French Press vs. Drip Coffee – Are they the same?

To French press or drip, that’s the question. It’s not just you who’s wondering which of these two popular coffee brewing methods is better – this is an ongoing debate among coffee fanatics around the world.

Comparing Drip vs French Press coffee - Which variant makes a better brew?

Even though this argument can be settled by playing the old “it’s a matter of preference” card, today, we’re setting out to put the whole French press vs. drip coffee situation to rest.

What is the French Press? – How does it Work?

The French press is a handy device used to produce coffee after conducting a steep brew. It’s a manual method, which means you’re responsible for performing all the steps of brewing, not some electronic machine. 

Enjoying coffee made in a french press

This includes measuring the ingredients, grinding your coffee beans, pouring in the water, timing the brew, and working the plunger. However, the unique aspect of the French press is that the coffee grounds remain in the water throughout the entire brewing process. 

In fact, out of all the manual coffee brewing methods out there, the French press involves one of the most extended contact times between coffee grounds and the water.

While the French press does seem like a lot of work, true coffee aficionados think it’s worth it. Granted, this method isn’t as easy as loading some coffee grounds into a pot and letting it do the rest of the work for you. 

However, the French press produces coffee that’s way richer and more delicious than its counterparts.

The French press is a hands-on experience, but it’s not nearly as difficult or time-consuming as some portray it to be. Between grinding coffee beans, boiling water, and the actual brewing, the whole process takes about 6 to 8 minutes in total – not half bad!

The French Press Mechanism

Now that you have a basic understanding of the French press, it’s time you dive deeper into its working mechanism. To do this, you should first know what the device consists of.

The name ‘French press’ sounds fancy and all, but in reality, this machine is rather simple. It consists of a glass or stainless-steel container with handle, a mesh stainless steel cylindrical filter near the top, and a steel cover fitted with a movable plunger. 

Here’s an easy guide to making coffee in a French press:

  • First, preheat your French press by adding some hot water and swirling it around the device to warm-up the unit before use. After a minute or so, dump out the water, make sure your device is completely dry.
  • Then, measure and add the coffee grounds to the container, followed by pouring in just enough boiling water to soak all the grounds.
  • After that, stir the mixture and let it sit for about 30 seconds with the lid attached. Then, remove the cover to add the rest of the water and stir the mix once more.
  • Put the lid back on and pull the plunger up. Leave the coffee to steep for 3 to 5 minutes, depending on how fine or coarse your grounds are.
  • Once you’re done steeping, slowly push the plunger down until you can no longer feel resistance. 
  • Lastly, pour the coffee into your cup as quickly as possible to avoid having a bitter taste.

One common question here is: should I pour all the produced coffee out of the French press? The answer is an absolute yes.

See, the thing about the French press is that the coffee grounds will still interact with the water even after you press down the plunger. This means it’ll stay brewing even at a prolonged rate.

If you leave some coffee behind, it’ll keep brewing until you pour it out of the container. The longer the sitting period is, the more bitter your coffee will taste. Make sure to pour out all the coffee once the brewing is done, and the plunger is down.

French Presses waiting in coffee shop

History of the French Press

By now, you’re probably wondering where the French press got its name. If your guess is ‘because someone from France invented it”, then you share the same opinion as most people.

While this seems highly likely, the French press, as we know it today, was first patented by the Italians Attilio Calimani and Giulio Moneta in 1929. 

Using a French press coffee maker isn’t all that common in the United States. Unlike the drip coffee maker, which is pretty popular thanks to brands like Mr. Coffee, the French press is pretty much the underdog since many have never laid eyes on one of these devices.

On the other side, the French press is widely used in European countries such as Italy and Great Britain. It’s even called different names in these places. It’s known as ‘caffettiera a stantuffo’ in Italy, ‘Stempelkanne’ (stamppot) in Germany, and ‘cafetière à piston’ in France.

How does a Drip Coffee Maker Work?

Thanks to their remarkable convenience, drip coffee makers are present in almost every household across the country. 

Most of us have a drip coffee maker sitting on the kitchen counter, or at least had one at some point in life. These machines are just magic, and they’ll make you a nice cup of coffee with a mere flip of a switch – talk about a dream come true!

Drip Coffee Maker

But did you ever stop to think about how this magic is even possible? How can this fully automated machine heat the water so fast? And what on earth is that gurgling sound, and how does it end up producing delicious coffee?

Whether you answer with a yes or a no, here’s a little bit of information about how a drip coffee maker works to understand better the difference between this machine and the French press. But first, let’s discuss its components.

As far as modern-day coffee makers go, there really couldn’t be a much simpler device than a drip coffee brewer. This should come as no surprise since manufacturers of this machine had well over 50 years to improve their designs, yet nothing significant has changed.

If you take a look inside any drip coffee maker, you’ll always find the following parts:

  • Heating Element: this is a coiled wire. It’s very similar to the heating element inside your toaster or the filament inside of a light bulb. This coil can get seriously hot as soon as some electricity runs through it.
    When you first put water into a drip coffee maker, the heating element is responsible for heating it. After brewing, the same heating element is responsible for keeping the coffee warm.
  • Plaster: the coil we just talked about is typically embedded in some plaster to make it more robust. This is to make sure that the heating element remains intact with repeated use.
  • Grease: you can usually find the heating element sandwiched between the machine’s warming plate and water tube. White, heat conducting grease is located at the site of contact between the heating element and the warming plate to ensure efficient transfer of heat.
    As you can tell, there’s nothing too complicated inside a drip coffee maker. Now, it’s time to explain how this fascinating machine works.
  • When you pour cold water into your drip coffee brewer, it’ll flow from the main reservoir to an orange tube via a hole.
    After that, the water will travel through a one-way valve to enter an aluminum tube positioned in the machine’s heating element. Then, the water partially rises up through a white tube.
    Keep in mind that all of this is happening under the effect of natural gravity.
  • Once you flip the switch to turn on your drip coffee maker, the heating element will instantly start to heat the aluminum tube, and the water inside of it will begin to boil.
    As the water boils, the produced bubbles will go up into the white tube, just like mentioned above. These bubbles are also the culprit behind the gurgling sound of drip coffee makers.
  • Next, a column of water will ride up on top of the bubbles. This is due to the tube being small enough and the bubbles being big enough to carry water across a short distance – kind of like what happens in a tank filter.
    The hot water will continue to rise in the tube until it’s evenly dispersed over the coffee grounds in the filter.
  • Following the complete coverage of the coffee, the water will flow through the grounds to pick up the oil essence of coffee. This occurs as the water makes its way back down, dripping into your coffee pot.

Which is Easier to Brew?

Drinking coffee is a habit, and making it is a skill. But are you brewing a perfect cup of coffee? That’s just art.

So the question is, which art is easier to master? Most people wouldn’t hesitate to pick the automated convenience of a drip coffee maker over the manual hassle of the French press. 

However, if you take the effort part out of the equation, you’ll see several other aspects to consider before making a decision, such as water temperature, coffee grind, and brew time.

Timing your brew is vital when working with a Frech press. If you do it for too long, your coffee will be bitter and over-extracted. If your timing falls short, you’ll be stuck with some weak coffee.

This is mainly why the French press method starts as a trial and error process. Once you’ve figured out what works best for your taste, it becomes a matter of merely following the same steps for the same duration.

As for drip coffee machines, you’re guaranteed a successful brew almost every use. After all, there isn’t much that could go wrong when all you need to do is measure the correct amount of coffee grounds, dump it into the machine, check the water level, turn on the coffee maker, and come back when it’s done.

Some drip coffee makers allow you to make extra adjustments, but these don’t offer as much control as the French press. This makes the grind the only room for significant error – if it’s too fine or too coarse, your coffee will suffer.

The bottom line is that drip coffee machines aren’t just easier to brew, but they’re downright foolproof, given that the grinding level is right. 

What Kind of Grind do you Need? Fine? Coarse?

Whether you go for French press or drip coffee, you should always grind your beans whenever possible. 

There are two reasons for this: first, you get to be in total control of the texture you want, and second, your coffee will simply taste better.

French press coffee requires a coarse ground

This is especially true when it comes to French press coffee. This method requires a coarse grind, and because almost all pre-ground beans out there are ground too fine, grinding your beans is your only option.

If you choose a grind that’s too fine, the small grounds will get stuck in the mesh filter, or they may even slip right through. This will make it hard to press down the plunger, which will create a lot of sludge in your cup.

With a coarse grind size, you can avoid such horrible scenarios. Also, you won’t end up with bitter-tasting coffee because of the fast infusion rate.

As for drip coffee, the recommended grind size may differ from one manufacturer to the other, but most will stick with a medium grind. You can easily find a suitable coarseness in pre-ground coffee, but why do you risk drinking something old and stale?

What Type of Roast Produces Better Coffee? Dark? Light?

Using a coffee press to make coffee

Any good barista knows how important bean selection is – it’s a choice that you’ll taste as you sip on your coffee.

When shopping for the type of roast that produces better coffee using a French press, your best bet is a medium roast or a medium-dark roast. The reason for this goes beyond the idea that smoky, dark brew better matches the vibes of the press pot.

These roasts have more oil on the surface of the bean as well as a more robust flavor. Additionally, the French press method can effectively reduce the bitterness associated with darker roasts.

As for drip coffee makers, most baristas recommend medium roast beans. The automated machine is likely to take away a little from the flavor, so a light roast is probably going to be too weak, while a dark roast can be too intense for many people.

Is a Drip Coffee Maker Cheaper than a French Press?

This one’s easy! A drip coffee maker is not cheaper than a French press. With a simple online search, you’ll find that the average price of a French press is less than $50 – high-end models cost around $200.

For drip coffee makers, it’s a totally different story. A decent machine will cost you at least $100, give or take. The more advanced the model, the more expensive it gets. Some high-end machines easily break the $1000 mark.

Final Thoughts

To answer the central question: no, the French press isn’t at all similar to drip coffee. If you’re interested in picking a winner, we can safely say that both methods come out even when you weigh the pros and cons of each one.

On the one hand, the French press grants you more control over the variables involved in the brewing process. It won’t keep your coffee hot for long, but cleaning up is notably easier.

On the other hand, drip coffee makers are a lifesaver if you’re always rushing and just don’t have the time to make a fresh brew every time a coffee is due. However, they’re useless in the case of a power outage.

Comparing Drip vs French Press coffee - Which variant makes a better brew?
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