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French Press Coffee: The Ultimate Guide

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About This Guide

By the name alone, French press coffee sounds like something so sophisticated it should be out of reach for most of us regular folks. The reality is that the French press is one of the simplest ways to make coffee, and it produces one of the most silky and rich brews of all. So if you’re interested in reading about how to make French press coffee, you’re in the right place!

The French press requires a little more attention and patience than the automatic drip coffee maker, but it is amazingly simple, and you can master this process in no time. The fine coffee you can brew, coupled with the simplicity of this elegant method of brewing, may well have you neglecting your automatic drip machine.

What Is A French Press?

If you’ve never heard of the French press it may sound like something of a novelty, but it’s been around for quite some time. The modern design we have come to see everywhere was invented by an Italian, ironically, and first patented in 1929 by Italian designer Attilio Calimani and Giulio Moneta. In France it is called the cafetiere, the word for coffee maker.

It is likely you will hear people refer to the French press as a press pot, plunger pot, or by one of the common brand names such as Bodum pot. That the French press has numerous names and can be found around the world attests to its popularity.

The entire apparatus consists of little more than a carafe, sometimes referred to as a beaker, and plunger assembly which includes a steel mesh filter. The plunger mechanism and filter screen should unscrew from each other to make it easy to clean up.

The carafe comes in ceramic, stainless steel, and plastic, but they are most commonly made of borosilicate glass. If you think a plastic carafe will work best for you because you want to make sure it is portable, make sure it is made from BPA-free plastic since these chemicals can break down under heat, which is precisely what you are going to expose it to, and leach dangerous chemicals into your coffee.

Carafe Variations

As I said above, most French press pots use a borosilicate glass carafe, but there are carafes made of other materials.


These are less common. The ceramic or stoneware carafes are more expensive. They are beautiful and come on a variety of styles. They are coated internally and resist stains, which is an advantage.

Stainless Steel

A number of manufacturers put out stainless steel French presses. The entire thing comes as one unit and it resembles a classic old-fashioned coffee service like the type we see in old movies. These things are beautiful but expensive. The stainless steel resists stains and cleans up easily. They are more durable and obviously the steel will not break in the sink.

Portable Variations

There are numerous iterations of these types of French presses. An oft-recommended version is made of a double-walled vacuum sealed construction and is designed to take the kind of punishment likely to occur in the woods and still offer you first class French press coffee. Made to insulate your pot, it will stand up to temperature extremes.

Preparing To Brew

As I said above, the process of brewing coffee in a French press is quite simple. It does require some care, however, but this part of the process will become automatic in a short time.

The coffee you use is up to you. If you prefer the darker roasts, by all means, use them for your French press. The main thing we are concerned about in brewing with the press is the size of the grind.

The ideal grind for a French press is a coarse grind. A burr grinder is the best choice since the blade grinders tend to pulverize coffee and diminish the flavor by blasting it apart. There are grinders available that come with programmed settings for the type of grind you require.

You will need to be careful about water temperature. Rather than just pouring boiling water into the carafe, you need the temperature of the water to be at 205˚ F, and for this you will need a thermometer.

If you are concerned that the filter mechanism will not be enough for you, you can purchase reusable filters specifically designed for use in a French press.

The Basic Brew

This is the method you will master that will likely become your morning brew. Once you get used to waking up with a pot of fresh brewed French press coffee, you might never go back to any other style.

The Recipe

To start, you’ll need:

  • Water to Coffee ratio: 15:1 (this would work out to 600 grams of water, or about 20 ounces to 40 grams of ground coffee, weighed using a proper kitchen scale for measuring coffee).
  • Water heated to 205˚ F
  • Coarse ground coffee

With these things assembled, the remaining steps are amazingly simple:

  1. Place the ground coffee in the carafe. When your water is at the correct temperature, pour about half of it onto the grounds.
  2. Allow the grounds and water to bloom for one minute.
  3. Once the grounds have settled, pour the remaining water into the carafe. *
  4. Place the plunger and filter mechanism over the carafe without pushing it down. Allow this to brew for 3 to 5 minutes.
  5. Gently push down the plunger. Allow the coffee to gently filter through the mechanism until the plunger is firmly pressed onto the grounds.
  6. Serve immediately

*Note: There are people who recommend stirring the coffee before putting in the last of the water for step 3. Others insist that you should never stir the coffee in a French press. This is one of those preference things that warrants experimenting.

Safety Note: If you meet substantial resistance while depressing the plunger, back off on it. That pressure will follow the path of least resistance to escape, which is likely back towards you, resulting in a burn. Sometimes the grounds are just too fine which makes it difficult or impossible for the water to filter through. This is something that might take some practice and experimentation, but sticking to a coarse grind to begin with should prevent this from happening.

Making Cold Brew In Your French Press

Of the many advantages of the French press, the cold brew method is one of the best. No need to lay out the expense for a cold brew kit.

You simply follow the steps above. Instead of hot water, pour room temperature water onto the grounds. Place the plunger on the top, and leave this in the refrigerator overnight. Follow through with the plunger in the morning, and you have great cold brew, French press coffee.

Making Espresso In Your French Press

While this is not precisely espresso, you can brew something close to a good strong espresso in your French press. The main variation for this is the size of your grind and the dark roast coffee for espresso.

The main difference is that you need a fine grind, something close to powdered sugar. You will need approximately two tablespoons.

Place the ground coffee in the French press. This time you can leave it loose. Brewing in a French press requires the ground coffee to remain open to allow the water to infuse the grounds.

Repeat the steps for a normal French press brewing process. In this case you need to be especially careful when depressing the plunger since the fine round coffee will naturally produce more resistance.

Beyond this, you have what amounts to an espresso brewed at home.

French Press vs Other Brewing Methods

One of the most common questions we get asked is some variation of “what’s the difference between using a French Press and using a chemex?” There actually are numerous subtle differences in both the brewing process and the resultant coffee you’ll get when comparing the french press to the various other options out there.

We’ve compiled a list of articles outlining the differences, pros, and cons of french press coffee and several other common home brewing options below:

Potential Issues And Fixes

The simplicity of the French press means that there are no automatic controls or digital meters to control how you brew the coffee. This also means that you are entirely dependent on nature and with this you will inevitably run into problems. Luckily, these problems are easy to fix.

1. Your coffee does not taste quite right

Sometimes your final brew tends to be a little flat or a little bitter. This is most often due to brewing time or the size of the grind. If it is too bitter, reduce the brewing time. Reduce your brew time by 30 second increments until you lock into the precise time. You can also grind your beans a little more coarse. French press brewing depends on contact with the surface of the grounds. Too fine, not enough contact.

2. Your coffee is sour or acidic

This is sometimes because the coffee is not brewed thoroughly. This time, increase your brew time. Another check is to grind to a coarser size.

3. The plunger gets stuck

More often than not, this is not a problem. Just pull back up on the plunger and give it another go. If it keeps getting stuck you most likely ground the beans too fine. (Note: When making an espresso-type coffee in your French press, you will likely encounter this problem. Use patience and depress the plunger slowly but firmly).

Cleaning Your French Press

Yet again, the blessing of the French press is its simplicity. There is little to deal with when it is time to clean up.

You can pour off any left over coffee through the filter. Dump the grounds straight into a compost container. Inevitably there will be some grounds left in the carafe. It is safe to simply rinse those down the drain.

Nearly all manufacturers of French press pots make the plunger and filter so that you can unscrew the filter apparatus form the plunger and rinse them thoroughly. I good rinse with will take care of things for the most part. Every few weeks, I wash mine gently with a mild dishwashing liquid. Rinse thoroughly again. That is all there is to it.

Wrap Up

If you are brand new to brewing with a French press it may seem somewhat mysterious. It resembles one of those old-fashioned devices that require either a long family tradition or some time in chef school to master. You can see now that the opposite is true. The French press is one of the most elegantly simple methods for brewing coffee.

The simplicity of the French press does require a little patience and you may need to do some experimenting. The ease of this method comes with its own challenges. However, I think you will find the silky and rich coffee that comes from brewing with a French press to be well worth the extra steps necessary to brew this way.