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. In order 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. 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 aim is to show you how to properly brew this type of coffee. 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 3 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. This is, however, one of the most important steps when brewing at home with any method. Even though it is a little more time consuming, it is crucial and well worth. Take the time to grind your beans every morning, even if you have to set the alarm ten minutes earlier. You can buy a good, manual, domestic grinder for under $100. It will be well worth the money! Coffee beans start to lose their aroma and flavors the minute they were 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. That is what I recommend too. It is possible to experiment with the grind size, though. The French press is a great brewer because it is quite versatile compared to other brewers. I personally prefer finer grinds, but I am a Turkish coffee lover. A little grit and silt in my cup are worth the inconvenience when you have a great cup of joe. For many coffee lovers, the sediments are too much though. Ultimately, this is why you need to grind coarsely. I am divagating, but I’ll cover this in more detail later in the page.
Here is what you need to know: the grind size should be coarser than drip. This rule will keep your coffee clean and smooth. A good burr grinder will also ensure an even grind. You will avoid the “dust and boulders” grind, common to bad grinding machines.
French Press Preparation
Water Temperature for French Press
Coffee, in general, is best prepared with water that is a little under boiling temperature. Espresso machines, for example, are set at about 194-2000 Fahrenheit. If you use boiling water it will burn the coffee. This will cause what coffee experts call over-extraction. On the other hand, a low brewing temperature means tepid coffee in your cup. For many that is OK for others, if coffee is not hot, is not good. A good way around this is to pre-heat your coffee maker. I always preheat my French press with boiling water. 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. One of those electric kettles with a thermostat. You can’t go wrong with one of those. Just heat the water 1 or 2 degrees higher than you need, and pour.
If you don’t have one, 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.
Steeping and blooming
Another step that is often skipped with the French pot is the steeping and 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.
- Firstly, the coffee needs 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. During the stirring we ensure all grounds absorb water. This, in turn, improves the extraction.
- After this, 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.
- 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.
- You now have a freshly prepared and ready to pour French press!
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 so lots of oils and more soluble solids aren’t filtered out of the coffee. These are what give French press coffee that 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, with a particularly nasty type of cholesterol called cafestol being the main problem. 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.
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 though is the ability to extract more aromas in your cup. The coffee profile, though, changes towards espresso, with more body. As a result, there are many reporting experiments wither finer ground coffee in a French press. Some report positive results, some hate it. If you like a thick coffee, with an ample body, you should try finer grinds.
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. A bad grinder will produce “dust and boulders”, which is a definite NO for a press pot, and generally for any brewing method. The boulders will get extracted normally, but the dust will pass through the screen filter, and will get over-extracted.
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 on 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.