Invented around the 1930’s by Italian designer Attilio Calimani, the French press is known to make some of the best coffee when used correctly.
While the French press may be made out of several different materials, such as glass, stainless steel, and even ceramic, as well as go by different names, all presses have the same basic proponents: a plunger section attached to the lid with a stainless steel mesh filter at the end, and a brewing chamber.
Hot water and coarsely ground coffee are placed inside, brewed for four minutes, and then separated using the steel filter.
The Chemex came to the scene a little bit later on, around 1941, and was invented by the chemist Peter Schlumbohm.
The brewing style of a Chemex is very similar to to what is known as “cold filtering” in chemistry, a process in which a solution is poured into a funnel and gravity pulls the liquid out of the solution.
A Chemex’s physical appearance resembles two glass funnels joined at the tips, with a wooden handle around the middle. A paper filter goes in the top portion, along with the coffee grounds, then the user pours water with a gooseneck style kettle, where coffee then seeps into the bottom section.
There are a few advantages to using a French press over a Chemex, such as not needing to purchase propitiatory filters, or any filters at all really.
The lack of paper filters also makes a French press quite environmentally friendly, as there is no paper waste.
Another advantage is how much easier it can be to clean the inside of the brewer itself. Because most French presses are quite wide, it can be pretty easy to fit your hand inside with a sponge to clean out any built up oils.
The French press itself can also be used to make other styles of coffee, such as cold brew, or even twice brewed coffee, and even doubles as a tea press. French presses, depending on the manufacturer, can also be cheaper than a Chemex.
One of its biggest perks can also be seen as a disadvantage for some: the murky coffee brewed.
The fine steel mesh filter does allow for oils and fine particles to pass through and into the cup, but while this not only adds a ton of flavor, it can be a bit unhealthy, especially for those very sensitive to acids.
Another disadvantage, when compared to a Chemex, is that it can be a bit of a hassle to clean out all of the coffee grounds, as they aren’t neatly contained in a paper filter.
An advantage of using a Chemex is how clean the resulting coffee will be, as the heavier propitiatory filter pulls in a lot of oils, acids, and sediment.
The coffee brewed with a Chemex will oftentimes lack any bitter components, and will also have hardly any acid. Basic cleanup is also much easier with a Chemex, especially if brewing batch after batch.
This is because all one needs to do is pull out the paper filter, and put a new one in; no having to wash out the inside to get grounds out.
Having a clean cup does come at a cost though, mainly having to buy filters, and not being able to brew if there are no filters.
For some people with larger hands, it might also be difficult to deep clean the inside. Another disadvantage, when compared to a French press, is cost.
Not only does a Chemex oftentimes cost more than a French press, but a gooseneck style kettle is a must have for quality brewing, which can also set you back some money.
One of the most daunting bits about a Chemex is the pouring technique needed, which can be difficult to really perfect.
Overall, both are wonderful coffee brewers that have their own pros and cons. A French press is fantastic for beginners looking to brew great coffee, but knowing how to brew properly with a Chemex is a great skill for anyone who loves coffee.
Both devices are extremely portable, meaning they can be taken just about anywhere hot water is, and both brewing methods can require a large amount of user control, meaning the person making the coffee can easily change the flavor.