Taste The Coffee

Coffee Review: French Press vs. Chemex


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This is one of those comparison articles that is classically partisan. Depending on whom you ask, there can be some very adamant division between choosing to brew coffee with a French press or with a Chemex pour-over carafe. One comes in countless varieties, while the other is both a method and a brand with a legacy. Both put beautiful, hot coffee in your mug and, consequently, your mouth. That’s the important part.

You can make it as easy or as difficult as you want when choosing the right coffee maker. The French press and the Chemex have a lot of similarities in that neither is a machine and both require some sort of manual operation. As you’ve probably learned in your coffee-creating life, brewing a cup can be a spiritual, even emotional, experience. (Unless you are a heathen, in which case you just have a row of pod machines, each loaded with a different flavor.)

Comparing the French press to the Chemex comes down to minute differences in methodology and a rich history that accompanies the Chemex. In effect, regardless of which one you choose, you’ll get a near perfect cup of coffee that is worth the patience required for both. Here’s a quick look at two of the most lauded ways to prepare a cup of coffee. Let the debate begin percolating.

French Press

If you type “how to make the perfect French press” in the Google search bar, you’ll find countless articles all saying pretty much the same thing. Some of them mention weighing the water as you pour, in two different steps (one to immediately soak the coffee grounds, the other to add the remaining water). And then most will suggest making sure the coffee is ground similar to coarse sea salt. The gist is that using a French press can seem like some sort of task, but so is using any coffee maker. While both the French Press and the Chemex are more tedious ways of preparing coffee, the French press is generally quicker as you don’t have to stand over it with a constant pour. Instead, you can wander off, walk the dog or something, then come back and press the plunger and pour a cup.

For the purpose of this comparison, I’ve picked the classic Bodum 10938-01B Brazil French Press. This is about as basic as you can get. Under $20, this plastic French press does the job. It’s not flashy, not stainless steel and is devoid of measurement markings. It has the basic spiral plate, mesh filter and cross plate on the plunger, so it will still press sediment-clean coffee.

This is a French press that is functional and simple, something you might appreciate in your hurried and often complex life. It presses a fine cup of coffee (as long as you use the right ground) and has a simple and clean look. One really nice thing about such a feature-less French Press is you can remove the handle and put the glass carafe in the dishwasher instead of washing by hand. You want to work for the coffee, not for the cleaning.

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Chemex

The Chemex has a long and storied history. This isn’t just a single piece of glass that ends up holding 34 ounces of coffee—it’s a story, it’s an invention. It’s a device that inspired the modern pour-over method of brewing coffee and has always had a rustic, yet scientific, look to its design. A simple glass carafe, a simple bonded filter and a polished wood collar with leather tie create an elegant look for a coffee preparation device.

Using the Chemex is simple. It’s a pour over. Heat the water, pour through the filter slowly (where you’ve placed your finely ground coffee) and wait for the grounds to bloom, releasing that sweet flavor, then pour some more water. This isn’t difficult. It just requires a bit of patience. Brewing coffee with a Chemex gives you a sense of accomplishment, making the coffee taste better. While that might be attributed to the lack of sediment that you’d get with a drip, or the BPA-free glass, it’s also emotional.

So while it can sometimes be tough to choose the right coffee-making apparatus for your kitchen, why not try both? The French press and the Chemex are classic devices for creating fresh, aromatic coffee that tastes more pure because you brewed it with your hands instead of leaving it to a machine. Both the French press and the Chemex have a place on your counter, next to the pod machine, across from the drip brewer and next to your cold-brew coffee pot.

After all, the more coffee-delivery mechanisms, the better.

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Taste The Coffee 2019