French press coffee and drip coffee are two completely different types of coffee. One is extracted through steeping, while the other is extracted through percolation. These two methods make great coffee, but there’s a world of difference between the process as well as the final result.
In this article we’re going to answer some of the commonly asked questions about French press coffee makers and drip coffee machines, so if you’re undecided whether to buy one or another, we’ve got you covered.
About French press coffee makers
A French press coffee maker also goes by other names, such as a coffee plunger, coffee press, cafeteria, and press pot.
One of the more interesting facts about French press coffee makers is that it isn’t French, but Italian. Dating back to the city of Milan in 1929, French press coffee makers have been a household staple across the globe for nearly a century.
The design is as simple as it gets: A cylindrical glass carafe held in a metal- or plastic frame with a handle, and on top goes the lid and plunger. Add your coffee grounds, add hot water, stir for a couple of seconds, put the lid on, steep for four minutes, slowly push the plunger down, and your coffee is ready.
French press coffee makers are known and loved for their simplicity and ease of use, and the coffee tastes great with plenty of robust flavors.
About drip coffee makers
Drip coffee makers are a bit different from French press coffee makers, and it shows in many ways.
But, perhaps the biggest difference, is how the coffee is actually extracted. Whereas French press coffee makers make use of steeping to make coffee, a drip coffee maker uses percolation.
Percolation means “to filter” or “trickle through”, which is exactly what happens inside a drip coffee maker: Water is pulled from the tank and heated up, before slowly dripping into the filter basket over your coffee grounds. Because of the filter, which could be paper or metal, the coffee gets a more refined taste.
Drip coffee makers are electric, and loved by many people because of how easy they are to use. Simply add water and coffee grounds, turn it on, and wait as the coffee is made for you.
Ease of use
When it comes to ease of use, the drip coffee maker is a winner… or is it?
What most people fail to consider, is the fact that coffee makers require regular maintenance such as cleaning and descaling, in order to function properly in a busy daily schedule.
French press coffee makers require cleaning too, but in comparison with drip coffee makers they don’t have any internal parts that you can’t access and have to run cleaning agents through to get them clean.
Both coffee makers are easy to use, but in their own respective ways:
- If you like full automation and don’t mind occasional cleaning/maintenance, the drip coffee maker is your best option.
- If you like more options and a more hands-on approach with less cleaning/maintenance required, the French press coffee maker is your best option.
This is a no-brainer. French press coffee makers have fewer mechanical parts, and they don’t rely on electricity in order to make coffee. You do have to heat up your water though, but with a gas stove or an outdoor fire pit everything is possible.
Drip coffee makers are quite reliable too though, but they do have more parts that could break with no way to repair them. A power outage also means no coffee, which is important to consider if you’re in an area with an unreliable power supply.
You could also get a French press in a travel-friendly design. So no matter where you go, you can still whip up your French press and make a nice cup of coffee to get you up and going. You don’t have this option with a drip coffee maker.
Good, high-quality coffee beans are important, no matter what type of coffee you’re making.
One major difference between French press coffee makers and drip coffee makers is the availability of pre-ground coffee. Whereas you’ll find a great selection in most grocery stores for drip coffee makers, the selection is way more sparse for French press coffee makers.
This isn’t an issue though, but if you’ve locked eyes on a French press coffee maker you might have to buy a grinder on the side as well.
If you don’t get the right grind for your coffee maker, the result would be a bitter or tasteless coffee. And none of us want that…
If you’re in need of coffee first thing in the morning, you wouldn’t want to waste precious minutes making it from scratch. On the other hand, a bad cup of coffee could ruin the entire day… true story.
With a French press you can make coffee from scratch in less than 6 minutes. Boil the water, add your coffee grounds, pour in the water, stir briefly, wait four minutes, and you’re done. Perfect, drinkable coffee right off the bat.
A drip coffee maker requires fewer steps and less interaction, but it takes a bit longer to make the coffee. Of course this depends on how much coffee you’re making, but for 3-4 cups you’re looking at between 5-10 minutes. The thing about drip coffee makers is that they’ll take a few minutes to stop dripping. And the coffee is most likely too hot to drink right away, so there’s a bit of extra waiting time required.
Cleaning takes 30-60 seconds with both: Dump the grounds, rinse, and you’re done.
If you can avoid breaking the glass beaker and stay easy on the metal mesh filter, the French press coffee maker will last you a decade or longer with little to no signs of wear and tear. The design is so simple, and since most parts are either glass or metal, a great life span is to be expected.
When it comes to drip coffee makers, a recent study shows that a 6-year life span is normal. Cheap coffee makers would often have a shorter life span, whereas expensive ditto have a longer life span. This comes down to the usage though, but because of the many internal parts as well as electric components you’re most likely looking at a life span less than 10 years.
Even the most basic French press coffee maker is very likely to last longer than even the fanciest drip coffee maker, which to us is a strong selling point.
How does it taste?
French press coffee has a strong taste packed with flavors but perfectly balanced at the same time. You’ll probably notice a more robust flavor profile, which is caused by the steeping and the natural occurrence of sediment that haven’t been removed with the metal mesh filter.
Drip coffee has a refined taste, not as strong as the French press coffee, but still enough flavor to most people’s liking. This is especially notable with paper filters as they retain the oils and sediment, leaving you with a softer flavor profile.
Whereas French press coffee goes well with your breakfast or a dessert, drip coffee is perfect on its own and liked by most people.
French press vs. drip coffee – is there a winner?
Whether French press or drip coffee is a winner, comes down to your personal preferences. We believe they come out almost even, but with a few differences that could seal the deal if you’re undecided as to whether you should get one or another.
So here’s our conclusion that would help you steer in the right direction:
Choose a French press coffee maker, if you would like to experiment with different flavor profiles and treasure simplicity over anything. It does require a little practice to get it perfectly right, but the outcome is worth it if you want to make the most of your beans.
Choose a drip coffee maker, if you want a hands-off coffee maker that requires little to no effort yet still makes a consistently good cup of joe. Most machines don’t allow for any flavor customization, but in return it’s 100% straightforward.