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French Press vs Espresso: Which Brew is Better?

Coffee Geek Lab / French Press vs Espresso: Which Brew is Better?
Yurii Brown

Certified Barista

April 9, 2021

Today we have dozens of methods for brewing a perfect cup of coffee. You can do it manually or count on espresso machines with lots of functions to do everything for you.

But which coffee cup will be the best for you?

Well, the easiest way to find out is to compare them side by side!

And in this article, we’ll examine the similarities and differences between the French press vs espresso methods and will give you our word.

#1 Preparations and Brewing Time

The first check to make in our French press vs espresso comparison is to see what each method requires and how long it takes to make a cup.

Espresso is made with espresso machines that force hot water through the capsule or a puck of ground coffee with a pump. 

French press coffee is made by immersion of coffee grounds in boiling water and then set to steep for the desired amount of time. When the coffee is brewed, you separate the brew from the coffee grounds with the plunger and pour it into cups.

Having this information, let’s look at the main prerequisites of a good cup.

Coffee Grind

Espresso is usually made with fine coffee grounds that allow maximum extraction through a short period. A coarse grind will make a bland cup and can clog the gear of your coffee machine, so if you grind manually, set the burrs for a fine setting. If you use an espresso machine with a grinder, it will do everything for you.

The French press method requires a coarse grind (1). The mesh of a French press filter isn’t as fine as the espresso filter, so if you use finely ground coffee, it will make the final brew muddy and not comfortable to drink. Plus, the French press coffee extracts longer than espresso, and if the grind is too fine, it can result in a bitter drink.

Serving Size

A standard coffee cup in the US is 8 fl. oz. However, for a tasty and refreshing cup of espresso, the perfect ratio would be 1 tablespoon of ground coffee to 6 fl. oz. of water (2), and most coffee machines follow this proportion. Some manufacturers make their serving sizes even smaller — 5 or 4 fl. oz. — to mimic a European espresso cup size, which is 2-3 fl. oz.

Depending on the type of your espresso maker, you can get a single serving, two cups at once, or brew a full carafe pot of coffee that will hold up to 12 cups at once.

On the other hand, the average French press can hold from 3 to 12 coffee cups (we’re talking about standard 8-oz cups here, with 6-oz coffee cups it can be even more).

Water Temperature

Regardless of your brewing method, you should always use clear water for your coffee, so you won’t end up with a foreign smell and aftertaste. However, the temperature might vary between the brewing methods. The perfect temperature for the espresso cup is 195-205 °F (or 90-96 °C) and most coffee makers have a setting for this temperature.

For the French press, the best temperature for brewing a good cup is about 200 °F. If you don’t have a kettle with programmable settings, you can reach this temperature if you let the water cool for 1 minute after you boil it.

Brewing Time

Espresso machines are famous for their fast operation. A single-serve coffee maker can brew you a cup of Joe in 25-30 seconds. Semi-automatic espresso machines can do it even quicker because you can program a lot of settings in advance.

With a carafe coffee maker, you can expect your pot to be filled in 1-2 minutes. Such speed is achieved with the help of a 12-bar pump that extracts maximum taste and flavor within a short time.

The French press coffee should be steeped for 4-5 minutes. You can stir it by moving the plunger up and down after you poured the water, but this is optional and might produce a muddy brew if the grind is thinner than needed.

#2 Taste and Caffeine Content Comparison

As you can see, espresso and French press brews have significant differences in terms of preparation and brewing time. And these differences directly influence taste and caffeine content, and we will talk about it in-depth in the next part of our espresso and French press comparison.

Caffeine Content

A single shot of espresso pulled by a coffee machine usually contains around 75 mg of caffeine, but this amount can be as low as 29 mg or as high as 100 mg per serving. This range depends mostly on the roast, coffee blend, and extraction time (3). French press, assuming it’s served in an 8-oz cup, will contain about 108 mg of caffeine per cup, but this amount can also vary between 80 and 135 mg, again, depending on the blend, roast, grind, and steeping time (3). As you can see, the numbers are pretty much the same, and you can drink up to 4 cups of brewed coffee, be it espresso or French press, and still meet the recommended daily dose of caffeine, which is 400 mg for an adult (4). Of course, if you decide to brew your coffee from decaffeinated beans, the amount of caffeine will be way lower, which allows you to enjoy your cup in the evening hours.

Taste & Flavor

The taste of your coffee cup is a complex thing, and it usually boils down (no pun intended!) to a few factors:
  • Roast — lighter roasts preserve more acidic and fruity notes, whereas dark roasts usually taste more bitter and nutty.
  • Blend — different coffee blends have different flavor profiles. Arabica is more light, fruity, and acidic, Robusta features rich chocolate and caramel undertones, Excelsa produces a sharp tart taste, and Liberica beans have a woody, smokey taste, and floral aroma.
  • Grind — finer grinds allow you to extract more of the flavorful components, and hence, the final brew will have a more potent and complex taste.
And of course, a brewing method will also influence the final taste. As you already know, espresso is made with finer grounds, and the water is forced through them with pressure. This allows to extract the maximum amount of flavor within a short time, but the balance can be too fragile. If you use a grind that’s too fine, this can lead to over-extraction of caffeine and bitter taste. The same is true for the darker roasts. That’s why if it’s your first time brewing espresso, it’s best to use the lighter roast and medium grind and tweak it from there to your preferences. A French press requires a coarse grind and doesn’t require pressure for steeping the grounds, so it’s acceptable to use darker roasts to reach a more intense flavor. You can tweak the steeping time for different roasts and blends but in general, the French press allows you to make a more flavorful cup.

#3 When Brewing Espresso is Better?

#3 When Brewing Espresso is Better?

Source: https://coffee-brewing-methods.com/how-to-make-espresso/espresso-with-an-espresso-machine-infographic/

Espresso and French press are different brewing methods, although they both produce a tasty and flavorful cup. 

However, in some situations when you can benefit from using an espresso machine. For example:

  • If you’re in a hurry. An espresso machine can brew a cup in 25-30 seconds, which is ideal for those hasty mornings. Plus, some devices have a programmable timer that will start brewing automatically, so you don’t even have to do anything.
  • If you need a quick pick-me-up. Espresso is highly caffeinated and can quickly deliver you the vigorous boost you need.
  • If you like strong coffee. Along with the high caffeine content, espresso has a higher oil concentration and a bolder taste, so if you’re a fan of that, this brewing method will work great for you.
  • If you want to proceed and make an espresso-based beverage. High caffeine and oil content makes espresso a good base for dozens of drinks, such as cappuccino, latte, macchiato, mocha, RAF, iced coffee, etc. If you love experiments and don’t want to limit yourself to just one coffee beverage, an espresso machine might be your choice.

 

#4 When Brewing French Press is Better?

#4 When Brewing French Press is Better?

Source: https://visual.ly/node/image/702615

Now, let’s see in what situations you can use a French press to enjoy your brew:

  • If you need to brew large quantities of coffee. The French press can brew to 12 cups of coffee at a time, which is a great option if you don’t have a coffee maker with a carafe pot. So if you’re having your friends over, the French press is an easy way to make a cup for everyone.
  • If you want to enjoy a more full-bodied taste. Since the French press is an immersion brewing method that requires steeping, it can extract more flavor and aroma into your cup and produce a richer taste. 
  • If you want a low-maintenance brewing device. Compared to an espresso machine, the French press is incredibly easy to clean and maintain. Just wash it after each use — some parts can be washed in a dishwasher — and you’re good to go.

You can further customize your French press coffee by adding milk, cream, sugar, and other taste enhancers, as you’d do with the espresso shot. But the final taste will be a bit milder because of less caffeine content per serving.

#5 Price per Cup

In the final part of this French press vs espresso review, we’ll discuss which is cheaper to make. Assuming we use the same coffee blend for each one, the winner is the French press for a couple of reasons.

Coffee machines, even the cheapest ones, cost about $100 for a single-serving device. Plus, these machines may not have a grinder, so you have to spend another $40-$100 for that. Of course, in the long run, these investments will pay off, but this is a bit of a rough start, especially if you’re tight on a budget.

French press jugs cost $25-$35, depending on the brand and size. To brew your cup, you will also need a grinder, and you can go for a manual model, which is cheaper than an electric one and will cost you $50 for a high-end model.

Also, some coffee roasters craft blends specifically made for brewing espresso, which still is cheaper than specialty coffee, but may cost more than regular coffee blends.

Conclusion

Both French press and espresso coffee have been with us for so long, they’re considered classic. Regardless of which method you choose, you can count on a bold and tasty cup of coffee that will kick off your morning vigor.

Which is your favorite brewing method? Do you have your signature tips for achieving a perfect cup? Share with us below!

Additional Resources:

  1. Anna Brones (2014, August 25). 3 Common Mistakes People Make When Brewing French Press Coffee. Retrieved from https://www.thekitchn.com/3-mistakes-people-make-when-brewing-french-press-coffee-207337 
  2. Julie R. Thompson (2016, November 3). Sorry America, But A Cup Isn’t 8 Ounces Everywhere Else In The World. Retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/coffee-cup-is-6-ounces_n_5819db10e4b07c97c1c571d6 
  3. Lindsey Goodwin (2019, October 28). How Much Caffeine Is in Coffee and Espresso? Retrieved from https://www.thespruceeats.com/how-much-caffeine-in-morning-coffee-765274 
  4. Mayo Clinic Staff (2020, March 6). Caffeine: How much is too much? Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/caffeine/art-20045678

Yurii Brown

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