The Ultimate Guide to French Press Coffee
The French press coffee maker is beloved for producing a robust, flavorful brew. Here is the ultimate guide to brewing french press coffee. From beans to brew time, you’ll find everything you need to know in this article.
The French press is a humble, but well loved coffee brewing device that is used all over the world. However, many people don’t get the best results out of their French Press (or cafetiere as it is often referred to) as the proper technique is not often discussed.
In this article, I will give you the ultimate guide to French press coffee, including how to use one, which coffee beans work best, common mistakes and more top tips.
What is a French Press?
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.
A french press is a very simple device to operate, thanks to its lack of parts! All you need is ground coffee, boiled water and the french press itself. No filter papers or fancy gooseneck kettles required!
History and Origin of the French Press
Invented in France in the 1920s, the French press was designed with the purpose of extracting coffee oils and essences more efficiently. Its signature plunger mechanism enables longer steeping compared to mainstream percolators. This French press concentrate could then be poured into individual cups and diluted to taste.
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!
Over the decades, the press gained popularity for making exceptional coffee. By the 1960s, the French press had earned a passionate following both in Europe and the USA. Today, coffee connoisseurs everywhere use this simple, straightforward device to hand-craft and customise gourmet quality brews.
Different French Press Types
Now we’ve discussed the history of the French press, let’s take a closer look at some different types you can buy.
The first decision to make when you’re deciding which type of French press to buy is how big you need it! Obviously this depends on how many people you are likely to brew for, but the most common French press sizes are:
- 3 Cup/350ml/12 oz (approx 1.5 mugs)
- 4 Cup/500ml/18 oz (approx 2 mugs)
- 6 Cup/700ml/24 oz (approx 3 mugs)
- 8 Cup/1L/36oz (approx 4 mugs)
- 12 Cup/1.5L/48 oz (approx 6 mugs).
Double walled french presses are perfect for when you need to keep your coffee hot for extended periods of time. The air in between the walls means your coffee will be well insulated and stay warm for 4 to 5 times longer than a single walled French press.
Double walled French presses come in both glass and metal construction.
Metal vs Glass
Most French presses you’ll find on the market feature a glass body and a plastic and metal strainer. However, French presses can also be made completely out of metal for a more classy, upmarket finish.
Brushed aluminium, stainless steel and copper are common materials used for French presses, so look out for them too!
Electric French Press
If boiling a kettle and stirring up your coffee sounds like too much work, you can always buy an electric French press! These self heading devices are great if you want to pop your brew on and leave it to sit whilst you do something else!
The Best Coffee Beans to Use For French Press
The immersion brewing method also means you’ll more often than not get a stronger cup of coffee using a French press (when brewed long enough), than the equivalent drip brew for example.
With this in mind, you’ll want to use coffee beans that play into this method of coffee extraction, so their natural flavours can be accentuated.
Whilst there isn’t a wrong type of coffee for French press, some flavour notes lend themselves better to this brewing method than others.
Since the French press uses immersion rather than percolation to brew coffee, it tends to produce full bodied, strong tasting coffee.
With this in mind, most people prefer to use a coffee with flavour notes of chocolate, nuts and caramel when brewing with a French press. This is because these flavours lend themselves better to a full bodied brew, whereas more citrus and fruity flavours can come across sour when brewed with immersion.
That being said, when it comes to coffee beans that deliver a robust body, with deep nutty, smokey and chocolate flavours, look for beans from South American countries like Colombia, Peru, Costa Rica. Beans there are generally wet processed and offer nutty, earthy flavours.
Some winning picks are Central and South American beans or East African Peaberry for those citrusy notes.
Also, try to look for beans from Sumatra (the famous Indonesian Island), as Sumatran coffee beans are notoriously earthy and full bodied.
Medium and dark roasted Arabica coffee beans tend to be more popular when it comes to brewing in a French press, because the immersion method of brewing brings out their full body and deep flavours more.
These beans work especially well when you drink your coffee with milk and sugar or sweetener, as they contrast well with these additives.
Choose a medium to dark roasted Arabica bean for a balance of depth and acidity.
The issue with using a lighter roast in a French press, is not necessarily that it will make the coffee taste bad, but more that you’ll lose the subtleties of the coffee’s original flavour.
Lighter roasts tend to have more delicate and complex flavour profiles. Tasting notes like fruit, flora and citrus tend to be more prevalent in lighter roasts. Therefore, using immersion brewing just means you’re not getting the best out of these beans, since the French press will mingle all of these flavours and get a bit lost in the process.
In the case of the French press, the immersion extraction process calls for a coarser grind, since the water and coffee grounds are mingling together throughout the entire brewing process.
Check out this article if you are looking for more information on the best coffee beans to use for French press brewing.
Benefits of Brewing with a French Press
What makes the French press so exceptional? For one, the metal or glass carafe allows coffee grounds to soak and open up fully to release their natural oils and flavours.
The metal filter also lets more sediment pass into the final coffee, compared with other brewing methods like espresso, Aeropress or filter coffee. The result is a smooth yet robust cup of coffee.
Since the French press utilises immersion extraction, coarsely ground beans and a manual plunger, it is a great device for making coffee in batches. Immersion coffee brewing is very forgiving, making it a lot easier to produce delicious coffee for larger groups of people, especially compared to espresso for example.
Equipment You’ll Need to Brew with a French Press
To make great tasting French press coffee, you’ll need a few simple pieces of equipment:
- French press (carafe and plunger)
- Medium to coarse (freshly) ground coffee
- Burr coffee grinder (preferable)
- Kettle for boiling water
- Spoon for stirring and breaking crust
- Coffee Cups
- Weighing Scale.
How to Use a French Press, Step by Step
Here is a simple, step by step guide of how you can make delicious coffee in your French press from the comfort of your own home!
Step 1: Grind Your Coffee Beans
The coffee beans you choose for your French press are completely up to you. There is no right or wrong answer, but I tend to find that a medium roast Arabica strikes a good balance between strength, body and distinct flavour notes.
A medium to coarse roast tends to work best for French press brewing. This is because the method uses immersion as opposed to percolation brewing, in which all the coffee grounds and water mingle together to gradually extract the coffee throughout the brew time.
Step 2: Boil Your Kettle
Once you have ground your coffee beans, simply boil your kettle so you have plenty of hot water to fill up your French press. Give it 30 seconds to a minute before pouring this over your freshly ground coffee, so you reduce the risk of burning the coffee itself.
Step 3: Measure Out Your Ground Coffee and Add to French Press
Whilst your kettle is boiling, it is time to measure out your ground coffee ready for your French press brew.
Coffee to water ratios are often debated in the coffee world, no matter which brewing method you’re using!
However, as far as the French press goes, a good rule of thumb to follow is approx 2 level tablespoons (30g/) of ground coffee, and 9oz (250ml) per 2 cups (1 mug) of brewed coffee.
Of course, the weight of your coffee will vary depending on the roast you choose, and not everyone’s tablespoons are the same size! So, play around with different ratios of coffee to water and see what suits you best! Most people will recommend a 1:15 or 1:15 ratio, but if you prefer a stronger French press brew, then give 1:10 a try.
Here is a table giving you a bit more information of how much coffee and water you should use to brew a strong cup of coffee with your French press:
|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)
Step 4: Add Your Hot Water
Once you have determined the right amount of coffee and water to use, it is time to combine these ingredients together so you can make the perfect French press coffee! A quick tip to avoid burning your coffee, is to add a splash of cold water before pouring over your hot water!
Pour over a small amount of hot water to start with so your French press coffee can bloom, releasing some of the CO2 gas and reducing the overall bitterness of the coffee.
Step 5: Wait and Agitate
This is the hardest step of the lot…
Most people will now just place the lid on their French press once the water and coffee is in the glass container and pour away. However, I’d strongly advise against this!
You need to give your coffee grounds time to steep and the flavour time to extract from the solid into the liquid.
Give your coffee a quick stir to break up any major clumps on the surface of your French press, and then leave it alone for 10-15 minutes.
Step 6: Add the Lid/Filter and Don’t Plunge All the Way
Now, the next step may sound a little strange and controversial, but give it a try.
Rather than pressing your plunger all the way down, rest it on the surface of the brewed coffee and use it as more of a filter or strainer. The reason for doing this, is that it stops you from bringing up all of that sediment from the bottom of the French Press. This way, you avoid the sludge and silt that sometimes ends up at the bottom of your cup.
This technique is inspired by James Hoffmann, and gives you a cleaner and more balanced mouthfeel. French press coffee can sometimes be overly bitter and a little abrasive, so straining out some of this sediment should take the edge off.
Step 7: Pour and Enjoy!
Finally, after the long wait, you can pour your cup of coffee and enjoy! It is best to pour your coffee straight away when using a French press and not let it sit for too long, as the longer it sits, the higher the risk of over extraction.
If you leave your French press coffee sitting for too long, it will end up bitter and taste gross!
Check this out for a full, in depth guide of how to use a French press properly, step by step.
Did you know that you can also froth hot milk in your French press when you’re done brewing your coffee? This means you can enjoy a delicious cappuccino or latte just by using your humble French press.
Common French Press Mistakes
There are a number of key mistakes that home coffee brewers can often be guilty of committing, whether they realise it or not. Here are a few of the easiest ones to avoid, but there is also a full breakdown of all the French press sins to avoid here.
Not Letting Your Coffee Brew Long Enough
The first mistake that so many people make when brewing coffee in a French press, is not actually brewing for long enough. Bear in mind, that French presses use immersion rather than percolation to extract all of those delicious coffee flavours.
Rather than giving it a couple of minutes and plunging away, let your coffee sit for at least 10 minutes (closer to 15 if you are using a coarser grind and making coffee for a larger audience).
This extended brewing time will ensure you extract as much coffee flavour from your ground beans as possible, without over extracting and making a bitter brew!
Using Stale Coffee
Another mistake that people often make (usually through necessity rather than choice), is using coffee beans that aren’t fresh enough. Brewing with stale coffee beans can lead to a dull and bitter tasting brew that doesn’t do your hard work and patience justice.
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.
I’d recommend looking for fresher coffee beans at your local independent coffee house, online through specialty coffee subscription services or at a specialty coffee roaster.
Not Cleaning Your French Press Regularly
The next simple mistake that leads to bitter, off tasting French press coffee, is not cleaning your device regularly enough. As with a lot of other coffee making equipment like espresso machines and grinders, cleaning them regularly will stop old grounds infiltrating your fresh brew.
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!
Grinding Your Coffee Beans Too Fine
Grind size matters when it comes to brewing great coffee. The French press requires pretty much the most coarse grind you’ll use compared to most other brewing methods.
Due to the immersion method of extracting coffee flavours, a coarser grind is best for French press, as it reduces the risk of bitter coffee from over extraction.
Grinding your coffee too fine and using it in a French press will likely result in a bitter aftertaste.
Eyeballing Your Coffee Quantity
Whilst brewing coffee doesn’t have to become alchemy, using weighing scales to measure how much coffee is going into each French press brew will deliver more consistent, and better quality results.
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.
Plunging Your Coffee Too Far
A perhaps controversial mistake that many French press brewers make is actually plunging their coffee too far down towards the bottom.
Instead of plunging your filter all the way down, just press it down to the top surface of your brewed coffee and pour, using it more like a strainer. This will ensure you don’t transfer any of that already extracted coffee silt into your cup and leave you with a cleaner tasting coffee.
Using Tap Water Rather than Filtered Water
Tap water not only tastes different depending on the hardness of your local water, but it also clogs up your brewing equipment with limescale.
Not to mention, brewing with filtered water ensures consistent results and a cleaner, fresher tasting brew!
How to Clean and Maintain Your French Press
Just because the French press is simple to use, doesn’t mean you should neglect cleaning it properly! In fact, the mesh and plunger mechanism in a French press can very easily get clogged up with silt, residue and stale coffee oils, that can all go rancid pretty quickly!
If you don’t clean your French press regularly, you’ll end up with a bitter, stale tasting brew before you even start, and even worse… your French press could go mouldy!
Here’s a few key pointers to keep your French press in top shape, so you can have consistently delicious coffee:
Completely Dismantle Your French Press When Cleaning
Remove your plunger from the carafe (glass container), and unscrew the plunging rod from the bottom.
This will reveal the mesh strainer, pitcher, cross plate, spiral plate, lid and rod. Usually, lots of oils and residue build up between the strainer, cross plate and spiral plate, as these are the pieces of the French press that separate the ground coffee from your cup.
They are also screwed together tightly, so often don’t get cleaned properly!
Use Your Dishwasher
If your French press requires some more heavy duty cleaning, the dishwasher is the way to go. Again, make sure to completely dismantle it before placing it in the dishwasher to ensure all parts are cleaned thoroughly.
Use Baking Soda for a Deeper Clean
When giving your French press a deeper clean, baking soda is a great companion. The alkaline in baking soda makes for a great stain remover, so it’s perfect for cleaning all parts of your French press.
Simply combine a tablespoon of baking soda with a splash of water and stir into a paste. Scrub your French press mesh strainer, plates and carafe with this solution and let it sit for a few hours, or overnight.
Completely Dry Your French Press When You’ve Finished Cleaning It
Make sure to completely dry your French press after you’ve finished the cleaning process, otherwise it could end up damp and mouldy!
French Press compared to other Coffee Brewing Methods:
Here is a brief overview of how the French press compares to other popular coffee brewing methods:
French Press vs Espresso
French press and espresso are on different ends of the spectrum when it comes to grind size, brew time and serving size. But, both of these popular brewing methods produce strong, full bodied and delicious coffee.
Espresso has a much more intense and quick extraction compared to the French press. It also uses a much finer grind size and is typically served as a single drink, whereas a French press will typically serve multiple people.
French Press vs Aeropress
The Aeropress is a similarly simple device as the French press, but extracts coffee in a different way. Both devices use plungers, but where the French press acts as a filter to separate the coarsely ground coffee from the brewed liquid, the Aeropress uses its plunger to force pressurised air through the coffee and a paper filter.
This results in a much cleaner tasting cup of coffee from the Aeropress, that is arguably more intense, depending on how finely your coffee has been ground.
French Press vs Moka Pot
Both the French Press and Moka pot produce strong, intense and earthy cups of coffee, but for different reasons.
There is often a fair amount of body from both of these brewing devices, due to the sediment that ends up in the cup. However, where the French press uses hot water, time and a little agitation to extract those coffee flavours, the Moka Pot uses direct stovetop heat and pressurised water.
French Press vs V60/Chemex
You may think of the French press and pour over methods like V60 and Chemex to be quite similar, but the end result is actually very different. The main distinction between the two is the smoothness, body and overall texture of the respective brews.
A French press will almost always deliver a more full bodied, robust and gritty cup of coffee compared to a V60 or Chemex, due to the much more porous filter used.
French Press vs Automatic Coffee Machines
Both the French Press and automatic coffee machines aim to bring convenience to your kitchen. However, the French press is of course a lot more affordable than even the cheapest automatic coffee machine, whilst also offering the user more control over their end product. That being said, automatic coffee makers are much easier to clean so the choice is yours on that one.
Overall, French press coffee is bold, full bodied and delicious. It is a very forgiving and approachable coffee brewing device that allows even novice home baristas to make great tasting coffee for large groups.
I hope you have found everything you need to know about French press coffee in this article, but if there is something I have missed, feel free to comment down below!
French Press Frequently Asked Questions
What Does a French Press Actually Do?
A French press acts as a strainer and operates large coffee grounds from brewed liquid coffee itself. A French press uses immersion to brew coffee rather than percolation. This self contained coffee brewer is simple, effective and has multiple different uses.
Why is it Called a French Press?
The French press gets its name due to its popularity in France in the 1900s, where the most modern iterations of the device were first adopted. The French press then gained popularity in the UK and the rest of Europe and is now a mainstay in many households around the world.
Is a French Press the Same as a Cafetiere?
The French press and a cafetiere are the same thing, it’s just that ‘cafetiere’ is the original French name!
Why is the French Press so Popular?
French presses are so popular because they are so easy to use! They are also very inexpensive and accessible ways to brew great tasting coffee from home.
How Often Should You Clean Your French Press?
You should give your French press a light clean with warm, soapy water after every use. Every so often, cleaning your French press thoroughly is also recommended, to ensure it is free of residual coffee oils.
How Long Should You Brew Coffee in a French Press?
Brew time in a French press depends on how many people you are making coffee for, how strong you want your coffee and how coarse your grind size is. But, a general rule of thumb to ensure you get fully extracted, strong coffee, is to let your coffee brew for around 10-15 minutes in your French press before plunging.
What Grind Size for French Press?
Because the French press extracts coffee using immersion rather than percolation, you’ll need a medium to coarse grind size to get the best results.