Under Pressure: AeroPress Vs French Press – Which Is The Best Coffee-Making Method?

by | Jan 19, 2020

To the uninitiated, a cup of coffee is a cup of coffee, right? And while the differences between, say, instant and filter coffee, or decaffeinated versus the “nothing knowingly removed” varieties might be pretty obvious, surely it doesn’t matter too much what method you use to make a cup of joe?

Well, actually, yes it does. And the more coffee you drink, the more you’ll start noticing the differences. Let’s take coffee made in an AeroPress versus coffee made using the French press method as an example.

What Is The AeroPress?

So what is an AeroPress, anyway? You’ll also see it spelled Aeropress, aero press, and even areopress or areo press. In coffee making technology terms, relatively speaking, the AeroPress is a new kid on the block.

It was invented in 2005 by American Alan Adler. (He’s invented lots of other things too. We’re not saying the Golden Snitch was his invention, but he did invent a football with fins and lots of other flying toys.)

For great AeroPress coffee, you saturate the coffee with water for around 10 to 50 seconds, depending on how finely ground it is and of course, how strong you like your coffee. (Did you know that the coffee aeropress tastes different depending on how finely ground it is too? We’ll explain the science on that shortly.)

french press vs aeropress

Source: lacolombe.com

When disassembled, you can see that the AeroPress is made up of two nesting cylinders. The smaller of the cylinders features an airtight, flexible seal, and fits snugly inside the larger cylinder. It’s kind of the same principle as a syringe.

Originally the devices were made from polycarbonate, but since 2009 they’ve been made from copolyester. One of the main reasons for swapping to the latter substance is that copolyester doesn’t contain any BPA (Bisphenol A). (That’s the chemical you’ll find in some plastics).


How Does the AeroPress Work?

We’ve already mentioned the two cylinders, one slightly smaller than the other. The bottom chamber is composed of heat-resistant plastic. At the base of the cylinder, there’s a filter cap that screws in place. The coffee grounds and the filter are held in place.

Add the ground coffee of your choice and water to the bottom cylinder, give it a stir, and place the plunger into the top cylinder. Let it brew for a few seconds (certainly less than a minute), and then push the top cylinder down slowly.

This forces the water through both the coffee grounds and the filter, and into the cup below. (You did remember to slip a cup underneath first, didn’t you?)


AeroPress Coffee: Why People Love It

Well, apart from the fact the Aeropress puts the fun back into making coffee, you don’t need any electricity to use it. That has to be a positive, especially in a world where we’re all doing our best to live a sustainable life without sacrificing too much of the joy. And coffee is still one of the pleasures we can enjoy.

It’s a low maintenance coffee-making device, and what’s not to like about the fact it was a Harvard professor who invented it? It’s super-fast and super-efficient. It’s also super-easy to clean – a quick rinse with clean water will clear it of coffee grounds.

The high pressure of the water filtering through the coffee extracts more of the chemicals that give coffee its flavor, so the actual taste of the coffee is gloriously intense. Since the coffee only comes into contact with the water for a short time, you don’t get that bitter, stewed flavor you sometimes get from coffee that’s been steeped for too long.


Aero Press Coffee Weaknesses

Great as it is, though, the AeroPress isn’t perfect. First of all, it’s designed to make only one cup of coffee at a time. So you’re only going to get one 12 ounce serving or 2 6 ounce servings from all that effort each time.

Secondly, you do need to use paper filters or an ecological equivalent. And thirdly, while light, it’s size makes it a little bit cumbersome to carry around in your bag if you feel like a cup of joe on the go, as it were. We also found it really helped to run a little plain hot water through the filters before we actually brewed the coffee.


What is the French Press?

Then there’s the esteemed elder of the coffee-making world, the French Press. It’s also sometimes called a press pot, a coffee plunger, a coffee press, cafetière à piston, cafetiere, and cafeteria.

It’s thought that the original idea for a French Press did, in fact, originate in France: an 1852 joint patent was filed by a merchant and a metalsmith but, as far as we can tell, not put into mass production.

french press

The idea was finally patented in Italy in 1928 and in the USA in 1929. Italian inventor Paolini Ugo came up with an idea for a tomato separating machine; the concept led him to think about creating a coffee pot with a filter and a press action.

Italian designers Attilio Calimani and Giulio Moneta filed a patent for a mechanism to create coffee. In the original patent, the water is described as being boiled within the apparatus.

Anyone who’s used a modern French Press knows that’s not the case, however. Usually, it’s hot water that is poured over the ground coffee and into the holding container. The ideal recommended temperature for brewing coffee needs to be around 200 degrees Fahrenheit.


How Does A French Press Work?

A French Press uses the immersion, or soaking method to produce your coffee, the coarser the grind, the better the coffee. As you push the plunger down, the liquid is strained from the grounds via the filter. You’ll get a very different tasting cup of coffee if your beans are finely ground, compared to a coarser grind.

You might remember we said we’d explore the science of coffee a little earlier on? Well, here’s a micro-lesson. Once you’ve selected your coffee by country and bean type, three factors affect the taste of your cup of joe.

The larger the surface area of the coffee, so, effectively, the finer the grind, the higher the extraction rate, and the less contact time required. This can also affect the rate at which water flows, again increasing the contact time you need to produce a great-tasting coffee.


What Makes a French Press Special

Since the French Press has been around for several decades, it’s pretty much instantly recognizable, no matter what environment you’re in. (You might also call it a frenchpress, if you’re really in a hurry – though that’s not usually a good thing with this coffee making method.)

There are many different types now on the market. The basic principles, however, remain the same.

A French Press consists of a lower container, usually glass; a filter that’s usually made of metal; and a plunger with a spring mechanism and a lid to retain the aroma until the coffee is ready to drink. There’s a wide range of price points, with many companies worldwide offering this coffee-making apparatus. You can choose a simple design, or an ornate one. There are even travel versions if you’re really short on space.


French Press Weaknesses

The French Press method of making coffee is not for the hasty: you need patience. The coffee needs to be steeped for at least two and preferably four minutes, and when you press the plunger down, slow and steady does it.

You really do need to keep an eye on the time. If you let the coffee sit and stew for more than four minutes, you’ll likely end up with a somewhat bitter brew. This is partly due to the amount of time that the coffee sits soaking but also since the filter design usually lets some coffee particles through. They’re microscopic, but they do affect the overall flavor.

We also speak from experience when we say they’re really kind of tricky to clean. Even if you rinse them out straight away. The metal, in particular, can get a little discolored and the spring doesn’t last forever.

And while you can buy pre-ground coffee, you will get much better results from your French Press if you invest in your own burr grinder so you can grind the beans just before you brew.


Coffee Brewing Tips: The AeroPress and French Press

Whichever coffee brewing method you choose, you need to make sure you start with good coffee. The three main coffee-growing regions of the world are known for their different flavor profiles. And coffees grown high up in the mountains will have a very different set of overtones from those grown on Pacific islands, say.

In general, coffees made with Arabica beans are usually milder than those made with Robusta, and the roast also affects the flavor. We’d recommend starting with a medium roast, and then moving on to a darker or lighter roast depending on your palate.

Neither type of coffee maker needs electricity, and both are pretty portable. While the AeroPress design is a little slimmer, it’s also a little longer than a typical French Press: so if space is an issue you might want to bear that in mind.

Both options leave you, the coffee connoisseur, totally in control. You also need to make sure you have the right ratio of coffee to water. For a French Press, this is around an ounce or 2 tablespoons of coffee to 16 fluid ounces of water.

For an Aeropress, the recommendation is slightly more coffee, around 2.5 tablespoons, and around 7.33 ounces of water. Though of course, it all depends on personal taste.


AeroPress vs French Press – Differences

So here’s our speedy rundown of the main differences between French Press vs AeroPress. Personal French Presses, although still on the small side, usually allow you to brew more than one cup of joe at a time, while AeroPress is designed to whip up one cup of coffee at a time. And you can buy French Presses in different sizes, up to 12 cups. The 8 cup press is the most commonly found.

You do need a little more time to brew your beverage with the French Press: around three to four minutes, compared to under a minute with the AeroPress. AeroPress works best with finely ground coffee; French Press with a coarser grind. Due to the longer brewing time, you can also use a French Press very effectively with loose leaf tea.

Yes, we know. Brewing tea in a coffee pot? Well, why not? They’re both gorgeous, reviving beverages, after all, when made well. You do need to make sure your water really is boiling for good tea, though. And we’ve already touched on the fact that it’s easier to clean an AeroPress than a French Press.

The main difference is in the coffee taste. You get a less acidic, “cleaner” tasting coffee with the AeroPress while using the French Press results in a more robust beverage. The aroma is usually stronger with a French Press, too.


French Press Vs AeroPress: Which One Should You Choose?

It’s up to you which one you choose; both produce great coffee. The French Press is a more classic, leisurely experience: think coffee and mints at the end of a great meal, or perusing the Sunday morning newspapers in a leisurely manner while you puzzle over the crossword. (Yes, they do still exist in print form.)

The AeroPress, on the other hand, is a little more quirky, a little more innovative, and dare we say it, a little more fun. After all, what’s not to like about a coffee-making method that even has its own annual global championship where baristas (and others!) compete for who can produce the very best AeroPress brew.

Besides, it all depends on your mood as to whether French Press or AeroPress is (if you’ll pardon the pun) your cup of tea. Whichever method you choose, the most important thing is to just enjoy your cup of coffee.

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