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You have to know how to use a French press if you want to get that delicious coffee that everyone talks about. You will be amazed by the richness of flavors, and the fantastic aroma you will get from a press pot. To get those aromas though, you need to master the brewing technique. This is what we intend to do on this page: to teach you how to make coffee with a French press.
The French press or French pot is the original European home coffee brewer. It is known as a coffee plunger in Australia and New Zealand and a cafetiere in the British Isles. These days, it lost a bit of its popularity, compared to other coffee making appliances.
Espresso and drip coffee machines are very popular now. More recently, pour-over brewing kits, such as the V60 and the Chemex have replaced the French press in many kitchens. There even exist combination coffee and espresso machines, that can brew one or the other depending on the needs. It is an excellent device, and we have forgotten how great a cup brew with this unassuming device can be.
One of the reasons the press pot is losing its popularity is because it is often used incorrectly. With an incorrect use, the coffee is not that great. When I was growing up I always felt like the French pot didn’t brew good coffee, because my parents used to make coffee using pre-ground beans. But this isn’t the only mistake that can be made. My goal is to show you how to brew this type of coffee properly. I will highlight some of the common mistakes that people make. I will also give you some hints on how to explore new variants that appeal to your taste.
How To Use a French Press in 12 Steps
- Make sure your plunger and the beaker are clean. Rinse them with hot water, and use soap if needed. Coffee sediments will impart a bad taste to your coffee.
- Fill the pot with hot water before brewing; it will help to maintain the brewing temperature during steeping. It will also prevent thermal shock and keep your coffee hot a little longer.
- In the meantime, grind your favorite coffee beans with a good quality burr grinder. The grind size should be coarse for a clear cup.
- Dump the hot water and put three tablespoons of the ground coffee into the bottom of your beaker.
- Pour hot, water, (194-200 °F) into the glass pot. Add just a quarter of the final volume, and stir the water and coffee with a wooden spoon or spatula. Metal spoons can break you glass because of the thermal shock.
- Pour the rest of the water and stir again.
- Place the plunger on top of the pot and lower it just enough to make contact with the water.
- Make sure to turn the lid covers the mouth of the French press to maintain the water temperature.
- Wrap the pot with a towel to add insulation; it helps to maintain the coffee hot.
- Let the coffee steep for about 4 minutes.
- Push the plunger down slowly, all the way to the bottom of the beaker.
- Lift the lid to open the spout, and pour.
Grinding the Beans for French Press
The most common step that is overlooked by coffee lovers is grinding the beans. It is only in recent years that home baristas have started to grind fresh just before brewing. Grinding fresh is an essential step when brewing at home with any method. Take the time to grind your beans every morning, even if you have to set the alarm ten minutes earlier. You can buy a decent domestic grinder for around $100. It will be well worth the money!
Coffee beans start to lose their aroma and flavors the minute they are ground. Again, grind just before you brew, and to grind only what you use. Using freshly ground coffee is as important as drinking freshly brewed coffee.
Traditionally, we use a coarse grind for French pot coffee. It is possible to experiment with the grind size, though. The French press is a great device because it is quite versatile compared to other brewers. I recommend you to use a medium coarse grind and not coarse as almost everybody else does.
You can avoid the grit and silt in your cup by using James Hoffman’s French press technique. I’ll cover this in more detail later in the page.
Here are the two grind size recommendations:
- For a decent cup, the grind size should be coarse; coarser than drip. This rule will keep your coffee clean and smooth.
- For a great cup, use a medium – medium coarse grind and make sure you follow the recipe later in the page.
A good burr grinder will ensure an even grind. A poor grinder will produce “dust and boulders“.
French Press Preparation
What Is the Brewing Temperature for French Press
The water temperature when pouring it the press pot should be 192-200 °F if you want a bold cup, 185 – 191 °F if you want a mild and sweeter cup, and off the boil if you want to accentuate the bitter notes in your cup.
My preference is to brew with water between 190 – 195 °F. This temperature helps extract some of the bitter flavors, but not too much. It is the perfect balance between bite and more delicate flavors.
Coffee, in general, is best prepared with water that is a little under boiling temperature. Espresso machines, for example, brew with water at about 194-202 °F. If you use boiling water it will burn the coffee. This will cause over-extraction. On the other hand, too low brewing temperatures will result in a sour under-extracted cup, and a tepid coffee.
A good practice to nail a perfect steeping temperature is to pre-heat your coffee maker. Just pour some hot water in the press pot, and then throw it away. An easier way is to use a stainless steel French press coffee maker. These press pots are insulated and they will maintain the correct temperature longer.
How do you nail that perfect temperature? The best way is to use a variable temperature kettle. Heat the water 1 or 2 degrees higher than you need, and pour. A kettle with a thermometer is another great solution, is just a bit more time-consuming.
If you don’t have the budget for a new kettle, use a thermometer and a timer. Follow this procedure:
- Bring water to boil and let it cool off.
- Measure the temperature a few times in three minutes, and take notes of the time and temperature.
- Repeat the process one more time for accuracy.
- From now on you know how long water needs to cool off from boiling to the desired temperature.
- If you change the environment, you need to repeat the process for good accuracy.
Maintain the Perfect Temperature Longer
I experimented by immersing my press pot in hot water for the entire period of the brewing. This maintained the proper brewing temperature longer and ensured coffee was still hot when I poured it in cups. I admit that this is very inconvenient, though. If I had to this on a regular basis, I would give up brewing with a French press. However, using a towel to wrap around the pot works too. Check the press pot variations section, for some options. You’ll find some great innovative devices that fix the temperature problem.
Recipe – Coffee to Water Ratio French Press
Strictly speaking, the best recipe for coffee preparation is 2.3 ounces of coffee to 8.8 ounces of water. However, following this recipe, every morning would be very impractical! It’s not very convenient to measure your ground coffee and water every time you brew a pot. Generally speaking, the coffee to water ratio for French press is one decent sized tablespoon of coffee to a cup of water. It is, however, popular to drink French press coffee slightly stronger than this. Coffee lovers would often use a tablespoon and a half of ground coffee per cup of water. If you like a milder coffee, stick to the standard recipe!
Blue Bottle Coffee recommends using 40 grams of ground coffee for every 400 grams of water. This ratio is what they call 1:10 coffee to water ratio. It’s a little inconvenient to measure it that way if you ask me. But this comes around 3 tablespoons of ground coffee to 2 cups. So this means they like their coffee stronger.
You can play with the coffee to water ratio when brewing with a French press, altering other factors. For instance, if you grind finer, you can use fewer grounds. Water temperature plays a big role here, the hotter the water, the less grounds you need. But with very hot water the brew tends to migrate on the bitter side, being over-extracted.
Blooming and Steeping
Another important step for French press brewing is blooming. In a busy lifestyle who has five minutes to wait for the coffee to brew? I tell you now that you must make time! Those few extra seconds of waiting are well worth it, you can’t rush the process.
- The optimum steeping time for a French press is between 3-5 minutes.
The brewing time depends on grind size, roast, beans origin, water temperature, and your taste. More about this later.
- Firstly, the grounds need to bloom or pre-infuse.
This is done by pouring some of your prepared water onto the coffee bed and stirring it for 30 seconds. By stirring we ensure all grounds absorb water. This, in turn, improves the extraction and encourages the grounds to sink.
- After the blooming, you can add the rest of the water. I always give the coffee another gentle stir at this point as well.
- Place the plunger on top of the pot, but do not press it at this point.
Just leave the screen above the brew, and place the lid tightly. This will help to maintain the optimal brewing temperature a little longer.
- After steeping for 3 to 5 minutes, press the plunger slowly and evenly.
If you press sideways the screen lifts and allows the grounds to pass into your coffee. If you press too fast you will agitate the grounds raising the fines into the brewed coffee.
- You now have a freshly prepared and ready to pour French press! Handle gently so you don’t pour the silt in the cups.
Additional Notes about the French Press
The French press is famous for certain characteristics. A few of these characteristics have caused some contradictory discussions among coffee lovers.
French Press Has a Rich Flavor
The first thing to note is that coffee brewed from a French pot generally has a fuller and richer flavor compared to other coffee brews. This is because there is no micro-filter in a French press, (paper filter), so lots of oils and more soluble solids can pass in your cup. The oils and the extra body are what give the French press coffee its full, delicious taste. It is also because of the longer steeping time compared to other coffee makers.
More Oils In Your Cup
There are two reasons here why some people don’t drink coffee prepared in a French pot. The first reason is the oil. Even though the coffee drinker gets lots more flavors from an oily coffee, there are some studies that suggest that drinking oily coffee raises your bad cholesterol. The responsible compound for raising the cholesterol levels is cafestol. You can find a good article about it here. This is something that a lot of people are conscious of in our day and age. Although this is a factor to be considered, unfiltered coffee does not contribute to cholesterol levels as much as your diet and physical activities routine. There is some evidence that cafestol and kahweol can beneficially contribute to our health.
Coffee Is Not Hot
Another reason people avoid French pot coffee is the serving temperature. As I already mentioned, water should be below boiling when it is added to ground coffee. Considering this, and the 5 minute steeping time, coffee will be lukewarm right after brewing. Most of the people like their drinks to be hot! A friend recently told me that when she buys coffee from a coffee shop, if it’s hot, she drinks it too quickly. She considers this a waste of money. By wrapping a towel around the press pot will maintain coffee hot. Make sure you insulate it this way as soon as you placed the plunger/lid on. Some press pots have an extra lining on the lid, to improve the insulation. Some don’t have it. Look for this when you buy yours.
These issues with French press coffee have lead baristas and coffee drinkers to experiment with French press coffee, to see if they can improve the extraction.
Finer Grind Size for French Press
Again, something I talked about earlier on the page was how the grind for a French pot should be coarse. This is because finely ground coffee slips through the guard and ends up in your coffee cup. But the coarse grind is exactly the reason we need a longer steep. With coarser ground coffee, it takes longer to extract all the lovely flavors from the coffee. People have searched for a solution to lower the steeping time. Lowering the brewing time keeps coffee hotter.
The biggest advantage of using finer grounds though is the ability to extract more aromas in your cup. The coffee profile changes and it gets more body when using a medium grind. If you like a thick coffee, with an ample body, similar to espresso, you should try finer grinds.
The biggest problem with finer grinds is a poor grinder. A poor grinder, even a decent one, will produce an uneven grind, with dust, boulders, and the desired particle size. The dust is our problem. The screen is not dense enough to filter the small particles, and without the proper technique, it will pass into your cup.
The technique is to make sure you allow all the grounds sink before pressing the plunger and handle the press pot very carefully. Firstly, you need to stir in the blooming phase, to encourage the grounds to sink. Secondly, have patience during the steeping for the 3-5minutes required. If you hurry te process some of the bits will not fully saturate and will float up through the screen. Finally, handle the pot gently so you don’t stir up the fines. They normally settle at the bottom of the beaker and they stay there.
Sturdy Coffee Maker for Finer Grinds
When steeping with finer grinds, the coffee doesn’t need as long to extract, and so it is hotter and less oily. It is necessary, however, to have a good quality French pot if you wish to grind your beans finer. A good quality press pot has a good, solid plunger that sits firmly in its place. It also has a good screen filter to retain the finer grinds. When experimenting with finer grinds is also imperative to use a good burr grinder to ensure an even grind.
Ground Coffee Sifter
A ground coffee sifter is the best investment for a French pot coffee lover. The sifters will help you separate the dust allowing for a truly uniform grind size. Kruve has a sifter set that ranges from 300 micrometers to 1600 micrometers.
Press Pot Variations
There are many attempts to create brewing devices to improve the French press. The most successful attempts are Impress, (a hybrid between AeroPress and French Press), AeroPress, (one of the most popular brewers), and the stainless steel French Press, (with double walls to maintain the temperature longer).
I hope that my page has brought you a step closer in your quest to learn how to use a French press, and gave you the confidence to start experimenting to find your own recipe. The great thing about this method of making coffee is that you can change many of the parameters of the brewing, and doing that, you tweak your coffee to perfection and to your taste. Whatever you do, just keep trying until you get it right. Oh, and drop us a line, at the end of this page. We love when we get questions, or we get corrected.