We love French press coffee, but there is some evidence that drinking too much of it might be bad for you. It can be hard to separate fact from fiction these days, so we’re here to take a deep dive into French press coffee and the claims that it is worse for you than drinking coffee prepared with a different method. We will start with a breakdown of the claims, explain whether they hold up to scrutiny, and offer alternative brewing methods for people who don’t want to take any risks. Let’s get started.
Coffee Is Coffee, Right?
It might seem like how coffee is made shouldn’t matter when it comes to how healthy coffee is. After all, the result is the same regardless of the brewing method, right? Well, the truth is more complicated. Let’s explain.
There are tons of ways to brew coffee, and one helpful way to divide them is based on how they are filtered. Some methods—like automatic drip, Hario V60, and Chemex—use paper filters. When you filter coffee with paper, many of the natural oils present in coffee beans get removed from the drink. From a flavor perspective, paper filters lead to cleaner cups with thinner bodies that reveal more of a bean’s delicate tasting notes.
On the other side of the coffee brewing coin are methods that use metal filters or no filters. Some people refer to these methods as unfiltered coffee; even though they aren’t really unfiltered, they don’t use paper or cloth filters. The most popular unfiltered coffee brewing method by far is the French press. Unfiltered brewing methods don’t remove a coffee bean’s oils and produce full-bodied cups with earthy, malty notes.
The oils in coffee are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they add body and flavor to your coffee, but on the other, they may cause health problems when consumed in large quantities.
Oil, Cholesterol, and Heart Health
Research from Harvard conducted in 2016 found that drinking five to eight cups of unfiltered coffee per day was associated with elevated LDL cholesterol—that’s the bad one. High levels of LDL cholesterol can lead to a host of heart problems, including heart attacks. Researchers have found evidence that two coffee oils—cafestol and kahweol—are the main culprits responsible for raising bad cholesterol. Unfiltered coffee removes almost none of these oils, while paper filters remove practically all of them. Unfiltered coffee has approximately 300 times more cafestol than coffee brewed with a paper filter.
The good news is five to eight cups of coffee is a lot of coffee, and most people—even avid coffee lovers—usually don’t drink that much coffee every day. Drinking more than four cups of coffee per day isn’t advisable as it can lead to anxiety and insomnia from the high caffeine content. Unfortunately, it is unclear what effect drinking fewer than five cups per day has on LDL cholesterol levels. It is reasonable to assume that there is some impact, but whether it’s safe is still up for debate.
For people at risk of heart disease due to genetic factors or dietary reasons, the safest bet is to switch from an unfiltered brewing method like the French press to a filtered one. A less drastic option is to reduce your unfiltered coffee intake if you’re concerned about your LDL levels. A happy medium approach would be drinking French press coffee some days and paper-filtered coffee other days. You could also use a French press for your first cup of the day and make any subsequent cups with a paper filter.
French Press Alternatives
People who gravitate towards the French press usually aren’t too keen on switching to another brew method, especially not one using a paper filter. Unfortunately, it is difficult to replicate French press coffee’s full body and mouthfeel with a filtered brewing method, but there are a few options that we think get pretty close.
Hario V60 Switch
Our favorite paper filter brewer that gets closest to a French press with the least amount of hassle is the Hario V60 Switch. The V60 Switch is a standard V60 cone with a switch at the bottom. The switch controls the opening at the bottom of the cone. To make coffee, you put a paper filter in the cone, fill it with coffee and water, and let it steep. After a few minutes, you open the switch, and the coffee drains into your mug.
The V60 Switch is a hybrid brewer that makes coffee with some characteristics of an immersion brew but cleaner, healthier, and oil-free. The coffee isn’t quite as robust and powerful as French press coffee, but it is more full-bodied than other paper-filtered coffee.
Another good French press alternative is the Kalita Wave. Like the Hario V60 Switch, the Kalita Wave is a hybrid brewer that tries to offer a best-of-both-worlds experience between immersion brewing and percolation.
At first glance, the Kalita Wave looks like a standard pour-over dripper, but there is a key difference. Unlike a Chemex or standard Hario V60, the Kalita Wave has a flat bottom with three small holes in place of a singular, conical hole. Having only three small drainage holes instead of one big one restricts the water flow and means the water pools more in the dripper, mimicking an immersion brewer.
Kalita Wave coffee has a more French-press-like mouthfeel than Chemex or V60 coffee but is less full-bodied than V60 Switch coffee. Still, it is a good option for people looking to move away from using a French press but aren’t ready to embrace filtered coffee fully.
French Press Coffee & Your Health: Conclusion
French press coffee—and other unfiltered brews—can lead to elevated bad cholesterol, according to a 2016 Harvard Health Letter. While the article mentioned that high LDL cholesterol levels were only associated with drinking five to eight cups of unfiltered coffee per day, some at-risk coffee drinkers should consider limiting their unfiltered coffee consumption.
Most people do not need to cut out French press coffee entirely, but limiting unfiltered coffee intake by using one of our recommended alternative brewing methods is probably a good idea, especially if you drink more than four cups per day.
Featured Image Credit: Pixabay