The Perfect French Press Brew Time Revealed
Many articles out there describe how to make coffee with a French press, but there aren’t a great deal that address the point of brew time specifically. That’s what I’m going to do in this article.
Whilst the French press is pretty forgiving, there is definitely a sweet spot when it comes to brew (or steeping) time. Too little time left to brew and your coffee will end up thin, watery and flavourless. Too much time brewing however, and you can end up with a gritty, bitter mess.
Many sources recommend leaving your French press to brew for 4-5 minutes, but in my experience, a 10-12 minute brew time tends to work much better.
With just a few tweaks, you can take your French press coffee to a whole new level!
So, let’s take a closer look at what makes the French press great, and how you can hone in the perfect brew time.
What is a French Press?
The French press is a very versatile, easy to use coffee brewing device that has been around since the mid 1800s. Whilst it is an incredibly popular device found in many households around the world, that doesn’t mean you can’t make great tasting, refined coffee with it.
A french press is a coffee brewing device that uses a mesh strainer and plunger to separate ground coffee from your cup. Coarsely ground coffee beans and boiling water are added to the glass container, and the mesh plunger slides down into the glass, acting as a strainer so no ground coffee ends up in the serving cup.
According to Perfect Grind Daily’s article from May 2015 “French Press – The History & Brewing Guide” the French press patents were tossed between French and Italian designers for a century!
The first rudimentary design was created by two Frenchmen, (Delforge and Mayer) in the mid 1800s. This device used a cheesecloth to strain out coffee grounds and produce the delicious brewed coffee we know today. However, in the 1920s, two Italians (Calimani and Montea) came up with a more advanced design and patented it.
However, it was the 1950s version of the French press that really stuck. The Swiss designer Bondanini produced a French press that resembles what we all use today.
This gained popularity in France and was called a ‘Chambord’, and was then marketed to wider markets as ‘La Cafetiere’. It was this popularity in France that gave the French Press its name, despite its design cues being developed by Italinas and Swiss!
How to Use a French Press
No matter what size French press you have, or what sort of material it is made from, the way it operates will be pretty much the same.
Firstly, you’ll want to start with some coarsely ground coffee. I’d recommend buying freshly roasted, whole coffee beans and grinding them yourself if you can, but this isn’t essential. If you can only get your hands on pre ground coffee, this will work fine.
Then, add approx 1:10 coffee to water ratio (most sources will recommend 1:15 but I prefer a stronger brew) to your French press. If you’re not sure how much to use, use this table as a guide:
|Quantity of Brewed Coffee Required
|Amount of Ground Coffee Needed
|Amount of Water Needed
|French Press Size
|1 Mug (2 Cups/250ml/8oz)
|2 Mugs (4 Cups/500ml/18oz)
|4 Mugs (8 Cups/1 L/36 oz)
|6 Mugs (12 Cups/1.5L/48oz)
Next, pour hot water over your ground coffee and stir it to break up any clumps.
Then, leave the coffee to settle for around 5 minutes before removing the crust that will form on the surface of your French press. This contains fines (very tiny coffee particles) that will be over extracted and bitter.
Leave your coffee to steep fully for another 5-7 minutes and then partially plunge down your filter.
I’d recommend not plunging the plunger all the way down, as this will disturb the settled bed of coffee sediment and leave you with grit in your cup.
Instead, use your mesh filter as a strainer and only plunge down halfway, so you can still pour out the majority of your brewed coffee, but don’t end up with a load of silt or sludge at the bottom of your cup.
Check out this post for a full, in depth guide on How to Use a French Press Properly, step by step.
How Long to Let Your French Press Coffee Brew
Most online resources will recommend a brew time of between 4 and 5 minutes for French press coffee.
On the other end of the spectrum, coffee aficionado James Hoffmann recommends around 12 minutes for the perfect brew.
I personally lean more towards Hoffmann’s school of thought than conventional wisdom, as I believe French press coffee is at its full bodied best with a longer brew time.
Therefore, I’d recommend letting your French press coffee brew for around 10-12 minutes, rather than traditional 4-5.
Whilst this may seem like a long time, it is essential to get the best results.
This is because the French press uses a larger grind size than most other methods, and therefore needs a longer time for the flavourful coffee oils to be released.
What’s more, the immersion brewing method that French presses employ calls for an extended steeping time, as there is no additional help from gravity, steam or pressure.
With pour over methods like the V60 or a drip brew machine, the grind size and brew time can be lower, as there is more agitation and gravity helping to extract those essential coffee oils from the grounds.
With pressurised brewing methods like Moka pots and espresso, a shorter brew time still is used. This is because of the finer grind size, higher tolerances and finer margin for error involved in these methods.
Top Tip: About half way through your brew, take a spoon and skim the surface of your French press, removing any crust that’s built up. This will give you a cleaner tasting cup of coffee, without removing any of that full bodied flavour.
Plunging Too Early
If you plunge your French press too early, you run the risk of leaving a lot of flavour on the table (or in your French press).
Because you’re using a larger grind size, and there are no outside forces like flowing water or a highly pressurised espresso machine available to extract coffee oils from the grounds, you are basically relying on hot water, a little bit of agitation from stirring, and time.
So, if you plunge and pour your coffee too early, you’ll end up with under extracted, weak and perhaps acidic tasting coffee that just won’t hit the spot.
Another major benefit of using a French press is the full bodied coffee it delivers.
Body basically refers to the texture of the coffee, and a full bodied coffee has a thick, creamy, oozy mouth feel. If you plunge your French press too early, you’ll miss out on this body, and be left with a thin, watery and frankly disappointing cup of coffee!
Plunging Too Late
On the flip side, it is possible to leave your French press for too long without plunging. This will often result in an over extracted, gritty and bitter cup of coffee that is no more pleasant to drink than an under extracted one.
However, because there is actually quite a lot of margin for error with a French press (especially compared to other brewing methods), there is a larger window for you to leave it and not ruin the end product.
I would recommend not leaving your French press unattended for more than 15 minutes, as any more than that and you risk there being too much silt and bitter flavours in your cup.
More French Press Tips
If you want to take your French press brewing to the next level, follow these simple tips and you won’t be disappointed!
Serve Your Coffee on Time!
Whilst you want to give your coffee plenty of time to extract and brew in the first place, make sure to serve as soon as it’s done so you can enjoy the strong flavours without letting it over extract!
Use Freshly Roasted Coffee Beans
Using coffee beans that have been roasted in the last 2-4 weeks are ideal for French press brewing, as they will retain more of their original flavour and make for a more delicious end product.
Unfortunately, many supermarkets only stock coffee beans that are months old, as they are naturally more concerned with longer shelf life products.
However, you can find fresher coffee beans at your local independent coffee house, online through specialty coffee subscription services or at a specialty coffee roaster.
Clean Your French Press Regularly
Make sure to clean your mesh filter, container and plunger after each brew with hot, soapy water to ensure no stale coffee is getting into your freshly ground batch!
The mesh and screws in particular can become clogged up with coffee oils and grounds very quickly, so it’s important to keep them clean and avoid rancid mould build up!
For more tips on how to clean your French press, check this article out: 9 Tips to Maintain and Clean a French Press.
Measure How Much Coffee You Use
Eyeballing the amount of freshly ground coffee you’ll need is a sure fire way to make unrepeatable results, which is equally frustrating if you happen to make the perfect brew!
Using some weighing scales whilst experimenting with coffee and water quantities will help you produce more consistent and accurate results when using a French press.
For a full rundown of how you can avoid some common French press faux pas brewing, check out the full article here: “13 Common French Press Mistakes to Avoid Them”.
Overall, whilst the French press is an easy to use coffee brewing device, most people sell themselves short when it comes to brew time. Letting your French press coffee steep for a longer period of time to what conventional wisdom says can really pay dividends.
When you let your coffee brew for 10-12 minutes rather than the standard 4-5, you can unlock new levels of body, flavour and balance from your French press.
I’d always recommend making small adjustments to grind size, water temperature, brew time and of course the coffee beans you use for French press to find what really makes you tick. Afterall, the best cup of coffee in the world is the one that tastes best to you!
If you liked this post and want to find out more about French press coffee, check out these articles:
- How to Froth Milk in a French Press (Step by Step)
- How to Make Kava Coffee in a French Press
- Why You Should Replace Your French Press Filter
- Can You Make Cold Brew in a French Press?
- The Best Grind Size For French Press Revealed!
- The Good and Bad of James Hoffmann’s French Press Technique…
What is the Best Ratio for French Press?
Generally speaking, a 1:15 coffee to water ratio is a good place to start when it comes to brewing with a French press. However, altering this ratio can help give you more or less body in your coffee. Personally, I prefer a lower ratio like 1:10 which gives a fuller and more intense flavour.
Why Does My French Press Coffee Suck?
A few things you can do to help improve your French press coffee are to use fresh coffee beans and grind them yourself, preheat your French press and make sure it is cleaned regularly.