Whether you’re cutting back on your $6 latte habit or just updating that old machine you’ve had since college, there are plenty of options when it comes to brewing coffee at home—so many that it can be confusing to know which method is best for you. The good news? It all comes down to personal preference. And we don’t know about you, but when we’re making a cup of joe, we want it hot, fast and in copious amounts. Two of our favorite methods—French press and drip—happen to check those boxes.
French Press vs. Drip Coffee: What’s the Difference?
If you’ve ever heard a coffee connoisseur swear up and down that you can’t beat the French press and wondered where they got their information, you’re not alone. But both the French press and drip coffee methods will yield a tasty cup of coffee, or three, or eight. They each have their pros and cons (and devoted fan bases).
French press coffee is made with—surprise—a French press, a coffee machine that isn’t actually French at all. (It’s Italian.) It comprises a glass or metal beaker, a mesh strainer and a plunger, and looks kind of like a tall teapot. The coffee itself tastes full-bodied and very strong because it’s minimally filtered. Often, stray grounds or sediment will end up in the bottom of your cup.
A drip machine (sometimes called an automatic coffee machine), on the other hand, is the quintessential coffeemaker you probably grew up with. Inside the machine, water is heated and mixed with coffee grinds, then the resulting brew passes through a paper filter into the pot. Because of that filter, the coffee is clear and light-bodied, with little to no sediment.
If you’re still wondering which one is better, here’s our two cents: At the end of the day, French press and drip coffee are versions of the same beverage, and the best method for you depends on your tastes and the level of effort you want to exert. Here’s what you should know before buying either appliance.
Pros and Cons of French Press Coffee
- French press coffeemakers usually won’t break the bank. You can buy a high-quality, elegant-looking French press for around $35. (More on that later.) It also won’t hog much space on your counter.
- Because there’s no paper filter to absorb flavorful oils, French press coffee is strong and robust.
- It results in less waste than a drip coffeemaker, again because there are no paper filters.
- You have more control over the variables, which means you can get as geeky as you want when making your morning cup.
- It’s quick and easy to make a single cup or a smaller amount of coffee.
- Making French press coffee requires more precision and manual operation than a drip machine, which could be off-putting when you’re still waking up.
- French press coffee has a tendency to get muddy, oily and bitter because the grounds remain in contact with the liquid. To avoid this, you’ll have to transfer it to a separate carafe.
- Most French presses don’t insulate the brew, so your coffee will get cold fast if you leave it in the press.
- You have to boil water yourself to make the coffee. Easy enough, but coffee pros advise a very specific temperature to avoid burning (or under-extracting) the grounds.
- For the best coffee, your beans should be ground as uniformly as possible and ideally right before each brew. That requires grinding coffee right out of bed, using a fancy piece of equipment called a burr grinder.
- The French press isn’t ideal for quantities larger than four cups.
How to Make French Press Coffee
As a general rule, use 2 tablespoons whole coffee beans for every 8 ounces of water. Yep, we said whole beans: It’s recommended that you grind your coffee beans immediately before brewing for the best tasting cup. If you must do it ahead of time, make sure they’re ground specifically for a French press.
What you’ll need:
- French press
- Burr grinder (or blade grinder)
- Electric or stove-top kettle
- Thermometer (optional but useful)
- Coffee beans
- Cold water
1. Grind the coffee beans on the coarsest setting of your burr grinder until they’re rough and course but evenly sized, similar to bread crumbs. (If you’re using a blade grinder, work in short pulses and give the grinder a good shake every few seconds.) Pour the grounds into the French press.
2. Bring the water to a boil, then let it cool to about 200°F (about 1 minute, if you’re not using a thermometer).
3. Pour the water into the French press, then stir the grounds to make sure everything is moistened. Start a timer for 4 minutes.
4. When the timer goes off, place the lid on the carafe, then slowly depress the plunger to the bottom. Decant the coffee into a thermos, a separate carafe or your mug to avoid over-extraction.
Pros and Cons of Drip Coffee
- Drip coffeemakers are almost entirely automated, so you don’t have to think when you’re half asleep. Some even have a built-in timer, so you can wake up to freshly brewed coffee.
- If there’s a hot plate on your machine, the coffee will stay warmer longer. And some machines brew directly into a thermal carafe.
- Since the brew passes through a paper filter, there’s no sediment. The coffee is lighter-bodied and clear.
- It’s very fast and pretty much foolproof, and standard machines can make up to 12 cups of coffee.
- Because the process is so automated, you have less control over the final product.
- The machine can take up a lot of counter space (and might not be very cute).
- High-quality machines can be expensive.
- Paper filters contribute waste and absorb flavorful coffee oils, so the coffee won’t be as strong.
How to Make Drip Coffee
The ratio of coffee grounds to water can vary from machine to machine, but a generally delicious ratio is 1.5 tablespoons of coffee grounds per 6 ounces of water. You’ll want medium-fine grounds, as fresh as possible.
What you’ll need:
- Automatic drip coffeemaker
- Paper coffee filter that’s compatible with your machine
- Cold water
- Coffee grounds
1. Make sure your coffeemaker is plugged in (obvious, but you’d be surprised!). Depending on how much coffee you want to make, add the desired amount of cold water to the machine’s reservoir.
2. Place a filter in the machine’s basket. Add enough coffee grounds to the filter for the amount of coffee you want to make. Press the On button.
Our Recommended French Press: Bodum Chambord French Press Coffeemaker, 1 Liter
Bodum is the gold standard for French presses, and this one can brew 34 ounces of coffee at a time. The plunger depresses smoothly, the brew is relatively grit-free and for its durability and design, it happens to be very reasonably priced.
Our Recommended Drip Machine: Technivorm Moccamaster with Thermal Carafe
While it will set you back a chunk of cash, we definitely think the Moccamaster is worth it. It brews ten cups of coffee in six minutes; it’s quiet, sleek and easy to clean; and the thermal carafe will keep your brew warm for hours. It’s basically a barista in a machine.
Our Recommended Burr Grinder: Baratza Encore Conical Burr Coffee Grinder
PureWow’s resident coffee enthusiast, Matt Bogart, swears by this electric burr grinder. “Although there might be some sticker shock, and you could find cheaper alternatives, I am willing to bet my kneecap that your favorite barista uses the Baratza Encore grinder at home,” he tells us. “This grinder is one the quietest and quickest burr grinders in this price range, and it produces very consistent grounds, which is what you need if you are spending 15 bucks on a bag of coffee.”
A final word on French press vs. drip coffee:
Both French press and drip coffee methods have their merits…and their downsides. If you prefer a particularly robust cup of coffee, or if you don’t have the counter space to dedicate to a large machine, try the French press. But if you want a clear, light-bodied cup and the convenience of an automated brewing experience, maybe drip is more your thing. Whichever method you choose, remember these things: You don’t have to buy the most expensive coffee, but do buy freshly roasted beans, store them in an airtight container and use them within a week. And the cleaner your coffeemaker, the closer to God. (We’re kidding. Kind of.)
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