French Press vs. Espresso Coffee. Which Wins The Taste Test?

espresso vs French press which tastes better

It all comes down to how you like to take your coffee. Some enjoy the French press’s bold flavor, while others can’t get enough of espresso’s petite flavor. Many multi-taskers enjoy espresso due to its caffeine jolt and because the process only takes a minute or two. French press brew appeals to people who prefer a slower, more mindful, and manual approach to a cup of joe.

Opinions are divided on which tastes better: French press or espresso brews. While an espresso brew will extract a delicate, high-caffeinated sweetness from coffee beans like no other method, a French press brew will give you a big batch of coffee that’s full-bodied, aromatic, and strong. 

Check out these 5 things that help determine whether French press or espresso coffee tastes better. 

What is Espresso Coffee?

Espresso is strong coffee with high caffeine content. It is made in an automatic or manual espresso machine that forces hot steam and water through a bed of fine-ground coffee beans. Most espresso brews are made from a coffee bean blend, although any kind can be used.

The result is small amounts of concentrated, black espresso shots that extract sweetness from the beans, unlike any other brewing method. 

What is French Press Coffee?

In contrast to espresso’s short, high-pressure brewing method, a French press is a manual immersion process that steeps coarsely-ground coffee beans for several minutes like tea.

The result is a bold, full-bodied coffee that retains all the coffee beans’ natural sugars, oils, and flavors.  If you would like to dive deeper into why French press coffee tastes so good, read about it here.

1. Caffeine Levels

Many people believe that espresso has more caffeine than French press due to espresso’s intense flavor, and it turns out that they’re right.

If you love the taste of strong, black caffeine with intense, sweet notes, then espresso may taste better for you. 

Due to its concentrated nature, espresso has more caffeine in each unit volume than French press coffee. Since espresso contains 77mg of caffeine in every 1.5 oz. shot, three shots of espresso equal an 8 oz. cup of French press coffee.

This means that an 8 oz. cup of coffee made in a French press has anywhere from 80-135 mg of caffeine (depending on how long and strong it is brewed), while a comparable 3 shots of espresso have a jittery 154 mg of caffeine.

When you grab a cup of a French press, you’ll get caffeine extracted in a slower process, with less pressure and heat. This may mean that caffeine levels turn out slightly lower than in espresso brews.

It all depends on how French press coffee is brewed since caffeine levels can vary based on the coffee-to-water ratio used and the time taken to brew a batch.

2. Flavor

Flavor plays a key role in your experience about whether French press or espresso coffee tastes better. Since everyone’s taste is different, these different brewing methods are going to produce diverse body and flavors that appeal to different palates.

While espresso contains far more caffeine than a cup of French, it can taste bolder and stronger because more of the coffee bean oils, sugars, and flavonoids are extracted during the slow, steeping immersion process.

A large part of the delicious flavor present in espresso is crema. If you’ve ever seen or experienced a talented barista’s latte art etched into the foam atop a cup of coffee, you’ve seen crema, the foamy cream that appears on top of espresso because of the high-pressure steam brew.

Crema is made when the steam and pressure in an espresso machine emulsify or disperse the coffee bean oils into the hot water. This creates a smooth foam that floats on top of espresso drinks. 

Many coffee lovers value crema because it reflects a well-made espresso beverage. With its caramel color and creamy puff texture, crema also gives espresso a more robust flavor and lingering aftertaste than other types of coffee.

It just isn’t possible to create crema with a French press since this is achieved with a pressurized brewing method. For some, the simple, bold taste with bitter edges that comes from a good cup of French press coffee tastes better than all the crema in the world.

3. Temperature and Grind 

The French brew vs. the espresso process makes a big difference in which tastes better.

To create an espresso shot, the machine forces water heated to 200-205 degrees Fahrenheit through a tightly packed puck of ground coffee beans. For a French press, the high heat (around 158-190 degrees) slowly extracts each note of rich, unmistakable flavor.

Next, French press and espresso use different kinds of grinds. This alone plays a key part in why one brew may taste better than another.

For example, baristas use high-quality and fine-ground coffee beans to make espresso. This grind looks like powder. The finer the grind, the stronger the coffee since there is more surface from which to extract flavor. This makes espresso a more robust, higher-caffeinated cup of coffee than a French press java.

At the same time, the hot water in a French press extracts bold flavor out of the coarsely ground coffee beans. A French grind is around 3 times coarser than grinds used for espresso. According to Italian baristas, a medium-to-medium dark roast is a prime roast for espresso. In contrast, dark roast beans are best for French press extraction.

4. Time

Slow vs. fast brewing impacts the taste differences between French press and espresso.

For busy people who enjoy an intense, dark jolt of caffeine with a nutty or chocolatey base with a smooth crema finish, an espresso that’s ready in a minute will do the trick.

Since a coarse French press brew is steeped like tea for a longer period, this is a manual process that extracts maximum round flavor. Depending on how much coffee is added and how long the French press is infused can create a lighter cup of coffee or a heavy body with a robust taste. 

Fast and slow brewing methods, among other factors such as grind, pressure, or immersion, can make espresso taste better to some people than French press and vice versa.

5. Filtering

When it comes to the filtering process, that’s where espresso and French press brews stand on even ground. Unlike drip coffee, which uses paper filters, espresso and French press don’t use filters. As a result, they retain natural sugars, oils, and flavors from coffee beans that can give hints about regions from where the coffee beans originated.

While French press brew does go through a stainless-steel mesh at the bottom of the plunger, this doesn’t strain out unhealthy compounds like cafestol. The strainer also allows some sediment or bits of grounds into your brew. For some people, this adds character and flavor to the drink, while others prefer to use a secondary strainer to avoid muddy coffee.

Not only does espresso typically avoid sediment due to its fine grind and fast, pressurized process, but it also contains cafestol and kahweol compounds that aren’t good for health.

The good news is that espresso coffee pods have much lower levels of these harmful compounds and bring the amounts down to filtered coffee levels.

Both French press and espresso yield stronger, bolder flavors with different hints of caramel sweetness or robust, aromatic body because they aren’t filtered brews. With both types of beverages, you taste all the parts of the coffee as it was meant to be drunk.

French Press vs. Espresso. Is there A Winner?

The brewing process, time, and batch size aside, both espresso and French press coffee have their merits.

The two brew methods produce entirely different types of coffee drinks. A French press’s immersion method steeps the coffee grounds for 4-6 minutes in a different way than an espresso machine, which uses hot water, force, and pressure.

In the end, it’s all up to you. If you prefer a powerful shot of concentrated coffee that still extracts a delicate sweet flavor, then espresso may taste better. French press brew is the right choice for you if you love rich coffee with bold, intricate, and aromatic notes.

Christopher Mize
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