I’ve learned this and that from Cuteness concerning how to brew a decent cup of joe; use filtered water, freshly ground beans or beans stored in the freezer up to two weeks, and a decent syrup such as one by Torani. Many will tell you that a French Press also helps, and while I do have one, on an impulse (and since it was on sale) I bought a Sowden Oskar SoftBrew Coffee Maker from ThinkGeek. Both the French Press and the SoftBrew Coffee Maker are quite similar, for they both are used to brew coffee without a paper filter, which allows the brew to retain some of the flavors of the beans that would otherwise be lost. With both brewers, ground beans are measured out and dumped into the brewer. Hot water is then poured in, the brew is left to sit for a few minutes, and then it’s done. The design difference is how each brewer filters the grounds from the beverage; the French Press has a plunger that is pressed into the container, while the SoftBrew Coffee Maker uses a cylindrical filter that has tiny pores. Both are perfectly capable coffee makers, but I’ve had the chance to use them enough to draw some comparisons.
Ultimately, the coffee made by each brewer is, in my opinion, the same. Both filtration methods keep most of the ground beans out of the beverage, even grinds as fine as one level coarser than an espresso grind, which I haven’t tried yet. Both brewers do allow some sediment to get through, but those sediments fall to the bottom of the cup. Also, both methods are fine for brewing just one to several cups of coffee. There may be some advantage with the French Press since you can press down on the brew, but I doubt it makes a difference unless you have quite a bit of coffee grounds in the brewer (but I may be wrong). Also, you can see into the French press, which might be useful for brewing tea. Both brewers can alternatively be used as tea strainers. Otherwise, the SoftBrew Coffee Maker does have some advantages since it’s easier to control how long you brew and it’s easier to clean. You can remove the filter from the SoftBrew Coffee Maker and control the brew time that way, whereas with the French Press you need to pour out the coffee into another container. Of course, this isn’t really that big of a deal, particularly if you’re only brewing one or two cups. It’s also a bit easier to dump the used grounds from the SoftBrew Coffee Maker, since more of the liquid is removed from around the grounds.
The appearance of each is a subjective matter, but I do prefer the look of the Softbrew Coffee Maker. It is a bit plain, but I imagine you could paint the porcelain. I’ve gone the extra mile and put a ThinkGeek sticker on mine.
I use my Softbrew Coffee Maker for its convenience, but I don’t think it’s worth purchasing if you already have a French Press, particularly since the Softbrew Coffee Maker is more expensive. I bought mine on sale from ThinkGeek for $25, and Amazon matched that price until ThinkGeek no longer offered it, but now it would cost around $60. If you don’t have either brewer and would like to get into brewing coffee without a paper filter, I would recommend that you consider the SoftBrew Coffee Maker, but you can’t go wrong with a French Press, either.