Coffee drinkers across the globe rarely agree on the best coffee brewing methods.Two manual coffee brewing methods that get frequently compared, however, are the French Press and the Aeropress. This is an introduction to the pros and cons of each brewing method, and some recipes that I use for myself. We’ll follow up this article with some more advanced brewing recipies on the Aeropress.
Both methods are capable of producing great results – especially when using a darker roast profile. But there are variations on each approach to get best results and express your creativity.
So if you’re wondering which is right for you and whether you’re making the best cup with your current method, we’re going to give you the answers in this article.
Both brewing methods are superior to the typical coffee you’ll get at your office, or the black pot of liquid tar at a Diner. So for anyone who doesn’t have the bank account (or kitchen space) to buy an industrial-style Espresso Machine, these two coffee-making methods are both capable of making a high quality cup of coffee.
I am one of those people without an espresso machine, and so am a regular user of both methods myself. This is my comparison guide to each method, with enough information on each’s strengths and weaknesses, so you can decide which is better for you.
French Press or Aeropress In a Nutshell
- If you’re planning on making two or more cups of coffee at once, then you’re going to want to go with the French Press, as the Aeropress is really only good for a single large cup, or two small cups.
- If your cupboard space is limited, choose the French Press
- If you want to try different brewing recipes and styles, go with the Aeropress
Origins of the French Press
You might be interested to know that French press coffee has been around a while. In fact the design was officially first registered as far back as in 1928, with a patent filed by Italian designers Attilio Calimani and Giulio Moneta.
However, its known origins date back to a 1852 patent by Frenchmen Henri-Otto Mayer and Jacques-Victor Delforge.
Initially beginning life as a cheesecloth attached to a pressing rod, years of design improvements and modifications later, it now comprises a glass carafe with a steel mesh filter used to push the coffee sediment to the base, leaving the (mostly) sediment-free coffee above to be easily poured, see Brewing Methods.
If you’ve ever heard of a cafetière, plunger, or a coffee press, with these are all alternative names for the French Press. French Presses are available in a variety of sizes, and it’s easy to replace the carafes if they break, so they are well-suited to household use.
Brewing with the French Press
For the French Press, course ground coffee is added to the base, followed by not quite boiling water, with the plunger and lid placed on top, with the rod pulled all the way up. Once the coffee has steeped adequately in the water, the rod is typically (but not according to every method – see below) pressed down to the bottom of the carafe.
The chances are you already know this much, but there are probably ways in which you can get much more from your French Press than you may have realised.
I bet you’ve been annoyed to find an amount of sediment in your coffee when making with the French Press method. The reason for this is that the metal mesh, typically made from Stainless Steel cannot be made fine enough to capture those particles. They are meant only to filter the larger ‘boulders’ of coffee.
A better approach is the James Hoffman method which, if you can wait a whole 9 minutes, will eliminate the nasty sediment in your cup associated with the cafetière and give you a smooth and rich cup as the reward for your patience.
In fact, one of the most important changes you can make to improving your French Press technique is to let the coffee brew for longer, which allows more particles to become saturated with water and sink to the bottom.
But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves, here’s a list of steps to making great French Press.
- If you can grind your beans fresh then you’ll never go back to pre-ground. Fresh means right before you brew.
- Warm your cup beforehand. Put some hot water in from the tap while you’re letting the coffee steep. It will stop the coffee suddenly dropping in temperature when it hits your cup.
- Start with a ratio of 1:12 coffee to water. That means 18gr of coffee to about 220gr of water.
- Heat the water to 95 degrees Celsius, or stop the kettle just before boiling and add the water to the grinds at the bottom of the carafe.
- Replace the mesh lid, but don’t push down at all. The lid should not touch the top of the coffee.
- Wait. Wait…. keep waiting. A good brew will steep for around 9 minutes. 9 minutes is a long time, which is why it’s important to use a course grind where the flavour extraction will take longer. Finer grind sizes extract the coffee particles and flavours faster, which is not good if you’re planning to let it brew for any length of time.
- Now gently remove the lid and observe the coffee scum on top, take a spoon and scoop all those out and throw them in the sink.
- When all the scum is removed, replace the mesh filter on top, but do not push down, that will just cause the sediment on the.bottom to agitate.
- Carefully pour your smooth coffee into the warm cup and enjoy the best flavour a French Press can produce. You’ve earned it!
Pro Tip when Using a Large French Press
If you’re serving more than one cup from a larger french press, you’ll find the coffee toward the bottom will be stronger than at the top. But since stirring will disturb the sediment, what do you do?
This technique is credited to Barista Hustle! They suggest, you pre-heat another carafe and slowly pour the coffee from the carafe where it was brewing into the new empty carafe. Once the coffee is transferred, or ‘decanted’, you can then stir and serve.
Origins of the AeroPress
The Aeropress is a more recent invention by Alan Adler, President of the company, Aerobie, that manufacturers the iconic tube. The iconic tube has surged in popularity due to its compactness and versatility (with numerous techniques on show an annual AeroPress championship as testament to the fact).
Brewing with the AeroPress
In the Aeropress box, you’ll find the main tube, a plunger, filter cap, a funnel that I never use, to pour in the coffee grounds, and a paddle for stirring.
There are more eco-friendly alternatives to the AeroPress paper filters in the form of metal filters and reusable cloth. I have not tried those yet, metal mesh filters on my V60 have always resulted in a harsher taste than paper, but I’m going to try it out – if for no other reason than the convenience of dumping all those tiny paper discs.
In terms of portability, AeroPress stands clear as the winner. Its sturdy plastic material makes it to most suited to the great outdoors (a staple for many a coffee lover’s camping trip). AeroPress has gone one step further and, released a portable AeroPress GO, where your drink is made into the device’s case, which doubles as a travel mug. The AeroPress Go is currently only sold in stores U.S. but there are several online retailers across the globe.
Whichever you choose, you’ll need to decide whether you’re going to use pre-ground or freshly ground beans. If you’re grinding your own beans, then you’ll obviously need a grinder, and unfortunately a good grinder will outweigh the cost of either of these tools.
The AeroPress “original method” is to add a paper filter into the plastic container, attach the filter cap to the chamber and place over a mug. Fresh coffee grounds (around two scoopfuls) goes into the AeroPress, followed by water at 80-90 degrees Celsius to the line (or to taste) before pressure is applied.
Many people, myself included, use two paper filter discs instead of one, as the thicker paper wall results in a smoother brew. Here are the steps:
- Heat the water just before boiling, or if boiled, let it cool for a bit. If you’re fancy, like me, you have a kettle with temperature control and set it to 85 degrees Celsius.
- Put the filters in the little screw cap basket, and wet them. As I mentioned, I use two filters. Wetting them over a sink means you ‘wash’ the paper taste away, and they stick conveniently.
- Screw the cap into the main tube and place it over your mug – make sure you pre-warmed your mug with some hot water.
- Add your coffee into the tube – about 17gr of ground coffee – highly recommend you grind fresh yourself. Aeropress provide a scoop, which I immediately threw away, but if you’re stuck with using pre-ground for now, then add two full scoops.
- Pour in the hot water until it reaches the top line on the AeroPress. However, as with the French Press, you are free to break the rules. Like stronger coffee? try less water. Find out what works for you.
- Stir the mixture using the paddle stirrer for about 5-10 seconds, or use a spoon. I actually like the paddle – I can’t say why, but it’s satisfying.
- Insert the plunger and push down firmly and slowly so that you get toward the bottom after around 20 seconds. This takes a bit of practice, but it’s quite easy. Stop when you hear a hissing sound – which means there’s no more liquid.
- Take the plunger over to your waste bing, remove the screw cap and push hard on the plunger to pop out the puck of coffee and shake out the paper filter as well. This is very satisfying. A quick rinse under the tap, and you’re Aeropress is clean. Lovely.
We mentioned that the Aeropress is versatile and has more than one method of brewing. A popular alternative is using the ‘Inverted Method’, in which you turn the tube upside down, so the coffee steeps without any contact with the filter until your turn it over and apply pressure in the normal way to push the top tube down and force the coffee through the filter paper.
The Aeropress Inverted Method
The differences I’ve noticed are subtle and vary depending on the beans used, but according to Aerobie themselves it is possible to extract more flavour using the inverted method. We find the brew to be a little stronger, and frankly a strong, smooth brew is what we’re looking for when we choose either this or the French Press, so I typically go with the inverted method now.
The AeroPress calls for a fine/medium grind, roughly a 3 on a hand grinder. This will not do on a French Press however, which requires a coarse grind.
AeroPress comes out “on top” with a shorter brewing time of 15-30 seconds, compared to the longer times required for a cafetière.
As simple as it is, there are more parts than I like with the AeroPress. Mostly you find a way to stack them together in a small space, but you need to keep the papers dry and separate. For convenience of storage, the French Press wins.
Which Tastes Better?
As I mentioned at the outset, I use both methods. That’s because some days I prefer one over the other. I get a stronger bolder flavour from the French Press, but the Aeropress has more versatility.
No matter which method you use, the same rules apply here: for the best taste, use the best beans. You’ll need to buy fresh, and grind fresh. The search (and slightly higher price) of your local roaster is worth it for a fresher taste.
As both methods involve the grounds being steeped in hot water, both are capable of yielding a strong cup. That being said, when it comes to taste, as the paper filter of the AeroPress removes much of the coffee oils, you can expect cleaner and clearer flavours with an AeroPress, and fuller, richer flavours from its “French” competitor.
Unless opting for the James Hoffman method, and being extra careful as you pour out your cup, cafetière users must be careful not to disturb the sediments from the carafe or else find them at the bottom of the cup. Interestingly, research recently revealed that sediment in coffee can be detrimental to your health. Another reason to brew smoothly.
Before getting into which of these two methods yields a stronger cup, it’s important first to note that coffee “strength” is a slightly ambiguous term. You have the strength that refers to the amount of caffeine in your brew (its ability to get you faster in the car for work), and you also have the perceived strength of the taste of the coffee, which is most often related to the roast level of the beans.
For a higher caffeine content, you should buy a darker roast, or go with a robusta bean which has a higher caffeine content than Arabica beans. Steeping the coffee beans for longer will also allow more caffeine to be absorbed by the water. For a stronger taste, opt for a darker roast.
Which One is for You?
For many people, coffee-making isn’t something to be rushed, and part of the enjoyment comes from the making ritual itself. When it comes to which method is “better,” we must say that it really comes down to you as the maker.
If speed isn’t an issue and you prefer a richer cup of coffee and cupboard space is at a premium, we anoint thou a French Press drinker.
If you’re a solo coffee drinker who likes a shorter brew time and a cleaner (in taste and clear-up) java experience, you’re going to get the best experience with an AeroPress. The perfect brewing device is the one that suits your palette. If you’re happy with both taste preferences, we think these products are easy enough on the bank account to invest in both (don’t forget the grinder).
Whilst ultimately what makes a delicious coffee is a subjective question, what is reassuring perhaps is that there remains a brew method for every coffee enthusiast.