French Press VS Chemex – The Showdown

Love manual brewing but want to weigh up the pros and cons of French Press vs Chemex?

Whatever your reasons are, we will give you a solid background for both brewing methods.

By the end of this article, you should be closer to differentiating the difference when it comes to French Press vs Chemex.

Let’s get started!

What’s The Chemex?

The Pour-Over Master
Chemex Pour-Over Glass Coffeemaker - Classic Series - 8-Cup
$47.95

An essential for any lover of manual brewing. A simple but effective way to brew incredible coffee right at home.

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At first glance, the Chemex brewer comes off as decorative rather than functional. It’s hard to ignore the borosilicate glass with the signature wooden neck and leather tie.

You may have seen a Chemex in a coffee shop somewhere and thought to yourself “why is there a vase beside the french press?”

As beautiful as its form is, it is as well-designed function-wise.

Invented by Dr Peter Schlumbohm, he desired to use science to improve or simplify. In creating the Chemex, he aimed for a piece of equipment that gave ideal extractions every time.

So how’s it work?

In short: You fold a paper filter on top to separate the coffee grounds and the excess oil from your extraction. Then you pour hot water slowly and steadily to maximize extraction (more on that later) and voila! That’s your Chemex method of brewing coffee.

The French Press

Classic French Press
Bodum Chambord French Press Coffee Maker, 1 Liter, 34 Ounce
$39.99

The classic French Press. If you love a fuller flavor, you need one of these in your brewing arsenal!

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The French Press has obtained a lot more “press” than the Chemex. As a coffee maker, it has had many patents of it filed over the centuries.

It started as you’d expect: a fine metal mesh or a cheesecloth that pressed onto a bed of coffee. To separate the grounds from the actual coffee, all you had to do was push down! Literally putting the “press” in French Press.

In current times, the modifications have focused more so on the design and aesthetics. Nonetheless, the efficiency of the filtering of coffee grounds has also improved.

So how does it work?

You place medium-coarse coffee grounds in the main container, pour hot water on top, and immerse the brew for anywhere between 5-8 minutes. Towards the last minute or so of your extraction, you begin to press down until you hit the coffee grounds. Be sure not to press too hard to avoid over-extraction or sediment in your cup. 

Why the last minute? 

So you have enough time to prepare your coffee cup!

Your first pour will be your best. After this, the remaining coffee in your press tends to keep extracting (because it cools as you leave it) if you leave it in the pot. 

Pro Tip: Take the brew out of the press as soon as it’s done’ and pour in into a carafe for storage if you aren’t sipping it all right away. 

More generally, The French Press and the Chemex are two types of manual brewing methods. 

The key difference being that one is immersion while the other is drip.

The Chemex vs French Press Showdown

Alright, this is why you’re here. Let’s take a look at many aspects of each in a head-to-head manner.

At the end of each section, I will outline a winner for each particular feature. Keep in mind that many cases can be made for either the Chemex and the French Press.

It would be nice to revisit this later on and come up with an evaluation of your own too!

Pour-over vs steeping

Extraction methods

As I mentioned earlier, the French Press steeps coffee grounds. This method of brewing is categorized as immersion because the grounds are soaked with hot water and left to percolate.  Whereas on the other hand the Chemex is a drip method of brewing coffee.

Immersion

Immersion

Immersion brewing methods are more consistent because there is less technical expertise required. The focus when preparing coffee via steeping is on the quality of the beans, the grinder, and figuring out the ideal extraction times.

The problem of immersion brew methods is that they need more handling after brewing.

Coffee keeps extracting for as long as grounds are in contact with water. This means that if you want to maintain the full-bodied brew that you aimed for, make sure you buy a French Press that is the correct size for you.

If your French Press is too big, and you leave the excess coffee to sit, it has a high chance of being over-extracted before you even finish your first cup.

If you have a larger press and you can still brew smaller just as long as you meet the adequate water ratio. In short, there’s no need to fill it up entirely if you don’t need to.

Drip

brew with chemex

Drip methods need more technique. With the focus on technical expertise comes with a smaller margin for error when it comes to brew consistency.

When it comes to the Chemex, the technique is all associated with sleight of hand. In other words, it’s how you pour and how fast!

In drip methods of brewing coffee, pouring water affects extraction. Pour too fast, and you create a logjam in your filter and this increase chances for over-extraction. 

Pour too slow, and you exceed the ideal time that the grounds should be exposed to water. This can result in a bitter, over-extracted brew.

What’s the benefit of drip methods? It relies on the skill and knowledge of the brewer.

When you have a broad understanding of coffee, you can play with the inputs. As a result, controlling the amount of grounds, the water temperature, and the ratio all relative to your starting point can make brews that you personally love, but others might not.

As you can probably tell, drip methods are more artistic than say pulling a shot of espresso where there’s little variability in the brewer’s hand.

Personally, I enjoy drip methods much more. It’s a live knowledge test, plus and minus of specific inputs to test and test again!

However, if I want to sip on a cup while I read a book, and the purpose is more to stay awake rather than to taste the fruity notes of a light roast, then I go with immersion.

WINNER: Chemex. I enjoy the “arty” side of brewing coffee! Any nuances in flavor, I chalk up as “pleasant surprises.”

Brew Time

Agitation speeds up extraction. The coffee grounds movement and the heat of the water work in tandem to extract flavors. Less agitation means less movement.

These settled brews need more extraction time to make up for the lack of pressure and movement on the coffee.

As you can probably know, the French Press has grounds that fall (mostly) to the bottom. The only agitation is from initially pouring the water in one go. This is why French Presses take anywhere from 5-7 minutes.

The Chemex, because of the steady movement of the grounds from your pour, takes an average of 3-4 minutes.

In summary, agitation speeds up extraction. The coffee grounds movement and the heat of the water work in tandem to extract flavors.

Conversely, settled brews need more extraction time to make up for the lack of pressure and movement on the coffee.

As you can imagine, the French Press has grounds that fall (mostly) to the bottom. The only agitation you get is from initially pouring the water in one go. This is why French Presses take anywhere from 5-7 minutes.

The Chemex, because of the presence of agitation from your pour, takes an average of 3-4 minutes.

WINNER: Chemex. I always want a cup of coffee as fast as possible.

Ease of brewing

French press users can attest to how simple their routines are. Most of them make their coffee as they read a book, reply to emails, etc.

Chemex users have a different routine. From the initial pour, the speed, and the movement, their habits are more specific.

They also need way more attention. You need to pour a specific amount to extend your bloom for as long as possible while avoiding over or under-extraction.

One miscalculation with the Chemex can make you have to chuck an entire batch of coffee! Yikes!

WINNER: French Press. It isn’t even close. This is an area where immersion brew methods will always win over drip.

Portability

In terms of design variety, the French Press has variants for the outdoors. These are made of stainless steel, or some other heat resistant, non-breakable, food-grade material.

The Chemex only has one design that is that beautifully crafted vase-beaker.

To illustrate my point, if you haven’t noticed, there’s a high chance that you will come across a broken Chemex in a small coffee shop repurposed as a decorative item, whether that be a vase or a tip jar.

WINNER: French Press.

Ease of cleaning

This is an area where drip methods of brewing coffee make a come back.

After using a French Press, you would have to take the plunger out, separate the mesh filter from the disc, rinse, and re-attach. In the exact same order and angle.

Most drip methods only need a rinse of the brewer, while you toss out the paper filter with the grounds. Even a reusable metal mesh filter will only need a simple rinse with no detachments necessary.

Unscrewing and reattaching that filter is something I dislike but can’t avoid given that any grounds carried over from previous cups will profoundly affect my next brew.

WINNER: Chemex. As a coffee professional, the French Press is one of my least favorite things to clean, given the quality of the brew I get from it…Yup I’m not a huge fan of the press!

Coffee grind required

Another critical factor, like any brewing method, is grind size. So much so, that it’s a big talking point between coffee fans.

Too fine and you will clog your filter. Too coarse and you create so little resistance that water rushes through it like a waterfall. If there isn’t enough contact time between coffee and water, the brew doesn’t have time to bloom, and you end up with under extraction.

It can be useful to alter grind size in line with serving size too. Larger servings require more grounds by nature. Think about the concentration of the end brew; you will need to grind to a slightly coarser consistency to accommodate this with the Chemex.

When talking French Press vs pour over, we can go back and forth for days depending on the type of bean, water temperature, and number of servings. All these are connected with the grind size in affecting the end coffee result.

I generally focus on falling within a time parameter first (5-7 minutes for French Press and 3-4 minutes for Chemex). This means that I will experiment with a set grind size and serving size that brings me within these limits. Grinding finer stretches the extraction time, while grinding coarser reduces it.

This is an area where you control a variable before your coffee touches your coffee maker. Whether you’re using a press or the Chemex, your only edge is familiarity. Knowledge of roast levels, flavor notes, ideal extraction temperatures will all work hand-in-hand with your equipment.

WINNER: Tie. If you know the correct grind size for each brew method!

Related read: Grinders for French Presses

Taste

Another opportunity to go back to brewing principles!

The body of your coffee is a big topic when talking about a pour over vs French Press.

Since there aren’t any absorbent filters (paper or cloth), more sediment and oil pass naturally into your cup of coffee. This results in a thicker body and heavier mouthfeel.

When comparing the Chemex to an immersion method with no absorbent filter, you inevitably filter out more oil and sediment. This results in a ‘cleaner’ brew. Depending on your beans, you can even double-filter a Chemex for a light and crisp taste.

Winner: You. This subtopic isn’t about the Chemex vs French Press anymore. It has become more about you and your preferences. The more familiar you are with them, the better you can brew coffee to your specifications consistently.

pros and cons of steep vs dripping

The final verdict

We’ve put the French Press and the Chemex head-to-head in this article. We’ve gone through the topics that we feel are important to understand the principal differences of each. Here are the final scores:

French Press: 2pts

Chemex: 3pts

Winner
Chemex Pour-Over Glass Coffeemaker - Classic Series - 8-Cup
$47.95

An essential for any lover of manual brewing. A simple but effective way to brew incredible coffee right at home.

SEE NOW ON AMAZON Learn More
We earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase at no additional cost to you. 10/24/2020 07:41 pm UTC
Classic French Press
Bodum Chambord French Press Coffee Maker, 1 Liter, 34 Ounce
$39.99

The classic French Press. If you love a fuller flavor, you need one of these in your brewing arsenal!

SEE NOW ON AMAZON Learn More
We earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase at no additional cost to you. 10/24/2020 01:44 pm UTC

The final score is close, and still a product of some of my personal biases. Chemex wins on cup quality and the joy of making coffee.

What does this close score imply? The French Press and the Chemex are both solid and traditional brewing pieces.

At the end of the day, it still depends on you. You choose your coffee maker based on how you like your cup of coffee.

Choose the French Press if you like your coffee full-bodied and thick. If you like a hassle-free coffee routine and don’t mind a bit of cleanup after. If you don’t mind letting your coffee sit a bit while you go about your day, the French Press is also the one for you.

Choose the Chemex if you like your coffee light, bright, and flavorful. If you enjoy the art of making coffee and put enough of an emphasis on cup quality, explore brewing with the Chemex more.

Explore and enjoy. Keep brewing!

Miguel Papa

Miguel Papa

Barista and coffee writer

Miguel Papa is a coffee fanatic with a passion for brewing. During the weekdays, you can find him experimenting with different drinks while he works as a barista. Otherwise, he’s likely writing here for Sip Coffee or enjoying the outdoors.