When it comes to manual brewers, this might not seem like a fair comparison. After all, French Press coffee and Chemex coffee are very different tastes. But if you’re looking at a new way to brew coffee at home, you need to consider all the aspects before you buy.
Read on for the full Chemex vs French Press guide to see how they compare across a range of features.
The Chemex coffee maker might look like the invention of a third-wave barista, but this elegant glass creation has been around since 1941. It’s the brainchild of Dr. Peter Schlumbohm, a German-American scientist, who took inspiration from his chemistry equipment.
He had a goal to make everyday objects not only more functional but also more attractive. And he succeeded – the Chemex is part of the permanent design collection at MOMA, NY (1). But of course, it’s not just the stylish good looks that have allowed Chemex such enduring popularity.
The Chemex is simply a brand of pour-over coffee maker, but the unique design impacts how the coffee is brewed. The hourglass shape serves as both carafe and funnel because Chemex is made from a single piece of borosilicate glass with a wooden collar. The Chemex uses a particular type of bonded paper filter thicker than those used in other coffee makers. These filters remove much of the oil and sediment from the coffee as it’s brewed, resulting in the clean, flavorful brew that’s such a hit with coffee lovers.
- Creates a clean cup of coffee
- Brews up to 10 cups
Paper filters can be expensive
- Glass is fragile
The French Press beat the Chemex to market by less than 20 years, though the concept is much older. You can essentially do the method of steeping coffee grounds in hot water with any vessel, so the invention of the French Press and later upgrades simply made this extraction technique more user-friendly (2).
While the mesh filter removes the bulk of the grounds from your pot of coffee, it won’t take out the fines or the coffee’s natural oils. This results in a robust brew with a rich mouthfeel, though you have to expect a little sediment in the bottom of your cup.
Unlike Chemex, French Presses are not one particular brand, so you have a much wider variety to choose from, often at a lower cost. The classic model is a Pyrex glass beaker with a mesh filter on a metal plunger that separates the grounds. But you can find this brewer in materials including stainless steel, ceramic, or silicone, with added features like insulation or spill-proof lids.
Wide range of options to choose from
- No special equipment needed
- Versatile and portable
Danger of over-extraction
- Messy cleanup
French Press vs Chemex: The Features Compared
Now that you know a bit about these two manual brewers, let’s see how the Chemex and French Press perform on different aspects of the coffee-making process.
Both brewing methods will, of course, require you to have freshly ground coffee beans and hot water to hand, so let’s assume you’ve already taken care of this.
Unlike the French Press, you’ll need to get it ready for brewing first with the Chemex, spending perhaps a minute prepping the paper filter. If you’re brewing on a scale, you’ll need to set this up too. Allow 30 seconds for blooming the coffee, then pour water in stages over 2:30-3:00 minutes.
With the French Press, there’s nothing to prepare. Blooming the coffee grounds for around 30 seconds will ensure a more even extraction, then it’s simply a matter of adding the remaining water and leaving it to steep for 3-4 minutes. If time isn’t an issue, you can add the extra step of prewarming both the French Press and your cup to keep the coffee warmer for longer.
Winner: The French Press. The brew time is around the same, depending on the strength you’re going for, but there’s no time needed for setting up. As it’s a hands-off coffee brewing process, you can also multitask for a few minutes.
Ease of use
Manual coffee makers will always need more work than automatic ones, but which is the easiest way to make coffee between the Chemex and the French Press?
If you’ve never used a Chemex before, it’s going to seem pretty intimidating. But once you learn the basic steps, it’s pretty simple. The most challenging thing to learn is the pouring technique, which requires a steady spiral movement over the coffee grounds. A gooseneck kettle will make this easier. Once you nail your grind and your coffee to water ratio, gravity will take care of the rest.
This isn’t difficult. It just requires a bit of patience. Brewing coffee with a Chemex gives you a sense of accomplishment…Curtis Silver, Forbes
When it comes to clean up, you just throw out the filter with the used grounds inside and rinse the carafe.
On the flip side, using a French Press is a deceptively simple affair. After all, it’s just a matter of adding the water to coarse ground coffee and leaving it until it’s ready, right? Well, yes, getting a basic cup of coffee out of this brewer is incredibly straightforward and intuitive. Still, connoisseurs of the coffee maker know that it takes a lot of trial and error to get a truly excellent brew.
Cleaning the French Press should be easy due to the wide-open beaker mouth, but the leftover grounds are usually still full of water, making it a messy job.
Winner: It’s a tie. The Chemex requires a bit of a learning curve and some extra steps along the way, but it is probably more forgiving. The French Press has a simpler set-up, but you could quickly go wrong with so many variables to play with.
Control over the brew
If you’re serious about your coffee, or even just a little curious, at some point you’re going to want to experiment with your brew. This could mean anything from a different kind of coffee bean to clocking the exact number of seconds needed for the perfect cup of joe.
With a brewer like Chemex, you have more control over some steps than others. The grind size, water temperature, and the water to coffee ratio are all yours to play with. You can also adjust the speed at which you pour, but ultimately, the water’s time in contact with the grounds is up to physics.
With a full immersion brewing method such as the French Press or cold brew, you have complete control over the brewing time. You pour out the coffee when it’s done. You also control ratios, water temperature, and grind size, though a too-fine grind will create extra sediment.
If you’re not so interested in making decisions about your coffee, you might want to consider Drip Machines vs French Press.
Winner: French Press. With the ability to tweak every step of the process, you’ll have endless room for experimenting.
While the French Press and the Chemex are more portable than say a drip coffee machine, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re good for travel.
The Chemex is lightweight, and depending on the capacity, it’s not particularly large. However, the all-in-one hourglass design that makes it so good-looking is its downfall here. It’s quite unwieldy and can’t be taken apart, and the glass makes it too fragile to transport easily.
The classic cafetiere is also made from glass, but it has a few advantages. It usually has a stainless steel frame to support it, and also comes in smaller sizes, down to just one cup. If you want to take one on the road, there are also French Presses designed for travel with a compact design and spill-proof lids.
See how they stack up with another well-loved portable brewer in our guide to French Press vs the Aeropress.
Winner: The French Press wins this hands down. While larger models or those made from ceramic won’t be suitable for throwing in a bag, there are plenty of options that travel well.
The end product
Convenience and versatility can be big selling points when comparing two similar brewers. Still, in this case, you’re looking at two different brewing methods, meaning two very different cups of coffee.
Using the filtration method, the coffee the Chemex brews is similar but not the same as that you would get with other types of pour over coffee. The extra-thick paper filter removes almost all of the coffee oils, and along with it, any hint of bitterness. It uses a slightly coarser grind, which along with the filters, helps to remove the fines, resulting in a bright, clean cup of coffee.
French Press coffee is an entirely different approach to brewing, and as such, has an entirely different flavor profile. The whole point of this method is to allow the natural coffee oils and rich flavors of the beans to be extracted for a bold-as-brass brew.
Using a French press means that everything except the ground coffee is in the cup. You taste all the flavors…Charles Crawford, Lifehack
Not everyone is a fan of the full-bodied coffee the French Press provides, with some people complaining that it has a muddy mouthfeel. It can also be very easy to over-extract, which will make your coffee taste bitter.
If you don’t own a Chemex brand pour-over, try instead our guide comparing the French Press with pour-over coffeemakers.
Winner: It, of course, comes down to personal taste, but we’re going to go with the Chemex. The light touch means that you can get the most out of specialty beans.
Like many things in life, this decision comes down to personal preference. Our French Press vs Chemex rundown showed you that they produce quite different brews. So, your taste in coffee will probably be the biggest decider here.
Use the Chemex if:
- You like a clean, crisp coffee
- You enjoy the ritual of brewing
- You want a fuss-free cleanup
Use a French press if:
- You like a full bodied cup of coffee
- You prefer to have buying options
- You want a paper-free brewing process
Chemex is better for your health because it uses a paper filter to remove some of the coffee’s natural oils. Studies have shown that unfiltered coffee, such as that you get from a French Press, contains higher levels of diterpenes that can increase your “bad” LDL cholesterol (3). But before you get too worried, be aware that this study is based on drinking 5-8 cups of coffee per day.
The best beans for French Press are traditionally dark roasted, as the longer roast helps develop flavorful natural oils (4). You can, of course, use any bean, but you might find that the French Press method allows you to taste the subtle flavors of a light roast.
The best ratio for French Press ultimately comes down to personal preference, but 1:15 is a good starting point. This means for every 1 gram of coffee, use 15 grams of water. If you’re not using a scale, this amounts to 3 tablespoons of coffee per cup of water (5).
- About Us. Chemex. Pure Design. Pure Flavor. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.chemexcoffeemaker.com/about-us.
- Kumstova, K. (2018, March 22). The History of French Press. European Coffee Trip. Retrieved from https://europeancoffeetrip.com/the-history-of-french-press/.
- Godman, H. (2016, April 29). Pressed coffee is going mainstream – but should you drink it? Harvard Health. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/pressed-coffee-going-mainstream-drink-201604299530.
- Thompson, N. (2021, June 21). What is the Difference Between Light, Medium, and Dark Roast Coffee? Copper Moon Coffee. Retrieved from https://www.coppermooncoffee.com/blogs/newsroom/what-is-the-difference-between-light-medium-and-dark-roast-coffee.
- How to French Press! Crema.co. (2016, April 14). Retrieved from https://crema.co/guides/french-press-coffee.
Husband, father and former journalist, I’ve combined my love of writing with my love of coffee to create this site. I love high end products, but write all my content with budget conscious coffee enthusiasts in mind. I prefer light roasts, and my normal brew is some sort of pour over, although my guilty pleasure is the occasional flat white.