Chemex vs. French Press: Taste, Quality, How to Make
As manual coffee making methods continue to grow in popularity, Chemex and French press are slowly emerging as many coffee enthusiasts' favorite options.
While the two are known to make great quality coffee and have been around for more than half a century now, the process they use to produce the brew is quite different.
Also, the taste of the resulting coffee and quality will differ significantly. What this is means is that while Chemex might be the perfect coffee maker for some individuals, for many others nothing beats French press coffee.
For the many coffee fanatics that are still on the fence on which one between the two to go for, our in-depth comparison below should make the decision easier.
Coffee Making Process
Place a filter at the top, add and wet grinds, bloom 60 seconds and then pour the hot
Put grinds in the beaker, add hot water, bloom for 45 seconds, steep 4 minutes and push down plunger
3, 6 and 8-cup
Rich and clean
Full bodied and with full flavor
Average Price Range
$30 - $70
$10 - $70
Chemex vs. French Press
The similarity between Chemex and French press probably stops at the fact that they are both manual coffee makers. But, unless you are an experienced barista or a coffee aficionado that has been using both for many years, picking between them can still be quite overwhelming. However, the choice should be less tedious with the following comparison parameters in mind.
1. Their Origins
Both coffee makers have been in use for many decades now, and this should explain why they are among the most widely used manual coffee makers.
Chemex was invented in 1941 by Peter Schlumbohm, a German doctor of chemistry who was residing in the USA. Given that he was a practicing chemist by then, it should not be a surprise that he used an Erlenmeyer flask (beaker-like glass) to make the coffee maker.
The modern-day Chemex is still quite similar to the original one as it will feature a flask with an hourglass shape and a funnel-like neck which is where you place the paper filter.
French press, on the other hand, has been in use since 1929 when it was invented by an Italian designer Attilio Calimani. But, as fate would have it, the coffee maker would become more widely used and popular in France which should explain where it gets its name.
Just like the original design, modern French press coffee makers still comprise of a glass or stainless steel beaker, plunger and a mesh filter.
2. How They are Used
One of the main differences between Chemex and French press is how they make coffee. The French press uses a steeping method while Chemex brews through dripping or filtration.
There is not much to do when brewing coffee with a Chemex coffee maker. Although you will still need to do lots of practice to perfect your brew, making coffee using this method is all about following the easy steps below.
Step 1: Heat water according to the number of cups you want to make
Step 2: Grind coffee beans to a medium size grind
Step 3: Rinse the paper filter and warm the glass beaker with hot water
Step 4: Place filter at the top and add the coffee grinds
Step 5: Wet the coffee grinds and give them at least one minute to bloom
Step 6: Pour the rest of the water slowly and allow it to drip down gradually as coffee.
Step 2: Place the grinds at the bottom of the beaker
Step 3: Add the hot water and make sure all the grinds are completely soaked
Step 4: Give the mixture 45 seconds to bloom before stirring
Step 5: Allow mixture to steep for at least 4 minutes before pushing down plunger slowly
3. Brewer Design
Chemex has the simplest design among the two, and many people will also find it more appealing than the French press.
The simple but elegant Chemex design consists of an hour-glass shape, narrow neck and funnel-like top to accommodate the paper filter. Most will also have rubber or wood around the neck's exterior to provide a gripping point.
French press, on the other hand, has a more complicated design than this, and it will comprise of three main parts which are the plunger, mesh filter, and beaker. The long neck plunger with a wooden handle is probably the most striking element in the design.
4. Coffee Maker Usability
Like with many other coffee makers, the usability or ease of use of Chemex and French press is more subjective because what might be a simple process for one user might seem like rocket science for another.
But, in general, many people will find the French press easier to use (or at least harder to mess up) than the Chemex. Provided you remember to use coarse coffee grinds and steep for 4 minutes, you will always end up with the same coffee quality when using a French press.
Chemex, on the other hand, will require a bit more finesse and technique to ensure even extraction of the beans. After blooming the beans, you should start by pouring water in a wiggle across the center and then change to a spiral motion starting on the filter's outermost edge.
Although Chemex brewing might sound a little complicated, and this is more so when it comes to pouring water, with enough practice you should be able to master it.
5. Ease of Cleanup
Given that the Chemex does not have a lot of parts or a very complicated design, clean up after use is easier than cleaning a French press coffee maker. All you need to do is throw away the paper filter together with the spent grounds and wash the beaker in the sink.
Cleaning the French press is also not that complicated because the mesh filter is the only thing that will require a little more effort. You will have to scrape out the used grounds in the filter by running water through it and then wash the beaker and plunger on the sink.
6. Portability Ease and Conveneince
Because most French press coffee makers will have a glass beaker and the Chemex is mostly glass, it is hard to tell which among the two will be easier to carry around.
But, since the French press comes in various sizes, it is easier to get a smaller one that is easy to carry around. Also, the ones with stainless steel or plastic beaker will be more portable than most Chemex coffee makers.
As you try to figure out which of the two will be more portable, you should also note that they weigh the same, but the French press is generally a little shorter in height.
Unless you have a safe way of caring for the delicate glass that makes up the Chemex, a French press will be more appropriate if portability is one of your main considerations.
7. Brew Quality and Taste
Taste is an extremely important factor to consider when choosing between Chemex and French press because if the brew does not taste how you like, you will probably not use it a lot.
The two will produce different brew quality and taste given the different brewing method and the fact that one uses a mesh filter while the other brews with a paper filter.
Chemex coffee makers will use a thick paper filter which will trap and filter out all the mineral oils and particulates that give coffee flavor. The resulting brew that you get is lighter and clearer with no sediments.
One of the things that many people hate about French press coffee is that it leaves sediment given that the mesh filter is not as effective in filtering as a paper filter. But, the mesh filter also comes with a myriad of benefits as it does not filter out the minerals oils, and so you end up with strong, rich, full-bodied and full flavor coffee.
Which One Should You Choose?
As with all coffee makers, what you buy always boils down to personal preferences, and so the kind of coffee that you like should help you choose between Chemex and French press.
For the coffee drinkers that prefer something strong, rich and full-bodied and do not mind putting in some extra effort when it comes to clean up after use, the French press is your ideal coffee maker.
However, if you like lighter and cleaner coffee with no sediments and also do not mind putting in the work to master the technique, a Chemex will work for you.
But, given that these are both quite inexpensive coffee makers, an even better idea would be to buy both and experiment to find which brew will work well for you. Also, having both will allow you to make the brew that goes with your moods.