French Press vs. Pour Over

At Ripple, we’re fueled by the espresso drinks made on our in-office machine. But unfortunately the M29 Selectron is not very portable. So, when at home, we employ time-tested techniques for making caffeinated beverages. And in case you didn’t know, there are lots of different ways to brew those beans.

There are those folk who swear by one technique, but it’s really just a matter of personal preference. Some like the full-bodied taste and texture of French Press. Others are more inclined to seek out the clean and balanced cup that using a paper filter produces. Of course, there are more unique and stranger approaches, but in an effort to not make this analysis anymore convuluted, we’ll focus on presses and paper filters.

The Press (aka press pot, plunger, or cafetiere) is an extremely popular way to brew coffee, and can be found in most European and English-speaking countries. Despite the misnomer, the “French” press  was actually first patented by an Italian designer in 1929, and has gone through a several design modifications before becoming the one we’re most familiar with today.

The main difference between french press and filter methods is the plunger, which pushes the grounds to the bottom of the press. The plunger has a wire mesh screen which leaves just the liquid (and the finer particles) to pour into the cup. Common complaints about the press are that it’s too oily (as the wire mesh doesn’t trap any of the oils like a paper filter), too bold (the subtle flavors being overpowered by the oils and remaining fine grounds), and that the grounds plunged to the bottom continue to brew until all the hot liquid has been removed (resulting in minor over-extraction). Still, there are those that champion the rich taste, heavier texture, and full body flavor… some will even tell you that they like that slight bit of “soot” that comes with each cup. For me, french press coffee is best in the afternoon and evenings, as the richness can be a little too much early in the day.

Paper filters or cones are great for those seeking a more refined method of extraction. The resulting beverage is usually referred to as drip coffee, and is produced a number of slightly different ways. Some like the Chemex® with it’s cone-shaped filter. Others dig the standalone brew baskets (aka “drippers”).  And there are those that get their caffeine each morning via the electric, auto-drip coffeemakers found in nearly every US household. All are valid methods of brewing (well, maybe not the auto-drip) and discovering which one is for you can be a pretty fun experiment (just be prepared for a few hours of off-the-wall energy). But no matter the approach, coffee brewed through a paper filter is a a completely different world than it’s pressed equivalent. It’s light-bodied, largely oil-free, and lets the brighter notes of the bean really shine through. For me, it’s the perfect early morning cup, and a great way to end an evening meal.

No matter which way is preferable to you, I highly recommend experimenting with each one. There’s still a few that I’ve yet to try at home, but have been lucky enough to see in action at some of Atlanta’s best coffeeshops. If you’re hard up for resources and instructions, check out the Counter Culture Culture online brewing guide, which features a step-by-step video on making great pour overs. And if you’ve got a method that’s worth exploring, please share it in the comments. Ripplers love a challenge.

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