Seeing as you’re here, I’m guessing you’re probably aware of what an AeroPress coffee maker is (or you’ve at least heard of it), and given that, I’m going to presume you also know what a coffee plunger (or french press, coffee press, press pot, or cafetière) is.
You’ve probably also found yourself wondering what the differences between them are. Well then, you’re in the right place!
In this article, we’re going to look at:
- How they work
- What’s included when you buy them, and
- The differences between them.
Let’s jump in.
How does it work?
The AeroPress works by pressing the brewed coffee through a paper filter, which sits at the bottom of the AeroPress, directly into your cup. This differs from the plunger, which instead presses the filter through the coffee and is then poured into a cup.
The coffee brewing process is simple:
- Unscrew the filter cap at the end of the chamber.
- Place a paper filter inside the filter cap and screw it back onto the chamber.
- Add the desired amount of ground coffee to the chamber – one scoop for an espresso equivalent and up to a max of four scoops.
- Sit the chamber on top of your coffee cup.
- Add hot water to your desired level.
- Stir the coffee for about 10 seconds.
- Insert the plunger at the top of the chamber and gently press the plunger down until the plunger reaches the coffee grounds.
- Take the AeroPress over to your rubbish / compost, unscrew the cap and push the plunger over your rubbish / compost to eject the used grounds.
Watch this 1 minute official video on how to use the Aeropress and check out my AeroPress review.
If you’d like to know exactly how a coffee plunger works, I recently wrote a post about it here. Again, it’s a pretty simple process, but the brewing time is substantially longer.
- Remove the plunger from the canister.
- Add the desired amount of ground coffee into the canister – this will vary depending on the size of your canister.
- Add hot water to the canister, filling it to below the spout.
- Stir the coffee for about 20 seconds.
- Sit the lid on the canister, but don’t press the plunger yet.
- Leave it for four minutes to steep.
- Slowly press the plunger down into the canister.
- Slowly pour the coffee into your coffee cup.
I decided to recently purchase an AeroPress, as I had been using a coffee plunger at work, but I accidentally dropped it and it smashed… I immediately saw the silver lining, as I had been strongly considering getting an AeroPress for some time.
This was my chance. A crisitunity! I’d used my friend’s one on several occasions, so I was aware of how they worked and that they make a great cup of coffee.
I ordered one and had it in my hot little hands within a week. Let’s take a look at what I got:
- The AeroPress itself – this includes the main canister where you brew your coffee, the filter cap which screws onto the bottom of the canister and the plunger.
- 350 paper coffee filters – considering you can reuse these papers at least once, it’s a pretty hefty supply. Almost two years worth!
- Coffee filter holder – a convenient little holder for your coffee filters that protects them from damage.
- Stirring paddle – used to stir your brew, it has a very wide handle which I’m guessing is to remove the chance of accidentally dropping it into the canister.
- Coffee scoop – one whole scoop per standard brew is enough for me.
- Funnel – placed inside the canister, this can help you to avoid spilling your coffee grounds on the bench when scooping them into the canister.
- Instructions – these come in six different languages: English, Spanish, French, Japanese, German and Chinese. They include some recipes, how to get started with your AeroPress, cleanup and storage and some general tips and safety information. Online versions also include: Italian, Portuguese, Korean and Turkish.
Coffee plungers are pretty readily available, but you’ll find that the quality of them can vary quite dramatically. It’s always best to find one that meets your needs and also has good customer reviews.
Here’s what you get with a plunger:
- Canister – This is generally glass, stainless steel or ceramic. Each has different benefits. They can range in size, but most common sizes are 1 litre (3 cups) and about 350 mls (1 cup).
- Filter – This is usually three individual parts held together: a metal filter, a fine mesh metal filter and a filter base.
- Lid – This sits on top of the canister and will often have an opening to pour the coffee. Some can also be turned around to keep the heat in while your coffee is brewing. There will also be some kind of knob in the centre of the lid, which controls the plunger.
- Plunger rod – This connects the lid to the plunger filter and attaches to the knob on top of the lid on one end and the plunger filter on the other end.
- Additional filter – Some French Presses come with one or more additional mesh filters that you can replace with the existing mesh filter.
What’s the difference between an AeroPress and a plunger?
There’s some definite similarities between them, such as they both use a plunging action and they can both brew using the immersion method, but the cup of coffee you end up with does vary.
Some of the differences between an AeroPress and a French press are:
- Grind size
- Filtering method
- Brewing time
- Clean up
What grind size should you use?
For an AeroPress, it’s recommended to use a fine ground, the same as you would use for an espresso coffee. This is because the extraction time is brief, so a fine ground will give you plenty of flavour without over-extracting.
If you’re making two serves, a slightly coarser grind may work better. This is because it can be difficult to press two serves worth of fine coffee at one time.
If you do find that it’s difficult to press your coffee, try a slightly coarser grind, like for drip coffee, and see if that helps.
When I first started using mine I was using a coarse grind, as I had already ground my coffee to use with my plunger that broke.
I did have some issues with too much water coming through the filter before pressing the coffee, which was likely due to the grind size.
When I did eventually try a fine ground, I noticed an instant decrease in the amount of water passing through the filter before pressing.
For a plunger, you should use a medium coarse grind. This is a major difference between the AeroPress and French press.
The reason for a coarse grind, is if a fine grind is used, too much of the coffee grounds end up in your cup. This is mainly due to the filtering method, which I’ll discuss more in a moment.
This also means that the coffee will need to steep for about four minutes before serving, as coarser grounds take longer to extract the flavour.
Basically, a coarse grind stops more of the grinds from ending up in your coffee.
What’s the filter method?
The AeroPress filters coffee by using a paper filter. This is placed inside the cap, which is unscrewed at the base of the chamber.
Once this is screwed back on to the AeroPress, you can pour your ground coffee in, sit your AeroPress on your cup and add your hot water.
As you push down on the plunger, the coffee is pushed through the paper filter and into your cup. This is a major difference when compared to a French press.
According to the AeroPress website, you can re-use your paper filters once, which I have been doing since reading that, and I haven’t noticed any loss of quality to my brews.
There are also reusable metal filters of various types available for purchase.
I purchased a reusable metal mesh filter, but I have gone back to using the paper filters, as I was noticing an increased amount of coffee sludge at the bottom of my cup.
While some people prefer this, personally I don’t. As soon as I reverted to the paper filters, this disappeared and I was again able to drink all the way to the bottom of the cup.
It’s possible that this was due to the quality of the metal filter I purchased, though. I have seen other options which look like they would be much better quality and produce a better result.
A plunger filters coffee a different way. It’s generally a metal plate at the bottom, then a metal mesh filter and then a metal plate filter on the top. It’s all held in place by the plunger rod that connects the filter to the lid screwing into it.
The plunger is removed from the canister and you add your coffee and hot water. After steeping for about four minutes, you press the plunger down through your coffee.
This allows the coffee liquid to pass through the filter, while trapping the coffee grounds underneath it. Once fully pressed, it holds the coffee grounds at the bottom of the canister.
When you pour your coffee into your cup from the coffee plunger, you will likely get some coffee grounds in your cup that have passed through the filter.
This is why you should use a coarse grind when brewing with a french press, as regardless of the size or quality of the mesh, a fine grind will likely pass through the filter.
What’s the brew time?
When brewing with an AeroPress, the entire brew time is about 1 minute, which is a reasonably short time.
- 20 – 30 seconds to pour in the hot water,
- 10 seconds to stir the coffee, and
- about 30 seconds to press the coffee.
No steeping time required. For the quality of the brew that it makes, it’s definitely time well spent.
The entire brew time for a French press is about 5 minutes, which is substantially longer than the AeroPress.
Some of the times can vary due to the variety of sizes of French presses. It’s much easier to be specific with the AeroPress, as there’s only one type (not including the AeroPress Go).
- 20 – 30 seconds to pour in the hot water,
- 20 seconds to stir the coffee,
- 4 minutes to let it steep,
- 5 – 10 seconds to press the coffee, and
- 5 – 10 seconds to pour it.
As you can see, most of the time (4 minutes) is taken up by letting the coffee steep.
What’s the capacity?
The AeroPress comes in one size (not including the AeroPress Go) and is often referred to as a “single-cup coffee maker”. Its capacity is about 250mls.
It’s perfect if you only want to make a coffee for yourself, but not the greatest if you’re hosting a dinner party and need to serve multiple guests.
You can always add more ground coffee and water and press it into multiple cups and then top the cups up with hot water.
Doing this is definitely easier and less messy with the Fellow Prismo. It’s a third-party attachment that has a pressure-actuated valve that stops the flow of coffee into your cup unless you are applying pressure, giving your AeroPress superpowers.
You can read more about it here.
Otherwise, you could press it into a small jug that has a pouring spout.
French presses come in a variety of sizes, ranging from 350mls for one cup, to 1 litre for three cups.
You should consider how you’ll be using it before purchasing one. Is it just for you at home or work? Or will it be for multiple people at one time?
If you purchased a 1 litre option, for instance, would you be leaving the coffee sitting there for a while before drinking it all?
While the ceramic and stainless steel French presses can keep your coffee warm for some time, leaving it sitting in the French press can lead to over-extraction and not such a pleasant coffee drinking experience.
It’s worth keeping this in mind.
How do you clean it?
The AeroPress is super easy to clean. It’s definitely another clear advantage over the French Press.
All you need to do to clean the AeroPress is:
- Remove the filter cap from the bottom of the chamber.
- Push plunger all the way to eject the used grounds “puck” into your rubbish or compost.
- Rinse the rubber gasket in your sink.
- Remove the plunger from the chamber and rinse everything, including the filter cap.
- If you want to reuse the paper filter, rinse both sides of it, put it back into the filter cap, screw the filter cap back onto the chamber.
- Leave everything to dry.
Every few times, you can use a soft sponge and some soapy water, but it hasn’t really been necessary every time in my experience.
Although you could put it in the dishwasher (on the top rack only), at the risk of causing damage to it, I wouldn’t recommend it.
If you want to give your plunger a super clean, you can read how to do that here.
For a regular clean:
- Remove the plunger and leave it in your sink.
- Take the canister over to your rubbish or compost and scoop out the used coffee grounds.
- Rinse the canister and plunger with hot or warm water in your sink.
- Put some dish soap on a sponge and gently wash the canister, the underside of the lid and the plunger rod.
- Gently pull back the mesh filter while holding the plunger under running water to remove any grounds that are stuck between the mesh filter and the bottom filter plate.
- Rinse all the parts with hot or warm water and leave to dry.
How durable is it?
Durability is one of the greatest features of the AeroPress. This is because of the materials that it’s made from.
It’s currently made from BPA-free polypropylene. I say currently, because there has been a steady evolution in the materials used.
When it was first introduced to the world in late 2005, it was made from polycarbonate.
Then in mid 2009 they changed to copolyester. And finally in mid 2014 they changed again to polypropylene.
There have also been some subtle changes in its appearance over the years, and some other not-so-subtle changes, such as the colour changing from clear to a grey tint.
You can read more about the evolution of the AeroPress here.
The materials that are used to make it mean that it is extremely durable. You never need to worry about accidental breaks from dropping it and you could quite easily store it in your luggage when travelling.
The only part of it that I can ever see myself replacing is the rubber gasket that sits on the end of the plunger. And that’s only if I really have to.
Each plunger is going to be different, so it’s a bit difficult to be too specific about this, but I’ll do my best.
The four most common types of plungers are:
- Stainless steel,
- Combination of metal and glass,
- Combination of plastic and glass, and
Stainless steel is the most durable option, as the other three can all potentially be broken from an accidental drop. They could, however, still be dented or have parts bent, like the plunger rod or the spout.
The durability of ceramic plungers would vary depending on the individual manufacturer. They could break if dropped, but they might survive.
If you’re considering purchasing one, make sure you read the user reviews to see if they mention anything about this aspect of their quality.
Obviously, anything with glass would be quite fragile. However, if you’re keeping it in one place and don’t intend on transporting it anywhere, this shouldn’t be a concern.
If durability is important to you, I would definitely go with an AeroPress instead of a French press.
Next, would be a stainless steel coffee plunger. They’re pretty much the only type of plunger that come close to the durability of the AeroPress.
So which is better, AeroPress or plunger?
While they both have their pros and cons, I do have a preference. Overall, the AeroPress ticks more boxes for me that make it the better choice.
I appreciate the portability, durability, brew time and cleaning time. It makes a pretty decent cup, too!
Which option ticks more boxes for you? Let me know in the comments below.