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    French Press vs Drip Coffee (Do You Prefer Your Coffee Bold or Smooth?)

    by Scott Deans | Last Updated: July 11, 2022

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    The two most popular brew methods have to be the humble french press and the old favorite, the drip machine. Both of these coffee brewers are perfect for beginners and coffee connoisseurs alike and the coffee they make is truly delicious.

    To really get to grips with these brew methods and to understand which one is the best fit for your needs it can be helpful to compare them directly. The french press vs the drip machine can be quickly summarised but when you dig deeper there’s a lot more to the story.

    The french press is cheap to buy, highly portable, and makes bold, rich-tasting coffee. The drip machine is bulkier and very automated so perfect for beginners. It makes a smooth, balanced cup of joe that’s very easy to drink.

    That’s the quick answer but there’s more to it than this. Here we have everything you need to know about both these brew methods, the similarities, and the differences so you can make an informed choice about which method will suit you best.

    Coffee made In A French Press

    The French Press Coffee Maker

    A French Press or cafetiere is one of the most popular and simple ways to brew coffee. It is a total immersion brewing process so the coffee grounds sit, submerged in hot water until the soluble components diffuse into the liquid. The French press method takes advantage of all the deep, bold flavor notes found in the coffee beans and it allows enough time for these to end up in the final cup of joe.

    Once the brew time is up, a mesh filter on a plunger is pushed through the coffee to gather all the grounds at the bottom of the coffee pot. This ends the brewing process and the coffee is ready to serve.

    The brewed coffee is full-bodied and rich in texture thanks to the fine layer of micro sediment left suspended in the liquid. The coffee‘s natural oils all remain giving it a dark and satisfying boldness.

    The french press carafe usually comes in either heat-resistant glass (good if you like to watch your coffee brew) or double-wall insulated stainless steel (ideal if you need your coffee to stay piping hot).

    The Drip Coffee Maker

    A drip coffee machine is another firm favorite among coffee lovers due to the smooth coffee they brew and its ease of use. This brew method makes hot coffee by trickling pre-heated water over coffee grounds as they sit in a paper filter, held up in a brew basket. The water sits in contact with the coffee for a relatively short period of time so extracts more of the lighter flavor notes. The paper coffee filter removes any sediment and most coffee oils, resulting in a light texture and flavor.

    The coffee drips down into a carafe that stays warm on a hot plate so you can help yourself to a cup of coffee whenever you fancy one. A drip machine gives a lot of versatility when it comes to the amount of coffee brewed and some models can achieve an almost fully automated brewing process.

    a drip coffee machine beside a grinder and bags of beans

    French Press vs Drip Coffee Machine

    Brew Method

    These two coffee brewing methods have a few similarities but also a lot of differences. They both use hot water to extract the coffee flavor over a few minutes. The french press brewing method utilizes a longer brew time where the coffee is in contact with the water. The drip machine gradually exposes the coffee to the water so although the coffee runs through fairly quickly, the overall brew time is often longer than the time taken for the french press.

    A drip coffee maker requires very little input from the barista and talk you need to do is add the coffee grounds, top up the water tank and press the brew button. The french press requires a little more input and measuring as you need to correctly dose the water as well as monitor the temperature and timing to ensure you produce great-tasting coffee.

    Grind Size

    The grind size used for each brew method is another area where these brewers differ. A general rule for grind size is that the longer the coffee is in contact with the water the more coarse the coffee grinds should be. For the best french press coffee, you need to use a very coarse grind setting on your coffee grinder whereas drip coffee requires a medium grind.

    It’s always best to use whole beans when brewing coffee at home as they lock in all those delicious flavors. As soon as coffee is ground up it starts to lose that fresh flavor and develops a stale taste and this increases exponentially even over a short period of time.

    For best results, always use a burr coffee grinder as these are the only ones that ensure an even, consistent grind. If your grind is uneven then you get a mix of bitter and under-brewed flavors that all coffee drinkers detest.

    Filter

    When your coffee has finished brewing the grounds need to be removed from the liquid in an effective manner to prevent the coffee from over-extracting. There are a lot of ways to do this and each has its own good and bad points.

    The french press uses a coffee plunger with a mesh filter to physically separate the coffee grounds away from the brewed coffee. Due to the nature of the mesh filter, it will always allow some sediment to remain in the liquid. This gives the coffee that thick texture and mouthfeel that some coffee enthusiasts love whereas others hate it.

    Drip coffee uses paper filters as a barrier to prevent the coffee particles from escaping down into the carafe. This removes any hint of sediment as well as a lot of the natural oils found in the coffee beans. This creates a very smooth, silky cup of coffee that’s rich in complex flavor notes.

    Brown Coffee Filter in Holder VS white coffee filter

    Brew Time

    All brew methods take a variable amount of time to brew the best coffee. The French press is quite standard in that, no matter what size or model you are using, it takes 4 minutes to brew coffee. That‘s four minutes from the moment you pour the water over it to pressing the plunger down.

    A drip coffee machine will vary a lot in brew time depending on the size of the carafe you’re aiming for. It is most common for the brewing process to take somewhere from 3-5 minutes for a small to medium-sized carafe but a large one could take anywhere from 6-10 minutes depending on the type of machine used.

    Coffee to Water Ratio

    Brewing the perfect cup of coffee requires using a good amount of coffee in relation to the volume of liquid you plan to brew. The exact ratio you use always comes down to personal preferences and can be adjusted to suit how strong you like your coffee. The SCA (specialty coffee association) recommends a 1:18 coffee to water ratio so that’s always a good starting point.

    Both drip coffee and french press coffee work really well using this ratio so this is one area where both brew methods are more similar than they are different.

    Water Temperature

    A Thermometer Gauge on a Gooseneck Kettle

    No matter what type of coffee you plan to make, the optimal water temperature is always the same. This is because, if the water is too cold then the coffee will be thin, weak, and under-extracted. If the water is too hot then this burns the coffee and makes it bitter.

    The SCA recommends using water that’s between 195-205F and this is important for drip coffee as well as for the french press.

    Coffee Roast Level

    The kind of coffee beans you choose can be tailored to really bring out the best of your chosen brew method. A French press works best with a dark roast bean that is rich in single-note flavors and low acidity. An Italian or French roast is often a good choice to aim for.

    Drip coffee brings out the more complex flavor notes so works well with light roast coffee. These have delicate fruity and floral flavors.

    You can use dark roast in a drip machine but light roast coffee doesn’t pair so well with the french press. Both brew methods handle a medium roast coffee bean very well so if you’re unsure then this is a good starting point.

    Other Similar Brew Methods

    Pour-Over Coffee

    Drip coffee is often referred to as automated pour-over coffee. Pour over incorporates the funnel and paper filter but you have to manually pour the water over the grounds rather than the machine pumping it for you. It produces a smooth, sweet cup of coffee similar to drip coffee but you get way more control over every aspect of the brew method so you can end up with a richer cup of joe this way.

    Cold Brew

    Cold brew coffee is relatively similar to the french press method but it uses cold water over a long period of time to brew the coffee. This method also needs very coarsely ground coffee and uses total immersion over 12 hours or more. Once the brew time is up the coffee grounds are filtered out and you can actually use a french press for this step. Cold brew coffee is very sweet and satisfying and extremely low in acid. It works best with medium to dark roast coffee.

    Espresso Machine

    An espresso machine brews a very bold and dark cup of coffee by incorporating pressure to extract a huge spectrum of coffee flavor and aroma. This brewing method happens over a very short period of time of about 25 seconds and requires coffee that‘s very finely ground. It makes a very thick, concentrated shot of coffee that’s syrupy in texture and intense in flavor.

    some espresso being pulled from a budget espresso machine

    Final Thoughts

    Drip coffee is very automated so easy to make and produces a cup of coffee that‘s smooth, complex, and ultra-satisfying. French press coffee is thick, dark, and bold in flavor. It takes a little bit more effort to carry out the brewing process but is still fairly easy to do. In the end, the best brew method is the one that you enjoy the most. Whichever way you enjoy your coffee, I hope it tastes rich and satisfying every time.

    Can you guess what keeps me up at night? You guessed it! Copious amounts of coffee beans. What? I brew them first.