Two of the most straightforward ways to brew coffee are the Chemex and the French press. Both make high-quality coffees that please many people.
However, the coffees created are quite different from each other.
Which is right for you? Let’s see.
In This Guide:
Both coffee makers look a bit like glass jugs. A frame surrounds the French press and has a built-in metal mesh filter. The Chemex looks like a lab beaker with curves.
Peter J. Schlumbohm, Ph.D. designed the Chemex, in his chemistry lab. Test tubes and labware inspired this coffee maker. Its hallmark is a clean coffee where you can taste the bean clearly. It delivers less bitterness and no sediment.
The French press is an older method of making coffee. With it, you soak the coffee for about 4 minutes and then plunge the grounds out of the coffee with its metal plunger. Its hallmark is a full-bodied cup of coffee that is stronger but dirtier.
Comparison of Coffee Makers
While coffee fans will collect coffee makers like baseball cards, for the average coffee drinker, one or two makers is enough. You could skip the comparison and order a Chemex and a French press. Both make excellent examples of their respective brewing methods.
The Chemex is a pour-over coffeemaker. The water makes its trip rather quickly through the grounds, extracting the flavor, then moving on.
The French press is an immersion brewer. The grinds soak in water, slowly drawing out all the flavors in the beans. While they both make coffee, the similarity ends there.
A French press can be a much lower-priced option. They are also readily available in most places that sell coffee makers. It has been around for a while, and there is no particular patent on the idea. This means that anyone can make a French press. This brings the price way down, but also opens up the market to sub-standard machines. When you buy one, check over it for sturdiness. To add to the savings, they built a metal filter into the design, so you do not have to buy any filters.
A Chemex is generally more expensive, but doubles as a work of art sitting on your kitchen counter. It is harder to find, but you can find it in many coffee shops, but not all of them. You can also order it online easily. The Chemex has an ongoing cost of buying a particular type of filter, which is essential to get the clean brew you want.
Physical and Aesthetic Differences
The Chemex wins on aesthetics. Whichever model you buy, this is one gorgeous piece of glassware. They pair its trademark hourglass shape with a cork grip on its neck or a glass handle.
The French press is not an ugly machine, but it looks utilitarian. (Although you can buy some fancy models.) As many makers create this brewer, it is relatively easy to find one that fits your personal style.
Both brewers use the same coffee to water ratios, about 1:16. This puts 30 g of coffee in with 500 g of water. But what comes out tastes very different.
The French press uses a coarse ground, so the metal mesh filter can keep the grounds out of the coffee. You can go a little finer (medium-coarse) with the Chemex.
Your preference in coffee flavors is what will make the big difference. Neither machine is “better”, although slightly more people prefer the taste of the Chemex.
The Chemex has a bright, clean flavor. The thick filter fishes out all oils and sediments. You taste the original coffee bean, so each bean you brew in it will have a more distinct flavor. It has less bitterness, less coffee bite, and less aftertaste, which French press aficionados call “watery”. However, if you brew different beans from different locations, you will taste flavor changes quite clearly.
A French press is anything but watery. With it, you get a full body coffee with a lot of flavor. However, this taste comes with a bit of sediment that gets through the metal filter and oils that are grabbed up by steeping the beans. Much of the flavor comes from the roast, and it works best for roasts in the medium-dark range.
Neither of these machines is easy to clean. The Chemex is a little easier, if you rinse it immediately. You have to be careful because it is a large piece of glass. While the glass is sturdy, it is still very breakable.
The French press is harder to clean. The body of the machine rinses easily, but the plunger can get grounds stuck in it which you must fish out before you make another cup of coffee.
Ease of Use
The French press is far easier to use. You place 30 g of coarse grounds in the bottom and pour 500 g of water into the top. Put the lid on and let it rest for 4 minutes. Plunge the filter through the coffee to trap sediment at the bottom and pour a cup. It is less work throughout the process, but it takes a little longer to make coffee.
With the Chemex, you have to learn how to do a pour over. First, you wet the filter and add 30 g of medium-coarse grounds in the bottom of it. Pour about 100 g water slowly into the coffee to make it bloom and release gas, which takes about 30 seconds. Then slowly pour the hot water into the maker in a steady circular motion. When all the water drips through your coffee is done in about 2 minutes 30 seconds total. It’s a faster brew, but you have to stay hands-on at all times.
Which Coffee Maker Should You Choose?
The big difference is the flavor. A Chemex is best if you want to experiment around with the tastes of different beans. It has a clear, clean texture that really highlights the flavor of the bean. Meanwhile, the French press has a full flavor that brings out the roast. It has more taste and aftertaste.
Choose the Chemex if:
- You like a light, clear, clean brew
- You like to explore the tastes of different beans
- You want a hands-on coffee-making process
- You value aesthetics and the look of the machine
Choose the French Press if:
- You like a full-bodied and rich brew
- You are fine with walking away for 4 minutes while it does its thing
- You don’t want to fuss around with a pour-over in the morning
- You are on a budget