Before we get into the nitty-gritties and dissect every different aspect of these two techniques, there is, however, a similarity between these two methods. Both are brewed without the intervention of a paper filter which absorbs most of the coffee oils present in the beans and that is the reason why the french press and espresso taste much better or more intense than the drip, pour over or any other method of coffee that requires paper filters.

French Press

Despite the name, the first known model of the French press was made by an Italian man, Attilio Calimani, a Milanese designer in 1929. Several new advancements followed in the design and in 1958, Faliero Bondanini patented his own version of French presses and manufactured it in a French clarinet factory called Martin SA. The brand was known as “Melior”. A french press is not just for brewing coffee, it can be used to brew tea as well using tea leaves.

French press brewing is a traditional coffee brewing technique which brews coffee by grinding them into coarse yet even grains and pouring hot water over it and letting the brew steep for a while. A french press is a cylindrical cup, usually made from glass or plastic free from BPA, and is fitted with a plunge on top with a wire mesh which acts as a filter. There are many sizes of French presses, from 1 cup minis to 12 and 24 cup giants as well as carafe type french presses.

The beauty of this technique is its sheer simplicity. It requires coarsely ground coffee which is steeped in hot water for 3 to 4 minutes. This ensures that most of the aromatic, and flavour compounds make their way into the cup as well as a lot of the oils which are picked up by the paper filter on other brewing methods. The result is an intense, rich cup of coffee which tastes better than any filter or drip coffee with a huge amount of caffeine in them – exceeding 100mg per cup!

Espresso

The espresso is another traditional method of brewing coffee but is a more concentrated form of coffee as compared to the French press. The coffee is ground into a fine texture (but not super fine like the grind required in Turkish Coffee) and after that there are two methods in brewing an espresso – using a stovetop moka pot or an espresso machine.

The Moka pot is in its simplest terms, a compartmentalised coffee pot which a brewer part, in which water is added and gets heated up by the stove. On top of the brewer sits the filter basket. The coffee grind texture is the same used in espresso machines, fine and even, but there is no need to tamp in this method. The filter and the brewer are screwed on top the top part of pot and is placed on the stove on moderate heat to start the extraction process which is halted when the liquid stream pouring into the pot turns from a rich brown colour into a yellow stream. The result is poured into a demitasse and consumed immediately. There is no crema layer in this process but the moka pot is the preferred choice to brew a quick espresso at home.

The Espresso machine uses fine ground coffee which is measured and poured into a portafilter, evened out by tapping and tamped using a stainless steel tamper till it becomes an even, dense puck of coffee grounds. This is fitted into the group head of the machine and remember to fire a blank shot to heat up the group head before inserting the portafilter. The machine is started and 15 bars of pressure is applied to hot water at 93C-95C and forced through the coffee puck, extracting it’s compounds and dripping out through the spouts or directly through the basket filter as in bottomless portafilters, into a demitasse placed beneath it. The initial process is a slow dripping of a dark brown fluid which gradually increases and becomes a rich brown stream. After the 25-30second mark, the extraction process is stopped just as the stream starts to become yellow. There is a rich layer of brown crema which is the mark of a truly well made shot of espresso, and the taste is full of mellow and bitter notes, along with the characteristic flavour of the beans used.

Differences in brewing methods

Using a French Press

  • Grind your coffee beans prior to brewing using a burr grinder to produce a superior even grind. You can use either hand held manual grinders or electrical ceramic burr grinders for convenience. The consistency you want is that of kosher salt.
  • Simultaneously start boiling your filter water as you grind so that the grounds do not sit long and degas. This makes the coffee lose its trapped carbon dioxide which is a prime factor is extracting the essential oils and compounds from the coffee beans that you want in your cup. Let the water sit for a minute till it reaches an ideal 195F-200F or 95C-98C.
  • If possible preheat the french press with a flush of hot water before starting the process and drying it immediately.
  • Simple tip for the beginners: for one standard 250ml cup of water, use two tablespoons of coffee beans to ground. For a standard 4 cup french press, use half a cup of coffee beans to grind. Pour the ground coffee into the press and pour a little amount of hot water evenly over the coffee grounds till the cup is almost half full to allow the coffee to “bloom” and give it a stir with a long spoon. (if it is 4 cup or less sized french press, for larger presses, there is no need to fill it half way and only sufficient water is required so that the blooming process can occur.) Blooming is a process by which freshly roasted coffee beans release the carbon dioxide which is locked inside the coffee bean during the roasting process. This also lets the ground coffee release other compounds which influence the aromatic profile and the taste of the brew. For French presses, this process takes place in 30 – 45 seconds.
  • After the half a minute, pour the rest of the hot water and put the lid on without plunging. Allow it to steep for 4 minutes and set a timer.
  • Once the timer buzzes, plunge the plunger and immediately pour the coffee into the coffee cup, mug or carafe.
  • Enjoy!

Using a Moka Pot

  • Grind 22-25g of coffee beans (for a 3-4 cup moka pot) into a fine texture and set the brewer part on the stove with water inside to allow it to boil.
  • Take the brewer off the heat when it boils and allow it to cool for half a minute while you pour the ground coffee into the basket.
  • Set the coffee basket onto the brewer and screw it on. Screw on these two parts to the top part of the pot and set it on a moderate flame or heat setting.
  • The coffee will start to stream into the mokka pot as a rich dark brown stream which will turn brown and then eventually start to yellow. Stop the process at this point.
  • Place the moka pot on a cool damp towel to stop the extraction process due to the hot metal. This will also prevent the coffee to developing a foul metallic taste.
  • Pour the espresso into the demitasses and enjoy!

Using an espresso machine

  • Grind the required amount of beans into a fine processed sugar-like consistency and pour it into the portafilter. Ensure the portafilter to be cleaned thoroughly, flushed with hot water and wiped dry.
  • Tamp the coffee grounds into a dense and even puck using 30 lbs of pressure while placing the portafilter on a flat steady surface.
  • Run the espresso machine through a “blank shot” without coffee to heat up and prepare the machine. Place a demitasse onto the tray beneath where the portafilter would go.
  • Adjust the portafilter and lock it into the grouphead and start the machine.
  • Pay attention to time duration as the espresso extraction is complete between the 25 – 30 second mark.
  • Once the stream starts to yellow, this is an indicator that the extraction is complete, pull the espresso shot our and it’s ready to be consumed immediately.
  • Check the colour and thickness of the crema layer to make sure that the extraction was just right and not under nor over extracted. Enjoy! Pro Tip: Using a bottomless portafilter makes it easier to troubleshoot espresso in real time. If the stream is not pouring from the centre, the tamping was improper and a below standard shot is obtained. However, if you do not have a bottomless portafilter, check the crema layer. A well extracted crema layer will be rich brown in colour and thick. An underextracted shot will have a thin, light coloured crema layer whereas an overextracted shot will have a dark and patchy layer of crema.

Major Differences between the two

Different Grind sizes

French presses require a kosher salt-like consistency of grind which coarse yet even. This is achieved using a good quality electric ceramic burr grinder with a number of settings. If the grind is too big, the extraction process will yield a light and under extracted cup, if the grind is too fine, it will pass through the mesh filter and into the brew. This makes for a murky cup of coffee.

Espresso machines require a fine processed sugar-like grind in order to properly extract all the essentials from it. Since the espresso is a more concentrated syrup-like drink, it makes sense that finer grinds will require a lot less water than coarse grinds.

Brewing Time

French press brewing takes up a lot of time, since it needs to steep for a while. Grinding the coffee roughly takes the same amount of time for both the techniques, but for french presses you would also need to boil water.

The Moka pot method is a bit slower than using an espresso machine, however it still brews much faster than a french press.

The espresso machine takes 25-30 seconds to brew, and the name itself is Italian for ‘fast’. However, the machine does need a little time to warm up and fire a blank shot for it to be ready to start brewing.

Taste

The French press makes a rich, full bodied, strong cup of coffee. There is a lot of time for the oils in the grounds to be extracted fully and this is the reason why french press coffee tastes so good. There is a lot of caffeine inside a single cup, therefore this method makes a stronger cup of coffee than an espresso and can cause some jitters. Getting the grind right is the most difficult part of the French press brewing process, but it is worth it at the end.

The espresso is a more concentrated form of coffee with a smooth syrup-like texture which is marvellous to consume. The plethora of aroma and flavours and the rich layer of crema makes this tiny serving of coffee a much more intense form of coffee consumption. Despite having more caffeine per volume than a french press, the espresso has a lot less caffeine and less likely to lead to jitters unless you have a doppio which is essentially a double shot of espresso in one cup.

Quantity

A single puck of fine grounded coffee can make a single cup of espresso. With a moka pot, you can obtain a few more cups. However these are demitasse sized cups of 1 fl oz coffee inside each of them. The french press usually makes atleast 2.5 fl oz of coffee upto giant 36 fl oz presses which make over 4 full sized coffee cups of coffee.

Convenience

The French press is the easier technique as the only thing to keep in mind is the grind size and the timer. The Moka pot is next in line and is also quite easy to brew with coffee grind size being the major difficulty.

The espresso machine, however, requires finesse and skill in order to make a proper brew. From the rigorous maintenance ritual of the machine, the tamping technique and the extraction period, it is an intense activity and takes a while to obtain the perfect cup.

Cost

The French press and the Moka pot espresso maker costs roughly the same amount and are ideal for the budget conscious coffee aficionados who do not wish to compromise on quality. The maintenance is also simple and can be done with running water and an occasional descaling of the moka pot every few months. The most expensive purchase for these two methods would be the grinder.

The espresso machine is the costlier method. The machine are not cheap nor is the maintenance cheap either with descaling and the cleaning fluids. You also have count in the price of the burr grinder and an electric grinder is essential for pulling espresso shots. Although there are good cheap home use espresso machines, the French press and moka pot is way cheaper.

Recommended Buy:

French press coffee makers

Frieling French Press Coffee Maker

Frieling USA Double Wall Stainless Steel French Press Coffee Maker, 23-Ounce

Insulated container(retains heat 4 times longer), double walled, mirror finished with 2 stage filtration. One of the best french press in the market.

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Veken French Press coffee maker

Veken French Press Coffee Maker (8 cups, 34 oz)

Best value for money. Has a 8 cup capacity, great mesh filters, glass body and a nice brushed metal aesthetic to it.

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Ground Coffee for French Press Brews

Koffee Cult Dark Roast

Koffee Kult Dark Roast Coffee Beans, 32oz.

Strong, rich, dark, nutty and absolutely brilliant for both french press and espressos.

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Stone Street columbian coffee

Stone Street Coffee Cold Brew Reserve Colombian Supremo, 1lb.

Advertised as cold press, but a great buy for a hot cup of coffee nonetheless.

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Coffee grinders(for both french press and espresso)

Baratza Encore Automatic Coffee grinder

Baratza Encore Conical Burr Coffee Grinder

One of the most easy to use grinders available, with 40 different grind settings to explore various brewing methods.

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JavaPresse Manual Coffee Grinder Conical Burr Mill

JavaPresse Manual Coffee Grinder, Conical Burr Mill

Budget friendly, hand operated coffee grinder. Has 18 built in settings to produce a variety of coffee grinds.

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Ground Coffee for Espresso

These are good coffee beans however if you want the best overall experience, and if possible, find a local roaster to buy freshly roasted whole beans from. The packaged coffee is usually by the time they reach your hands. Buying wholesale green unroasted beans and roasting them yourself is also a highly recommended activity that we recommend if you have the patience for it! This article will help you through the process of roasting coffee beans in the comfort of your own home.

Lavazza Super Crema Whole Bean Coffee Blend

Smooth and flavourful with a rich crema. Can’t go wrong with this.

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Jo Espresso 12 oz, Whole Bean Organic Arabica Espresso Coffee

Smooth, even taste, excellent crema and a nice velvety finish. A favorite.

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Moka Pots

Bialetti stove top coffee maker

Bialetti stove top coffee maker, 6-Cup

A household name when it comes to Moka pots. Makes intense and rich espresso shots.

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Cuisinox Roma stove top espresso maker

Cuisinox Roma 6-cup Stainless Steel Stovetop Moka Espresso Maker

One of the most reliable Moka pots in the market with a 25 year warranty!

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Espresso Machines

Bella Personal Espresso Maker

Bella Personal Espresso Maker

One of the best espresso makers under $100. Perfect for beginners looking to experiment.

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Mr Coffee Espresso and Capuccino Maker

Mr. Coffee Espresso and Cappuccino Maker

Comes with a automatic milk frother, automatic controls and 15 bar pump. Makes great espresso and coffee beverages.

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