If you’re looking for two of the most famous coffee brewing methods, you’ve just found them. The espresso is wildly popular, and the French press was just as popular, back in its time.
But what are the differences between the French press and the espresso ? They’re very different, sure, but what are they, exactly ?
Wonder no more, and let’s get to it.
French press VS espresso
The main difference between French press and espresso is the brewing method.
French press coffee is steeped, and produces a full-bodied, more aromatic coffee. Espresso produces a strong shot of concentrated coffee by pushing hot water through ground coffee, resulting in a very quick cup of coffee.
French press uses coarse ground coffee, while espresso needs the finest ground coffee you can find.
On average French press produces coffee that’s more caffeinated than the average espresso shot, due to the longer brewing time.
The end result is two very different types of coffee, with two very different flavor profiles. There are more differences between these two, and I’ve discussed them in detail in this post.
1. French press is an intuitive brewing method
The French press is a very hands-on way of making coffee. You’re right there with the boiling water, the ground coffee, the steeping time, the plunging and so on.
It’s not the kind of coffee making experience where you can turn the machine on and go change out of your pajamas, like the filter coffee for example.
Rather it’s the kind of coffee making that resembles tea making. You can actually make tea in a French press, by the way. It’s one of the best ways to make tea, as well as coffee, and I’ll tell you why.
Since you have to be there personally, you’ll soon get to know how much time you like to let the coffee steep. How hot you like the water to be. How hard to push the plunger.
Even if your favorite coffee type works well in a French press. I had to change my coffee when I switched to a filter, so keep that in mind.
Back to the French press, you’ll learn to ‘know’ when the coffee is done. It usually needs about 4 minutes, and you can adjust the steeping time as you like.
You can adjust anything, really. The water temp, the time, the water to coffee grounds ratio, whatever you like.
With an espresso machine, this doesn’t happen, because it works very differently.
The espresso is a standard kind of drink, as with most automated processes. This can be a good thing and a bad thing, depending on how much you’re willing to adapt.
The point is that an espresso will almost always turn out the same. Depending on what kind of machine you’ve got, you can possibly tweak the amount of coffee grinds used, or turn off the water faster or let it run a few more seconds.
Even with these tweaks, it’s an almost completely automated process, and leaves you room to do other things in the morning while you wait for the coffee to be ready.
2. Espresso produces crema, so no latte art with the French press
The famous latte art. You can only get that with an espresso machine, as it’s literally the only method that passes hot water with such pressure through the coffee grounds.
The percolator/Moka pot will occasionally produce some crema, but it will be nowhere near as good as an espresso.
In fact compared to the French press, the Moka pot is the closes thing to an espresso, without being an espresso. And they’re fairly similar in shape and size.
Back to the crema the espresso makes, this means you can make latte art. Maybe you care, maybe you don’t. But if you’re an aspiring barista, or even just want to make some nice latte at home, know that you’ll need an espresso machine.
This means that your cup of French press won’t be able to produce this thick layer, since it’s simply made differently.
The French press steeps the coffee grounds in hot water, gently, for as many minutes as you want it to. The espresso shoots hot water, very fast, and with high pressure, through the coffee grounds and this produces the crema you see in your shot of espresso.
Both coffees are on the thicker side though, and have a strong body to them. There is no paper filter to catch all the debris in the coffee, and this only adds to the final taste.
3. The French press is better for lighter roasts, and for Arabica beans in general
When brewing with the French press you can use whichever roast and bean type you like.
It will bring out the beauty in a dark roast and accentuate the caramel notes, and it will bring forth the fruity/floral tones of a lighter roast as well.
Again, this is only because the brewing process is very different for these two.
The French press steeps the coffee, which allows it to gently release each flavor and caffeine as well. It coaxes out, rather than pushes out.
And give the fact that you can adjust the water temperature yourself – you have to boil the water and add it yourself – you can also make sure you don’t scald your coffee beans. This is especially important with Arabica beans.
For the espresso the story is different. This brewing method keeps the water in contact with the coffee grounds for much less time. This means the aroma won’t be full when you brew your coffee.
And if you use a lot of Arabica in your espresso blend, you rick scalding it since it’s a bit more sensitive to temperature than Robusta.
That being said, using only Robusta will yield a thicker crema but poorer taste. So, it’s up to you.
If you were to use a light roast in an espresso machine, the flavor would be lost in the heat of the water, and the pressure that pushes out the brew.
Again, if you want a more nuanced, delicate cup of coffee – still strong tasting but not harsh – then the French press is for you. If you don’t care for taste as much, then the espresso would be alright as well.
I grew up with an espresso machine at home, and pretty much every coffee tastes the same. That’s either god or bad, depending on how much you like to change things up from time to time.
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4. An espresso machine is much more expensive than a French press
When comparing prices, there is a steep difference between the French press and the espresso machine.
An espresso is more expensive, and it’s got a low end and a high end. A low end espresso machine, like the one I grew up with can be about $50 or a bit less.
A high end one can easily reach $500, and it’s a ridiculously large machine, taking up a lot of counter space.
As with many things, you get what you pay for. Smaller espresso machines will often yield poorer cups of espresso, owing to the fact that adjusting the water pressure and temperature isn’t possible.
A high-end espresso machine will allow you many such options, and it also grinds the beans right there on the spot, with no aid from you. automatic has its perks sometimes.
As for the French press, it’s usually somewhere between $15-30 and if you’re on a budget, this matter a whole lot.
Given the fact that the French press is made out of mostly glass, you’ll have to be careful with packaging and transport.
Overall though, the budget you’ve got is going to have a big say in which one you get.
A word of advice, though. If you are going to go ahead and compare prices and opt for an espresso machine, please don’t get a low end one. A higher-end one is going to brew your coffee much better and you’ll be able to tweak it as you please.
This is coffee you’ll be drinking for the next 10(ish) years, so don’t think short-term here.
5. Espresso machines do the job quick – under a minute
When it comes to speed, nothing beats an espresso. After all the name itself translates to “quickly, fast” and there’s no other way of preparing coffee that’s faster or even as fast as an espresso.
Aside from instant coffee, but that’s a compromise in quality and taste.
The actual brewing of the coffee itself takes only a few seconds. Half a minute, actually. That’s the amount of time necessary for a standard shot of espresso.
This is assuming you’ve prepped your coffee grounds beforehand, and the machine is ready.
French press coffee takes much longer than that. Assuming you’ve already heated your water to just they way you like it, and set up the press, it will take about 4 minutes.
Four minutes is the recommended time to let the coffee steep, and then push the plunger. You can always adjust the amount of time you want to steep your coffee, and it would take more or less, depending on what you decide.
But it’s always going o take more than half a minute, no matter how you make your French press coffee.
What’s very important here, is that the caffeine content of French press coffee is almost double the one in an espresso. This is because the water in an espresso machines stays in contact for very little time with the coffee. Not as much caffeine can be extracted there in 30 seconds.
As for the French press, 4 minutes is enough for all the caffeine in your coffee grounds to release and collect into your cup.
So, keep that in mind as well when choosing which method to use.
6. French press coffee can be made in large batches
If you’re looking to make large amounts of coffee, then you’re going to need the French press. It’s got the largest yield and can even make a liter/33.8 oz of coffee.
So if you’ve got a lot of guests coming over, then a French press will help you serve 5 cups of coffee in one go. Of course, you can brew just one cup if that’s what you’d like.
Espresso is always single-serve, and if you’ve got a lower end one then you need to clean and refill the filter cup after each use.
Your guests will have to wait for each cup of coffee, and it’s up to you if that’s alright or not. My entire extended family uses low end espresso machines, so visits are always punctuated by almost half an hour of serving espressos back to back.
There are some espresso machines that can serve two espressos at a time. This can cut the waiting time in half, since you can serve two cups in one go. Still, it’s a lengthy process.
7. Espresso uses finely ground coffee
When making a cup of espresso you’ll need very finely ground coffee. This means that the water, coming in hot and fast, is going to find some resistance in the fine coffee grounds.
It also means it will brew a bit more out of your coffee, since the smaller the grind, the quicker the brew. That usually comes with a more bitter taste, so be warned.
If you were to use a large grind in your espresso, your drink would end up very watery, and just look like dirty water. It would be weak and taste terrible.
For French press coffee you need medium, possibly medium-coarse grounds.
This us because using smaller grounds would allow them to escape through the filter that’s added to the plunger, and you’d get muddy coffee.
So, larger grinds it is. This will also allow the coffee to extract a bit better.
By this I mean that a large grind will need more time to release its full aroma, but you’ll get a more flavorful cup and less bitterness than with a fine grind.
It’s much like the difference between loose leaf tea and teabags, in which teabags are almost dust-sized and brew much quicker.
Both the French press and the espresso have their uses
Now, don’t get me wrong. Both brewing methods have their uses, and their perks.
There would be no latte art if you had no crema to contrast it with. And the convenience of a short, quick, powerful espresso would be lost if we had no such machine.
We’d have to resort to the Turkish coffee, and even that is sometimes a larger serving than an espresso.
The French press would be sorely missed too, if they all were suddenly lost. How else would be get a cup of coffee as gently and patiently brewed, but also free of debris ?
A normal coffee pot can’t strain that as well. Also, it just looks beautiful, especially the vintage models.
All this talk about each coffee in particular, but what are they like, really ? Let’s find out.
What is the French press coffee, and how to brew a cup
French press coffee is made in a glass cylinder, which had a lid on top. Through that is, a plunger goes through. And at the end of that plunger, then end inside the glass cylinder, there is a wire filter that’s going to separate your coffee grounds from the coffee brew.
So how do you make a cup of French press coffee ? You’ll need to add your coffee grounds to your empty French press, without the plunger or lid.
Then, add a bit of boiled water. Just a bit, so the coffee can bloom for a few seconds. Then, after about half a minute, add in the rest of the water.
Add the plunger and lid, and let sit for about 4 minutes. Once the 4 minutes have passed, or less if you want your coffee lighter, gently but firmly press down the plunger.
You’ll notice the coffee grounds being pushed to the bottom and the coffee brew being left behind, ready to be enjoyed.
As for measurements, I’m not going to give any because they vary wildly for each press size. And usually the press comes with instructions and also mentions how much water for how much coffee.
What is espresso, and how to brew a cup
Espresso coffee is made by pushing very hot water, near-boiling, through a filter that contains ground coffee. The pressure with which the water hits the coffee makes it release is flavor differently that in other brewing methods.
This also makes the fats inside the coffee beans react and produce the very sought after crema.
Some espresso machines have a build-in coffee grinder, and are already tied to your water source, and all you have to do is press a button, and set you cup and wait.
Others, the lower end ones, have a detachable filter cup which you have to fill and clean, and the water is means to be refilled into a small container which you can remove from the espresso machine.
Others still have a nifty little space in which you can set a coffee pod, and there is no need for a further filter.
So how do you make an espresso ? Well, honestly it’s very much just pushing a button. As long as you follow all the instructions your espresso machine comes with – all of them do – you’ll know how to make one.
Of course, you can stop the espresso shot earlier and get a ristretto, or you can leave the water running for a little longer and get a long espresso.
You can tweak it a bit, but really it pretty much does things for you.
As for which I would prefer, I honestly would go with the French press. I’m not very much in love with espresso, and I’ve had my fair share of poorly made espresso, and great espresso.
I think it’s a bit overrated, though it has its merits.
A latte without an espresso wouldn’t be a latte, it would just be cafe au lait.
Still. to each their own and you choose which coffee brewing method you like.
If you want to know more about coffee or tea, feel free to check the related articles below. Who knows what else you might find ?