Buying Guides

Siphon Coffee vs. French Press: Which Is the Better Brew?

These two brewers couldn’t be more different from each other. If you’re a medium to dark roast coffee drinker, the French press is a great choice for you. If you’re more into light roasts, the siphon coffee brewer is right up your alley.

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Picking the right brewer can seem like a daunting task. Everyone will tell you “this” is the right one or “that” one is. But how do you know?

When looking for a new coffee brewer, I always ask myself a few questions:

  • How do you want the coffee to taste?
  • How much time are you looking to spend on that final cup?
  • How often do you plan on using this brewer?
  • What is your budget?

Over my nine years of working as a barista, I’ve tried most of the brewers out there and these two are some of the oldest brewers we still use today. Let’s see if one of these timeless relics is right for you.

siphon coffee vs french press

Siphon Coffee vs French Press: The Rundown

Before we start to answer those questions, let’s take a second and get to know each of these brewers.

What is Siphon Coffee?

These things have been around since the 1830s and haven’t changed much since then.

Siphon coffee brewers use two chambers, a seal to create the vacuum, and some sort of heat source to brew coffee.

Water is placed in the bottom chamber and set over a heat source. Usually, the brewer comes with a butane or alcohol burner, but you can use stove-top versions.

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Once the water begins to boil, the top chamber is seated within the rubber seal and a vacuum is created pulling the water up through a cloth filter to the medium-ground coffee.

When the brewing process is finished the heat is removed and as the water cools, the coffee is pulled back down through the filter leaving you with a completely sediment-free cup.

What Does Siphon Coffee Taste Like?

There are a few things that help create that signature siphon coffee taste. Because this is a full-immersion brewer, the coffee is allowed to sit fully submerged in the water. This allows the water to absorb the most flavor from the coffee.

It’s also essential to keep the water temperature around 195 to 202 degrees Fahrenheit. This makes sure that the coffee is never allowed to become over-agitated and the coffee doesn’t become over-extracted.

Finally, we have the cloth filter and the separation from the coffee. The cloth filter removes a good amount of the oils from the coffee and, as the coffee is pulled down, you get a sediment-free cup.

This gives you a crisp, clean cup of coffee with unmatched clarity where the faintest tasting notes are allowed to shine.

What is a French Press?

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Since its invention in the 1850s, people have found different ways to use the French press for things other than coffee. You can even use these to strain broth or make tea!

This design boasts a single cylinder that holds a plunger with a metal filter at the bottom. It’s the simple design that allows these alternate uses.

Coffee grounds are placed in the bottom at the bottom of the cylinder. Water that is just off the boil is poured over the coffee, fully submerging it.

Once the brewing is complete, the plunger is pushed down filtering the coffee. You should pour the coffee into another container to keep it from over-extracting and becoming bitter.

What Does French Press Coffee Taste Like?

While we’re using a full immersion brewing method similar to the siphon brewer, the coffee you get couldn’t be more different.

Siphon coffee is going to taste light and delicate, while the French press gives you a cup that is much more robust and packs in a high level of the body.

This is due to the time the coffee has in contact with the water, allowing more of the water-soluble parts of the coffee to be absorbed. Couple that with the metal filter that allows much more of the natural oils through, and you have a great cup of coffee that is both rich and robust.

Is Siphon Coffee Better?

That all depends on the type of coffee beans you’re using. Siphon coffee brewers excel at bringing out the faintest tasting notes. These are often indicated by the roasters and you can find this info usually on the front of a bag of coffee.

That’s why, when using a siphon coffee brewer, you want to use something like a single-origin light roast coffee.

Now that’s not to say the French press can’t give you a great cup of coffee, it’s just going to be different.

To allow the French press to shine you want to look for a nice medium to dark roast. These coffees tend to retain more natural oils and give you a cup with a full body and robust flavor.

How Long Does it Take to Brew?

I always like to take the time to talk about… well, time. Not just the brew time but also how long it takes to learn how to use your new brewer, how to get the best out of your new brewer, and how much attention you need to give the brewer as it’s making your quality coffee.

French Press Brewing

For me, the French press takes the cake here. While it does take some time to figure out how to make a great cup of coffee with it, the time commitment is much lower than the siphon coffee brewer.

The French press is hard to mess up and its simple design helps with that. Just make sure you’re using a coarse ground coffee and you should be good to go in minutes.

Siphon Brewing

The siphon coffee brewer, on the other hand, is like cooking with a roux. The first thing I was told by a very tall angry French man in Culinary School, was that if you walk away from your roux while it’s cooking, YOU WILL BURN IT. Similarly, if you walk away from a siphon coffee brewer while it is brewing, you will over-extract it or burn it.

Siphon coffee brewers need more care when brewing. You need to be aware of the temperature of the water. If the water gets too hot it can start to boil and will over-agitate the coffee, leading to an over-extracted cup.

If it gets too cold it won’t be able to maintain the pressure for the vacuum and the coffee will begin to drain into the bottom chamber, giving you an underdeveloped and under-extracted cup of coffee.

There’s also more that goes into the care of the brewer itself. Most siphon coffee brewers come with a cloth filter that requires much more care to keep your coffee tasting fresh and delicious. Like keeping them in a water-filled, air-tight container in the refrigerator.

Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t buy one, but just know that siphon coffee is something that takes time and skill to craft the perfect cup. Is it impossible? Not at all and trust me, when you get it right, it’s so worth it.

How Much for That Brewer in the Window?

This is another place where the French press takes the W. Most French presses to come at a much lower price than a siphon coffee brewer and are ready to brew with just some coffee and water.

While you can find stovetop versions of siphon coffee brewers, the most common ones come with a butane or alcohol burner. This adds to the experience of making siphon coffee but is something that you should be aware of when buying one.

So What Should I Buy?

That depends; do you want something easy to brew in and that you can use to make other things? Do you like medium or dark roast coffees over light roast? Then the French press is for you.

When I’m making breakfast for myself, I’m going to grab a French press and let it brew while I’m cooking my eggs. This little brewer lets you walk away and know that when you come back, you’re going to have a great cup of coffee to start your day.

If you’re looking for something to show off the expensive single-origin coffee beans that you picked up from a local roaster, then it’s the siphon coffee brewer all the way. It might take more time to brew, but when I want a great cup of coffee in the middle of the day, I’m reaching for the siphon.

Whichever you choose, just make sure that you pick the right roast and grind to allow your new brewer to shine.

Also, make sure to pick up a screen for your kitchen sink. Cleaning either of these brewers, no matter how hard you try, you’re going to get coffee grounds down your drains and that’s not great for your pipes.

Happy Caffeinating!

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