Asking around, I've noticed that public opinion about the french press is rather mixed. I've heard people shun it and others praise it. I have never actually seen a decent explanation why though.

As for advantages, I can tell that it's obviously pretty simple to use. Only hot water and ground coffee is required to operate it, but I'm sure that this process of making a cup of coffee must have some effect on the taste.

What effect does this have then, does this change the bitterness, dilute the taste? Is the pour-over method superior?

up vote 13 down vote accepted

It depends on the press. I personally use a double-walled (which means air-insulated) press with very very fine screens in the plunger. This means my coffee stays hot for quite some time, and I don't commonly have issues with grounds at the bottom of the second cup (it's a 2-cup press).

I also spent over $300 for it, hand made in Japan by expert crafters with some beautiful stainless steel hardware framing it. It's actually guaranteed to resonate at a certain frequency if you wet your finger and run it around the rim. I digress.

Most presses can have some or all of the following issues:

  • Grinds leak through the screen on the plunger quite easily, even with a good coarse grind
  • Coffee can fall below serving temp before you plunge it if you're not careful
  • They are a bit of a pain to clean, most can't go near a dishwasher
  • They tend to be rather fragile
  • They can stain with certain kinds of water, depending on the glass used
  • Some argue that the taste of a coarse grind is inferior to finer grinds (a matter of taste is difficult to document)

The actual mechanics of making the coffee is very simple. Mix the grinds and water, then using a screen, separate the grinds from the water. The taste is going to depend more on how clean the press is, the quality and temperature of the water, the quality of the bean, grind, how long you let it brew, etc. The same holds true for pour-over brews, provided that the filter is decent and doesn't add its own taste.

I personally prefer my press, but it's really a matter of preference. I don't mind cleaning it, in fact one of the reasons I went with a press a while back was in hopes that the prospect of needing to clean it would slow down my consumption. Didn't work. I love the consistently-good brews I get out of mine, and I love that it keeps my second cup hot long enough for me to enjoy the first.

Some people do mind the quirks, and prefer not to use them. Something decent usually starts at around $40, so they're not prohibitively expensive for experimentation. All I can say is try both and see what you think.

I've been using a French Press for years. There are real cons to using it as opposed to using a drip coffee.

It takes considerably longer and requires more work. A drip filter requires that you grind and put in the coffee; add water to the required level and press start.

A French Press requires that you wait for the water to boil; grind the coffee just right - not too fine, not too coarse; pour in the water; stir; wait 4 minutes for the coffee to steep; stir again; plunge AND then pour.

I happen to like the routine EXCEPT when I'm in a hurry and then I have to hurry back and forth.

... Start the water to boil; go and shave; grind the coffee and pour the water; go get dressed ....

When done right there is a wonderful viscosity to the coffee; you taste and have mouth feel considerably different than with a drip coffee.

Re bitterness - you taste the bean and the roast. If it's bitter then the coffee is bitter.

Re diluting the taste. NO. Not if done correctly. (Which will take a few brews the first time through.)

In my experience the lovers of the french press point to the mouth feel, the viscosity of the coffee. The value of this taste sensation is entirely personal.

  • I home roast, so my friends with French presses like me more than before they discovered that. – PoloHoleSet Aug 11 '16 at 19:48

The French Press has the major advantage of allowing more control of the extraction of your coffee. The longer you seep or press, the greater your extraction. The major disadvantage is that depending on your grind, screening etc, you will end up with more particulate matter in your coffee than a paper filter will let through. There is also some discussion surrounding a paper filter removing some of the natural oils present in coffee. Some people interpret this particulate matter as body, some people see it as a "less clean" tasting cup of coffee.

The brew method most people prefer tends to tell you something about how they like their coffee. I really prefer no grounds in my coffee, so for me, a French Press isn't involved in making my perfect cup of coffee. My closest coffee geek friend will swear by his, and has all manner of methods for reducing the grind in his cup, and or dealing with them, because he just doesn't mind them that much. He sees grind in his cup as just part of the process and for me, it "ruins" my cup of coffee. Those are just personal preferences, neither is right.

Advantages:

  • Inexpensive — a Bodum press will cost you around $35
  • Easy to use — just add coffee and water
  • Quantity — easy to make enough to share if you buy one of the larger varieties
  • Thicker viscosity — produces a heavier mouthfeel and oils from the coffee are preserved

Disadvantages:

  • Cleaning — Slightly more rinsing required than with pour over coffee (but less than espresso)
  • Loss of some subtly — All the "fines" (tiny coffee particles that contribute to the thicker mouthfeel) present in the coffee cause some of the lighter taste notes to be glossed over.
  • Easy to screw up:
    • Grind size — You need a very course grind size about the consistency of sea salt. Any finer and the coffee will turn into bitter sludge.
    • Water temperature — Boiling-hot water will scorch the beans; it's best to bring water to a boil and then let it cool for 60 seconds before using (200F is the ideal temperature).
    • Over extraction — After adding coffee and water, set a time for 4 minutes, plunge, and then immediately decant into mugs. Letting the coffee continue to sit in the press (even with the plunger pressed down) will result in bitterness.

But assuming that care is taken with things like grind size, water temperature, and timing, the French Press is a great brewing option. See How to Brew the Perfect French Press.

This video comes down against the French Press, mainly because of the time (Humor)

http://youtu.be/41tXXrdta9E?t=12s

  • Link only answers are not good quality on Stack Exchange, as links can go dead, YouTube videos can be removed, etc. As is, if that link goes dead, this answer become useless unfortunately. Please incorporate the key parts of this video into your answer. Consider: if the link dies, what do you need in your answer for it to still fully answer the question? – doppelgreener Feb 1 '15 at 22:23

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