We are often asked about different brewing methods, and why we would brew something one way or another. You may have been brewing your coffee for a while without ever questioning why you brew using the style to which you are accustomed. Like most, you might have started out with the equipment that was in the home already, and may never have thought to change, especially if you’ve been enjoying your coffee so far. This week, we wanted to compare a traditional & very common brewing style (the French Press / cafetiere) with a relatively new brewing method (the AeroPress). Both produce brewed coffee of different styles, and this ultimately can be used to your advantage, to suit your tastes or those of others you might be brewing for.
Firstly, if you’re interested in a brewing guide for either method, look to our website. The AeroPress guide is here and our French Press / cafetiere guide is here. Brewing masterclasses with North Star run at least once a month at our roastery in Leeds, which cover brewing coffee with whatever method you choose to do it, to a level as advanced as you want to take things. Contact me for more info here!
Popularised recently due to its innovative design, functionality, portability, price & ease of use the AeroPress was invented by Alan Adler, the man behind the Aerobie Flying Disc. He modeled it based upon the principles behind the espresso machine and the cafetiere in 2005.
Benefits of the AeroPress
- Price relative to its utility – incredibly functional for only a £25 investment
- Portability – the AeroPress is light, completely plastic and is therefore travel friendly and useable in any environment. The plastic it is made from is also BPA free if you are concerned about the toxicity of plastics.
- Longevity – plastic brewers are less likely to break than glass or ceramic brewers, and therefore tend to last users longer.
- Total control over brewing – gravity is almost completely taken out as a factor in brewing freeing you up to brew with a wider range of grind settings, perfect if you have trouble with grind settings when brewing. What’s more, you can use a wide range of doses for control of your desired body, you can make a short drink to mimic an espresso, or a long drink like a traditional filter coffee; you can choose your water temperature, control how you pour, how you press, and how much you agitate the brew during its extraction. It offers control over all of your key brewing variables. You can even use it to brew for a group if you really want to get technical.
- Infinite recipes – with the AeroPress, given that you have total control over brewing, you can of course then try different recipes with ease. It opens up the brewer to experiment forever without any need for investment into further equipment. You can really get a feel for how brewing works, and adapt it for different coffees you come across as you learn more.
- Versatility – you can use an AeroPress with a paper or metal filter, allowing you the flexibility to either brew a heavier cup with more body and mouthfeel, or one with a cleaner, lighter body and mouthfeel. As you learn more about the coffee you’re using, you will be able to brew differently to improve results with different types of coffee and different roasts.
- Cleanliness – the AeroPress is well-respected for how easily it can be cleaned following brewing. Compared to other brewers it takes both less time and leads to a lot less mess.
Coffee that suits the AeroPress
This is a question that is often asked, but also often misunderstood. The AeroPress can be used to suit any roast of coffee due to how much control you have over brewing with it. That is its beauty. If you choose an AeroPress, the world is your oyster with what to buy & brew. The question you ought to be asking is what beans yield the flavour profile you prefer and how what brew recipe do you select to maximize that coffees’ potential.
Top Tips for using an AeroPress
Our standard brew guide for an AeroPress is here. However, like we’ve said, you have total control with this brewing device, and infinite recipes available to you. Work backwards from what you want your end result to be, and that includes the purchase of your coffee. Here’s a quick list of tips:
- Want to brew quicker? Stir your brew more.
- Want to extract more flavor? Brew for longer.
- Having trouble plunging through the coffee? Grind your coffee coarser.
- The lighter the roast, the longer you can likely brew for without overwhelming bitterness.
- The coarser the grind, the more time you have to brew.
- Want to brew an even cleaner cup of coffee with lighter body? Use two filter papers instead of one.
As always, the following apply:
- Buy to your tastes – don’t buy a fruity or floral coffee if you want your coffee to taste like chocolate, nuts, caramel or a rich mahogany 😉
- Pay attention to coffee’s seasonality & buy with it in mind.
- Buy freshly roasted beans that are ethically sourced.
French Press / Cafetiere
This is one of the most popular brew methods because of its simplicity & the ability to brew for many people at once. Historically the invention was never actually patented by the French but rather a Milanese designer Attilio Calimani in 1929. Its design has changed over the years, notably through Faliero Bondanini, who patented his own version in 1958. Its popularity grew from his manufacturing of it in a French clarinet factory. It is an extremely commonly found brewing method, our brew guide can be found here as a good starting point.
So what are the benefits of the French Press?
In short, they are as follows:
- Volume – you can easily brew coffee for a group of people in a French Press, and given that the market demand still reflects a taste preference towards heavier bodied cups of coffee of a chocolatey, rich mouthfeel, it can be a useful tool for creating this style of coffee.
- Ease of use – the French Press is a device that does not require lots of equipment or a fancy brewing method, it can be used by relatively inexperienced brewers keeping in mind a few key brewing principles.
- Body & mouthfeel – cafetiere style coffee is known for being a great way to produce richly-textured & heavy-bodied coffee, and is arguably unparalleled in doing so easily & cheaply.
- Inexpensive – again, the cafetiere is a relatively cheap piece of brewing equipment that can do a great job for little investment.
- Grind size flexibility – depending on your brewing method, you can brew with any grind setting, so long as you don’t attempt to press the plunger through finely ground coffee (you’re likely to over-extract finely ground coffee anyway, as well as smash your cafetiere and create a hazardous, ugly mess).
Coffee that suits the French Press
The French Press is suited to brewing a larger quantity at once, or a drinker’s preference for a coffee with lots of body & mouthfeel. Again we reach the question of which roasts will suit this brewing method. This time, the choice is not so extensive (in our opinion). With a brewing method like the cafetiere, you’re unlikely to get the best out of a light-roasted, fruity, floral coffee unless you really want to challenge yourself with your brewing technique. We’d advise choosing a coffee that naturally suits the end result of a heavy-bodied cup with texture and mouthfeel, perhaps a honey process or natural coffee with inherently high body. Equally an espresso roast of a blend, or of a single origin coffee would likely suit use in a cafetiere, due to typically higher body & texture being available in more developed roasts. Of course, we aren’t saying that lighter roasts of single origin coffees or of blends won’t suit use in a cafetiere, but you would certainly need to adapt how you brew to suit their characteristics, see below in our tips for more on that.
Top tips for using the French Press
- If you do want to try a lighter-bodied / fruitier / more floral cup in a French Press, it may work better if you do not actually press it at all but rather, after a couple of minutes, simply skim off the top crust from the brew to then leave the plunger submerged only slightly below the surface of the coffee before gently pouring the coffee, doing so without moving the settled grounds at the bottom of the brewed mixture. This has led us to be able to drink cleaner cups of coffee from the cafetiere, similar to how we brew coffee in a cupping (coffee tasting session).
- Always unscrew the filter mesh from the plunger when cleaning. You will absolutely miss some of the grinds stuck in it by rinsing alone without detaching the parts of the device.
- Pre-warm & dry the cafetiere and its plunger with your brewing water before adding any coffee to avoid any unwanted taints.
- As a general rule of thumb, brew lighter roasts for longer & darker roasts quicker.
- If you grind your own coffee (highly recommended), grind coarsely for the cafetiere to avoid fine particles coming through the filter into your cup, and to avoid smashing your cafetiere when you try to plunge through the coffee (the finer it is ground, the more it will resist you pushing through it). Grinding coarsely also allows you to brew for longer without producing overwhelming bitterness that tends to be unpalatable.
Comparing the AeroPress and French Press
The main differences in flavour are through clarity, mouthfeel & body.
Body achieved by brewing with an AeroPress is less of that than with a French Press, due to the higher effectiveness of a paper filter in absorption of oils & prevention of finer particles passing through it.
Equally, mouthfeel is richer & heavier in a French Press brew due to the mesh/metal filter’s allowance of oils & finer particles in the brewed coffee, regardless of the mouthfeel inherent to the coffee.
Clarity of flavour is improved with the AeroPress given its paper filtration, which does not allow oils and fine particles into the brewed coffee. This ultimately means that your perception of taste is not masked or influenced by those oils or finer particles, allowing you to clearly taste what is inherently present as true flavor of the roasted coffee beans, given how you have brewed them. With a cafetiere, it is possible to mask or ’cloud’ the flavour of a coffee, which can either be a bad thing if you’re attempting to show off a highly nuanced, delicately flavored cup of coffee, or a good thing if a coffee is for example poor in flavor quality, poorly roasted or poorly brewed.
Both methods are prized for convenience, but overall you’ll find the AeroPress is more convenient as it is more portable than most cafetieres on the market. Not only this, but it is indeed easier to clean up after brewing which can be a huge benefit in a home environment. You also brew a single cup of coffee much quicker in an AeroPress versus the cafetiere, which tends towards a longer brewing time due to a coarser grind being used, given the same coffee as a starting point. However – the AeroPress is limited to brewing a smaller amount of coffee at a time than a cafetiere, unless you go to extremes in how you adapt your brewing (more on that would be covered in a brewing masterclass).
The AeroPress also tends to be more durable than the standard cafetieres on the market due to the hardier plastic material – the french press is usually made of glass. Notably on this topic – where problems arise in brewing, for example where somebody attempts to plunge a cafetiere with finely ground coffee, the brewing of coffee can become suddenly very dangerous. At least with an AeroPress, you’ll only be cleaning up the mess of an occasional spilled coffee rather than picking up shards of finely smashed glass cafetiere…
In brewing, flexibility is important. The AeroPress allows for much more flexibility in terms of how you brew. You can respond easily to any errors made during brewing by having control over all elements of the extraction process. The cafetiere will limit a brewer’s ability to control all aspects of their brewing, and as the journey goes for most coffee connoisseurs, as the palate & preference starts to lean towards cleaner-tasting, fruitier, more floral & complex cups of coffee, the cafetiere may not be the simplest approach to brewing to taste after a little while. The AeroPress however can be adapted for use however required, with the possibility of using a metal disc filter to approximate a cafetiere style brew, or one or more of the standard paper filters to yield cleaner-tasting cups of coffee, not to mention all of the other brewing variables that you can control.
At North Star, we love the French Press for the ability to brew coffee for a group of people relatively easily without much investment in a dedicated brewer or extremely adapted brewing techniques.
The AeroPress is limited to brewing only small amounts of coffee via a normal brewing approach without extreme adaptations, and therefore would limit anyone to showing off a coffee only one or two cups at a time. Also, we love the cafetiere’s ability to champion the characteristics of body & mouthfeel in a brew, but know that the AeroPress can show those characteristics off too when used with a metal filter disc available for only a few pounds online.
Though we don’t advocate buying or brewing old, poor quality or unethically sourced coffees, the cafetiere is a great tool for brewing them as the texture & mouthfeel that it allows into the cup of coffee does a fine job of ‘distracting’ the drinker from potentially defective or lower quality coffee’s true characteristics. However, that being one of its uses does of course leave it directly linked to being a hindrance sometimes, where it may lead to brewers not tasting the best of coffees like many of our own roasts – particularly if they do not adapt their technique to include our top tip above (removing the crust from your brew, then purposefully not plunging the full way down the cafetiere and gently pouring to avoid further flavor extraction due to agitation).
With the AeroPress you do have every option available in brewing control to do the same, but also the ability to champion whatever the key characteristics are in a freshly roasted, high quality coffee you would hopefully be brewing. In our opinion this makes it not only an accessible option due to ease of use (if you keep your method simple), and its price relative to its utility, but also its potential to become one of the most useful pieces of brewing equipment out there as you go on with your journey in tasting coffee.
If you’re willing to brew intelligently, the AeroPress will provide you with the potential to adapt variables to suit the coffee you’re brewing.
To conclude, if you’re looking for an entry level brewing device either would be a great choice to buy. However if you can see yourself wanting to truly experience what the specialty coffee market has to offer, you might well want to consider the AeroPress over the classic French Press.
All in all though, buying both can still leave you spending only £50, so why not add two brewing devices to your arsenal to suit both brewing for a group with a type of coffee that suits most tastes, (our The Docks blend for example), and also to show off the latest, lighter-roasted fruity/floral single origin coffees such as our latest Ethiopian, Guatemalan & Kenyan arrivals?
Whatever you decide, make sure you feel comfortable with how to brew on your chosen method as this can be the one factor that takes your brew from a good coffee to a terrible one! If you want to develop your home brewing skills, it would be wise to perhaps attend one of our masterclasses where you’ll get the lowdown on all aspects of brewing, including how best to approach different coffees using all kinds of brewing methods on the market.
At our roastery, you’ll get the chance to experience why you might choose to brew a certain type of coffee one way, and why you’d brew another type of coffee a different way. There is also a chance to taste the full range of specialty coffees and learn more about where they have come from and how they have been processed to ultimately produce their inherent flavour profiles and levels of acidity, body, cleanliness and balance – factors which you, as brewers, will learn to take into account when setting a brew recipe and method.
If you would like any further information about anything I have discussed in this post then please don’t hesitate to get in touch – hope to see you on one of my brew courses some time soon!