The French Press vs. Coffee Percolator – The Differences Explained

french press vs percolator coffeeDid you know that the percolator was first invented somewhere around 1810 by a man who didn’t like tea and wanted to promote a drink other than alcohol?

I though this was funny because my wife drinks a lot of tea and we always have lighthearted arguments over which is better.

In any event the percolator’s first patents came in the mid-to-late 1800’s where the device (in it’s various forms at the time) was sold to households for the purpose of making coffee. It quickly became the most common method of brewing coffee in American’t homes… at least until the 1970s.

These days there are many different styles of percolators and they are better made now than ever before. Our favorite here at Gathering Grounds is:

You have to think that a coffee brewing technique that was dominantly used for roughly three to four generations in our country has to have some serious advantages over modern techniques like drip coffee, stovetop espresso, and french press coffee.

Want to know exactly when we recommend the percolator over the french press? I’ll explain, stick with me.

What’s the Difference Between French Press and Percolator Coffee

In today’s article, we will compare these two coffee brewing methods. They each have distinct approaches towards coffee and they each have their own pros and cons.

Let’s Start With the French Press

This coffee maker is known by many other names such as cafetière, сafetière à piston, Cafeteria, press pot, coffee press, or coffee plunger depending on which part of the world one is using this pot.

The French Press is not really as commonly used as other kinds of coffee-making apparatuses (which will be discussed in later articles). Nonetheless, the French Press provides many a unique characteristics which many coffee aficionados find highly useful.

To begin with, the French Press is basically a cylindrical container, commonly made of glass, and a lid with a movable plunger right in the middle. One end of the plunger contains a fine mesh, circular in shape, which takes the shape of the circumference of the container. The cylindrical container also has a beak through which the freshly-brewed coffee passes through.

Our favorite french press is the Espro Press (Insulated) which is designed to keep all grind particles, no matter how small, out of your cup of coffee. You can see our list of large french presses here for more variety.

Since everyone knows what drip coffee is and how it is made I recommend you checking out our french press vs drip article to understand a bit more about what french press coffee is.

Does the French Press Make Better Coffee?

Achieving the right quality of coffee using this device begins with the coffee beans themselves. French Press brews require a coarser grind of coffee beans because the mesh will be unable to sift through the coffee bean and water mixture, leading to a very strong and poor-tasting brew. Related, the liquid will become much thicker, causing the user to push harder on the plunger and consequently increasing the risk of injury.

It is highly recommended that the grind be somewhere between the size of steel cut oats and coarse salt. Also, users should take into consideration the size of their French Press. The rule of thumb is 2 grams of coffee per ounce. For example, a 30 ounce French Press should ideally contain 60 grams of coffee.

The ground coffee is placed inside the container. One then pours an amount of hot water on the beans, enough to submerge it. The mixture is given half a minute to allow the coffee to saturate, a term called offcasting. Once the 30 seconds has passed, the user then proceeds to fill up the container with water. Remember, another golden rule in this method is the 1:10 coffee to water ratio. This means that for every gram of coffee, there are 10 grams of water. In our example, we would then use 600 grams of water.

Once all the water has been poured into the container, let it sit for 3 to 3 and a half minutes. This amount of time enables the coffee to extract the full flavor from the coffee beans. The user then places the lid with the mesh or filter. The plunger is then pushed down towards the bottom until all the beans have been collected. With the extraction process done, the brewer can now serve the fresh coffee.

Three common mistakes in French Press brewing

As discussed above, using the French Press isn’t rocket science. It’s pretty easy, actually. Still, a fresh cup may still not turn out the way you like it primarily due to three common mistakes.

Firstly, one may not grind the beans properly. For novice brewers, this is an error which can only be avoided through practice. A smart tip is to notice how easy/difficult it is to push down the plunger. A grind too fine will require excess push and you’ll notice it. A grind too coarse will cause the plunger to go straight down without the least bit of effort.

Secondly, many people are unable to follow the ratios. Remember, 2 grams per ounce and 1:10 coffee to water ratio. Of course there is a little room for alteration but anything in excess will surely ruin the taste of the brew.

Lastly, users forget to transfer the coffee out of the press and into the cup immediately. Keep in mind that as long as the coffee is still in the pot, the beans are still being brewed. As a result, this may cause the brewed coffee to taste bitter.

Does the Coffee Percolator Make Stronger Coffee?

According to the Mirriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of the word percolate is to pass slowly through something that has many holes in it. From this definition, we get an idea of how a Coffee Percolator works.

The percolator was the most commonly used method of brewing coffee in the United States, until the Mr. Coffee drip coffee machine came out in the market in the 70s and killed it. In fact, the term “cup of Joe” originated when famous baseball player Joe Dimaggio endorsed the Mr. Coffee product. Since then, it was a rare sight to see people brewing through percolators.

See this post for the differences between percolators and drip coffee makers.

Basically, the ground coffee, course like in the French Press, is placed on an elevated filter with a column in the middle. This column is where the steam generated by the boiling water underneath the elevated area where the coffee is placed. A spreading plate, a tin sheet of metal to facilitate the spread of condensation on to the ground coffee beans, is placed on top of the chamber where the coffee is.

Eventually, the water will pass through the coffee beans and back on to the hot body of water, essentially turning it into coffee.

Which Brewing Method is Better for You

From a yield standpoint, the percolator is much better since it can make more cups of coffee as compared to the French Press since the pot used in percolating is much larger. This makes it more convenient to make numerous cups of coffee and in a shorter amount of time as well.

Taste-wise, it really depends on the drinker. Between the two, the best stovetop percolators produce a more robust, stronger taste of coffee since the roasted beans are essentially being roasted again by being placed in what is basically a pressure cooker. This then contributes to a stronger taste.

Meanwhile, the beans of French Press brews are not subjected to the same amount of heat and time in the percolator process so the strength of the coffee can only be so strong.

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Brian Mounts

I have been working in the coffee industry since 2013 and have been a professional online publisher since 2009. I am the current owner of and I love all forms of coffee. I roast my own green coffee beans, grind them, and usually make my own coffee daily in either a french press, moka pot, or a pour over coffee dripper. I am a nut for equipment so many of my articles are reviews and comparisons of best selling coffee brewing accessories.

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