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French Press vs. Chemex: Which One is Right for You?

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Summary of Key Differences

Below we summarize the key differences between a French Press and a Chemex. The key differences between a French press and a Chemex is how they brew coffee, how easy they are to use and what taste they produce.

We generally prefer using a Chemex over our French press because we love the ease of cleaning it and the super smooth taste it produces.

French Press Chemex
Prices $20 - $120, with some high-end models above $200 $38 - $161
Brewing method Press Pour-over
Supplies needed None Paper filters
Grind size Coarse Medium coarse
Sizes offered Single to multi-cup Single to multi-cup
Other uses Tea brewer; manual milk frother None recommended
Storing and reheating coffee
  • Must decant coffee after brewing
  • French press cannot be placed directly on stovetop for reheating
  • Coffee can be left in the Chemex after brewing
  • Chemex can be placed directly on a glass or gas flame stovetop on low heat to keep coffee warm or reheat
Cleaning It depends on the make and model, most French presses are handwash only Dishwasher safe or handwash
Materials French presses can be made from glass, stainless steel, ceramic, stoneware, or other materials. Many French presses have plastic handles, caps, or feet Chemexes are made from borosilicate glass; some styles have a removable wooden and leather handle
Great for
  • Newbies
  • Strong and earthy flavors
  • Alternative uses
  • Smooth and clean taste
  • Storing and reheating coffee
  • Ease of cleaning

Brewing Differences

A French press and Chemex are methods for brewing coffee; however, there are some key differences between the two.

As its name implies, a French press is a press method of brewing coffee. When you use a French press, you add coffee grounds and hot water into the chamber, letting the coffee grounds brew in the hot water for several minutes. When it’s done brewing, you press the coffee grounds down with a plunger to extract additional oils and flavonoids from the coffee and to make sure you don’t get any grounds into the coffee you drink.

A Chemex is a pour-over method for brewing coffee. The Chemex is a glass carafe that is shaped like an hourglass, with a wide opening at the top to fit a filter. When you brew coffee with a Chemex, you place a filter in the opening and add your coffee grounds. You add a bit of hot water to allow the coffee grounds to bloom, which allows gasses to escape and improves the flavor of the coffee.

After it blooms, you add more hot water, which will drip through the filter into the bottom of the Chemex. You remove the filter and coffee grounds to pour the coffee out.

Grind Size

There are several other key differences between a Chemex and a French press. A French press uses a coarse grind and a Chemex uses a medium coarse grind.

While you can use a finer grind in a French press, it will be harder to press and may result in a more bitter brew. Using a coarser grind in a Chemex will result in a more acidic brew.

Storing and Reheating Coffee

After brewing, there are differences in how to store your coffee, especially if you’re like us and make extra coffee and let it sit out for a while. In a French press, because the coffee grounds remain mixed with hot water, it is recommended to decant your coffee by pouring it into another container. If you let it sit in the French press, it will continue to brew and get more bitter.

You won’t need to decant coffee from a Chemex because the water will pass through the filter while the coffee grounds remain in the filter. You can also place a Chemex directly on a glass or gas flame stovetop on low heat to keep your coffee warm (you cannot place a Chemex on an electric coil stovetop). It’s not recommended to place a French press directly on a stovetop as it may break or warp.

Other Uses

A French press has other uses besides brewing coffee. You can use it to make certain loose-leaf teas, following the same method to brew coffee.

You can make tea in a Chemex, but because the water will pass through the tea leaves, it results in a much weaker tea. You need to use more tea leaves in a Chemex to produce the same strength you’d get from steeping fewer leaves in hot water.

For that reason, we recommend the French press over a Chemex if you want to make tea. A French press can also be used as a manual milk frother.

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Cleaning

The Chemex is easier to clean than a French press. The Chemex is one piece of glass and it is dishwasher safe. Because Chemex uses a paper filter, it prevents the coffee grounds from getting into the carafe. For cleaning purposes, this means that swirling hot soapy water in the Chemex is enough to clean it.

French presses have multiple parts, and because you put coffee grounds directly into the press, this means more cleaning. What’s more, most makes and models of French presses are not dishwasher safe.

Price

A six-cup classic Chemex, which has a capacity of 30 oz, is $49.50. There are other brands that make Chemex-style pour-over carafes, with prices ranging from $20 to $80. Meanwhile, a similar-sized, mid-tier French press is around $20-$30.

There are high-end options for both types. A hand-blown five-cup Chemex will run you about $125. High-end French presses of a similar size sell between $80 and $120, with some very expensive models above $200.

High-end French presses are generally made from stainless steel, ceramic, or stoneware. All Chemexes are made from borosilicate glass, while other brands may be made from glass or other materials.

Which One Do We Prefer?

We like both the French press and Chemex because they are easy methods for making multiple cups of coffee, which is a must in any house with more than one coffee drinker.

We generally use our Chemex more than our French press because we like the taste produced by a pour-over brewing method. We also like the ease of cleaning. We especially love that we can leave coffee in the Chemex without taking the coffee out to sit or reheat. The main downside, in our opinion, is the need to use paper filters due to waste. However, there are many brands of coffee filters that are biodegradable and compostable.

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We believe a French press requires less “art” to it, making it more accessible for the newbie at-home brewer. Pour-over coffee makers like the Chemex require letting the coffee bloom. There are also specific ways to pour water over the grounds to produce the best brew. It also helps to have a gooseneck kettle to achieve a better pour.

A French press is less discerning in this regard. You can let the coffee grounds bloom in a French press by adding a little hot water before pouring in the rest, but you can still get a good brew without doing this. Since the water will submerge the coffee grounds in a French press, there’s not much art to how you pour the water.

About Rebecca Wessell

Rebecca is the co-founder of First Coffee Then. She has written for numerous publications, including ValuePenguin, Inc.com, Business.com, Christian Science Monitor, StartupNation, and NASDAQ. She loves to get into the nitty-gritty of how things work and applies this philosophy to all things coffee. Her favorite coffee beverage is a cappuccino (though La Colombe Oat Milk Draft Lattes are an extremely close second).

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