Coffee is a very personal thing, and most people have a strong preference for a particular brewing style. French press and drip coffee machines are two of the most common brewing methods, and while the fundamentals of how they work are similar, the experience and results couldn’t be more different.
If you’re working on figuring out which of these methods suits you and your lifestyle better, then grab a cup of coffee and keep reading! We’re going to discuss how these brewing styles differ and the pros and cons of each so you can decide which is the better choice for you and your taste. Let’s dive in!
French Press Overview
The French press uses coffee immersion to brew, which means you add boiling or nearly boiling water directly to coffee grounds, let them soak for a few minutes, and then strain out the grounds. The coffee and water are held in a glass carafe, and you use a steel mesh plunger that fits tightly inside the glass to push the grounds out of the final coffee product.
What It’s Good for/When to Choose
A French press is known for making bold, strong coffee that is full of flavor. If you want to be able to taste the true characteristics of the beans and the subtle tasting notes, the French press will serve you well. It offers you control over every portion of the brewing process to fully customize the procedure and recipe to suit your taste perfectly. The French press is great for fans of specialty coffee that can appreciate the finer details in taste.
Most French presses are relatively small and can make between three and eight cups of coffee, depending on the size. The larger models are suitable for making coffee for small groups of people, but they usually can’t make batches in the 12-16 cup range that drip machines can produce.
Since the French press is made of a glass carafe and a stainless steel plunger, cleaning it each morning takes less than a minute, and there is no ongoing maintenance that needs to be done. The simplicity also lends itself to affordability, and you can expect to pay less for a French press than you would for even the cheapest drip machines. The French press also uses a steel mesh that acts as the filter, so you won’t need to spend additional money on paper filters.
The French press does require you to have and follow a recipe, and although it’s straightforward, it will require you to be engaged for a few minutes while the brewing is happening. The best coffee is made using a scale and timer, and you’ll also need a kettle or boiling pot to boil water.
Ready to buy? Here are our favorite French presses.
Drip Machine Overview
A drip coffee machine includes a water boiler that heats water and a pump that moves water from a water basin to a spout that sits over the coffee grounds. The water trickles down onto the bed of grounds and then drips out into a metal or glass carafe. Many drip machines include a heating plate under the carafe, which keeps your coffee hot.
What it’s Good for/When to Choose
Drip coffee machines don’t make the best quality coffee, and you’ll find that they aren’t as good at highlighting flavors as the French press is. Drip machines often lead to somewhat of a burnt taste, mainly because the hot plate under the carafe heats the coffee even after it is brewed. If you’re looking for a high-quality coffee or an abundance of flavor, the drip machine probably isn’t for you.
What drip machines lack in quality, however, they more than make up for in convenience. They are usually capable of brewing up to 12 cups at a time, and many can brew even more — sometimes up to 20. They are great options for serving larger groups of people, and the brewing process couldn’t be more straightforward: put a filter in, add the coffee, hit start.
Although they’re not terribly expensive, drip machines are more costly than French presses, and you’ll have the added — albeit small — ongoing cost of paper filters. They require a small amount of cleaning each day, but they also need ongoing maintenance like descaling.
Drip machines can often be set to brew on timers, making them very convenient, but they take away all brew control. The French press will be a better option if you’re looking for customization, but drip machines are simpler in terms of brewing and offer more convenience.
Ready to buy? Read our list of the best drip coffee makers!
What Kind of Coffee Do You Want?
Although the basic idea of adding hot water to coffee grounds is the same, the most significant difference between the French press and a drip coffee machine is the taste of the coffee they produce.
The French press can make very flavorful coffee that is strong, bold, and full of complexity. It’s an excellent option for those who want to experience the nuances of specialty coffee and those who want to experiment and dial in their perfect coffee recipe. The French press offers the barista total control, so anything about the flavors you get in your coffee can be changed.
A drip coffee machine will take control away from you and produce far less flavorful and rich coffee. Many drip machines — especially those with heating plates — have burnt flavors in the final product. You won’t be in control over the taste of your coffee with a drip machine, so aside from the amount of coffee you use, you won’t be able to change the taste much.
The French press and drip machines are somewhat similar in the volume of coffee they can produce at once, but there are some minor differences.
Most French presses are capable of brewing up to around four to six cups at a time. This quantity is excellent if you’re making coffee for a small family breakfast or for two or three people each morning. Still, they aren’t as convenient for making coffee for company or larger groups of people.
Most drip machines can make between eight and twelve cups of coffee at a time, and some can make up to 20. Drip machines are better suited for larger groups of people, and since they don’t require input from you once you add the filter, water, and coffee, you can spend more time with your guests while the coffee brews.
Last, but certainly not least, you’ll want to consider how convenient each method is in terms of brewing and maintenance.
A French press is less convenient to brew with because it will require you to pay attention to the brew time and stop it when brewing has completed. Additionally, the apparatus is very easy to clean and requires no ongoing maintenance.
A drip machine is very convenient to brew coffee with and will only need to be set up with water, a filter, and coffee grounds. Once you hit start, the machine does the rest of the work for you! Because these machines have water pumps, heaters, and reservoirs, they will require more involved cleaning and ongoing maintenance like descaling and deep cleaning.
Drip Coffee vs French Press: Which is Right for You?
Both the French press and the drip coffee machine have their pros and cons, so there is no clear answer to this question. You’ll need to decide for yourself which brewing method is better.
If you want the ability to control the taste of your final product and you want to produce more flavorful, bold, and rich coffee, a French press is likely better for you as long as you don’t mind being a bit more involved in the brewing process. A drip machine is perfect for those who are willing to sacrifice coffee quality and control over their brewing for convenience and the ability to brew larger batches.
The French press offers quality, while the drip machine offers quantity and convenience. Hopefully, now you understand these brewing methods a bit better and have a good idea of which suits you and your lifestyle better!
READ OUR OTHER COMPARISONS: