Looking to take your coffee making game up a notch?
The French Press, also known as la (a) cafetière, a coffee plunger, or a coffee press, is known the world over as one of the best methods of making coffee.
The forerunner to what we now call the French Press was invented all the way back in 1852! After many interactions, the French Coffee Press we see today was patented in 1929 by Milanese designer Attilio Calimani.
Rich with history and relatively simple in form, you’d be tempted to think that the French Press needs no instructions.
However, there are some important tips and tricks on how to make coffee the French Press way.
Table of Contents
How Does A French Press Work?
As you’ll soon see, there’s a reason why a coffee press is sometimes called a ‘coffee plunger’.
- To begin, pour your coarse coffee grounds into the beaker and fill it with hot water.
- Let the coffee grounds steep for approximately 2-4 minutes. The longer you steep, the stronger the coffee. This process is called ‘immersion brewing’. In a standard coffee machine, the water is poured through the coffee grounds. A French Press ‘immerses’ the coffee grounds directly in the water, giving it a more robust end flavor.
- Next, press the plunger down. Just like squeezing a tea bag, this action causes the coffee particles and oils to be released from the grounds. It also acts as a strainer, containing the coffee grounds at the bottom of the beaker. This allows for easy pouring and a perfect cup of coffee free from floating coffee grounds.
Note: Be careful not to over-extract your coffee. This happens if the coffee grind size is too fine. Also if you let it steep for longer than the recommended time.
What You Need to Make French Press Coffee
Once you’ve purchased your French Press, you’re already 1/3 of the way there in gathering the items you’ll need. After all, there are only 2 ingredients: coffee and water! Easy right?
Well, technically that’s true, but there’s a bit more science to the perfect French Press Coffee. There are also a couple of tools that are worth investing in to make this process easier for you.
Ideally, here’s what you’ll need:
- Coffee Beans, whole
- Coffee Grinder
- Kitchen Scale or Measuring Cup
- Filtered Water
- Electric Kettle or Thermometer
- Your favorite Coffee Cup
Here’s what you need to know:
- There are thousands of different coffee beans grown around the world. There’s no ‘best choice’ that we can recommend here; it’s really a question of personal preference. Try a variety of different coffee beans and see what appeals to you most.
- That said, there are a few flavors that come through exceptionally well for French Press coffee. Individuals who prefer full-bodied, medium and dark coffees are typically the ones who use a French Press.
- So, if you’re looking to get the most of your French press, opt for coffee beans that tout full-bodied, smoky or earthy flavors.
- Also, remember to measure your coffee beans each time or use a kitchen scale to weigh it. This will ensure a consistent brew each time.
Note: Selecting the right coffee beans are just the beginning. If you want the best possible flavor for your cup of coffee, grind your coffee beans fresh daily. If you don’t own a coffee grinder, considering picking up a burr grinder. This special coffee grinder is adjustable. This means you can select a coarse grind and know it will be evenly ground. This keeps all French Press coffee brews consistently delicious. You’ll get the same tasting cup of coffee every day.
- Your final flavor will be heavily impacted by the water you choose.
- Be sure to use filtered water to avoid any unwanted impurities.
Note: When you add the water to the French Press, you need to use hot water in order to be able to steep the coffee grounds. We’d suggest using an electric kettle to heat the water. This makes it easy to know the exact water temperature of the hot water. As well, the spout makes the pouring of near-boiling hot water much safer. Using a microwave or pot to heat the water is also an option. However, you’ll need a thermometer to confirm you’ve hit the sweet spot. More on water temperature later.
How To Use A French Press: Steps-By-Step
So far we’ve covered what a French Press does, how a French Press works and the items you’ll need in order to be successful.
Now we’re ready to brew a perfect cup of coffee! Let’s go over how to use a French Press.
Step 1: Boil Water
We’ve listed this as step one for practical reasons – it takes time for water to boil!
Remember, use fresh, clean, filtered water to make French Press coffee for optimal taste.
The standard temperature recommendation for coffee brewing in any machine is 195 to 205 degrees Fahrenheit. The French Press is no exception. If you do not have a thermometer, you can allow the water to come to a complete boil. Boiling water is 212 degrees Fahrenheit. So, if you go with this method, wait a minute or two before pouring.
Step 2: Prepare Coffee Grounds
Using a scale and/or measuring cup, set aside the exact amount of coffee beans you’ll need.
As we discussed previously, for best flavor results you’ll want to grind your coffee just before you brew. Set your grinder to a coarse grind and pulse until you get your desired consistency.
While the exact ratio will ultimately come down to personal taste, as a beginner you can start with the golden ratio. We think this makes the best coffee.
The recommended ratio is 1 oz of coffee to 15 oz of water.
Below is a chart showing you the exact measurements for the most common sizes of French Press Coffee Makers.
Step 3: Warm-Up Your French Press
While this step is optional, French Press aficionados will tell you not to skip it if you want a perfect cup of coffee! This will take it from good coffee to great coffee.
To “preheat” your French Press, pour hot water into the beaker until it’s about 25% full. Depress the coffee plunger all the way down completely, so it rests of the bottom of the beaker. Carefully swish the water around inside so that it warms up the container from the inside out. Pour out the water.
Why is this necessary?
Well, typically French Presses are made out of either glass or metal. Both of these materials tend to be fairly cold at room temperature. By warming up the inside walls, it will help to keep the water a consistent temperature for the coffee brewing. Just like how a high-end restaurants warm-up their plates before placing the food on top.
At the very least, this will remove any lingering coffee grounds or dust that has accumulated since the last brew.
Step 4: Measure, Pour, and Time
Now that your unit is warmed up, it’s time to start making coffee.
Make sure you have your timer handy as the time will start as soon as the ingredients mix.
Start by pouring your pre-measured ground coffee into the beaker.
Next, pour the hot water into the container, careful to ensure you’re using the correct amount of water. You can first pour the water into a measuring cup and do it that way. Or, you can place the entire press on a scale and go by weight instead.
As soon as the water is in, start the timer while the coffee brews.
Step 5: Stir and Wait
Before you place the top on the container, stir the water and coffee just enough to ensure that all of the coffee grounds are exposed to the water.
After you’re done stirring, do your best to level out the coffee by using the back of a spoon, swirling your beaker around or tapping it gently. Since the plunger is flat, this is important in order to get consistent pressure across all the grounds.
That done, put the lid on the French Press. Make sure the plunger is at the top of the water for the full 4 minutes.
Step 6: Dark or Light?
Beep! Beep! Beep! Time’s up.
When you lift the lid off the French Press Coffee container, you should see a layer of floating coffee grounds called a “crust”.
For a darker and more robust coffee, smash the crust and stir it back into the water.
For a lighter coffee flavor, remove the crust using a spoon.
The choice is yours! Try it both ways and see which makes the best coffee for you.
Step 7: Plunge and Pour
Decision made, put the top back on the French Press coffee maker. Slowly press the plunger down as much as you can.
Once you hit the bottom, you’re ready to pour your cup of coffee.
Note: Water has a natural resistance, but once steeped with coffee it should be a bit thicker. If you feel no resistance while you’re depressing the plunger, your grind was too coarse. This means the coffee wasn’t able to property step. Conversely, if the plunger is very hard to depress, you’ve ground it too fine. It may take a little trial and error to get this right and that’s okay! It’s just part of the process of learning how to use a French press.
Step 8: The 10% Rule
When you look closely at the bottom 10% of the coffee closest to the grounds, you’ll likely see it’s a bit darker than the rest. This is typically referred to as “silt” and is an especially bitter concentration of coffee particles.
You’ll want to avoid pouring this part into your cup of coffee. As the coffee settles in your cup you’ll also notice another mini layer of silt that forms there too. So once again, use the 10% rule and don’t take that last sip of your cup of coffee.
How to Clean a French Press
After each use, you’ll want to clean your French Press.
Take the top off and rinse the plunger under the tap. To quickly and easily remove the grounds from the bottom, add some water to the bottom to loosen them up.
Coffee grinds are great for composting if that’s part of your routine. If not, just simply dump them in the garbage.
Finally, clean the container with soap and water and let them dry.
Recap: Tips and Common Mistake to Avoid
You now know how to use a French Press! Making a cup of coffee in French Press is pretty straight forward once you know what you’re doing.
Here’s a quick recap of the key factors that will influence your final French Press Coffee:
- Remember to warm-up your French Press before use.
- Use coarsely ground coffee and grind just before use.
- Remember the golden ratio 1:15
- Use a timer to avoid over-steeping.
- When the coffee is ready, pour and consume it right away for the best taste.
- Clean your unit immediately after use and let it air dry.
Not as good as the coffee shop? Check out the video tutorial:
Is French Press Coffee Bad for You?
French Press coffee has gotten a bit of a bad reputation over the years because this method does not filter out what’s called “cafestol”. Cafestol can cause our body’s LDL cholesterol (commonly referred to as the ‘bad’ cholesterol) levels to rise. There is an ongoing debate in the medical community about the truth about the impacts of cholesterol. If this is a concern for you, don’t worry it’s an easy fix. You can place a paper filter over the spout of the press so that it filters while you pour.
How Much Coffee Goes Into a French Press?
For new users, recommend you start by using the golden ration of 1:15 coffee to hot water. Over time, you may adjust these figures and discover what tastes best for you.
Does a French Press Make Better Coffee?
When we think about food in general, we typically expect the flavor to come from fats and oils. Traditional coffee making methods utilize paper filters that will remove the fat and oil from the coffee. So, it stands to reason when you make French Press coffee, it will have more flavorful.
What are the Benefits of French Press Coffee?
The French Press method of making coffee retains a compound called ‘methylpyridinium’ which is believed to contain powerful anti-cancer properties. This could reduce your chances of certain cancers namely oral, pharyngeal and esophageal cancers.
How Long Do You Let French Press Coffee Steep for?
The number that you will hear most commonly is 4 minutes. Again, everything is subjective and you may find you prefer a longer or shorter steep. As well, it’s possible that you may adjust this number based on the coffee itself as well.
Can You Use Regular Coffee in a French Press?
Yes! While optimal flavor profiles can only be achieved with freshly ground coffee, pre-ground drip coffee works fine too. It will still make good coffee using this brew method. We recommend you try both options and see for yourself which you prefer.
How Do I Choose the Best French Press?
If you haven’t bought one yet, here are a few things to consider to find the best French Press for your lifestyle. Firstly, consider the size and how much coffee the French Press makes. Will you be making coffee for just yourself or do you need a large capacity for a partner or family? As for materials, choose glass or stainless steel. That said, plastic is a great option for a French Press you’ll be using for travel.