Moka Pot vs French Press – What’s the difference?
If you enjoy bold-tasting and full-bodied coffees, you’ll enjoy the Moka Pot vs French Press debate.
How will you know which one suits you better? We’re going to take an in-depth look at both so you can decide what’s best for you.
The Moka Pot
The Moka Pot is also known as the stovetop espresso maker.
It creates a thick, punchy brew that is filling. If you enjoy an intense coffee flavor with a lingering aftertaste, this could be your home “espresso” maker.
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Invented by Alfonso Bialetti in the 1930’s, he named it after the city of Mocha. Many recognize this place as the birthplace of coffee.
Moka pots use pressure to force water through ground coffee. You fill a chamber with water while placing grounds in a basket above it. As you place it on a direct heat source, pressure builds up until the hot water passes through the coffee. From here, it goes into a tube that directs it to a collection chamber.
At the right temperature, it creates a thick brew like espresso. Also like espresso, it’s taken black, although it mixes well with milk too.
Why do so many people enjoy brewing their coffee in Moka Pots? Well, there are a few reasons:
Taste. The brew and body of the coffee from a Moka Pot are intense. They’re so intense that cutting through the brew with milk or added water to dilute it is necessary.
Method. It can be refreshingly different from the usual drip and immersion ways to brew. Although, you can still craft a workflow around it. Once it’s all put together, there’s less visual attention needed, and more auditory.
There’s a sound that the Moka Pot gives off that tells you when it’s almost done extracting. It would serve you well to switch off the heat source at the perfect time to avoid over-extraction!
Look. It looks cool. With so many designs to choose from and all made from sturdy material, the fun is in looking at it too! Even as your brew spews off on top or at the sides, it’s an experience in itself.
Related read: The Best Reviewed Moka Pots
This one has a more complicated past.
Different versions were invented and patented throughout history. One can imagine that while a plunger that filters out the coffee grounds is pure genius, it’s also a common type of genius.
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What’s more interesting to discuss is the different brews you can derive from this extraction method.
Full-bodied and flavorful cups come out of this not so French beauty. Coffee profiled this way can fit in a similar class as the Moka Pot, in the sense that they’re thicker than your usual pour overs and automatic drip machines.
Since coffee via a French Press is slightly less thick than Moka Pots, you have less potential recipes BUT a more balanced taste when drunk black. Nonetheless, plashes of milk also work with French Pressed coffee.
Three variables that affect your brews via this method are: grind size, temperature, and time.
While the usual recommendations are for you to grind coarser than pour-over, the extent of the difference depends on you! Remember that grinding finer speeds up extraction, and tends to make recipes more subject to bitterness if not brewed perfectly. Grinding coarse slows extraction down, and allows more acidity to stay in your brew.
On top of this, temperature plays a huge role in parallel. Higher brew temperatures speed up extraction, conversely lower ones slow it down. For the best results, it requires you to immerse the ground coffee for at least 4-5 minutes. However, some people like it longer for a deeper brew. Just don’t let it extract to long, as it will lead to bitterness.
Once you reach ideal brew time, remember to press past the compressed coffee grounds just a bit. Zero pressure can leave your cup feeling thin and bland while pushing too hard can increase bitterness and sediment in your cup. Try it for yourself!
Comparison: Moka Pot vs French Press
In this next section, I will break down some areas to compare the Moka Pot and French Press.
At the end of each item, I will pick out a winner based on my preference. Remember to stay true to the way you brew as you consider all these points!
Got Time? Moka Pot!
The average total time it takes to brew using the Moka Coffee Pot is approximately 12 minutes. That’s after locking the chambers in place and placing it over a heat source.
This is a good enough time, with a resulting brew that’s on the bitter end of the spectrum if not conducted correctly.
However, there is a better way if you want to take your brewing to the next level.
Try simmering the water first before placing it in the Moka Pot. This shortens the time the ground coffee is exposed to heat. Reducing the risk of over-extraction and in my opinion, making a much better coffee. It also shaves off about 2 good minutes off of your total brew time!
Speedier Then Slow? Go French.
While the average extraction time is 5-7 minutes depending on the bean, the grind size, and the preference, the challenge is always brewing just enough not to have to leave your coffee sitting for too long (especially if you don’t have a thermos).
As long as beans are in contact with water, extraction continues. Once your coffee sits for more than 15 minutes, it will completely jump to a different taste profile zone.
WINNER: French Press
Why? I like how it’s more prep-intensive versus the high attention all throughout required by Moka Pots. With the French Press, once you immerse, your job is almost done as long as you watch the clock! With a Moka Pot, up until the correct final “hiss,” your espresso brewing quality will depend on your timing.
Since some use the Moka Pot for espresso, you can assume that the grind size is similar: fine but not as fine as espresso. It has to be so to yield a full-bodied, intense flavor without immersion.
However, grinding finely can increase the amount of sediment in your brew. This results in a thick syrupy body, which is accompanied by an almost-powdery substance that’s a result of grinding too fine.
Another (positive) result of grinding finely is that you make it easier for water and heat to extract the 4 main tranches which contribute to flavor from the coffee grounds: acids, sugars, umami, and bitter compounds.
Pair this with the thickness of Moka Pot “espresso”, and now you understand why it’s intense!
On the other hand, the French Press has its own grind size category. Nonetheless, like the Moka Pot its also subject to the type of bean, the roast level, and personal preference.
If you like bitter coffee (I hope not!), you can use darker roasts, grind coarser than drip styles, and extract within 5 minutes.
If you prefer a nutty brew, then medium roasted beans, ground coarsely, would work well within 5-6 minutes.
If you like fruity coffees, while the French Press isn’t your best option, it does allow you to taste a thicker version of the coffee. Try brewing anywhere from 5-7 minutes, from drip to French Press grind size. This method has brought some coffees to life in my experience!
WINNER: Moka Pot
I enjoy figuring out the best way to brew beans when ground finely. Coming from heavy espresso training, the small changes in flavor are fun to figure out! Also, as someone who enjoys creating multiple recipes, a base similar to espresso opens up more possibilities.
Ease of Brewing
Moka Pot Needs Work
You’ve probably made it this far because you enjoy strong coffee. Moka Pot brews fit that bill perfectly.
A typical routine would look like this:
- Know preferred bean-to-water ratio
- Prepare the water and bring to a simmer
- While bringing to a simmer, measure and grind the beans (ideally, you want then freshly ground for maximum flavor)
- Place grounds inside the Moka Pot loosely and don’t tamper them
- Pour in hot water into the chamber
- Assemble and place onto of your stove/heat source
- Wait approximately 7-8mins
- Observe hissing sound that signals you to switch off heat when there’s no more coffee that needs to be pushed out
- Place the water chamber of the Moka Pot under cold water to stop the extraction
How close is your current routine to this routine? Do you find it simple enough? The primary purpose of this workflow is to minimize the time that the ground coffee is exposed to heat. This is mainly to control extraction.
If you do things right, you’ll get a decent espresso for Moka Pot like substance.
The Works Upfront With A French Press
A typical routine would look like:
- Know preferred bean-to-water ratio
- Prepare water to the desired temperature (via thermometer or familiar feel)
- While heating water, use a coffee scale to weigh and then grind your beans (ideally freshly ground)
- Place grounds inside the glass or stainless steel body
- Add your hot water in line with your preferred ratio
- Insert plunger, stopping at the top of the water level
- Leave immersed one minute less than your intended extraction time (allowance to prepare a cup and pour)
- Use up all produced coffee ASAP or transfer to a thermal container
Do you do the same things with your French Press? The primary purpose of this workflow is to keep your coffee taste consistent. It’d be a waste to have one good cup and progressively worse cups as you chase that deadline!
WINNER: French Press
As mentioned earlier, immersion styles of brewing are much more straightforward. You measure and weigh before brewing. Once you start, you only need to remember to stop the extraction.
Moka Pot Is Syrupy
The coffee you get from Moka Pots is one of a kind. It’s syrupy and thick due to the high temperature and pressure used to splurt it out. Since the extraction rate is pretty high, you come face-to-face with the quality of your beans.
It’s quite a challenge to achieve balance with this method. As with anything, as long as you have good quality ingredients and efficient workflow, you can maximize what you get from your stovetop espresso machine.
Recipes using coffee from Moka Pots tend to use up more sugar (to offset bitterness). They have a more extensive array of ingredients since you’ll be working with a stronger tasting coffee overall.
The French Press is fuller-bodied.
However, when you understand how a French Press works, you can manipulate the coffee in many ways.
A French Press can produce heavy, clear-tasting coffee. It’s thicker than pour overs, but it can deliver flavors clearly in a similar fashion.
As a brew method, it’s highly recommended. If you prefer something lighter, one neat barista trick we have is that we run French Press coffee through paper filters. This captures any sediment and oils out from your cup for a cleaner, lighter coffee.
WINNER: Me. I have moods where I look for the mouthfeel and taste of stovetop espresso. Alternatively, sometimes I want something with a richer flavor. For these reasons, I have a hard time choosing a winner between the two. The battle of the Moka Pot vs French Press is hard to decide in terms of taste because each can produce excellent coffee when done right.
While initial investment will vary depending on brand and size, Moka Pots are usually the slightly more expensive option compared to a French Press. You’ll be relieved to know that it’s still far from an espresso machine, though.
The Bialetti Express Moka Pot is always my safe recommendation, and it has stood the test of time and my clumsiness. It has survived drops, being packed in a backpack and thrown about on extended periods of travel. Moka Pots are just reliable brewers, especially my trusty old Bialetti.
While the French Press is an equal investment as the Moka Pot, it has varying degrees of efficiency rooted in build quality.
Brewing can be a chore via this method when the grounds escape into your actual brew. This can increase bitterness, and well, it just isn’t my thing to taste sediments.
One of the best French Press brands I’ve tried is Bodum. Most of my friends in the coffee industry swear by it. We enjoy how clean the brew is after plunging, with no need for pouring the coffee back in because of too much sediment.
WINNER: As a piece of coffee equipment? Moka Pot. As a versatile purchase? French Press.
Okay. Let me explain.
A good quality Moka Pot is excellent to use! It seals better, transports coffee internally more efficiently, and looks great! It’s a simple, decent, affordable espresso machine. And while there are many variations in quality, the classic Moka Pot is my favorite.
Next is the French Press. If you won’t use it to brew coffee, you can use it to brew tea. It also doubles as a milk frother! How? You pour some hot milk in (remember not to overheat the milk to maintain the natural sweetness) and jam the plunger up and down. This is something that the Moka Pot definitely doesn’t have. However, the espresso it produces would work well with the frothy milk!
The Final Verdict
Let’s have a final tally.
French Press: 3
Moka Pot: 2
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As with any battle between two titans, this one was close. For my preferences, the Moka Pot was edged out by the French Press.
Both can be great choices that suit your coffee preferences, so take time to figure yours out.
Since both are affordable pieces of equipment, I recommend eventually having a Moka Pot and a French Press in your home brewing arsenal.
At the end of the day, keep experimenting and keep a log of your results. Repeat until you figure out your preferences. And most of all, keep brewing!
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.