The French Press and Chemex methods of brewing are two of the most popular, although they give very different results. The design of both types of coffee maker have stood the test of time, with the press pot unchanged since its invention in the beginning of the 19th Century, and the Chemex being given a place at the Museum of Modern Art for its simple brilliance.
Despite the romantic image of the press pot, the coffee you get from it is really quite rustic and unrefined. The Chemex is a clinical and scientific coffee brewing method so they are worlds apart in terms of character.
The brewing methods are pretty far from each other in almost every way, but both are defined by their filtration systems. The French Press gives a coarse, full-bodied coffee because of its long brewing time and the metal mesh filter which allows a lot of sediment into the cup. Chemex on the other hand is designed by a chemist to give the cleanest cup possible, with the heavy duty filters (20-30% thicker than regular paper filters) meaning that only the most determined ground particles are getting through.
The filtration differences don’t just affect the body of the coffee, the oils in the coffee which are thicker than water, get blocked by the Chemex’s paper filter too, affecting the flavor and character of the cup. While some people prefer the bitterness and strength of French Press coffee and appreciate the oils and what they add in terms of taste, the Chemex is a smoother alternative for those put off by the bottom inch of residue.
In terms of maintenance, the French Press is more difficult to clean, needing to be taken apart and getting the grounds out of the filter can be cumbersome but it has the advantage of having no consumable parts to buy. Chemex filters are disposable so the grounds are thrown away directly after brewing while in the filter, making cleaning easy and quick but you’re going to need replacement filters.
While neither method of brewing is expensive per cup, the Chemex is much more expensive than the bargain press pot. The Chemex filters are pretty steep compared to regular thinner paper filters and they aren’t so widely available due to their specific design for one product. French Press coffee is by far the cheapest available to make, the press pots can be bought for less than $10 and there’s nothing else needed at all.
At Gathering Ground we appreciate the two methods of coffee, both make great tasting – if very different – cups of coffee. We can’t recommend one over the other as both cater for different tastes with their different approaches to the brew. It all depends whether you like rustic charm or clean-cut smoothness. You can see our selection of french press coffee makers here and our chemex coffee makers here.