The Chemex vs the French Press: Which is Best?

If you’re like me, you always want to be drinking the coffee best suited to your tastes. With the popularizing of various coffee methods in recent years, in this case Chemex and French press, you may be wondering what might be best for you.

Now, obviously we don’t all have the ability to go out and try coffee brewed from every possible method, so here at Gamble Bay Coffee, we are dedicated to providing you all with the most important knowledge about each and every method, so that you are always drinking the coffee that you love the most.

I personally prefer French press coffee because of its unique aroma and taste, but everyone has different preferences,

How are Chemex and French Press Different?

french-press-with-coffeeBoth of these methods take a bit of time to produce and they have their own specific methods.

  1. Chemex coffee requires a little more attentive work throughout the whole process, whereas French press coffee, depending on how strong you like it and how much you are making, can take a bit longer or require a bit more attention.
  2. While both of these methods give you a good amount of control as to how the coffee comes out, I believe a Chemex Coffeemaker does more so, as the filter reqirement means you can change filter size and can have finer ground coffee than you could with a French press.
  3. French presses have a wider variety of materials the press can be made from, whereas the Chemex only uses glass. This might seem insignificant, but the material the press is made out of can determine whether or not it leaves a plastic-ish taste behind or not.

Chemex coffee is a method derived from drip coffee, so the two methods are similar, but vary somewhat. This means that the Chemex coffee is generally clean and smooth. French press coffee, on the other hand, is typically full of flavor and has a bolder taste to it than Chemex coffee does. Not to mention that, because of the lack of the filter, the finer grains of your coffee are allowed to flow through and this gives French press coffee more texture to it than Chemex coffee.

Now let’s look at these two methods on an individual level and see what makes them unique.

Related – I prefer using a large French Press because it gives me better taste due to it’s more consitent temperature. If I need to take something to-go though there are a few excellent French press travel mugs that work well too.

Is Chemex Coffee Better Than French Press Coffee?

chemex-coffee-brewerFrom a general standpoint, I would say no, but for my own personal taste, I would say yes. Chemex coffee is a lot like regular coffee you would get from your household coffee maker, with a bonus. Chemex coffee is one of the cleanest and smoothest forms of coffee you can brew. It uses a thick filter and drips slowly through a fine grind to provide the right balance of caffeine and flavor with texture.

French press coffee is much more intended for people who enjoy a fuller, bolder taste, or for when you’re having a sluggish morning and need to get going more quickly than Chemex allows. While some people may not be able to handle this, it is definitely worth trying on those tough mornings.

Chemex Coffeemakers were invented/improvised from a chemistry beaker. Every step of the process is done in the Chemex brewer, rather than having a separate server and carafe. I think this quirk makes them really unique, as they weren’t invented in a cafe, they were invented by a chemist.

Chemex coffee is one of the only methods that provide a nearly clean cup of coffee, far more so than any other method. Personally, I enjoy having the oils and such in my coffee, but this method of making coffee is much better than most conventional methods.

Because of the thicker filter, the Chemex Coffeemakers require a specific grind level. Although you can experiment with different grind levels, some may take longer or go quicker, depending on whether it is thicker or finer.The grind of your coffee needs to be quite fine, more so than that of French press, but not so much that the grind looks like sand. This part is very important as it prevents the water from pouring through too fast and not bringing any coffee through, at all.

As with most brewing methods, the ratio of the coffee depends on the desired taste you want from your coffee. Typically a 1:10 or 1:15 ratio will be about average (Coffee per Gram to Water Per 10Ml.)

Most aspects of using this method can be experimented with to change the outcome. However, the recommended temperature is around 90-98 degrees Celsius. The filters are typically 30% heavier than an average filter. Brewing Chemex coffee will, on average, only take about 3 to 5 minutes.

So, overall, I would say that using a Chemex Coffeemaker could be a much better alternative to French press coffee to those of you that prefer to have clean, smooth coffee.

Is French Press Better Than Chemex?

Overall, I would have to say no. I think it is far superior, personally, for many reasons, but this comparison isn’t meant to be biased.

French press coffee is some of the best tasting coffee you can make. Depending on how you prefer your coffee, this can require a good bit of patience to really brew it to perfection.

The reason the process requires so much patience is that most grocery stores don’t sell the right kind of coffee grinds to make it. French press requires the beans to be ground to a specific coarseness so that the coffee is still clean enough to drink while sill allowing the water to get the most out of the beans.

This coffee is also quite healthy compared to many other coffee brewing methods. For one, being that there is no paper filter, as there is with the Chemex Coffeemaker, the French press coffee retains many of the minerals and oils throughout the brew. So you are gaining many of the things in the coffee that makes it so healthy, as well as giving it such a bold taste.

We know that spending a fortune on an automatic grinder and a fancy French press is not feasible for everyone, so for most people, a good manual grinder like this JavaPresse will work just fine. However, if you can spare the cash for an automatic grinder, and you are looking for something different, we have a page on grinders.

The self-grinding also goes for Chemex coffee, although you don’t necessarily need to do so.

The grinds help give a bold taste and texture to the coffee, while also giving it a natural “fresh coffee” fragrance that you just don’t get from regular brewing. The downside is that, for some people, this bold taste is a little too much.

Although it is somewhat time-consuming to brew it, the satisfaction you feel from having a properly brewed cup of hot French press coffee makes it so worth it.

Which Would Be the Best?

chemex-and-french-pressIf you like strong bold coffee with a satisfying aroma and an almost sweet taste, French press coffee will be the best decision for you. Keep in mind that many of the aspects of it may vary depending on what you do at each step.

Chemex coffee will be for those of you who really prefer to be drinking something clean, that flows like water, rather than the consistency of the French press coffee.

So, although you can’t really go wrong, either way, I would say that if you are willing to put in the work, French press coffee will definitely be more worth your time.

French Press and Chemex Coffee Compared

french press v chemexWhen you’re ready to move up from your regular coffee maker, you have a few good options:

Two of these options include the French Press and the Chemex, both of which offer different methods of brewing to achieve the results you desire.

Both of these are largely popular brewing methods and have been around for quite some time. In praise of the simple but brilliant design of the Chemex, it does have a home within the Museum of Modern Art.

Meanwhile, the French Press has been impressing users since the 19th century.

These methods are vastly different, with one offering a bold but unrefined flavor and the other a more crisp but far more clinical style of brewing.

It’s going to be up to you which is more suited to your personal needs and tastes. Read on to learn more about the method that will be ideal for you.

How Will My Coffee Be Different?

Taking a look at the French Press first, you’ll find that this is the ideal tool to use if you’re looking for rich, hearty flavor.

At it’s most basic premise, the French press is ideal for those who care more about the flavor of the coffee than a high level of filtration.

When drinking coffee made with a really good French Press, you can expect rich flavor that resembles the type of coffee you’ve chosen. It’s going to be bolder, which may also mean more bitter due to the pure nature of the method itself.

Because there is only a metal filter in the French Press, there is a strong possibility of ending up with coffee grounds in the bottom of your cup.

On the other hand, if you aren’t a fan of any amount of sediment in your coffee then the Chemex may be more suited to your style.

While you may not get the same level of flavor in a coffee brewed in the Chemex method, you will absolutely get a crisp, clean cup free from sediment.

This is created through the use of disposable filters that are much more thick than what you might use in a standard coffee maker. They do tend to be more expensive, but keep your coffee perfectly clear.

The Chemex-made coffee may have a lighter flavor, which is great when you want something that isn’t going to be overloaded with coffee taste. It’s something that will be easier to sip, but won’t have the same level of flavor strength as what the French Press can create.

Using these filters can also ensure that the coffee produced is less bitter, as less acid makes it into your cup. So if you’re looking for smoother, lighter flavor then a Chemex may be worth looking into!

What About Filtration?

There’s a large difference in the filtration between the French Press and Chemex. You might say this is where these two methods differ the most.

The Chemex offers much more intense filtration as it uses filters that are somewhere in the realm of 20 or 30% thicker than those you might use in a standard coffee maker.

What that means is that there is very little chance any sediment or oils will make it into your cup of coffee, so if that appeals to you then the Chemex is well worth a look.

Opposite to that, the French Press has pretty minimal filtration, meaning the majority of the coffee grounds will be kept out of your cup but you will be likely to have some of that sediment sitting in the bottom.

It’s this difference in filtration that also creates such a vast variety in the resulting taste of the coffee. It’s going to be up to you to weigh out whether you prefer intense flavor or a clean cup.

Which One Requires More Work?

You may also be wondering just how involved you’ll have to be as your coffee is made. Most coffee fans are most familiar with the drip style coffee makers we have at home.

These typically only require you to add the filter and grounds, then push a button. The French Press and Chemex however require a little bit more effort.

The French Press is thought to be the less involved of the two, as long as you get the timing right. The steps essentially include adding the grounds and allowing them to bloom into the water, stirring from time to time and then using the plunger to press most of the grounds down before pouring.

The Chemex method is a little more involved. It also requires a specially-designed kettle that works well with the Chemex container.

At their most basic, the steps are as follows:

  • Heat up your water to the ideal temperature in the kettle, and insert the filter into the top of the dripper. Once the water is heated, pour a very small amount through the filter into the dripper.
  • Then, grind your coffee and place it into the filter, followed by around 45 seconds of pouring more water over top of the grounds and allowing the resulting coffee to drip into the container.

This is going to require a timer and close attention, as it is a very specific process.

Overall, both of these methods can take around 4-5 minutes depending on the amount of coffee you need to make so neither is going to force you to focus on making coffee for too long.

You’ll just need to expect it to take a little more time than a more automatic coffee maker.

How Much Coffee Can Each One Make?

This is going to be important if you’ll need to make a single cup or enough for a crowd. While in both cases you can also make less than the container holds, it may help to know what sizes are offered for each option.

The French Press does offer a larger range of sizes, allowing you to get any size from 8oz to around 36oz. That way, if you want something small that you can easily take on the go then a small 8oz French Press will be fantastic.

See our favorite small french press coffee makers here and our favorite large french press coffee makers here.

Otherwise, you can make plenty to share with the larger sizes. You may also see a pricing difference in the sizes that can help to guide your decision.

The Chemex doesn’t have as great of a variety in sizes, but you can get sizes that make anywhere from 3 to 8 full cups. Due to that, it may lend itself more easily to making larger amounts but won’t be as easily to take on the go.

Which Is More Difficult To Clean?

You can expect the Chemex and French Press to require a little more work when it comes to cleaning as well.

The French Press can be easier to reach into, but it can be difficult to get all the grounds out of the container. That might mean you need to take it apart fully to ensure all the used grounds can be washed away from each piece.

The Chemex container will be more difficult to reach into, but it has the benefit of the disposable filter. These make it easy to simply toss out the grounds, but you will have to figure out how to clean the inside of the dripper.

Deciding which will have the best balance of results and ease of cleaning might be tough, but it will be easier for those who have a large preference for a certain taste.

What About The Cost?

Initially, you may find that the Chemex pieces are more expensive. This will depend on whether you also want to use a special metal filter that can work for some designs.

Otherwise, the Chemex and French Press can start off at about the same cost. However, you will have to purchase the disposable filters for the Chemex. Because they are thicker than standard filters, they can also be a bit more expensive.

On the other hand, the French Press uses no disposable filters so you’re more likely to only need to pay the initial cost of the French Press itself.

Another thing to keep in mind is the kind of coffee you buy, as coffees that work better for each method may be more costly than the standard options. This is fully going to be based on your personal preferences.

Both of these styles of coffee are considered equal at Gathering Ground. Each is able to result in excellent tasting coffee, though the methods are very different.

It’s up to you whether you have a preference for a clean, smooth cup of coffee or something more bold and rustic. To help you in your search for the ideal method, here are the Chemex and French Press coffee makers we offer.

Brian Mounts

Head blogger, editor, and owner of "Top Off My Coffee", a website that has been educating readers about coffee brewing techniques and equipment since 2012.

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