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Updated for 2021. If you’ve ever wondered how to make French press coffee, we’re glad you’re here because there are plenty of reasons to learn. A French press is a type of coffee maker that steeps coarsely ground coffee like tea and uses a filter screen to keep the grounds out of your cup.
Fans of French press coffee generally point to its richer flavor and body when compared to automatic drip coffee and other heavily filtered brew methods. The magic of the French press lies in its use of a mesh steel filter as opposed to paper. Rich oils and other dissolved solids in coffee are easily trapped by paper, with some brewing methods such as Chemex for instance being described as producing a “clean cup” as a result of the coffee flowing through a very thick and porous paper filter.
A French press is a type of coffee maker and can be classified as an “immersion brewer,” which simply means that the coffee is fully immersed in water while brewing. As we mentioned above, the grounds steep in the water inside of the press which is how the coffee itself is brewed. This differs from methods like drip or pour over where water flows through ground coffee and down into a carafe. As a result, all of the coffee experiences the same amount of contact time and it’s harder to make mistakes when brewing with a French press. Despite having the word “press” in its name, the French press does not use pressure to extract flavor from coffee, unlike the popular Aeropress which uses a pressurized plunger.
Overseas the French press is known as a cafetière, and despite its name it was actually invented by an Italian. There are several variations on the general design that are available from a number of different manufacturers, but the three key components that are always present include the carafe, the filter screen, and the carafe; materials, filter design, and style may vary.
Brewing with a French press is super easy, and looking out for a few key variables can ensure that you’re drinking the best tasting coffee you can. You’ll find that finding the right grind for your French press will have the greatest impact on your cup, so let’s tackle that first.
The thing about French presses is that their filter screen is good at filtering out large chunks, but not as good at handling fines or dust. Fines, or extra fine particles of coffee are produced to varying degrees during the grinding process. Less expensive grinders tend to produce fines in higher quantities which can cause problems for you while brewing. Not only can they pass through the filter screen, but they also contribute to over extraction by increasing the surface area of your ground coffee. These are both things you’ll want to avoid. If you have a cheaper grinder that produces a lot of coffee dust, a simple life hack is to use something like a flour sifter to screen out these undesirables before brewing.
With our concerns about fines out of the way, let’s talk about the actual grind size for a moment. A French press isn’t a percolator, and your grinds need to be coarse, but not super coarse as some might suggest. Consistency of size and shape, along with limiting the number of fines will dramatically improve the result of your brew. With that in mind, your grinds should be coarse to medium-coarse, similar in size and shape to Kosher salt and breadcrumbs. To keep things simple, our top recommendation for an affordable French press grinder that will produce exceptional grinds is the Baratza Virtuoso+:
So we’ve got our grinder situation settled, let’s move on to brewing. An easy recipe to follow for French press is 60g of dry coffee to 1L of water. If you don’t use one, we strongly recommend getting a scale of some kind to help with measuring and timing. The biggest advantage of weighing out your coffee is the consistency you can achieve when it comes to repeat brews. Many coffee scales like those from Acaia and Hario have built-in timers along with other convenience features to make brewing easier. If you can’t afford a coffee scale, most measuring cups have metric measurements as well, and 60g is roughly equivalent to a ¾ dry measuring cup of whole bean coffee. This ratio can easily be halved for use in smaller presses.
Generally the accepted steep times for French press coffee range from 4 to 6 minutes, though the minimum of 4 is more important when it comes to guaranteeing that your coffee isn’t under extracted and weak. Steeping time on a French press works more or less exactly the same as with tea, meaning that the longer you steep, the stronger the brew becomes, to an extent. If you over steep your coffee it can become excessively bitter, so it’s important to keep an eye on how long you’ve been infusing. Once your coffee has steeped for enough time, you’ll either want to pour yourself a cup right away, or transfer it into a carafe to keep it hot.
Something worth mentioning is that if you want a stronger cup of coffee from your French press, but not a more bitter one, you should experiment with adding more ground coffee to your brew recipe as opposed to increasing your steeping time. This will increase the potency of your coffee’s flavor without relying on longer extraction time where you’re simply pulling less desirable elements from the grounds to increase bitterness.
Based on our own experimentation and brewing best practices, here is our step-by-step recommendation* to how to make French press coffee:
*Preheat your French press and coffee cups prior to brewing and serving.
French presses are fairly easy to clean, but in case you’ve never owned one, let’s cover some basics. Start by removing the lid/plunger from your press, if the carafe has multiple components that can be separated, separate those as well.
There are a number of companies who manufacture French presses, here are three of the most popular brands whose French presses we carry:
Perhaps the most popular brand of French presses in the world, Bodum produces a variety of presses in various shapes, styles and functions, ranging from unbreakable, portable, stylish, and simply functional.
A popular French press manufacturer, Bonjour produces presses in several styles, ranging from the classic Monet to the unbreakable Hugo. In addition to French presses, Bonjour also produces a range of milk frothers and glassware.
Espro is a Canadian company who are famous for their innovative French presses and other coffee accessories produce a range of double walled, stainless steel French presses that utilize a unique double filter design.
The Japanese “King of Glass,” Hario makes glassware for a wide variety of applications, including coffee brewing. While predominantly known for their pour over equipment, they also produce several French presses as well.
If you enjoy cold brew coffee, a French press is a great tool to easily prepare it in your refrigerator. Cold brewing is a method of coffee brewing that uses cold or room temperature water for extraction that is never heated at any point during the brewing process. There are several cold brewing methods, including the toddy, Kyoto, and French press cold brew.