The Ultimate Coffee Showdown
July 7, 2009 12:09 AM   Subscribe

French Press vs. Aerobie Aeropress -- I'm torn!

I've been using a Senseo coffee maker for quite a while now. I've finally decided that enough is enough. The coffee pods are overpriced and not nearly as good as I'd like. The crema looks pretty but tastes exceptionally bitter. After doing a good bit of research it's down to a Bodum french press or an Aerobie Aeropress, and I don't really know which to go for. I'm probably going to spring for a Capresso Burr grinder as well...

MetaFilter, help me choose!
posted by Autarky to Food & Drink (37 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Personally, I love french press coffee. I looked into buying an Aeropress, but their marketing material and online reviews kept mentioning how it made a less bitter cup of coffee. I think that some bitterness is part of the flavor, which I enjoy. I have so far abstained from the Aeropress.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 12:47 AM on July 7, 2009

Depends on what's important to you in a coffee-making device.

A French press makes coffee that is potentially more flavorful, since it doesn't filter out the oils in the coffee. It's certainly more traditional and arguably prettier. It's available in glass and metal if you're worried about plastics. On the other hand, most people find them difficult to clean and they produce coffee that's full of sediment (and which therefore will taste worse if you let it sit for any length of time, as the less pleasant flavors continue to leach out of the coffee bean fragments.)

The Aeropress is essentially self-cleaning, a bit faster than the French press, and makes very smooth, concentrated, delicious coffee. I use mine practically every day. On the other hand, it is made of plastic, you can only make a couple of cups at a time with it, and you theoretically have to buy filters for it (you can re-use them several times, though, and so I still haven't used up the filters that came with the press a few years ago.)

For me the Aeropress wins out by a large margin, due both to the marvelous coffee it makes and to its ease of maintenance. Oh, and it's very compact and portable. Still, your mileage may vary.
posted by fermion at 12:47 AM on July 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

I have both. The Aeropress makes very smooth coffee. When it is just Mrs. FuzzyDog and I we use the press and make an "americano" from it. When we have guests, we use the french press. I find the french press to be a lesser quality beverage.

That being said. The aeropress has some very specific directions that you should follow (185F water, stir for 20 secs, press over 20 secs) that really affect the taste of the coffee.

Also, the clean up on the areo press is much easier and cleaner than the french press. Pop the puck out and a little soap and water and it is good to go. Enjoy!
posted by Fuzzy Dog at 12:49 AM on July 7, 2009

The aeropress has some very specific directions that you should follow (185F water, stir for 20 secs, press over 20 secs)

Well, if you want to get most out of your French press, you's better stick to some strict rules to.

I don't understand the comments about sediment either, if you get a press with a good metal siefe there shouldn't be any.

Apart from the convenience the taste of coffee is in the beans, and how you treat them. Regardless of the tools you use.
posted by ijsbrand at 1:46 AM on July 7, 2009

The crema looks pretty but tastes exceptionally bitter

Yes, but crema alone will taste bitter (how much depends on your taste buds) even from an espresso machine. I (now) prefer to stir it into the espresso before sipping. I recently found out about this from the "Coffee Collective" blog. See the discussion here:
posted by alchemist at 2:01 AM on July 7, 2009

I'm more of an occasional coffee guy as opposed to a coffee every day multiple times guy, and I love my Aeropress. I've used a french press in the past and just didn't like the overall experience. The Aeropress is awesome once you properly figure out the variables as others have mentioned above, and also as mentioned above, the cleanup is a snap. The only drawback is if you are making more than a couple of cups at a time it's a drawn out process, unless of course you make it interactive and give your guests Aeropress lessons and let them make their own. My vote would be for the Aeropress, especially if you're already doing the one-cup-at-a-time thing with the Senseo.
posted by barc0001 at 2:28 AM on July 7, 2009

I may be a total wimp, but I found the pressure needed for the Aeropress to be more than I wanted to deal with first thing in the morning. I've gone back to the french press and enjoy the whole experience a lot more, aside from the clean up.
posted by wens at 4:25 AM on July 7, 2009

I also own both (among 4 other coffeemakers, including an espresso machine, drip machine, percolator, and chemex coffeemaker). You might think I'm crazy for owning 6 different methods of coffee preparation, but really, coffee is what you make of it. Espresso machine is great for cappuccinos, lattes, and americanos (and of course espresso); chemex makes the smoothest, cleanest cup of coffee I've ever had; and the drip and perc for for quick cups and guests.

Between the Aerobie and French, I'd use the Aerobie more. The French press is designed for people who love a "thicker", oily cup of coffee, who want to savor the true complexity of the bean. French press is great for coffee tasting, and the coffee has enough body that savoring it (not gulping) is the way to go. The Aerobie is a cleaner cup; the paper filter prevents some oil and all sediment from getting into the coffee. It's faster to operate, faster to cleanup, and is meant as a convenience (not a way to "appreciate coffee"). It's a smooth cup of coffee that would more closely resemble what you're already used to (the Senseo).

My advice is that for an everyday coffeemaker, the Aerobie is a good choice. But a French press is only $20-25, and worth purchasing should you ever decide to have a full bodied cup of coffee on a slow weekend.

But the advice given by a couple of others is true: it starts with a good bean, a good grinder, filtered water, and the proper temperature. If you don't get these things right, you'll never know a good cup.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 4:33 AM on July 7, 2009

There is a lot more variation in flavor with a french press. If you steep for a long time vs. short time, it will definitely change the flavor. For me, different beans need different steep times to get the right balance between too weak and too full.

Also, which french press you have can impact the cleaning and resulting temperature of the coffee. I have the Frieling 6-cup, and it is fairly easy to disassemble the filter/spring for cleaning. Since it is pretty well insulated you don't have to pre-heat your cup, etc like for a glass press.
posted by mezamashii at 4:43 AM on July 7, 2009

Clean up? You rinse it under the tap - done. Sediment? Not in my inexpensive Bodum press.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:22 AM on July 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

I had a French press. Shattered the glass pot a couple of times by banging it against the faucet while washing. So far the Aeropress seems indestructable, and makes far better coffee for my taste, which runs toward dark roast. It's also less work. I don't even wash it. Just rinse it after use.

It IS hard to press using just your arm, but all you have to do is put your hand over the top, lean your chin on it, and let your body weight do the pressing. Effortless.
posted by eeyore at 5:23 AM on July 7, 2009

Aeropress: easier cleaup, tastier coffee. No contest. If you find it too hard to press, try a somewhat coarser grind.
posted by agent99 at 5:34 AM on July 7, 2009

Don't forget that drinking unfiltered (i.e. - French Press) coffee may be linked to increased cholesterol (see here; here).

Personally, I vary between both (and a gold-filtered drip brewer, because it has a timer I can start the night before if I'm thinking that far ahead).

The Aeropress is great - when you get it right. I find I have a harder time getting the planets aligned to get that right cup - there are a lot of variables. I suppose that there's really not more (significant) complication than a French Press, but for whatever reason I find a FP to be more consistent or simple.

That said, the Aeropress isn't hard to use. I think it does take time to perfect, however. My one quibble with it would be that there is a lot of "stuff" that comes with it. You've got a bunch of little plastic bits to keep track of that don't exactly store neatly. It'd be nice if they came up with a little easy-store box or something.

Also, it can be frustrating how little coffee you get for your efforts with the Aeropress. It's much easier to get a large carafe of brew out of a French Press. Then again, if you're only concerned with single servings, this is moot.

Anyway, I'm just nitpicking. The Aeropress is pretty fantastic, especially for the price. Plus, if you're worried about the possibility of increased cholesterol from a non-filtered brew, the Aeropress would likely be safer - you use paper filters in the press.

As far as taste is concerned, you can't go wrong either way (as long as you use them properly). The Aeropress definitely produces a smoother cup, but the French Press has more of the raw, gritty soul of the beans. Neither is necessarily better; I like them both very much. Personally, I enjoy the somewhat gritty, oily taste from a French Press (I also like the darkest, thickest beers I can get my hands on). But both methods excel at imparting the taste of the coffee as best as possible; the variation in texture/mouthfeel is just that.

In the end, I would at least try the Aeropress out. It's only $20 so it's not a huge investment. Only you can say whether you like it over a French Press. And if you're not sure whether you like a French Press; well, try a friend's. They're extremely common, I'm sure you can get a friend to brew you a cup or even let you borrow it. Heck, you can probably pick up a cheapie for $5-10. Well worth it to have two great brewing methods in the house :)

(Don't forget that no matter what brewing method you use from here on out, your beans are the most important factor. Buy them whole, keep them airtight as much as you can, never freeze them, grind per serving, etc... By far the most important thing about good-tasting coffee.)
posted by sprocket87 at 5:43 AM on July 7, 2009

I, too, have both and honestly almost never use the Aeropress. I'd be hard-pressed (ha!) to say which I think tastes better, but the french press to me is just way easier to use, and produces a lot more coffee -- I like to have a good-sized jar of the stuff. I also don't find them that hard to clean: scoop out the grounds in the trash, a quick rinse, and you're good to go (deep cleaning it every month or so).
posted by AwkwardPause at 6:12 AM on July 7, 2009

Aeropress is a fad.
posted by lamby at 6:32 AM on July 7, 2009

I would get a cheap portable french press. They handily double for tea and other drinks in a more compact way than the aerobie; they're also handy for backpacking. I rarely use it for coffee at home, however, since the studies on french press coffee and LDL cholesterol spooked me. I probably have the lipid profile of a rodent, but still.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 6:35 AM on July 7, 2009

Like Wens, I found the Aeropress required too much force to use comfortably.

I prefer the flavor of coffee out of a French press. When I've switched back to other devices, it's doesn't take.

Coffee for use in a French press must be ground very coarsely, i.e., too big to fit through the holes in the sieve. Otherwise, your coffee will, in fact, be full of sediment. I suspect most complaints of sediment from a French press are due to improperly ground coffee. (Coffee ground for a drip machine, or commercially available espresso blends-in-a-can, is too fine.) You can also get sediment if you insist in draining every last drop from the pot. I drain mine down to just above the seive and seldom find any sediment.

Cleaning is a bit of a pain because you really need to take all the pieces apart and wash them. Consider, though, that a machine gets just as dirty everytime it is used, and we often wait for weeks to really clean them.

Coffee eventually stains the metal peces, so every month or so I soak them in a bleach solution.

How much coffee you put in a press is a matter of personal taste. I boil water, take it off the boil for 20-30 seconds, then pour it over the grounds. I swirl the water around a couple of times to distribute it, put the press on top of the pot to keep the heat from escaping, and let it alone for 4 minutes or so.
posted by justcorbly at 7:24 AM on July 7, 2009

I have both. I think they both have their merits. I like the flavor of French-press coffee better, which is not to say I dislike the flavor of Aeropress coffee. It's interesting how different the two really are. The Aeropress wins hands-down for speed and convenience though.

Camping is a special case, but on big camp-outs, I bring both, and the easier cleanup with the Aeropress is much appreciated.

I would say get both, unless money is really tight.
posted by adamrice at 7:24 AM on July 7, 2009

There's a time and a place for each, and both are cheap, but if you had to pick one I'd go for the Aeropress.

Making up to four 'cups' or let's say units of coffee in the Aeropress requires only slightly more effort than making one; you just have to divide them after extracting. I'd say one unit makes a fairly small cup of coffee (8 - 9 oz) at a good strength. If you want a bigger cup, jar, whatever, make two units or however many you want, and dilute to whatever strength suits you. I know a guy who would sometimes just have three units in a cup and drink it straight without diluting it. You can really do whatever you want.

The Aeropress also definitely produces a cleaner cup on account of the paper filters. Some users have experimented with using metal filters and various other non-paper materials that allow the oils through, so that's an option for the sufficiently motivated.

You can also use the un-diluted extract from the Aeropress for baking and for making iced coffee. In the summer sometimes I will just extract the coffee over a cup of ice then add a little cream. The hot coffee will melt the ice a bit, but it won't get too diluted. It's good.

For what it's worth my everyday coffee goes like this: I use water at about 78 degrees Celsius and stir for 10 seconds. It sits without stirring for a few seconds after that while I rinse the stirrer and then I press it fairly quickly (< 10s). Dilute to about 8oz. Sounds finnicky but it highlights the best strength (IMO) of the Aeropress, which is that it gives you great control over the process, so you can make coffee just the way you like it.
posted by benign at 8:16 AM on July 7, 2009

I enjoy the coffee my Aeropress produces, but I do not enjoy the fact that it makes exactly one cup of coffee at a time and must be cleaned and have consumables changed before the second cup can be made. A French press of typical size can make more than one serving. When I had a household of 4 coffee drinkers, an Aeropress was fantastically impractical compared to the press.

Personally I have never owned a French press that I was able to produce totally satisfactory coffee with. The coarser grind means the resulting coffee is inevitably more woody than I want. That isn't to say pressed coffee is undrinkable, but that between the innate character of coffee made that way and my ineptitude it's one of my least favorite methods of preparation.

Also, maybe I'm just clumsy, but I have broken a lot of glass presses over the course of a lifetime; probably on the order of 4 or 5. The Aeropress is largely indestructible if you don't abuse the plunger.
posted by majick at 8:17 AM on July 7, 2009

I'm reading about the AeroPress now and none of there "this is why the AeroPress is better than X" is striking me as consequential.

The filter that the AeroPress uses will filter flavour (that why it's "smooth"), not so a French Press filter, which lets everything except the grounds through, including the oils which are so essential to a great cup of coffee.
posted by foooooogasm at 8:27 AM on July 7, 2009

A French Press is not difficult to clean unless you insist on taking the plunger/filter apart every time. That's unnecessary. All you have to do it rinse out the used coffee, fill half way with water, then put the plunger on, and plunge a few times to rinse. That's it. It takes 15 seconds.

A coarse grind is not necessary. You don't want espresso powder, of course, but I've made great French press coffee using a cheap whirly grinder for years (until yesterday, in fact, when this monstrosity (that I love) arrived). The oft-repeated necessity of "burr grinder, coarse grind = only way to make French press coffee" is utter nonsense.

Sediment is an issue, but you find sediment in a lot of things, great olive oil for one, wine for another, etc. When you make a cup of French press coffee, the sediment settles to the bottom of the cup. Just don't drink it.
posted by foooooogasm at 8:40 AM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

I love my French Press. I loved my Chemex a little more, but it was a real hassle having to track down the (rather expensive) filters. While the Aeropress is pretty nifty and produces an ultra-clean cup, I'm still not a big fan, because (1) it's plastic and contains BPA, and (2) it requires filters that I'd need to order specially. A French Press has no consumables and is actually pretty simple to clean (just unscrew the screen assembly and give it a swipe and a rinse). And I actually like the fuller body of French Press coffee.

A few French Press tips:

- I bet you've already found this, but CoffeeGeek's Press Pot tutorial will help you brew a consistently tasty cup.
- Get one of Bodum's 4-minute timers with your French Press. Brewing for the same amount of time every time is crucial.
- Absolutely get the burr grinder! Freshly burr-ground coffee will taste about four bajillion times more delicious than pre-ground coffee or coffee ground in one of those little blade grinders. Protip: blade grinders don't grind to a consistent particle size -- in other words, you get boulders and sand instead of all pebbles. The "sand" part is what causes excessive sediment and bitter flavors in your French pressed coffee. A burr grinder will dramatically improve the flavor and the body.
posted by ourobouros at 8:42 AM on July 7, 2009

I have a drip machine, aeropress, and french press. I LOVE the aeropress. To my (not too refined) palate, it makes the best coffee. But, it only makes one cup of coffee. So when I want more, or have company, I use one of the other two. Also, in my experience, no matter how coarse I grind the beans, the french press leaves grit in the cup.

My next purchase will be some kind of vacuum coffee maker.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 8:45 AM on July 7, 2009

I gave up on my French press after I got my aeropress, which I found to make a better tasting cup of coffee. If it's a fad, I hope it's a fad that outlives me, or I'll be a little old man cutting paper circles out of other coffee filters.

The amount of time and effort it takes per cup is a bit of a pain, but every time I taste the results, I keep deciding it's worth it.
posted by Zed at 9:18 AM on July 7, 2009

You'll save so much on coffee pods that you can afford both. I've gone back to a melitta filter. The thing that most affects the quality of my coffee is the coffee itself.
posted by theora55 at 9:51 AM on July 7, 2009

>>A coarse grind is not necessary.

Of course not, but the grind does need to be coarse enough not to float through the holes in the sieve when you press it down when the brewing is complete. Nor do you need a burr grinder. It's all a matter of coffee surface area and water, so, logically, finer grinds will take less brewing time. That said, there's a reason burr grinders are recommended for all types of coffee making. Blade grinders inevitably produce some coffee dust.

Stainless steel french presses are on the market, if you are concerned about breakage.

I'm drinking a mug from my French press right now and there is no sediment.

Maybe I was doing it wrong, but every time I tried to use an AeroPress it felt like I was trying to push a 3-inch peg into a 2-inch hole. I had to press all my body weight against the thing.
posted by justcorbly at 9:57 AM on July 7, 2009

Thanks guys. I ended up ordering a burr grinder and french press from amazon, and I'll probably get an aeropress as well. If they're as good as advertised then the money I save by not going to my school's overpriced coffee shop will more than justify purchasing both.
posted by Autarky at 10:30 AM on July 7, 2009

Not really answering the question, but have you tried a Moka? We use a 9 cup version with less grounds to make an amazing Americano for two (normally you make espresso from them). We have noticed that the stainless steel versions make a smoother cup than the aluminum, but both are great. Clean-up is not really harder than a French Press. The key to using the Moka is to heat at a relatively low setting, by the way.
posted by qwip at 10:45 AM on July 7, 2009

Yeah, I have, and it tasted amazing. Unfortunately I spend 8 months a year living in a dorm room.
posted by Autarky at 11:04 AM on July 7, 2009

I enjoy the coffee my Aeropress produces, but I do not enjoy the fact that it makes exactly one cup of coffee at a time and must be cleaned and have consumables changed before the second cup can be made.
Not true. You can make up to four cups at once. That's what the markings on the side are for. I did it every day for nearly a year. You just make your coffee into a measuring cup or something and use that to divide it between the cups you're going to drink it out of. Pretty easy.
posted by benign at 11:58 AM on July 7, 2009

Not true. You can make up to four cups at once. That's what the markings on the side are for. I did it every day for nearly a year. You just make your coffee into a measuring cup or something and use that to divide it between the cups you're going to drink it out of. Pretty easy.
Smallest. Cups. Ever.

(4 Aeropress cups = 1 full mug for me. My French Press is the regular size and it can do multiple full mugs with ease).
posted by sprocket87 at 12:08 PM on July 7, 2009

Coffee made in a french press still has cafestol and kahweol, which are associated with the negative effects of drinking coffee (increased cholesterol, risk of heart disease). Passing the coffee through a paper filter removes 80-90% of these compounds.
posted by zentrification at 12:08 PM on July 7, 2009

There was a review paper (not sure if there's a paywall on that link or not) on the physiological effects of coffee consumption that came out just a few months before the Mol Endocrinol. paper linked above. From the conclusion:

"From the data presented here, it is concluded that only heavy consumption (>6 cups/day) of boiled unfiltered coffee is harmful to the heart as a result of the dose-related plasma cholesterol and LDL increase due to the diterpene oils.... Polyphenols seem to be countering many of the negative effects of caffeine and diterpenes in the coffee studies..."
posted by Thoughtcrime at 1:42 PM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

"You can make up to four cups at once. "

It's untrue. The documentation claims you can do this, but it is using a definition of "cup" that does not have any correlation to a real world physical object known as a coffee cup. Either that or you like your coffee really, really diluted. I could conceivably stretch one use of the Aeropress to produce two near-cups of coffee, in times of dire emergency, but the dilution needed to do so would be nigh unacceptable.
posted by majick at 4:24 PM on July 7, 2009

Smallest. Cups. Ever.

Apparently so!

So I went and measured the volume that I dilute my coffee to and it is actually about 6 oz, rather than 8 as I mentioned above. I had guessed that it was about 8 based on the fact that I use 9 oz cups, but I was apparently way off. It's still as much coffee as I usually want to drink in one go, but now I can see where people are coming from given that a typical coffee mug is probably more like 12 - 16 oz.
posted by benign at 6:41 PM on July 7, 2009

For the people saying the Aeropress is too hard to press, are you using an espresso-fine grind? I made that mistake at the beginning, and life gets much easier with a coarser grind. (It's still some effort, though, enough so that I can see it driving people away.)
posted by Zed at 7:47 AM on July 8, 2009

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