Chemex Vs French Press: Pour Or Plunge Coffee Brewing?

Your morning cup of coffee matters. That's why there are so many choices when it comes to making coffee at home.

Chemex and French press are two popular options, but it's tough to know the difference or which is best. With Chemex you use a pour over technique, whereas a French press uses a plunger. 

So which is best - pour over or plunger? Well, keep reading and we'll explain the key differences to help you choose the best brew.  

1. Brewing Equipment 

Brewing coffee using either method will require different equipment. 

For French press coffee you require a French press coffee maker. French press brewers have a glass carafe to hold the coarse ground coffee, a metal filter, and a plunger to complete the brewing process. You've probably seen this type of coffee maker before and it's very common.

A Chemex requires a specific Chemex coffee maker. These include a large, hourglass shape jug which looks like laboratory equipment, and a paper filter (or several paper filters). The brewing process isn't quite as strict, so you do get a wider variety of Chemex coffee makers, but they are nowhere near as common as French presses. 

The two coffee brew options are very different, so make sure you have the right equipment for each. 

Chemex Coffee Maker

2. Ease of Use 

Some coffee lovers enjoy the process, but others just want a hot coffee, fast - these two brewing methods are better suited for different coffee drinkers. 

The French press method is really simple. You just add hot water to grounds, leave it for a few minutes to let the coffee extract, and then push the plunger down. 

A Chemex is more complicated and takes more time. Folding the paper filter can be difficult (though there are speciality Chemex paper filter options which are easier), and you also have to pour hot water correctly so it's evenly brewed. 

French press and Chemex are both reasonably simple, but there's definitely more scope for mistakes with a Chemex.  

3. Grind Size 

The two brewing methods need different types of ground coffee beans to make delicious coffee. 

A French press needs a coarse grind. When you brew coffee using a French press the grounds are immersed fully in water. The thicker grinds slow the extraction process and allow the natural oils to be released to give you a full bodied coffee - without an overly bitter taste. 

A Chemex brewer works best with a medium coarse grind. This is because hot water is evenly distributed over the coffee grounds, so it needs to be able to pick up the flavor more quickly. 

The grind size can make a big difference when preparing coffee, so make sure you use the right type of ground coffee for the best results.

4. Brew Time

The time taken to prepare coffee can vary massively depending on the method being used. 

Typical French press coffee takes 3-5 minutes. This lets the full coffee taste be released, and you can then press the plunger to let the mesh filter remove the grinds. 

Chemex coffee takes 5-6 minutes. You have to heat the water, and then pour water repeatedly over the grounds to allow the coffee to bloom and release the coffee oils. 

You can alter your brew time depending on your tastes, but when it comes to the speed of French press vs Chemex - French press wins. 

5. Coffee Taste 

The coffee flavor is usually the most important factor when choosing a brew, and both of these coffee brewing techniques produce very different results. 

Chemex produces a strong, but delicate cup of coffee with rich fruity flavors. It's a complex coffee, and the thick paper filters help to remove all the sediment, leaving you with a clean coffee. 

French press coffee is bold, flavorsome, and robust. The boiling water extracts a lot a flavor from the coffee grounds, but there is usually a bit of sediment left in the bottom which the metal filter can't extract. 

If you want a slightly lighter, but clean, cup of coffee go you should use Chemex coffeemakers. If you prefer a stronger, bolder coffee you should use a French press.

6. Caffeine Content

Let's face it, most of us drink coffee for the energy boost - but the caffeine levels can vary massively between drinks. 

French press has about 80-120mg of caffeine per cup, though this varies depending on the coffee used and the coffee to water ratio. 

Chemex typically has 70-90mg of caffeine per cup, but again, this can vary depending on the amount of grounds used and the pour time. 

To put this in perspective, a cold brew coffee has 200-250mg of caffeine, whereas an Americano has 80mg - so both of these brews are fairly average strength. 

When it comes to Chemex vs French press, the French press coffee is stronger and better for those who want a big energy kick.

7. Portability And Versatility

Some people are only want to use coffee machines in one place, but other coffee enthusiasts want to pour coffee on the go. This is a key difference between these two brewing methods.

Chemex is made from glass with a small wooden collar- so it's pretty fragile. This means a Chemex isn't really portable at all. 

A French press can also have a glass container, but they often have a protective plastic casing too. You can also get some stainless steel options. This means a French press is reasonably portable.

French presses also come in a range of sizes - and you a French press makes some loose leaf teas as well as coffee. In contrast, Chemex makes coffee and nothing else.

A French press is more portable and versatile than a Chemex, so it may be better for those who like more options with their morning cup of coffee. 

8. Quality of Brew 

One of the biggest differences with French press vs Chemex is the smoothness of the coffee.

French press coffee has some sediment in the bottom. Even a perfect French press doesn't have a mesh filter which can remove all the smaller particles, so you will have a few grinds at the bottom. 

A Chemex will give you a completely clean coffee. When making coffee this way you slowly pour hot water over the grounds, and this means no solid particles will get through.

There's nothing dangerous about the sediment, but Chemex makes a cleaner cup of coffee. 

9. Cleanup  

Coffee science has done a lot of perfect different brews, but there's not yet a magical solution for cleaning up afterwards. 

Chemex coffeemakers take more time to clean. The Chemex filter is thicker than regular paper filters, but some coffee grounds will still get through. The shape of the glass container can make it difficult to remove the stains, and you'll have to scrub it by hand. 

A French press is easier to clean. You just pour the remaining water and coffee out, and you can then take it apart to clean each individual component. 

10. Price 

When it comes to the price of Chemex vs French press there's not a huge difference. 

A Chemex coffee maker will cost $40-$80 depending on the size. There is also an additional cost because you'll also have to pay for the paper filters.

French press coffee makers generally cost $20-$40, though you will pay more for a stainless steel model. There's a metal filter instead of a paper filter - so you won't need to pay extra for replacements. 


Chemex Coffee Brewing (Overview & Method) 

The Chemex – a fairly new addition to the coffee scene – was invented around 1941.

Made by American chemist Peter J Schlumbohm, he created this brewer for other intentions but discovered it could create a good cup of coffee.  

Its initial design looks like an hourglass and uses a filter to brew the coffee. The brewing method is quite simple: 

man making chemex coffee at local shop
  1. 1
    Place filter paper in a cone shape in the top.  
  2. 2
    Add your ground coffee beans to the paper filter. 
  3. 3
    Pour hot water over in a deliberate movement, making a circular motion to pour over the grounds and release the coffee oils. 
  4. 4
    Wait 3-5 minutes, remove the filter and serve! 

The main difference between Chemex and French press is that a Chemex uses paper filters and a French press doesn't. You also don’t need to plunge anything, as the paper will hold the coffee grounds while you pour over the top.

It’s recommended you use a goose-neck style kettle to pour the water, as it's easier to evenly distribute into the coffee grind. The filter will also give you a cleaner brew, as the filter will take out any impurities in the ground.  

Chemex’s are known to make the brew less acidic and bitter. This is because the filter catches the oils and impurities of the grind. Their popularity has come from their softer coffee tastes and aroma.

Their design makes it much easier to clean up as you only need to remove the filter from the top. Cleaning the inside from under the handle may be a little more challenging for others.  

A Chemex is perfect for those who like their coffee to be a little sweeter in the morning.  

Pros & Cons of Using a Chemex 

What We Like 
  • Cleaner brew 
  • Easier to remove the coffee grounds 
  • Less acidic flavor 
  • Less bitterness
  • Brews for 2 people 
Things We Don’t 
  • Use of filters can be expensive 
  • Requires additional goose-neck kettle 
  • Harder to clean the inside 

French Press Coffee Brewing (Overview & Method) 

french press coffee

The French press has been a staple of coffee brewing since the 1930s. Invented by Italian designer Atilio Calimani, it was created for simplicity in the brewing method. It consists of a chamber or beaker, a wire mesh, and a plunger that is attached to the lid. To brew, the method is as follows: 

  1. 1
    Add coffee grounds to the beaker. 
  2. 2
    Boil water, and pour it onto the grind.  
  3. 3
    Place the lid with the plunger up, and brew for 3 – 5 minutes for the natural oils to release.
  4. 4
    Push the plunger down slowly to separate the coffee and water. 
  5. 5
    Serve and enjoy your perfect cup of French press coffee! 

There is no filter on a French press; the wire mesh acts as a separator to the grounds to push it to the bottom. Because of the press’s simplicity, it can be used for lighter or darker roasts and even loose tea leaves if you so desire.

The beaker is easier to clean out than the Chemex, but the grounds can get everywhere once you clean out because there’s no filter to catch them. The mesh may not catch all the grounds too, and small particles can slip through.  

Taste wise, you can expect a full-bodied, rich flavor in your coffee. The lack of filter means the oils remain in the grind, and you’re left with a bolder taste.

This means it can also be slightly unhealthier than a Chemex, but the difference is minimal. If you like stronger tasting coffee, the French press is for you! 

Pros & Cons of Using a French Press 

What We Like 
  • No filters needed 
  • Bolder flavor 
  • Easier operation 
  • More versatile 
  • More cups of coffee from brew 
Things We Don’t 
  • Longer steeping time
  • More acidic 
  • Slightly unhealthier 

Factors That Affect Chemex & French Press Brewing 

Chemex

  • Brew Ratio 
    If you have a higher water content, you’re going to find your coffee watery. On the other hand, too much grind will cause a very acidic and sour coffee. An ideal ratio is 45g of coffee to 750g of water. 
  • Grind  
    A finer grind will give you a slower extracted coffee because the grind will slow the water process. Whereas a coarser grind will provide you with an ideal, moderately brewed coffee. It’s really whether you want a more robust or lighter flavor.  
  • Water Temperature 
    Generally, an accepted range is 195oF – 200oF, but this can vary depending on your preference. Because of the Chemex's design, the water will cool faster, so it’s best to use a higher temperature. 
  • Contact Time 
    Pouring the water into the Chemex slowly will increase the time it takes to flow. If you pour the water faster, the grind will bloom faster. Ultimately, finding the balance between water flow and grind takes practice and patience, but the entire process should take about 5 minutes.  

French Press

  • Grind Size  
    A very fine grind will give you extremely bitter coffee. A very coarse grind will be too watery. You’re looking at a grind that's somewhere in the middle for better cup of rich, full-flavored coffee.  
  • Water Temperature  
    For a French press, you want the water to be hot but not boiling temperature. You’re looking at around 199oF to 201oF. You can also make a cold brew! Use room temperature water, and don’t plunge for 16 – 24 hours.  
  • Brew Time  
    A good brew from a French press is done for approximately 4 – 5 minutes. The longer it brews for, the stronger the flavor will be. This depends on your preferences in strength and richness but don't leave it too long or you risk over extraction.
  • Coffee to Water Ratio  
    Use a 15:1 ratio for a French press. For 40g of grind, you’ll want to brew it in 600g of water. If you’re serving multiple people, generally add 12g for each person. This will also increase the water ratio.  

French Press & Chemex FAQs

What is the difference between an AeroPress and a French Press/Chemex? 

An AeroPress has a shorter brewing time, uses less grind, and serves less coffee. The flavor is mellow but with stronger undertones depending on grind size. 

How much coffee do you put in a Chemex? 

For an even balance, use 20g of coffee (about 3 tbsp) to 300g of water. This will give you roughly two cups of coffee.  

Why are Chemex filters so expensive? 

Chemex filters are a specialty item and a step above regular coffee filters. Trust us and go with the name-brand if you like your Chemex coffee.  


Conclusion

Both Chemex and French press make good coffee, and it all comes down to personal preference.

Chemex requires a little extra effort and the circular pouring motion can take some getting used to. However, you'll get a really full bodied cup of coffee down to the last sip.

French press is really simple, and should give you consistently strong coffee every time. 

Hopefully this guide has helped explain Chemex vs French press and you now know which one is best for you.