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French press or Chemex?

prolix May 2, 2013 09:52 AM

I just cracked the carafe for my Bodum French press. Again. The carafe I go buy this afternoon to replace it would be I think the fourth in the last eighteen months (granted, I've moved more times than usual in that stretch, so perhaps I'm not just incurably clumsy). I've been thinking of making the switch to a Chemex anyway. Chowhounds, is this my moment? I like the coffee I make in my press, but have heard good things about the Chemex from a trusted food-industry friend. How would you characterize the differences in the coffee these methods produce?

  1. PinchOfSalt May 2, 2013 10:29 AM

    I have both. I go through phases about using them. It seems to me that some styles of coffee are better with one or the other. Compared with a French press, the Chemex produces coffee with no sediment and a lighter body. It's an opportunity to experiment with pour-over brewing. I have heard arguments that say that the paper filters grab onto some of the oils in coffee and thereby affect the flavor.

    Along with the differences in coffee, there are differences in convenience. Brewing in a French press is less fussy. Brewing with a Chemex takes more attention. Cleaning a Chemex is quick and easy. There is a bit more work to cleaning a French press. Bottom line is it is apples and oranges. One is not better than the other - they are just different.

    Here is a thought. Is there a good coffee establishment near you that uses both methods? You could try a side-by-side brewing experiment with the same variety!

    1 Reply
    1. re: PinchOfSalt
      prolix May 2, 2013 04:30 PM

      This is *super* helpful; thanks for it!

      I was indeed drawn to the easy clean-up of the Chemex, but if it makes up for it with attention during the brewing process, I'm not sure that doesn't cancel out for me.

      I'm in Brooklyn so I can almost certainly track down a coffee shop that will indulge my taste-testing needs. None of my regular spots do drip/pour-over brews, but I know I've seen places that do...

    2. d
      Denrael May 2, 2013 10:43 AM

      I would also consider the aeropress. Ugly, but effective.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Denrael
        Windy May 10, 2013 05:09 PM

        I love my Aeropress. It's a French press that's been improved upon, so the coffee doesn't sit in the grounds, without the unevenness of a drip.

      2. scubadoo97 May 2, 2013 04:35 PM

        Chemex is a pour over drip. Nothing more, nothing less

        1. TonyC May 2, 2013 04:50 PM


          French too messy, Chemex too involved.

          1. grampart May 2, 2013 05:26 PM

            CoffeeGeek reviewers sure give the Chemex high grades.

            2 Replies
            1. re: grampart
              prolix May 3, 2013 10:13 AM

              Yeah! And the friend who's been talking hers up is a fancy food person in the employ of an even fancier food person, so I take her recommendation seriously. My parents used a Chemex when I was a kid, but I've used a press pot my whole coffee-making life. I just wonder...

              1. re: prolix
                grampart May 3, 2013 12:20 PM

                I've never used a press pot or a Chemex in my life. I'm a Technivorm guy and, when I need to make just a cup, I'll use my $5 Melitta pour-over.

            2. tcamp May 3, 2013 06:55 AM

              If you do decide to stick with the French press, which is what I use and love, let me suggest a metal press. I got one for my husband who has a similar track record to you in the breakage department.

              The one I got him is along these lines:


              3 Replies
              1. re: tcamp
                prolix May 3, 2013 10:11 AM


                This is a very welcome link; thanks so much for it. SUCH a pain to keep buying new carafes. My enameled iron farmhouse sink is a real hazard to glassware.

                1. re: prolix
                  tastesgoodwhatisit May 8, 2013 08:55 PM

                  I have a metal one from Ikea that I love (see photo). It's a double walled insulating one, so it keeps the coffee hot, it's very easy to clean (no fiddly bits, or gaps between the glass and the metal), and it's unbreakable. The filter part is sturdy, and has no pieces that screw off and get lost.

                2. re: tcamp
                  mcf May 19, 2013 08:44 AM

                  Marshall's Home Goods and other stores usually have cheap versions of these, often in clearance. Williams Sonoma outlet stores, too.

                3. Eiron May 3, 2013 11:45 AM

                  As others have said, they're completely different styles of coffee. That doesn't mean you can't enjoy both, but just that you really can't say "This one or that one?" (I enjoy press, drip, espresso & moka.)

                  However, a bigger concern might the the replacement factor. A Chemex brewer is glass, just like your press' carafe. I've never bought a Chemex, but it might be substantially more expensive to replace four Chemex in 18 months than it has been to replace your press.

                  I like tcamp's suggestion of a metal press. I went this direction when I got my press to brew coffee at work.

                  EDIT: I forgot to add that you might consider a Melitta brewer. It's the original manual pour-over, & the Chemex is based on the exact same principle. Why Melitta over Chemex? Price! A Melitta is less than 1/4 the cost of a Chemex, & you'll get exactly the same brewing control & flavor results.


                  4 Replies
                  1. re: Eiron
                    Scrofula May 3, 2013 01:28 PM

                    A Melitta is not exactly the same as a Chemex. It has a much smaller hole, so the water drains much slower. This makes the Melitta much simpler to use, because you can pour in four or five oz of water at a time and wait for it to drain, rather than continuously pouring a small stream as you would for a Chemex or Hario V60. You don't need a special kettle or anything, like you would for the fancier pour-over cones. And the resulting coffee is still excellent -- Sweet Maria's did a pour-over taste test, and a Melitta-style slow-draining cone performed best. You can find a similar design in ceramic, if plastic is a concern.

                    1. re: Scrofula
                      Will Owen May 10, 2013 11:51 AM

                      I've used a Chemex for about fifty years now, and have never done any continuous-pour rigamarole. Bring water to gentle boil, splash some to soak the grounds, wait one minute and pour in half the water. When that runs through pour in the rest. Let that run through and you've got coffee. The least complicated system I've ever used. Won a fancy insulated-carafe automatic once, used it until it died (about three years), and happily went back to my Chemex. Best coffee ever and NO SEDIMENT!! Yuck-o!

                      As for breakage, well, I've never broken one. I've had two in my whole life, and the only reason for that is that when I moved from CA to Nashville I took only what would fit in my Austin Mini wagon, and the Chemex didn't make the cut. Figured I could buy another, and found my current one at the Nashville Flea Market for $5. That was almost forty years ago.

                      1. re: Will Owen
                        Scrofula May 10, 2013 05:31 PM

                        Neat; that's exactly what I do on my Melitta, though I use a shorter initial soak. I've never owned a Chemex, but everybody I've seen use one does the fancy pour from an expensive kettle; I guess it doesn't matter that much.

                        Even simpler is the Clever dripper, though I don't like the results quite as much.

                        1. re: Scrofula
                          Will Owen May 10, 2013 06:11 PM

                          When Mrs. O and I first met she had a Melitta; I moved in with her, and left the Chemex at my house for my brother to use. It was okay - still is, when for some reason I run out of Chemex filters - but it runs more slowly and yet the coffee seems less flavorful. I learned my Chemex routine from a friend who'd gotten his in college, so it's obvious that there must be a regional culture of simple pouring. Probably centered around Portland, since he went to Reed.

                  2. Candy May 4, 2013 12:23 PM

                    Bodum makes Lexan replacements. That might be the best route for you. Chemex also is prone to breakage.

                    1. TraderJoe May 4, 2013 01:39 PM

                      I feel your pain on cracking the Bodum Carafe's but I wouldn't trade my FP coffee for any thing. I haven't checked in a while but Amazon used to have replacement carafe's at a very good price.

                      1. f
                        felnbad May 9, 2013 02:02 AM

                        I've had a metal Nissan/Thermos French Press for over ten years. Makes the BEST coffee, keeps it hot for close to an hour, is indestructible, easy to clean, and sells for less than $40.00! Save the $$$ on gadgets or glass, buy a Nissan and sink the extra money on a great grinder and great quality coffee!

                        1. Delucacheesemonger May 9, 2013 02:49 AM

                          l have two Alessi presses,one the metal sort of 'Arts and Crafts' looking one, and one the frog holding glass ones, both are ancient, work perfectly, never have broken and seem to make great coffee.

                          1. z
                            Zarah May 19, 2013 07:49 AM

                            I have both. I used a French Press for years until I converted to Chemex w/ Natural Filter and haven't looked back. Only time I utilize my French Press is when I run out of filters.

                            The Chemex is not that involved. The proper amount of coffee grounds and water delivery is the key element. I used a digi scale for a while until I started to eyeball the right amount of bean. I have a Hario V60 and it is a delight to use and look at.

                            It takes 6-8 minutes to make Coffee with the Chemex, it's a great morning ritual. Some might say 6-8 minutes it too long, maybe the Keurig system is up your alley. Clean up is a breeze, one cannot say that about the French Press.

                            Give Chemex a shot, not too expensive to adopt this method.

                            1. l
                              la2tokyo May 19, 2013 08:26 AM

                              The coffee produced is totally different. I don't think it's really fair to compare the two. It's like comparing a juicer and a blender. That said, you can get other pour-over setups for a lot cheaper than a chemex, so you might as well try a Hario or even a plastic setup and see if you like it. It will only cost you the price of a few cups of coffee at a coffeehouse.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: la2tokyo
                                grampart May 19, 2013 08:46 AM

                                Low-tech, very inexpensive, and can make a great cup of coffee if you do all the right stuff.


                                1. re: grampart
                                  mcf May 19, 2013 09:04 AM

                                  I agree, but I prefer the ceramic, though I have plastic one cup pour overs for my mid afternoon quick fix. And a thermal pot:


                              2. mcf May 19, 2013 08:43 AM

                                I've used and I love all three. If you find you like French press best, why not buy a thermal one without a breakable glass carafe, since that seems to be your impetus here?

                                I can't agree about Aeropress. I know a lot of folks love it, but to my palate, it makes the most insipid coffee, just unbearable. If you like the full contact of French press, Aeropress is a bad replacement for that. If you like mild, filtered coffee, it's still pale by comparison unless the mildness and tame flavors are your favorite part.

                                7 Replies
                                1. re: mcf
                                  PinchOfSalt May 20, 2013 08:32 AM

                                  I have all three types of brewers (French Press, Chemex, Aeropress) and enjoy each according to my mood and the type of beans I have on hand. It's surprising to hear someone say that the Aeropress produces mild coffee. We each have our own preferences, of course. For my part, I experimented with the amount of coffee to find what works for me. When I changed favorite morning coffee mugs, I adjusted the amount of beans again. One trick that seems to make a difference is to wet the filter before brewing. I assemble the Aeropress, run some hot water into it, let about half drip through into my mug, then dump the remaining water and the water that made it into my mug. Then I add the ground coffee beans. If you care to experiment with the amount of coffee for a given mug, you just might find a combination that works for you.

                                  1. re: PinchOfSalt
                                    scubadoo97 May 20, 2013 01:34 PM

                                    I too have never associated the aeropress with mild coffee. But a lot revolves around grind size and the ratio of coffee to water. When using my AP I get a brew that is often like a strong FP or an Americano.

                                    1. re: scubadoo97
                                      PinchOfSalt May 20, 2013 02:02 PM

                                      Yes, indeed, and I agree also that grind size is important (something that I failed to note). If you do not dilute what comes out of the AP you get a very strong brew. That's what puzzles me about mcf's experience. Even if their grind was way too coarse, the coffee as it comes out of the AP should not be weak.

                                      1. re: PinchOfSalt
                                        mcf May 20, 2013 02:18 PM

                                        My grind wasn't coarse at all. When I mentioned it online, a lot of folks said that mildness was what they liked about their Aeropress coffee! Go figure.

                                        1. re: mcf
                                          cowboyardee May 20, 2013 09:09 PM

                                          The aeropress can make coffee that's essentially tailored to your tastes, whatever those may be. If you follow the directions (used upright, small amount of water, temp 170-180, plunge, then add water to the brewed coffee) you'll tend to get reasonably strong but under-extracted Americano style coffee, which plenty of people like due to the low bitterness - that probably accounts for the reviews you've read.

                                          But if you ignore the instructions and experiment with higher water temperatures, finer grinds, longer extractions, and/or inverted brewing, you can pretty much just pick the effect you want and get there with some trial and error. Strong, weak, very high or very low extraction %s, etc.

                                          It's admittedly more futzing around than many people are up for, of course. But IMO the aeropress is a great device for a perfectionist/tinkerer.

                                          1. re: cowboyardee
                                            mcf May 21, 2013 06:37 AM

                                            I followed instructions, having no experience at all with it, tried multiple extractions, temps, you name it.

                                            I guess I don't like all the bitterness or edge extracted, and YES, way too much futzing when a French press or cone pour over makes such good coffee!

                                    2. re: PinchOfSalt
                                      mcf May 20, 2013 02:16 PM

                                      I got rid of it; gave it away. I kept adding and adding coffee trying to make a good tasting cup and gave it up.

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