In one version or another, the French Press has been around for centuries. There’s a vessel for the ground coffee beans and water (usually glass, though metal is also common), and a mesh plunger (usually metal, though synthetics are used in some presses) that presses the grounds to the bottom of the vessel once the grounds have bloomed.
The Aeropress is a more recent invention, and works much like an espresso machine. It relies on a combination of heat (from the hot water) and air pressure to extract the flavor from the beans. Because the Aeropress has a shorter brew time (30-90 seconds) and typically uses a paper filter, you won’t find some of the harsher oils and chemicals in an Aeropress coffee that you’d get from a French Press.
The cost of a good French Press and an AeroPress are roughly equal, but we’d give a slight edge to the Aeropress for one simple reason: unless you’re using a more pricey stainless French Press, that means buying one with a vessel made of glass. Having gone through no less than four glass French Presses before I finally caved in and bought one in stainless, I wouldn’t call it durable. The Aeropress, on the other hand, isn’t quite indestructible (given a clumsy enough user, practically anything is breakable), but it should last a very long time under normal use. On the other hand, a larger French Press has one very significant advantage over the Aeropress: the former is much better suited to brewing multiple cups at once, which is a lifesaver if you’ve got multiple coffee drinkers (or a multi-cup-a-day habit).
French Press coffee can be a bracing experience. It can take some experimentation with the amount of coffee and the amount of brew time to get the strength and taste you’d like, for one thing. For another, the fine metal mesh of a typical press leaves a fine silt in your cup, usually along with a few grinds. If you like coffee you can stand a fork in, that’s not a bad thing. For some people, it can be a bit off-putting.
The Aeropress works on roughly the same principle as an espresso machine. It’s not much of a surprise that it delivers a finished product that tastes much closer to espresso than to brewed coffee, even though it isn’t espresso. It’s a highly concentrated
cup of coffee that can be had as-is, or with the addition of more hot water, milk, or cream. The addition of a filter to the equation eliminates stray coffee grinds from your coffee, and also means a smoother and a bit more even-tempered taste than your French Press. The good news is that if you’d like to retain the oils without retaining the grounds, you can swap in an aftermarket metal mesh filter.
And here’s where things get highly subjective. After all, you can start with the exact same raw materials and end up with vastly different outcomes depending on the preparation, and that’s definitely the case here. You may find that you like one option well enough to replace the other. Since neither option is particularly expensive, however, you can very easily have it both ways without breaking the bank. Remember that the same principle applies whether you’re using a French Press, an Aeropress, or even your trusty drip coffee maker: you’ll only get out of it what you put into it, so make sure you’re starting out with high-quality beans.
Coffee lovers can be a partisan bunch. The debates over various beans, roasts, and brewing methods can get every bit as heated as the coffee in your cup. So it’s no surprise that some coffee drinkers get steamed about the differences between the classic French Press and the relatively newfangled Aeropress. The question is, is one better than the other?