The contest between the french press and the espresso will not go lightly with both brewing techniques leading to an excellent batch of some of the purest coffee experiences ever.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
French press coffee makers
Insulated container(retains heat 4 times longer), double walled, mirror finished with 2 stage filtration. One of the best french press in the market.
Ground Coffee for French Press Brews
Advertised as cold press, but a great buy for a hot cup of coffee nonetheless.
Coffee grinders(for both french press and espresso)
Budget friendly, hand operated coffee grinder. Has 18 built in settings to produce a variety of coffee grinds.
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.
Jo Espresso 12 oz, Whole Bean Organic Arabica Espresso Coffee
Smooth, even taste, excellent crema and a nice velvety finish. A favorite.
One of the most reliable Moka pots in the market with a 25 year warranty!