. A French Press offers a method in which hot water is incorporated into the grounds and then the water and grounds are forced down and separated for the brew. The Pour Over method relies on gravity and time for the coffee to be brewed.
In this article I will break down the benefits to both forms of making coffee in order for you to decide which is best for your tastes. There definitely is a difference between the two, and having that knowledge before committing to a method is integral. I will also share some equipment tips and any other advice I have found relevant in comparing the two brewing methods.
How It Works
This process involves immersion brewing, which simply means that the coffee grounds are steeped in the water directly, as opposed to the water dripping through the coffee. Each French Press has a beaker, lid and a fine mesh strainer within it. One of my favorite French Presses is the Bodum French Press.
You start out by grinding your coffee beans fresh before placing them into the beaker. The grind on the beans for a French Press should be relatively coarse, to avoid as many fine particles passing through the mesh strainer. On the flip side, too coarse of a grind will leave the coffee tasting too weak.
Once the coffee is ground, you must measure it out to a desired strength. The typical ratio for a medium strength cup of coffee is 25 g of coffee to 300 mL of water. Once you have this measured you will want to heat the water to about 200F. Once the water is hot you add it to the beaker and let it step for 3.5-4 minutes.
Once the coffee has steeped, you simply use the plunge to force all of the bean sediment to the bottom of the beaker and voila, a fresh cup of coffee brewed to your liking.
Fans of the French Press praise it for the full bodied feel on the mouth this method can produce. They also claim the flavor is much more rich, and the overall drinking experience is much smoother. You can also really dictate the strength of your cup with this method. This is what makes the French Press so desired.
The Technicality Behind Pour Over
The Pour Over method of brewing is a method with almost a cult-like following. You really can get into the nitty gritty of coffee grind, gear, water temp and even mug temperature. Coffee purists swear by this method, and for good reason.
The basic equipment you need for this method is a dripper (the receptacle that holds the filter), a coffee filter, a carafe to catch the coffee and the grounds themself. A mug that is pre-warmed is also recommended for this brew as well!
Before we get into the actual method, I do want to point out that some finesse in making a stellar cup of Pour Over is needed. The reason for this is due to the actual pouring method. There are literal competitions based on the Pour Over method and it is due to how technical it can be.
When you have coffee grounds sitting in a coned funnel and you pour water over them, the water can find certain paths through the grounds, leading to an uneven pour and brew. The best in the Pour Over game are able to pour consistently around all grounds of coffee, which highlights any nuance the beans hold themselves.
How It Works
To start, you will want to grind your coffee to a medium coarse grind. This grind should be slightly less chunky than the French Press described above. Once you have your coffee ground you place it in the filter which is sitting in the dripper which is over the carafe.
The ideal temperature for Pour Over is 205F, 5 degrees higher than French Press. This little bit extra of heat allows for a solid brew as it holds temperature while dripping through the grounds.
The art of a solid pour is actually breaking it up into smaller attempts. The basic motion is to start in the center of the grounds and make circles outwards multiple times to brew a cup. Blue Bottle Coffee, one of my favorite coffee companies, shares an excellent in depth guide to their method here.
The ratio of water to coffee grounds is 16:1. So 16 grams of water to every 1 g of ground coffee. As you practice this method you may find it an excellent part of a morning ritual. While this method does take longer than the French Press, it does leave for more nuance with specialty coffee blends.
The Final Verdict
The Argument for French Press
The French Press method is a great option for those who want a high quality cup of coffee in a short amount of time. As long as you have your ratios right on the brew, along with a quality bean, you will be making great cups of coffee in no time.
Bold flavors, rich textures and an overall stronger cup of coffee typically come from the French Press method.
The Argument for Pour Over
If you are a coffee purist and treasure the minute nuances of a great cup of coffee, this method is for you. Between the intensity of the quality of the bean, different gear and even different pouring methods, the Pour Over is the method for those looking for excellence in their cups of coffee throughout the day.
Nuance in flavor, emphasis on technique and a focus on the quality of the coffee beans themselves are all associated with the Pour Over method.