Home Brew Methods – French Press vs. Chemex

Introduction

With the specialty coffee industry growing (a term known as third wave), there’s been a noticeable increase in interest in manual home brewing methods. Sure, an automatic drip machine can make a delicious cup of joe considering all factors are adjusted in a way that allow it to do so but let’s face it, manual brewing is downright enjoyable. Not to mention, manual brew methods allow you to feel like it’s more of your creation over pushing the eager “on” button. Who doesn’t love creating a cup of something splendid with a hint of caffeine?

At Civil Goat, we often hear people ask, “How should I brew my coffee at home?” or, “Which home brew method is the best?”. The honest answer is some of us at Civil Goat have favorite manual home brew methods, however the “best” is all personal preference. You might choose one brew method over another due convenience or time, amount of coffee you’d like to brew, craftiness you’d like to dedicate, or if you’d prefer a bolder cup over a brighter cup that particular morning.

Let’s talk about some of the distinct differences between two kinds of home brewing methods – the French Press; an immersion brew method, and a Chemex; a pour over brew method. Our hope is that knowledge in these differences – pros and cons of each – help you decide which brew method you’d like to use some of the time, most of the time, or all of the time.

French Press; Immersion Brewer 

Design

The French Press is one of the most ubiquitous home brewing methods – typically a glass vessel, a metal filter, and a plunger and lid.

Extraction

Unlike the typical batch coffee or pour over methods, the French Press is not considered drip coffee because the way the coffee is extracted. With a French Press, the coffee and the water remain in the same vessel during the entire brew process, the coffee continually extracting.

Grind Size

For a French Press, we use a course grind size. This means a fairly more course grind than the rest of the at home brew methods such as a pour-over, auto-drip machine, or percolator. We recommend using a burr grinder over a blade grinder to get more consistently sized grinds – better for the extraction process!

+ PRO’S +

+ Convenience and Time+

With a French Press, you don’t really have to tend to your coffee like you would a pour-over. If you’re in a rush, this might be the brew method for you. Once the water is added, just wait for the coffee to steep before you plunge. In between these couple of minutes, it’s easy to focus on cooking a hearty breakfast, or getting out of your jammies and into some spiffy work clothes. 

+ Full-bodied+

There are more oils in a French Press than other brews because the metal filter does not capture the oils the way a paper Chemex filter would. This typically result in a bolder cup of coffee, or a fuller mouthfeel. If you look at the top of the cup of coffee, you can usually see some of the oils floating around – something that wouldn’t be as noticeable with a Chemex brew. You’ll also notice a lighter shade of coffee around the edges of the cup.

+ Less Room Error+

Once you’ve got your grind size, water temperature, and appropriate coffee-to-water ratio, you can walk away and just let it brew.

– CON'S –

– Residuals and Murkiness –

If the grinds are too small, or the screen filter is too large, there’s potential to have residual grounds of coffee sediment in your cup. The French Press creates a murkier cup than a pour-over does, but that doesn’t imply it’s inferior. The cup results in a fuller body and mouthfeel, making it seem a bit thicker than its neighboring brew methods. 

– Vessel Change –

If you don’t take all of the coffee out of the French Press vessel right when it’s finished brewing, the coffee will over-extract. The options are to pour all of the coffee into your cup (or guests cup), or pour it into a separate vessel. This adds a slight inconvenience and potentially an extra dish to wash.

– Clean-up –

Cleaning a French Press is not as ideal, especially when emptying the coffee grounds. You also have to scrub the filter pretty well to ensure there isn’t any remaining residual oils to affect the next brew.

 

Recommendations for a French Press

Typically, a coffee that has bolder or darker flavor notes – chocolate or nutty is ideal. Coffees that commonly have these flavor notes can come from the South and Central American region such as Nicaragua, Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala and Brazil, to name a few. Coffee with these flavor notes are produced from other regions too, such as Africa or Indonesia, just not as common. We recommend using our Nicaraguan from Finca Idealist, or Guatemalan from San Antonio Huista for a French Press.

At Civil Goat, we like to use a 13:1 coffee-to-water ratio, a course grind size, and a brew temperature of around 200F – 203F. These numbers could change depending on which coffee we’re working with, but that’s a relative guide of what we like for the French Press!

Chemex; Pour-Over Brewer

Design

A Chemex is a glass vessel, with a thinner funnel-like neck. Paper filters are often used with a Chemex, but there are reusable filer options as well.

Extraction

The Chemex is pour-over, which is a drip brew method. This means water drips over the coffee grounds into a vessel below where the grounds stay separate from the finished brew. Unlike the French Press, the coffee and water for a pour-over only come in contact with one another for a very brief amount of time. This means extraction happens much more quickly than with an immersion brewer.

Grind Size

Because extraction happens quickly, the grind size needs to be a bit finer than a French Press grind. Not as fine as espresso though, where extraction is extremely quick and pressure is factored in. You want the grind size to be somewhere in between these two – we’ll call it a medium grind.

+ PRO’S +

+ More Involved in Your Brew +

There are more moving parts in a pour-over. You’re more involved, and have to tend to the coffee. Because you pour water throughout the entire brew process, you participate in the craft more, and you have more control in the outcome of the cup – good or bad. Let’s say good in this case!

+ Crisper, Brighter Cup +

The filter captures oils. You can tell the difference when looking at a cup of Chemex vs. a cup of French Press. A Chemex results in a crisper cup of coffee, there is less murkiness or grittiness to it. A Chemex helps bring out the acidic flavors and if you have a bean with a more complex flavor profile, it’s easier to bring out those complexities. This brew yields a lighter body, and lighter roasts are more desirable for this brew method.

+ Easy and Quick to Clean +

The clean-up process for a Chemex is particularly quick and pleasant!

CON’S  

– More Room for Error –

With a Chemex, there is more room for error when brewing your cup. This means you’ll need to be more attentive to your pour, and pour rate.

 

Recommendations for a Chemex

It’s common to use coffees with brighter or more acidity flavor profile. We love our natural processed Ethiopian, from Guji, Burtukaana for the Chemex, as well as other Africans. Some of us prefer more citrusy or acidic coffees here, but the great thing about the Chemex is that is usually produces a decent cup all around.

At Civil Goat, we like to use a 15:1 coffee-to-water ratio, medium grind size and a brew temperature of around 200F. These numbers could change depending on which coffee we’re working with, but that’s a relative guide of what we like for a Chemex!

We recommend trying out multiple home brew methods, with beans from various regions. If you’re still figuring out which kind of coffee you might like, come cup coffee with us at Civil Goat. During a cupping, we focus on six major evaluations – fragrance/aroma, flavor, aftertaste, acidity, body, and balance. This will hopefully give you a better idea of your coffee preference – we’d love to discover that with you!

 

Written by: Carley McCarra