How to Use A French Press Coffee Maker – The Right Way

a French press coffee maker

French press made a name for itself for being the quick and simple way to brew rich, earthy coffee. It is a form of immersion brewing, and does not require a filter to brew.

If you’ve heard about it or even tried it yourself, you might have the impression that it’s hard to master. Requiring precise control over the grind size, the brew time, and even the pressure at which to press down the plunger, it is overwhelming for beginners, to say the least.

It doesn’t have to be guesswork though. In this article, we talk about everything you need to know to make the perfect French press brew. Follow the steps, and you’ll have a great pot of coffee in no time!

A Little About The French Press

As they say, learn to walk before you run. It’s important to understand a little about how the French press came about and how they work, before diving into the right ways to use it.

Before anything else, let’s clear up some confusion around the naming of the French press. You might or might not know, this coffee maker has many other names as well. It’s also known as the press pot or the plunger pot. While invented in France around the 1850s – hence the name – the patent is actually Italian-owned.

The French press is a manual coffee brewer – although in this day and age, everything has an automatic version. It is basically a small, cylindrical pot with a plunger and built-in filter. In this brewer, coffee grounds are immersed and steeped in water, which is then pressed down by the plunger to separate the both.

French press offers much more than just the hands-on experience of grinding and pressing your own coffee. WIth this method of brewing, you’re getting dense and heavy coffee, often rich and with an earthy taste. It is noticeably fuller than, say, drip or pour-over coffee.

Coffee beans suited for this method of brewing are darker, roasted ones.

a French press coffee maker disassembled
The lid and the plunger on the left, and the brewing pot on the right.

How to Make The Best French Press Coffee, At Home

We know what you’re here for, so we won’t bore you with details you don’t want to know. Here’s how to use the French press in the most perfect way possible, compiled from the opinions from various experts.

Pre-brew

Before starting, make sure you’re doing the brew on a flat-enough surface, so that pressing down the plunger later on would be nice and even.

Boil some water, and fill the pot with it. This ensures the French press is properly preheated, which would enhance the extraction process. Doing this also avoids heat loss later in the brewing process. Oh and, don’t forget about the plunger – it, too, should be preheated.

Grinding coffee

While waiting for the pot to heat up to a constant temperature, grind your coffee beans. A small note here: while you use a French press with pre-ground coffee, doing it yourself right before brewing is often the way to go.

Apart from the obvious reason of being fresher, read the section down below on choosing the right grinder to complement your coffee maker.

Finding out the right coffee-to-water ratio for yourself is a trial-and-error process, as everyone has different preferences for coffee strength. However, we suggest starting from 1:12, which is usually the right French press coffee ratio for most people. This simply means that for every part coffee, you should add 12 times the water. For example, if you were to add 1/2 cup, or 4oz of coffee, 48oz of water should go in there.

If it’s too strong for you, go for higher water volume. Otherwise, reduce the amount of water. Generally, the sweet spot for most people lies between 1:10 of coffee-to-water ratio, all the way to 1:16.

Note: coffee is usually measured before grinding!

Starting the brew

So now you’re done doing math on the amount of water and coffee needed, your French press should be properly preheated now. Now pour it away.

If your boiled water has already cooled down by a noticeable amount now, boil some more. The perfect water temperature for brewing is around 195-205°F. If you have a thermometer and love to get precise, great. If not though, leaving the water for around 45 seconds after boiling should cool it down to around that range.

While you’re waiting for the 45 seconds to go by, add your ground coffee into the French press. Then when the water is ready, pour around twice the amount of water as compared to the ground coffee, in a gentle circular motion. Then, give it a stir, and let it sit and bloom for 30 seconds. The coffee will become more voluminous and bubbly.

Then, give it a second, gentle stir to break the bloom crust, and add the remaining water into the pot. Place the plunger and lid just above the water, and leave it for 4 minutes. Do not start plunging just yet!

surface of bloomed coffee
How the surface should look like when properly bloomed.

Start the plunge

After the 4 minutes have passed, press the plunger down slowly and steadily. If you do it wrong and push too hard, this might break your perfectly-ground coffee bits into smaller fragments, which in turn add sediment to your coffee, making it bitter.

Once the plunger is all the way down, transfer all the coffee into a decanter. If you leave it in the French press, the ground coffee will actually continuously brew as it is still immersed. This leaves you with, often, coffee that is too bitter, and chalky.

And voila, you’ve got your perfectly rich and balanced carafe of French-pressed coffee!

Recap

Just because we’ve sprinkled so much information in between the steps, we figured a recap would make it clearer.

  1. Boil water and fill French press to preheat (along with plunger).
  2. Grind your coffee – using 1:12 coffee-to-water ratio to start out if you’re unsure.
  3. Pour water away from French press, and boil more water. Let it sit for 45 seconds to cool down a little.
  4. While waiting, add ground coffee to French press.
  5. Pour hot water in a circular motion, twice the amount of the ground coffee, and gently stir.
  6. Let it bloom for 30 seconds.
  7. Stir, and add all remaining water.
  8. Put the plunger and lid back on top, just above the water, and wait for 4 minutes.
  9. After 4 minutes, slowly press the plunger down, right until the bottom.
  10. Immediately transfer the coffee into a decanter.
  11. Enjoy!

If you’re a visual learner, here’s a video showcasing the process:

The Right Grinder For A French Press

Having the right grinder is important in coffee-making, especially for the French press.

The reason is because this method of brewing requires your ground coffee particles to be of the right size. Too small (often the case with pre-ground coffee), and they escape through the filter, creating unwanted sediment. Too large, and it might clog the filter and inhibit the extraction process.

Or to put it another way, fine grounds produce a strong brew, while coarse grounds produce a weaker brew.

Mostly of the time, we want neither ends of the spectrum. Because of this, the right choice of grinder is a medium one. The de-facto best French press coffee grinder, is the burr grinder.

If you’re unfamiliar, these types of grinders are made up of two abrasive surfaces, which are actually the burrs. Due to this setup, it’s easy to accurately adjust the size of the grind by changing the distance between the two surfaces. Regular blade grinders simply do not have the precision for this task.

Now you know – bad French-pressed coffee is usually the grinder’s fault. The telltale signs of an unsuitable grinder is coffee that comes out too bitter, or having a ton of sentiment sitting at the bottom. You could also sort of tell when brewing the coffee – when the plunger is either too difficult or too easy to press down.

Taking Care of Your French Press

While a French press isn’t exactly the most expensive item in your kitchen – on the contrary, it could be the one the cheapest – there are some things to know when it comes to prolonging its lifespan as much as possible.

After each use, wash the pot with water and mild detergent. Then, dry it thoroughly before storing. This gets rid of any ground coffee that might be left over, and apart from keeping it clean, this also makes sure your next brew doesn’t get contaminated.

Other than cleaning it after every use, you might want to disassemble the entire unit about once a month and clean every part of it. This is because the regular cleaning and washing just isn’t enough to reach into the corners of the pot. If left long enough without being cleaned, it’s just going to leave a mess.

Another important point related to using the French press is to avoid metal spoons or stirrers when stirring the grounds. As much as possible, use something made from plastic, wood or bamboo. By doing this, you avoid cracking the glass of the plunger pot, even microscopic ones.

Here are all the ways to properly clean different types of coffee makers you might have at home.

French Press vs Other Brewing Methods?

If you’re a French press fan, you should need no convincing that it’s a great way to brew coffee. However, if you’re coming from other brewing methods, e.g. drip brewing, pour-over or even automatic K-Cup brewing, there are a few things that set French press apart.

To start, it is one of the most time-saving ways to make coffee. Not only that, it is also easy to learn and master. With just minutes of preparation and brewing, you’re able to get a rich cup of coffee that rivals even the methods that take hours.

It is very cheap and beginner-friendly to get into as well. Most French press can be bought for a really low price that is well below the value it offers. On top of that, no paper filter is needed with this brewing method. This is because French pressing is a form of immersion brewing, where the grounds are fully submerged in hot water.

If you’re coming from, say, AeroPress or pour-over brewing, you might be used to being restricted to making small amounts of coffee at a time. With French press, the method makes it easy to brew coffee that serves a few people at once. It is also versatile, being able to make tea, or even cold brew coffee.

tea leaves in a French press
Brewing tea in a French press? No problems.

That’s a lot of good things to say about French press alright. But it’s not all good – it does have its own set of caveats.

The single most important one to understand, is that coffee brewed using this method is prone to bitterness and chalkiness. This is especially true for beginners, who do not have much idea of how long to immerse the coffee grounds. Exceed the optimum duration a little, and your whole pot of coffee is ruined. Grinding your coffee beans into the right particle size is also important and avoids unwanted sediment.

That being said, as long as you follow our steps to French press brewing to a tee, expect perfect coffee!

Is French Press Coffee Bad For You?

You might or might not have heard of this, but some say that French press coffee is bad for your health. Why so, and how is it different from other brewing methods that make it potentially unhealthy?

Remember when we said you don’t need a paper filter to work with the French press? That, turns out, is also the reason why the brewing method might be bad for you. According to an article published on the Harvard Health Blog, drinking excessive amounts of unfiltered coffee could raise your LDL cholesterol, which is bad for you.

This happens because without filters, a substance known as diterpenes gets into your coffee. While it is what makes French press coffee unique, it is oily and contributes to rising levels of bad cholesterol in your body.

However, there’s good news. Dr. Eric Rimm in the Harvard’s article advises to stay at a maximum of 4 cups of unfiltered coffee a day. As long as you follow the rule and also keep a watch on your LDL cholesterol levels from time to time, there’s no problem drinking French press coffee.

Wrap Up

French press coffee is definitely one of my personal favorites, among the many brewing methods out there. It’s quick, simple, and when done right, offers a nice balance of richness and bitterness.

Many get turned away because of the seemingly precise steps to get it right. Although that is true to some level, once you try it out a few times and get the hang of it, you can do it with your eyes closed.

If you’re new to this, read through our steps of using the French press, get a timer (or your phone) ready, and start brewing. It might not be the best coffee you’ve tasted in your first try, or even your fifth try.

But keep going, and it might very well be your best coffee ever in your tenth try.

On a side note, you might also be interested in learning about the best siphon coffee makers out there, to perhaps try out a new brewing method that’s been all the hype recently. Or if you’re looking for convenience as an option alongside your French press, check out the top SCAA-certified automatic coffee makers (they’re really good) or our favorite, coffee makers with built-in grinders.

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