Hand pouring coffee from a glass carafe to a mug with a blue background.

French Press vs Pour-Over: Beginners guide to great coffee

smiling-coffee-snob Brewing, Gear

Last updated on October 12th, 2020

There seems to be a never ending comparison of french press vs pour-over coffee. If you’ve been manually brewing coffee for a while, you’ve probably already tried out both and have your favorite method. But, if you’re new to the world of specialty coffee there’s an overwhelming number of coffee brewers to choose from and every device claims to make the greatest coffee ever with virtually no effort…

Well, if you’re just starting out than this article is for you. I’ll give you a simple explanation about the difference between french press and pour over coffee brewing and help you figure out which to choose.

(Disclaimer: I DID NOT receive any of the recommended brewers for free. I bought those I’ve personally used and the others are recommended based on research. However, the links in this post are affiliate links so if you buy through the links I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.)

French press or pour-over? A quick overview:

French press vs pour over: What’s the difference?

Both the french press and pour-over methods can produce amazing coffee, but they do it differently. Each one has different strengths and weaknesses making it better for some styles of coffee than others.

Here’s how they work:

French press

A french press is a glass or steel beaker with a plunger that fits on top of it. You combine coarsely ground coffee and hot water, let it sit for a few minutes, press down the plunger, and pour your coffee. The filter holds the ground coffee at the bottom so it doesn’t pour out into your cup.

Pour-over

A pour-over coffee brewer sits atop your mug or a carafe while you slowly pour hot water over ground coffee. Inside the brewer will be either a paper or metal filter to keep the grounds out of your cup. After you pour the water, you just wait for it to drain through the filter.

French press vs pour-over: Which is easier?

Generally, the french press  is much easier to use, but it depends on how much effort you put into your pour-over. To get the best results using the pour-over method, you should pour slowly and steadily, pay attention to grind size, and brew time.

If you don’t want to put in the effort to make a slow and steady pour it’s easier, but your coffee probably won’t taste like what you get at a coffee shop…

French press vs pour-over: How do they taste?

French press

Since the french press doesn’t filter out the oils or all of the small coffee particles, it has a fuller mouth feel. The downside is that this makes it harder to taste the subtle flavors of the coffee.

Pour-over

A pour-over (assuming you use a paper filter) filters out these oils and small particles. This gives it a more watery mouth feel, but also lets you taste subtle flavors that you wouldn’t notice with the french press.

Which type of coffee is best?

French press

I’ve found that the french press works best with medium to dark roast coffees. The darker roasts have a distinct flavor that’s strong, but doesn’t have the complexity of many lighter roasts. This is a perfect match for the french press, since it’s better at bringing out strong flavors than subtle ones. You’ll get a strong, full-bodied coffee with the distinctive bitterness of a dark roast.

Pour-over

A pour-over is the total opposite.  It works best for lighter roasted coffees that have a lot of complex flavors. You’ll be amazed by the subtle flavors that will come out of good beans. If you’re using a paper filter, it will sift out the oils and sediment to create a smooth, well-balanced flavor with a lot of complex flavors. If you’ve ever read all the flavor notes on a bag of good coffee, a pour over is the best way to taste them.

Which french press is the best?

If you’ve decided the french press is the brewer of your dreams, you’ve still got to decide which one to get…

There are tons of options out there, but I’ll help you choose the perfect one.

Glass or stainless steel

Your main decision is which material you want. The most common choice is glass, but this has the disadvantages of being easy to break and losing heat quickly.

Stainless steel is better at holding in heat, but it can absorb coffee flavors over time which affects the taste. Some people find it leaves behind a metallic taste in the coffee, too.

At the top of the article, I recommended this brewer by Bodum because it holds heat well. This is what I have and it’s the best glass brewer that I’ve found. The extra layer around the glass holds in heat better and adds an extra layer of protection for the glass.

I’ve found there’s a quality different with Bodum, too. They use higher quality metal filters and glass compared to the generic ones you find.

If you don’t like the design of the one I use, the Chambord is the classic french press. This one is beautiful and comes in a wide range of colors, but keep in mind it doesn’t hold heat as well as the first Bodum I mentioned and is easier to break.

I recommend the glass ones I mentioned, but if you prefer stainless steel, this is one of the highest rated options I’ve found.

What’s the best pour-over coffee brewer?

Unfortunately, choosing a pour-over brewer isn’t any easier than choosing a french press. There are even more options to choose from and each has its own advantages…

How much effort?

The main consideration when choosing a pour-over brewer is how much effort you want to put into it. At the top, I recommended the Hario V60 kit. I like this kit because it has a brewer, carafe, filter and scoop.

But, like I said in my pour-over article, the V60 has more of a learning curve and it’s difficult without a good kettle.

Another great choice is the Kalita Wave. The Wave is easier to use, but doesn’t have a good starter kit and the filters are harder to get. But, if you’re good about getting filters in advance and don’t care about the stuff in the kit, the Wave is a great brewer.

The choice is yours

I know that all the coffee equipment can be overwhelming when you’re just starting out. There seem to be new options coming out every week.

I’ve tried to simplify the choice as much as possible by narrowing it down to the essential differences between the two brewers. Both can get fantastic results and are easy to experiment with.

If you want to take a closer look at either method, be sure to check my earlier articles on french press or pour-over brewing. Whichever method you choose, with a little practice you’ll get fantastic coffee!