Of all the various ways people brew coffee, the French press and the drip coffee maker are probably the two most well-known methods.
As popular as they are, however, when you compare French press vs drip coffee brewing side by side, there are significant differences between them.
If you would like to understand the difference between French press and drip coffee, or you want to know which brewing method tastes better, you have come to the right place.
Here we compare drip coffee vs French press brewing methods to help you determine which of these two brew styles is the best choice for you.
What is French Press Coffee?
The French press is an immersion brewing method that’s been around for at least 90-plus years, and perhaps much longer. Also known as a coffee press, cafetiere and coffee plunger.
Although widely recognized as the French press today, both the French and the Italians claim to have originally created the method.
The first official patents for the press were filed in the 1920s by Italians, but a Frenchman came across the method accidentally in the 1850s according to coffee lore.
The story goes that while walking to work, the Frenchman forgot to put his coffee grounds in his mug first and instead added them after the mug was filled with hot water.
The grounds floated on top of the water, so the Frenchman bought a metal screen and grabbed a stick, thus creating the first rudimentary press as he pushed the grounds to the bottom of his mug.
The man he purchased the metal screen was an Italian — so perhaps both nations have some claim to the origination of the brewing method.
Whatever its origins, the French press is still widely used due to its simplicity and quality.
It’s certainly the most popular immersion brewing method, and that’s where a lot of the French press’s considerations lie.
How To Brew French Press Coffee
Immersion brewing simply means that the grounds are immersed in water throughout the entire brewing time. This leads to substantial extraction.
For this reason, the French press uses coarse coffee grounds and has a relatively short brewing time of 4 to 6 minutes.
The entire process requires only simple equipment and takes no more than a few minutes, yet it produces absolutely delicious coffee.
If you are interested in learning more, read our in depth guide to French Press brewing or read on for the steps for brewing French press coffee.
How to make a French press coffee in 5 easy steps
- Measure out coarse coffee grounds and water.
- Add coffee grounds to the press, and then the hot water.
- Place the top on the press, and let it steep for 4 to 6 minutes.
- Push the plunger down, slowly, so that grounds don’t get around the screen’s edges.
- Pour and enjoy.
The brewing method has many things going for it, although there are some drawbacks that make it less ideal in some situations.
In the next section we cover the disadvantages and advantages of French press coffee.
Pros of French Press Coffee Brewing
Below are some of the top reasons why the coffee press is a much loved coffee brewing method.
The French press’s brew time of 4 to 6 minutes is comparatively quick, and setup and cleanup only add another minute each because the system is so simple.
Cleaning a French press requires nothing more than removing the plunger/lid, dumping the grounds and rinsing everything off.
Once a week, the plunger and lid can be unscrewed so that each piece can be more thoroughly washed.
Since the French press has a metal screen rather than a paper filter, it allows the coffee beans’ oils to pass into the cup.
You can usually see the oils floating on the surface of a pressed coffee, and they add rich flavor and complexity to the taste.
A French press gives you complete control over every aspect of the brewing process, except for water temperature (which will cool as a press steeps).
Cold-brew coffee can also be made in a French press by using more grounds, using room-temperature water and steeping overnight.
Pour over ice, and enjoy. See our step-by-step guide here.
Many people find the French press beautiful in its simplicity and because you can see the coffee steep.
Cons of French Press Coffee Brewing
Every coffee brewing method has a few disadvantages. So here are the main downsides to the coffee press.
Most French presses are fairly small, and even larger presses have a finite capacity.
The largest 12-cup presses still only brew 48-50 ounces of coffee, and many smaller presses make only 12 to 16 ounces. (French press “cups” are usually 4 ounces.)
French presses simply aren’t designed to keep coffee hot after brewing.
They don’t have an active heating element, so coffee will cool as it sits. Although there are insulated presses, these will only keep coffee warm for so long.
Because coffee oils pass through the metal screen, a small amount of cholesterol is found in French press coffee.
The amount is negligible for most people, but even a small amount is sometimes a concern for coffee drinkers with cardiovascular health issues.
So now that you understand how French press coffee makers work, let’s now take a look at drip coffee machines and their pros and cons.
What is Drip Coffee?
The first electric drip coffee maker was invented by German Gottlob Widmann in 1954, although what are now called manual pour-overs were being used since the invention of the paper coffee filter in 1908.
The Mr. Coffee brand of drip coffee maker became available for home use in 1972, and almost every home has had an electric drip machine ever since – making it the most popular type of coffee maker in the US.
They are known today as a filter coffee machine, batch brewer or auto drip machines and they range in size from small coffee makers all the way to 14-cup brewers.
How To Brew Drip Coffee
While it’s obvious that drip coffee is so-named because the brewing method drips water down through grounds, this one trait is what sets the drip brewing method apart from the immersion-based French press.
Both how drip coffee is brewed and how it tastes stems from the dripping concept.
How to batch brew in 5 easy steps
- Measure out medium-coarse coffee grounds and water.
- Place the filter in the filter basket, and put the grounds in the filter.
- Pour the water into the water chamber.
- Turn the coffee maker on, and allow it to brew into the carafe.
- Once coffee stops dripping from the filter, pour and enjoy.
The coffee will taste best if it’s drunk immediately, but most drip coffee makers have a hot plate that will keep the coffee warm.
While the drip brewing method’s coffee doesn’t taste quite as rich as a French press’s brew will, there are still many reasons to use a drip machine.
Pros of Drip Coffee
Automatic drip coffee is the most popular brew in America for a reason. Actually, here are four reasons.
Drip coffee makers come in many sizes, including very large 14-cup sizes.
Many non-commercial models make enough coffee for home entertaining, and commercial models are even larger.
Making drip coffee is extremely easy, as the coffee maker takes care of the entire brewing process once you set up and start the machine.
Many mid-range and high-end models can be programmed to brew coffee at a preset time once they’re set up.
To clean an automatic drip coffee machine, simply dump the grounds and filter (if using a paper filter) in the garbage.
Rinse out the carafe once all the brewed coffee has been poured. If you’re using a metal filter, that should be rinsed too.
Once a week, clean the carafe with soap to remove residue.
Because the brewing process itself is done by a machine, drip coffee makers can produce consistent coffee if you fill them with the same quantity and roast of grounds and water each time.
Cons of Drip Coffee
Filter coffee has a developed a bad reputation in the coffee drinking community and it is primarily due to the reasons outlined below.
The flavor of drip coffee won’t be as rich and vibrant as that of a French press, and there are a couple of reasons why.
First, most people brew drip coffee with a paper filter, which will remove the oils that enhance a French press brew’s flavor.
Second, extraction via the drip method results in a less-rich brew that’s not quite as nuanced. While the former issue can be addressed by using a metal filter, the latter is impossible to avoid.
Anyone who’s ordered hours-old coffee from a diner knows how bitter drip coffee can be.
That bitterness is largely the result of quinic acid, which forms as coffee sits on a hot plate and the coffee’s other acids degrade.
This can be addressed by either drinking drip brew coffee soon after brewing or keeping the brewed coffee warm in an insulated carafe.
Except for high-end and expensive drip coffee makers, most drip brewers limit how much control you have over the brewing parameters.
Except for grind size and coffee-to-water ratio, there are few other parameters that can be manually changed on budget and mid-range machines.
French Press vs. Drip Coffee: 5 Key Differences
So what is the difference between French press and drip coffee?
In the table below we have summarized the key differences between the two brewing styles.
|French Press Coffee||Measure||Drip Coffee|
|4 - 6 minutes||Brew time||5 - 15 minutes|
|12 oz - 50 oz (350ml - 1.4L)||Capacity||12 oz - 70 oz (1-14 cups)|
|Full bodied with rich flavor||Taste||Thin body with light flavor|
As you can see from the table above, there is a lot of difference between french press coffee and drip coffee.
The following five are most important and we explain them in a little more detail.
When you compare a French press vs coffee maker in terms on coffee volume, the drip coffee maker wins.
Most French presses are comparatively small, with even the largest ones typically brewing only 48-50 ounces of coffee (~4 diner mugs) at a time.
Drip coffee makers come in a wider range of sizes, from small 4 cup coffee makers to large 12 cup models that are well-suited for entertaining or large families.
French presses brew coffee in 4 to 6 minutes. When you compare the brew time in a French press vs drip coffee maker, a coffee press is much faster than most coffee makers.
A few small drip brewers might not be much longer, but large filter coffee machines can take a substantially longer time to brew.
When you do a French press vs drip taste comparison, French press coffee will always taste richer and more complex than drip coffee.
This is because French presses retain the coffee beans’ oils in the final brew and use immersion brewing.
Drip coffee makers’ paper filters trap oils, and the drip method doesn’t produce as much body.
You can use a metal filter with a drip coffee maker to retain the coffee oils, but there’s no getting around the difference between immersion and drip brewing.
When comparing drip grind vs French press grind, you will find different grind sizes should be used for immersion and drip brewing.
Also note the proper grind size for drip brewing depends on the shape of the filter used.
For french press brewing:
A coarse grind should be used when brewing with a French press. The best way to achieve a consistent coarse grind is to use a french press coffee grinder.
For drip brewing:
- Go with a medium-coarse grind if using a flat-bottomed filter
- Use a medium grind if using a cone-shaped filter.
Ease of Use
Both French presses and drip coffee makers are easy to use and clean.
But only drip coffee makers can be programmed to brew at a preset time.
For waking up to freshly brewed coffee, drip coffee has the win.
Is French Press Coffee Better Than Drip Coffee?
Whether French press coffee or drip coffee is better comes down to a matter of personal preference.
While the flavor of French press coffee will always be fuller and more complex, taste is only one consideration (even if it is the main one).
Volume, convenience, portability and even the cup we drink from all influence our coffee ritual. For you, those other factors may be more important than pure flavor.
Our top tip is to try both methods to see which you prefer – for flavor and ease of use.
Drip Coffee vs French Press FAQ
Is French press coffee stronger than drip?
Due to the heavier mouthfeel and richer flavor of the French press coffee method, many consider it to be a stronger coffee brewing method.
However it is possible to brew strong coffee in a drip coffee maker too.
Many factors determine the strength of your coffee, including the roast type, grind size, the coffee-to-water ratio and brew time.
So for these reasons French press brewing is not a stronger brewing method than drip.
Is There More Caffeine in French Press Coffee?
If you are comparing French press vs drip caffeine levels there is little difference.
When properly brewed, French press coffee and drip coffee will have approximately the same levels of caffeine.
Grind size and brew time are able to account for the brewing methods’ different extraction rates.
What is the Best Grind for French Press Coffee?
Make French press coffee with coarsely ground coffee.
The grounds should contain distinct particles, and the particles ought to be about the size of kosher salt that’s used for pickling and canning.
>> Click here to read our reviews of the best grinders for French Press coffee
What is the Best Grind for Drip Coffee?
What size grounds should be used to brew drip coffee depend on the design of the coffee maker’s filter.
A flat-bottom filter works best with medium-coarse grounds that are akin to coarse sand.
A conical filter works best with medium grounds that are akin to table salt, but smooth when rubbed between a thumb and finger.
Is There Cholesterol in French Press Coffee?
A French press has no paper filter, so oils from the coffee beans are in the final brew.
This means French press coffee cholesterol levels may be higher than in drip coffee.
The amount is negligible for most people, but if you have high cholesterol you may want to discuss the issue with a medical professional.
Does French Press Coffee Taste Better Than Drip?
When the same coffee is correctly brewed in a French press and through a drip coffee maker, the pressed coffee will always have a fuller and richer flavor.
The immersion brewing method and oils that get into a press’s final brew enhance the coffee’s taste.
Brew Coffee You Like
In the debate of French press or coffee maker, both have their merits.
Consider which better suits your lifestyle and preferences and brew accordingly — your preference may even change from day to day.
When the coffee is in the mug and ready to be enjoyed, it’s not what brewing method is best that matters. What ultimately matters is how much you enjoy the brew.
Which method do you love and why? Does a French press make better coffee? Let us know in the comments below!
Keen to know more about coffee brewing? Find all our brew guides here.
If you are in the market for a new coffee maker, you can find all our coffee maker reviews here.
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