Although based on a 19th Century French design, the first French Press was made by Italians. Patented in 1929 by Attilio Calimani and Giulio Moneta, this brewer is known by many different names; Coffee plunger, cafetière, coffee press, or, most commonly, French Press.
A method of choice for many coffee-lovers all over the world, the French Press is known for creating an earthy, rich taste in your coffee.
But how does it work? Actually, it’s a lot easier than you think. Keep reading to find out how to brew the perfect cup of French press coffee in less than 15 minutes.
What Is a French Press?
French Press is an immersion coffee brewing technique that involves a device with the same name. It consists of two main parts:
The upper part includes the lid, plunger, and filter. It uses a metal filter that is coarse enough to let oils and fine particles pass, giving your coffee a rich and full body. Compared to other methods that use a paper filter, this is what makes the French Press coffee have its rich and full body.
Depending on your French Press, the filter may consist of multiple microfilters. Once the coffee is done steeping, you use the plunger to press down the lid and filter to separate the coffee grounds from the brewed liquid coffee.
The lower part consists of a cylindrical beaker, the base, and the handle. The beaker is where you put the coffee grounds and the water to let it steep and come in different shapes and sizes. Usually made of glass, some models also use metal or ceramic. This comes with the advantage to retain the heat better. The standard French size is between 4 and 8 cups, although there are small and bigger ones.
It’s All About the Flavors
The extended contact time between coffee grinds and water allows for more of the solids to dissolve into your brewed coffee than is possible with pour-over methods like the V60 or Chemex. It is this higher TDS (total dissolved solids) that gives the French Press its iconic full body.
This can make it taste a little darker, so if this is something you like, run with it and brew with a dark roast for a really smoky and intense cup of coffee. Alternatively, if you like brighter, fruitier flavors but still want that rich, full mouth-feel, a French press brewed light roast (perhaps something African) may be the way to go for you. Medium roast Kenyan coffees, in particular, tend to come out beautifully complex in a French press.
Different Types of French Press
One of the advantages of a French Press is the ability to brew multiple cups without having to adjust too many variables. They come in a wide range of sizes, from a 12oz model for a single mug full, up to the large 51oz jugs that will serve into the 6 mugs or 12 cups territory.
As far as the brand goes, you can’t really beat the classic with a French Press, and the Danish manufacturer Bodum has been making them for over 50 years. In fact, they own the rights to the classic “chambord” design and even tried (unsuccessfully) to trademark “French Press” in a number of countries.
As we touched on earlier, you’ll find French presses in glass, plastic, ceramic, and metal varieties. Generally, we’d recommend steering clear of the plastic ones as, although lighter weight which could be useful if you’re traveling, they don’t perform very well in terms of heat retention. This will not only give you a cold cup of coffee by the time it’s ready but will also affect the extraction.
The double-walled metal varieties are advertised as suitable for traveling with your coffee. “Brew now, drink later” flasks, working like Thermos flasks, can keep your coffee hot for up to four hours. While it may keep your drink hot, you probably won’t get the nicest coffee after it’s been steeping for four hours. The better option here would be to take a flask of hot water, a hand grinder, and your French Press, and just brew your coffee when you want to drink it.
We’d recommend the Bodum glass Chambord varieties for performance and style. This one is available in 12oz, up to 51oz, or for a lighter-weight option and a more modern look, they also produce this Bodum Kenya press. Another interesting thing to note about the Bodum French presses is that the original factory in Normandy also made fine orchestral clarinets!
- French Press
- Measuring cup & Measuring Tablespoons or Scale (recommended for precision)
- Coffee grounds
- Hot water (200 °F)
- Water thermometer (or variable temperature kettle)
- Stirring spoon
How to French Press Coffee in 8 Steps
1. Measure and Heat Water
Start with heating the water, as this takes the most time. Take into account the coffee to water ratio: As a rule of thumb, a 1:15 ratio (1 part coffee and 15 parts water) is a good start. If you prefer a stronger coffee with thicker and heavier flavors, try a ratio of 1:10. Experiment to find the optimal ratio for you.
The water temperature is very important when making French Press coffee. If your water is too hot, it will scald your coffee grounds, while water that is not hot enough won’t extract the flavors optimally. 200°F is the right temperature, so make sure the temperature is just shy of boiling. If you bring it to a rolling boil, let it cool down for a moment. Optionally you can use a thermometer to achieve consistent results every time.
2. Measure Your Coffee Beans and Grind Them
While the water is heating up, it’s time to measure the coffee. A scale is always preferable, but doing it with a spoon is also possible. It’s always best to use beans and grind them just before brewing. Use a medium-coarse grind. Avoid grinding it too coarse as this will clog the filter, while fine grinds won’t be retained properly. Besides, getting the grind size right is crucial to avoid under or over-extracted coffee.
3. Preheat the French Press
Once the water has (almost) come to a boil, pour some water into the French Press to warm it up. Wait for a moment, then discard the water. Warming up the Press will avoid fluctuating temperature as you start brewing when cold equipment meets hot water. Plus, it will keep your coffee hot longer.
4. Add Grounds and Water to the French Press
Now it’s time to add your coffee grounds and the hot water to the French Press to get the brewing started. Keep in mind the coffee-to-water ratio. Again, if you have a scale, use it; otherwise, pour it from a measuring cup into the beaker. Do it all in one pour. The French Press method is called an immersion method for a reason, so you’ll want to make sure all grounds are properly immersed right from the beginning. For optimal results, use a spoon and give it a quick stir to ensure a balanced extraction.
5. Put the Lid on and Start Timing
Place the lid on the French Press to insulate it and start timing. The standard brewing time for French Press coffee is 4 minutes. If stronger coffee is your thing, brew it for 5 minutes. Anything longer than that will likely make your coffee bitter. Just like the coffee to water ratio, there is room for small adjustments to get the best results according to your taste.
6. Deal With the Crust (Optional)
Once the brewing time is over, you can take care of the crust-like layer on the surface while steeping. Depending on how you like your coffee, this step will slightly alter the outcome. To get a light-bodied result, use a spoon to remove the crust on the surface. Instead, if you prefer a full-bodied coffee, break up the crust by stirring it.
7. Press down the Plunger
To finalize the brewing, slowly press down the plunger. The amount of resistance is an indication of the grind size. If you feel too much resistance, it likely means that the grounds are too fine. On the other hand, if it goes down very easily, it means that the grounds are too coarse.
8. Decant Coffee
To avoid over extraction, immediately decant the coffee to another container. Avoid pouring out the last drops, as they tend to be very silty.
James Hoffmann French Press Method
If you’d like to try an alternate brewing method, this technique pioneered by former World Champion Barista James Hoffmann borrows from cupping techniques (how coffee industry producers, buyers, and roasters prepare coffees for sampling). It allows for a longer brew time and more settlement of fines.
With the traditional French Press method, there is quite a bit of agitation, which stirs up undissolved solids and leaves them in the final brew. This is what can sometimes give you a silty cup of coffee, something that puts a lot of home brewers off the method. You can either avoid this in your technique or by filtering through a paper filter after brewing.
To try this out for yourself, once you’ve added the water to your grounds, just leave it for four minutes with no stirring. Then break the crust with a quick stir and scoop it off. Your coffee will settle, so you can leave it for another 5 minutes. As the grounds sink to the bottom, they stop extracting at the same rate. While conventional wisdom might suggest an over-extracted brew from such a long exposure, you should find the results are very pleasant.
Once your coffee is brewed, plunge the filter gently below the water line, but not all the way to the coffee bed. This prevents agitation and keeps the undissolved fines settled. You should then take care to pour very carefully.
Do You Need to Grind Coarse for French Press?
The traditional advice would say yes here. However, this is not necessarily the case. While it is true that grinding too fine will allow your coffee to over-extract, there is certainly room to experiment here.
With a pour-over, grinding too fine impedes the water flow, so you get a double effect of longer brew time and finer grind resulting in a very over-extracted cup of coffee. With immersion methods, though, the water flow isn’t an issue. It’s easier to control extraction time independently.
A finer grind will allow more of the sweetness and complexity of acidity to develop, rather than just the sourness you would find with an under-extracted coarse grind. You may find you prefer your French Press with a finer grind. The best thing to do would be to start at your standard coarser setting, then try grinding finer each time until you reach a point where it becomes too bitter for you. You should notice an improvement in general flavor up to that stage.
Frequently Asked Questions
Immersion vs. Pour-Over – What’s the Difference and Which Is Best?
Neither one is better than the other. Each has its advantages, and it’s very much down to personal preference. With immersion methods, you should get a fuller-bodied cup, whereas with pour-over methods, the result may be brighter, with a clearer profile. Generally speaking, though, immersion methods tend to require less equipment and can be easier.
Do You Need to Bloom or Preinfuse?
There’s no need to bloom in immersion methods. Preinfusing, or blooming, your coffee in other methods gives the carbon dioxide release a chance to escape before you add more water. This avoids a situation where gas is trying to escape your coffee bed whilst water is trying to penetrate it. As the coffee grounds are completely saturated in an immersion brew, and the water isn’t trying to pass through, the gas can escape throughout the brew time without causing any problems.
Should You Stir or Swirl?
Agitation speeds up extraction. In some situations, you may want this, but as a French Press is a longer immersion method of extraction, there is little need here. There is also no chance of channeling (where water finds the path of least resistance through a dry patch of coffee), as all of the grounds should be saturated if you’ve poured carefully. With no real benefit to creating turbulence in your brew, it is best to avoid it so as not to disturb any settled coffee grounds and create a siltier end result.
Is French Press Good for Beginners?
If you’re relatively new to coffee brewing, French Press could be a good place to start. Most people already have one in their cupboard, and it is quite a forgiving method of brewing coffee. It’s harder to get very wrong than most other methods, and experimentation with the variables can be a good learning process about extraction generally.