If you want more control over your daily brew, a manual coffee maker is THE WAY TO GO.
With the ability to get hands-on with the process, you can get a feel for how each variable will play into the final cup’s taste. There are a few different methods for this, but comparing French press vs pour over coffee makers is the right place to start.
We’ve put French press and pour over coffee brewers head-to-head to help you choose which is the right one for you.
Even if you’ve never used one, you’re no doubt familiar with the French press. It’s been a mainstay for making coffee at home for almost a century now. Fans of the cafetiere or coffee press (as it is also known), love it for the ease of use and the rich, bold cup of brewed coffee that it produces. Just be careful not to let it sit too long, as even the best French press coffee can easily turn bitter.
It’s the perfect brewer for anyone that only drinks the occasional coffee, or wants to have coffee on hand for visitors or making coffee at home for many people. With budget options readily available, and no special equipment required, it’s perfectly reasonable to have a French press at the back of the cupboard to pull out when needed. The French press is also a handy tool to have around for making cold brew.
That doesn’t mean it’s not a good piece of kit for serious coffee lovers. With the right attention to detail, you can extract very satisfying cups of coffee with it. For a full breakdown on how to get the most out of your coffee maker, read our guide on how to use a French press.
Rich, full-bodied brew
- No special equipment needed
- Ability to brew for a crowd
The resulting coffee can contain sediment
- Risk of over-extraction
The pour over concept is actually older than the French press (1). But due to its association with third-wave brewing, it seems like a much more modern invention. The resurgence in popularity is most likely due to the particular flavor profiles you can achieve with the manual drip coffee machine.
With gravity-driven coffee, one of the things you can end up with is a very, very complex coffee.James Gray, Barista & Co
There’s nothing high tech about the brewers themselves – as the name suggests, it’s just pouring hot water over ground coffee. But the option to micromanage every step of the process has made it a hit with those who appreciate the scientific side of coffee making.
One of the most famous pour overs, the Chemex coffee maker, has been around since the 1940s (2). But don’t overlook more modern arrivals like the OXO or Bee House. For a full run-down of how you can perfect your brew, read our article on how to make pour over coffee.
Smooth, clean cup of coffee
- Easy to clean
- Highlights the natural flavors of the beans
Brewing time is hands-on
- Most require the use of filters
Both of these manual brewers have their pros and cons. So how do you choose between French press vs pour over? To help you decide which coffee maker is best for you, we’ve compared some of the most essential features. Are you looking for an easy cleanup? Or is the ease of use the most important thing for your first bleary-eyed brew of the day?
If you’re accustomed to using a drip machine, both of these coffee makers might be a bit more complicated than what you’re used to. But there’s nothing difficult about either of these two coffee brewing methods.
The French press is very straightforward in its use. You add the coffee, you add the hot water and you let it sit – what could be easier than that? The reason you might have seen it referred to as having a medium difficulty level is that it can take some experimenting with the variables to get the right brew for your tastes.
The right grounds, the water temperature, and the immersion time all impact the taste of the coffee. Cleaning the French press is not so simple. You should never pour the last drops into your cup, so the remaining grounds in the beaker are likely to be too wet to dump straight into the bin. But tipping them down the sink is a recipe for clogging your pipes.
Using a pour over coffee maker will be more difficult for beginners because it is a more hands-on process and requires some extra equipment. You can make your coffee without these items, but to get a consistent brew, you’ll need a scale to weigh both your coffee and your water, and a gooseneck kettle to control the flow of water. The pour over does benefit from a simpler cleanup. It’s just a matter of tossing the used filter in the trash and rinsing the coffee maker with hot water.
Choosing your manual brewer isn’t just a matter of deciding between pour over vs French press. Although it adds an extra step to your decision-making process, you’ll be glad to hear that there are plenty of options for either coffeemaker. This means you can find one to suit your budget and your needs.
Since the patent for the original French presses expired in 1948, any manufacturer has been able to use the design (3). This means that there are almost unlimited options for the choice of brands and price points. You can purchase a basic no-name cafetiere for as little as $10, or you can pay $100 for a well-known brand or one with extra features such as insulation. All these brewers’ basic design remains the same – a beaker and a metal filter attached to a plunger mechanism.
The pour over is not a single brewer. Many brands have created their designs to essentially achieve a brewing method rather than a specific coffee maker. Options range from simple to complicated, in a range of price points, and can be made of plastic, stainless, ceramic, or borosilicate glass. You’ll notice that, in general, these are a type of cone shape required to funnel the water through the grounds and into the cup, but there can be variations in this. Some brewers consist of only the cone itself and sit directly on top of your coffee cup, while others, such as the Chemex, are an all-in-one brewer and glass carafe.
Control of the brew
One of the benefits of a manual brewer over a drip machine is the amount of control you have over the brew. Of course, it takes more time and effort, but when you get it right, you’ll end up with a coffee that’s much more satisfying.
If it’s your first time making press coffee, make sure to pick the best coffee for French press. Of course have the option just to throw in the water and coffee grounds and see what you come up with. It’s this simplicity that has helped maintain the coffee maker’s popularity all these years. But to get the best out of the brewer, you’ll probably want to start adjusting things along the way. Many people will alter the taste of their French press coffee with the grind size, the brew time, and the amount of coffee. The suggested grind for this brew method is a coarse grind, but don’t be afraid to experiment using a good coffee grinder for French Press.
The pour over technique is very popular with coffee nerds who love to get uber-technical with their brew. Though there’s nothing to stop you from eyeballing all the measurements, you’ll notice that most pour-over fans will want to weigh both the coffee beans and the water and use a thermometer to make sure the temperature is right.
Using a timer will help determine the flow rate of the water through the coffee, which ultimately affects the rate of extraction. How you grind your beans will have a significant impact on the quality of your brew. You can read more in our guide to the best grinders for pour over coffee.
In terms of total time between grinding your beans and taking your first sip, there’s not a whole lot of difference here. But we all know that when it comes to getting your hands on a caffeine kick first thing in the morning, any extra minute you are forced to wait can feel like hours!
Pre-brewing tasks for the French press method include weighing and grinding your beans and boiling the water. You also have the option to pre-heat your glass beaker by filling it with hot water and letting it sit until the glass is warm to the touch. Once you’ve added the ground coffee and the water, the actual brew time is around 4 minutes, though this may be slightly shorter or longer depending on the beans you’re using. You’ll need to establish this through trial and error.
Pour over brew time can depend on the exact coffee maker that you choose to use, but the steps remain the same. As with the French press, the pre-brewing tasks will include getting your coffee and water ready. But in most cases, you’ll also need to add a filter and rinse it before starting. The brewing process starts with blooming the coffee, which requires around 30 seconds.
You must pour this slowly over the coffee grounds in the filter, with breaks to allow the water to flow through. The total time the pour takes will depend on the exact brewer and the grinds’ size, but it will be between 2.5 and 4 minutes.
The end product
All of the points above will undoubtedly impact your buying choices. But, at the end of the day (or more likely the start of the day!), it’s all about good coffee. And of course, this can be a matter of personal taste. We’ve described the two brewing methods when they’re prepared at their best, but of course, the final cup’s quality will depend on how you brew it.
Two factors help give French press coffee its signature qualities. The first is that it’s an immersion method, with a long contact time between the grounds and the water. Coffee made in this way is typically much bolder than other brews.
For a big, bold, long-sipping brew, French press is the ideal.Erin Meister, Chowhound
The second is that it’s an unfiltered brewing. This means that the coffee’s natural oils and some of the finer sediment end up in the cup. This delivers a rich mouthfeel that French coffee press fans love, but detractors can find a little off-putting.
The paper filter used in a pour over coffee maker will remove most of the coffee oils and sediments found in your coffee. While this doesn’t produce the same rich body as an unfiltered coffee, it allows for a more complex flavor profile. Delicate tastes of the original bean are highlighted, making it the right choice for single-origin beans. In terms of texture, it’s a lot cleaner in the mouth than French press coffee. But unless you take your coffee black, this might not be the best choice. The delicate flavors tend to get lost if you’re adding milk or sugar.
The Verdict: French press or pour over?
We’ve said it before, but choosing between these two coffee makers will depend on the type of coffee you like to drink. We’re not going to suggest a pour over, no matter how cool it looks, if what you really want is a bold, full-bodied coffee. And conversely, the simplicity of the French press shouldn’t sway you if you’re after a brighter cup of joe.
Neither of these two coffee makers is particularly expensive, so if you want to compare these brewing methods, it’s absolutely an option to buy one of each.
Use the French press if:
- You want coffee with a rich mouthfeel
- You want a hands-off brewing process
- You want to avoid the waste of paper filters
Use a pour over if:
- You want to experiment with different beans
- You love the ritual of coffee making
- You want a fuss-free clean-up
The healthiest coffee brewing method is any method that uses a filter. Unfiltered coffee (such as made with a French press) contains diterpenes, chemical compounds that can raise your levels of bad cholesterol (4).
The best beans for pour over coffee are generally considered single-origin beans or light roasts. This is because the brewing process is perfect for bringing out the more delicate flavors of a coffee. But in practice, the method is compatible with nearly any bean that you enjoy.
- Boydell, H. (2019, January 4). Melitta, Chemex, & more: A history of pour over coffee. Retrieved March 09, 2021, from https://perfectdailygrind.com/2019/01/melitta-chemex-more-a-history-of-pour-over-coffee/
- History. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.chemexcoffeemaker.com/gallery/album/history
- Us1797672a – apparatus for preparing infusions, particularly for preparing coffee. (n.d.). Retrieved March 09, 2021, from https://patents.google.com/patent/US1797672A/en
- What’s the healthiest way to brew coffee?. (2020, July). Retrieved March 09, 2021, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/whats-the-healthiest-way-to-brew-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.