Head to Head: Aeropress vs French Press

The Aeropress and the French Press (also known as a plunger or press pot) provide a quick and low maintenance approach to manual brewing. The end result is a quality cup of coffee, prepared in a few minutes. Many people know and love French Pressed coffee, and it’s easy to rely on this brewing system because of its availability and reputation. But does the newer Aeropress method offer something a French press can’t?

Both brewing tools have a similar process for preparing coffee, but the result differs in terms of texture, body, and flavour. Before committing to either tool, it’s important to know how each measure in producing coffee that fits your taste.

This post seeks to explore the need-to-know details behind both presses in hopes to determine which brew method is best for you. You’ll also find tips and tricks to help improve your brewing one cup of coffee at a time.

Common Ground: What you can expect from both devices

To get started, the Aeropress and French Press are both compact and easy to store. Aeropress brewing devices are made entirely of BPA free plastic, ensuring the coffee produced is safe to drink, and it’s safe to brew coffee with.

While an Aeropress and accessories (the filter cap, filter holder, pack of 350 paper filters, coffee scoop, the stirrer, and funnel) weigh in at 368.5 grams, the weight of a French press varies based on the size of the device purchased. Whether you’re purchasing a smaller, 3 cup (0.35 litres) device, or the colossal 12 cup (1.5 litres) French press, you can count on them being lightweight, storage-friendly, and easy to use. Most French presses include built-in frames and handles around the brew chamber that make pouring and lifting effortless! For a more durable model, you can trade in the glass carafe model for a stainless steel design.

From a convenience standpoint, both devices assemble in a few simple steps. French press machines are designed for all essential brewing tools to fit inside of the brewing chamber. Users can expect to find essential accessories like the cross plate, metal mesh filters, and spring screen all attached under the lid and held together with the plunger. While the Aeropress doesn’t come as immediately assembled as a French press, the four brewing pieces fit together with a simple twist or placement. While there are more external parts attached to an Aeropress, the manufacturer offers additional accessories like a carrying case and travel mug to ensure this brew method can make travel less troublesome.

With only a handful of parts for each device, both the plunger and Aeropress are easy to clean. While the French press device requires you to remove the lid and scoop out used coffee, the Aeropress device allows you to remove the filter cap at the bottom, and use the plunger to push the filter and grounds right out. One could argue the Aeropress makes cleaning slightly easier. Regardless, both require a rinse out after each use.

Whether you’re looking for simple, efficient coffee brewing or the convenience of an easy-to-clean device, both the Aeropress and French Press fare better than an espresso machine or Moccamaster.

RELATED: The Best Pour Over Coffee Maker

Pressing Questions: Little factors make a big difference

With any brewing method, it’s important to set your device up for success. Having an understanding about which roast works better for your machine, how fine a grind to use, and optimum steep time is essential in making coffee of quality.

Brew Time

The brewing technology developed for the Aeropress uses pressure to improve extraction, and allows for a shorter brewing time. This creates a smooth, less acidic coffee profile. On average, it takes 2.5 minutes to make a cup of coffee with an Aeropress. Upon pouring hot water evenly into the Aeropress chamber, it’s important to use the stirring tool to ensure all coffee grounds are saturated. This releases CO2 gas and allows the flavour to bloom.

With a French Press, pressure isn’t used during the extraction process, so the brew time is slightly longer. After pouring a 2:1 ration of water to grounds, it’s essential to stir before filling the rest of the chamber with water. Like the Aeropress, saturating all coffee grounds allows for a better flavour extraction for the coffee in use. After filling your French press to the top, allow the water and coffee to steep for 4 minutes. After this steeping time, your grounds are ready to plunge and serve.

Roast

Since each brew method extracts coffee flavour differently, it’s important to consider how the roast type affects the process. Both the Aeropress and French press are capable of brewing light, medium, and dark roast coffee, but each brew method will bring out flavours differently.

Medium-dark and dark roasts typically thrive in a French Press. This has to do with more coffee oils in the beans. Medium and dark roasts allow for a rich, full-bodied flavour and pair well with the longer steeping time. It is important to serve medium and dark roast coffee immediately after pressing. If you leave the grounds with hot water for more than 5 minutes, the over-extraction can make coffee with chalky textures and bitter notes.

While French Pressers typically lean toward using medium-dark roasts in their machines, that doesn’t mean light roast coffee is out of the question; it just creates a cup of coffee with a different flavour profile. Many coffee drinkers experiment with light and medium-light roasts to see how the French Press brew method alters the taste. Lighter roasts carry more of the natural coffee bean aroma and flavour, and steeping these beans in the French Press could create some earthy notes. If you have a sensitive stomach, you may prefer using the darker roast beans with the French Press, as lighter roasts tend to be more of a digestive irritant.

The Aeropress excels using coffee all along the roast spectrum, too. Since the brew time for Aeropress is shorter than a French Press, certain roasts thrive using this brew method. For those seeking strong, bold cups of coffee, use a medium to dark roast. For a more robust flavour, increase the brew ratio of coffee grounds to water. For those who want cups that contain subtle flavour notes like fruitiness and acidity, use a lighter roast.

Grind Size

Grind size is important when working with manual brewing methods since it’s one of the biggest factors in creating flavour. The finer the beans are ground, the more surface area can be exposed. The bigger the surface area, the easier it is for water to extract flavour from the beans over the brew time. With two devices with shorter brewing times, one would think that they’d both require finely ground coffee, right? Not quite!

Since you’re dealing with a course filtration system in a French Press, grinding coffee too finely can result in it being hard to press. If the plunger of your press drops immediately to the base of your press, your grounds could be too coarse. Most French Presses call for an even, coarse grind. 

With the Aeropress, a  fine drip or espresso grade is preferred. Opting for finer ground coffee helps create quick, strong brews. The pressure generated with the sealed plunger allows the flavour to separate from the grounds in a way that a gravity-fed filter process can’t achieve.

Flavour Profile: Which method tastes the best?

How do the French Press an Aeropress methods affect the flavour of your coffee? Factors like the grind, and brewing time matter. Both devices, however, extract flavours in different ways and produce coffee with a unique profile and consistency. Here is what you can expect from each.

Aeropress coffee is known for its smooth, rich flavour. The pressure generated upon pressing produces a coffee with 1/9th the acidity of French Press coffee, according to the Aeropress website. For those who dislike a bitter coffee finish, the combination of a fine grind and short brew time prevents over-extraction. The presence of a paper filter or mesh filter insert also prevents sediment build-up at the bottom of your cup.

French Press coffee is known and loved for its dense and heavy pour consistency. With the darker roast, longer brew time, and wire filter process, the end result is filling, elegant, and rich. Since the use of a mesh filter is coarser, French presses are known for having sediment settle in the bottom of your cup. Although the amount depends on the granule size you’re using, the presence of sediment can add a grainy, thick texture to the coffee. For those who want the full-body flavour without the sediment, removing the top layer of crust from the brewing chamber before plunging will eliminate some of the texture.

Bad Press: Are there flaws with French Press Coffee?

Since a French Press produces coarse-filtered coffee, many people have questioned whether or not French Pressed coffee is healthy. Without a paper filter present in this brew process, the metal filter in the device doesn’t remove as much cafestol from the coffee. Cafestol is a compound that can make levels of LDL or “bad” cholesterol rise. This is true for espresso, too, but smaller serving sizes prevent it from being as noticeable.

One way to monitor this (outside of drinking less French Pressed or Turkish coffee) is to make paper filters to use within your device. There is no commercial paper filter on shelves for French presses, but creating your own from standard drip coffee or pour-over coffee maker can eliminate the severity of the cafestol intake.

Cost Comparison and Shelf Life:  Which device is the better investment?

Depending on where you shop and the brand you’re buying, a 3 cup press can range from $10-$13, while a 12 cup press can be bought between the $17 and $52 range. The Aeropress, on the other hand, is sold consistently at $39.90 and is available through local distributors throughout Australia.

One advantage Aeropress coffee has is versatility in types of coffee it produces. This tool can produce espresso-style coffee,  American coffee (when diluted with hot water), lattes (When adding milk), and cold brew (when adding iced water about one minute after brewing). Likewise, the portability of the Aeropress is another advantage. Its plastic body allows you to take it with you on trips without fear of it breaking. The fragile glass of the French press makes travel risky, unless you purchase a stainless steel mode

What the French Press lacks in versatility and portability, it makes up for in producing quantity. This device comes in varying sizes, allowing you to brew multiple cups of coffee. Model sizes can range from a small, 3 cup device to a 12 cup device. With an Aeropress brewing device, each brew results in a single cup of coffee.

Shelf life is another need-to-know detail. How long does each device last? With proper care and maintenance after each use, a French press can last up to 15 years. An Aeropress can last just as long, with a few caveats. Every three years, the seal on the plunger will need to be replaced to maintain the seal in the plastic chamber. Replacement parts and additional Aeropress accessories are available for purchase on their website.

As the industry continues to evolve, new tools and strategies emerge to brew coffee to maximize flavour. While this post’s focus is partly on comparing Aeropress vs. French Press, the information presented is here to help you decide which tool best fits your taste and preference. Similarities and differences aside, both offer unique results for coffee lovers everywhere. Regardless of which press has impressed you, one thing is guaranteed: both make coffee of quality one cup at a time.