French Press Vs Pour Over: Which Brewing Method Is Best?

It's becoming increasingly popular to save a few bucks and make coffee at home, but which brewing method will give you the best results? 

There are lots of ways of brewing coffee at home, but two of the most popular are pour over and French press.

In this guide we'll explain the advantages and disadvantages of each so you can make the best coffee every day. 

French press and pour over both make coffee right? So what's the difference? Well, there's actually quite a few differences in the brewing process, nutritional content, and overall taste.

Let's take a closer look:

1. Brewing Equipment

Both drinks are made with coffee brewing methods that require manual coffee makers. 

A French pressed coffee machine is used for French press. This allows the coffee to steep while water slowly infuses with the grounds, allowing all the natural oils to be captured. You then push the plunger down and filter out the coffee grounds to create your fresh cup of coffee. 

Pour over coffee makers are used for pour overs. These involve pouring hot water over coffee grounds and through a paper filter. This will slowly capture all the flavor notes of the coffee, and give you a smooth brew. 

The brewing process for both drinks is similar in that it's manual, but you'll be able to pick up French presses more easily than a pour over coffee maker. 

2. Brewing Time And Convenience

Coffee lovers enjoy a quick, good quality coffee. The brew time for these coffees depends on how much coffee is used, and how fine or coarse grounds are, and how hot the water is. It can also depend on the coffee maker used.

A French pressed coffee takes 4-6 minutes when you factor in the time to boil and pour hot water into the coffee. 

It's worth noting that with French pressed coffee you have complete control over the brewing time. If you want it stronger you can leave it for longer before you press the plunger, and if you're happy with the strength you can filter out the grounds to enjoy it. 

A pour overs generally takes 4-5 minutes, depending on which pour over coffee makers are being used. While a pour over is slightly quicker, it generally only makes one serving. This can make it a lot less convenient if there are several of you looking for a fresh cup of coffee. 

Both brewing methods are super convenient, but French pressed coffee requires less effort and is therefore more convenient. 

3. Taste

Casual coffee drinkers might not notice the difference in taste, but the two brewing methods produce very different coffee flavors. 

French pressed coffee has a thicker, heavier, and richer flavor. The French press method uses a full immersion technique which makes a full bodied coffee with a hint of bitterness. 

Pour overs have a lighter and more complex flavor. The finished brew captures more of the coffee oils and makes the final cup more interesting. 

They're both delicious cups of coffee, but French presses are better for those who love a strong brew. 

4. Caffeine Levels

The strength of coffee is determined by the brewing method and the type of coffee beans used. 

French press coffee has 80-140mg of caffeine in a serving. The French press brewing method immerses the ground coffee beans for longer, giving more time for extraction. 

Pour over coffee has 100-160mg of caffeine. By pouring hot water evenly over the coffee grounds it gives a stronger coffee with a bigger caffeine kick. 

If you put these drinks into context in the coffee world you can see that they're reasonably strong. They don't have as much caffeine as a cold brew coffee (250mg), but they have noticeably more than an americano (80mg). 

Both of these fresh coffee options are strong, but pour over brewed coffee will give you more energy. 

5. Serving Size

The serving size of your coffee determines whether it's suitable for you. If you just brew coffee for yourself you don't want to make massive vats of coffee every time, but if you have multiple coffee drinkers at home you need a way of brewing coffee that will satisfy them all. 

Pour over coffee is typically made in 2-3 cup batches.

A Chemex coffee maker can make up to 4 cups at a time, and you can get some specific paper filters which allow you to make a single cup of coffee. 

Depending on the size of your device, a French press can make up to 8 cups of coffee at a time. You can buy press machines in a variety of sizes and even get single coffee press devices to make one cup if you want. 

A press is the best option if you're making fresh coffee for multiple people at a time, a pour over is the best coffee for just 1 or 2 people. 

6. Health Considerations

The good news is that a delicious cup of coffee made with either brew method is reasonably healthy - at least in moderation.

Johns Hopkins Medicine says that there are many reasons to drink coffee, stating that 

“coffee is chock full of substances that may help guard against conditions more common in women, including Alzheimer’s disease and heart disease.”[1]

However, if you drink too much coffee it can be unhealthy. 

The French press method can raise your cholesterol level. This is because a particular ingredient, cafestol, isn't removed during the brewing process and it can have a negative impact on your body.

Pour over coffee is a healthier coffee option. When you slowly pour water over a medium coarse grind in a circular motion you reveal more subtle flavors, and keep out all the grounds. This leaves you with good coffee that's pretty healthy - even better if you use filtered water. 

As with any coffee, it's the milk and sugar which add the calories. If you want to keep it healthy you should stick to making coffee black. Just be sure not to have too much caffeine!


French Press Coffee Brewing (Overview + Method) 

The first French press originated sometime in the mid-1800s in - you guessed it! - France. However, it was actually officially patented in the United States in 1929 by an Italian man. No matter where you consider the official origins to be, the French press is most popular in the US and Europe and many coffee lovers choose it as their morning cup of joe.  

The first French press device was very basic, and although modern coffee presses have gone through a lot of modifications to get where they are today, the coffee-making concept remains the same. It is made up of 3 main components: an open-topped glass (also called a carafe), a push-down plunger, and a mesh filter.  

French Press Vs Pour Over: Which Brewing Method Is Best?
woman using french press

It works by filling the carafe with ground coffee beans and hot water, allowing the mixture to steep for a certain amount of time, then plunging down the mesh filter so that the ground beans are separated from the water (which is now coffee). 

Using a French press is manual brewing at its finest.

You don’t need fancy coffee machines; all you need is a French press device (which you can find for as little as $10), some hot water, ground coffee, and a few minutes of time for the steeping process.  

So who will enjoy drinking French press coffee? Well, it’s an excellent choice if you want a coffee drink that is bold, rich, and full-bodied.

There are more flavor notes in the final brew because there’s a metal filter instead of a paper filter which can take away from the flavor. 

It’s excellent for anyone who doesn’t have a coffee machine at home and wants to keep things simple.  


Pros & Cons of French Pressed Coffees  

So far, you’re probably thinking that French press coffee sounds wonderful. But nothing is perfect, and there are a few cons to using a French press, especially when you use improper techniques. Here’s what we like and what we don’t like:  

What We Like 
  • The complex flavors of the coffee are able to shine through 
  • The manual steeping process gives you complete control over coffee strength 
  • There are no impurities, which isn’t the case for traditional drip machines 
  • The end result is strong, bold, and rich 
  • A French press can also be used for making tea 
Things We Don’t 
  • There's less flavor clarity, and some people find the coffee to be gritty (especially when the beans are finely ground) 
  • Cleaning the French press can be overbearing - all the components must be dismantled 

Pour Over Coffee Brewing (Overview + Method) 

Similar to the French press, pour over coffee is made by pouring hot water over coffee grounds. However, instead of combining the grounds and water in a carafe and allowing the mixture to steep, the water is poured over the beans, which sit in a cone-shaped contraption.

The water then drips through the beans slowly and passes through paper filters, making its way into a separate cup/container.  

A North Carolina coffee shop, Anchor Coffee Company, gives a complete history of pour over coffee:[2 

“It all started by a woman named Amalie Auguste Melitta Bentz. One afternoon in 1908, Melitta was unsatisfied with the dreadful taste from her percolator. The coffee was over extracted and bitter. Melitta began experimenting with different ways to brew. Melitta began with some blotting paper from her son’s school book and a brass pot punctured with a nail. Pleased with the outcome, Melitta released this new pour over brewer to the public.” 

Pour over is a great coffee choice if you like your coffee to be clear and nuanced, light and clean, and just slightly acidic. With pour over brewing the natural oils are preserved so you also get more flavor.

It’s also an excellent choice if you’re interested in making just one cup of coffee rather than an entire pot.  


Pros & Cons of Pour Over Coffees  

Just like the French press, there are both pros and cons that come along with pour over brewing:  

What We Like 
  • Very low risk of grit, especially compared to French press coffee 
  • Results in smooth, clean taste 
  • Easy cleanup, especially when comparing French press vs. pour over 
  • Great option if you’re only interested in making 1-2 cups 
Things We Don’t 
  • Flavor is less intense than with a French press (although this could also be seen as a pro) 
  • Less control over brew strength compared to French press coffee 


Common Mistakes People Make Brewing Their Coffees At Home 

The most common mistakes when making any type of coffee are usually to do with the coffee beans. Either you’re using low-quality beans, the beans are the wrong grind size, and you’re using the wrong coffee bean to water ratio. 

It's best to use a medium roasts, as dark roasts can become too bitter - especially if you let the mixture steep for too long in the heated water. Focus on getting the right coffee grounds, and getting the right grind size, and chances are, you’ll end up with a great cup of coffee.  

However, coffee beans aren’t the only source of error. One of the common mistakes for making French press coffee has to do with the steeping time.

Some people allow their coffee to steep in fresh water too long, while others don’t give it enough time. 

The hands on brewing experience used for French press or pour coffee can be a bit time consuming compared to instant, but the ideal time is about four minutes to give strong flavors in your coffee.

However, depending on your taste preferences, you can go slightly longer or shorter than this.  

coffee beans in cup

For the pour over method, there’s actually more room for error. The thin spout can be difficult to control and there is a slight learning curve to conquer in order to make the perfect cup of coffee.

Here are some of the other most common pour over coffee mistakes to try and avoid:  

  • Using water that’s too hot 
  • Grinding beans too coarse/fine (and grinding them too far in advance) 
  • Not rinsing the filter after the coffee has been brewed 
  • Brewing into a cold container 

Frequent Coffee Brewing Questions Answered 

What is the difference between Aeropress and these two brewing methods? 

When comparing pour over vs. French press vs. Aeropress coffee, you could say that an Aeropress is a combination of both the French press and pour over method. 

An Aeropress is a piston-style coffee brewer that forces the liquid directly into a cup after passing through a thin filter. Similar to press and pour over coffee, it’s great for making 1-2 cups, and it delivers a clean-tasting, flavorful brew.  

Is French press coffee smoother? 

Yes, many sources say that French press coffee is some of the smoothest out there.

According to Greatist’s guide on how to make the best French press coffee,[3]

“immersing the coffee grounds in the hot water during brewing makes French press coffee richer, smoother, and more flavorful than most other methods.”

What is the best type of coffee bean for French press and pour over? 

This depends entirely on your personal taste preferences; some people like light-roast beans, while others prefer dark-roast. For best results, the key is to grind your own freshly roasted beans using a manual or electric coffee grinder.  

Is there more caffeine in French press coffee? 

Yep, there is generally more caffeine in one cup of French press coffee than there is in one cup of coffee made from the pour over method. This is because the grounds are immersed in the water during the steeping process. Depending on how you make it, an 8-ounce cup of French press coffee can contain more caffeine than a shot of espresso.  


Conclusion

Either of these techniques can make real good coffee without a mechanical coffee maker, but the best method depends on you. 

If you like bolder, stronger coffee, and you're brewing for multiple people then French press is best. If you like lighter, more delicate flavors, and prefer to be hands on, then pour over is best. 

Hopefully this guide has shown you all the key differences, and you now know the right one to use to make coffee at home. 

References:

1. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/9-reasons-why-the-right-amount-of-coffee-is-good-for-you

2. https://shop.anchorcoffeeco.com/blogs/articles/what-is-pour-over-coffee

3. https://greatist.com/eat/how-make-best-french-press-coffee