There are many reasons the French Press has become one of the world’s most beloved manual coffee brewers. It looks beautiful anywhere, draws you into the moment, and makes coffee you’re not quick to forget.
The sensory experienced provided by brewing coffee with a French Press is rich from beginning to end. The aromas of the grounds swell and explode into life when you pour in the hot water. The swirling grounds can be seen clearly through the glass as you press the plunger down. And finally, the sip of fresh, delicious coffee hits your tongue and makes the world a little brighter.
Though it’s a hands-on brewer, it’s not difficult or stressful. It’s simple, straight-forward, and produces a well earned cup of rich coffee. It’s one of the easiest ways to make coffee at home.
If you’re looking to learn how to make French Press coffee worthy of awards, you’ve come to the right place. This thorough guide is designed to guide you there by touching on every step of the journey, from coffee selection to cleaning your press when it’s all said and done.
To use this brewer to its fullest potential, let’s first take a look at how it functions.
How The French Press Works
The French Press is what we call in immersion brewer. This simply means that the coffee grounds are immersed in a body of water for an amount of time. When that time is up, you filter the coffee grounds from the brewed coffee somehow to get your final mug.
Immersion coffee brewing is distinct from pour over coffee brewing, which occurs when you pour water over coffee grounds that are sitting in a cone or other device that allows the water to drain naturally into a decanter or mug by gravity. Immersion brewing has a controlled immersion and filtration system. Pour over brewing relies on gravity to filter the coffee.
Other common immersion brewers are the clever, which functions similarly to a French Press but with a paper filter, and the Aeropress, an immersion cylinder with a plunger.
All French Presses have the same basic construction: a carafe with an open top and small pouring spout sits inside a frame. A lid attaches to a long rod that spans the height of the carafe. At the bottom of the rod is a stainless steel circular filter.
By combining coffee grounds and hot water in the carafe, you initiate the immersion brewing. Once the brewing time has elapsed (typically around 4 minutes), you slowly plunge the filter down, which grabs hold of the coffee grounds and forces them to the bottom of the carafe so you can pour your coffee without pouring grounds.
The filter is almost always stainless steel, comes in two layers, and allows a small amount of micro-grounds to pass through into your cup. Some brands counteract this by adding additional layers of filter, which produces a much cleaner cup. Either way, there’s no need for any paper, which means no paper waste at all.
The Things You Need To Brew
Here are the ingredients and tools you’ll need to brew a stellar cup with your french press.
- French Press
- Burr Coffee Grinder
- Coffee Scale
- A Timer
- Hot Water
- Coffee Beans
The list of tools for French Press brewing is rather small. That’s because the brewing process is so simple and straightforward. You don’t need a special pour over kettle. You don’t need appropriately sized filters. The only additional tools you need are a burr coffee grinder and a scale.
A burr grinder is an essential for all coffee brewing. Coffee beans only have about two weeks of peak freshness once they’ve been roasted. After that, the aromas evaporate, the acids break down, and the organic structure decays, destroying clean and pleasant flavors and replacing them with an indistinguishable muddiness.
Sadly, ground coffee only has about 30 minutes before this rapid decay begins to ruin the flavor, which is why it’s extremely important to grind your coffee just moments before brewing it. There’s no better way to preserve fresh flavors and enjoy them in your cup.
A coffee scale isn’t essential, but it’s very important if you want your coffee to taste consistently delicious day to day. By measuring your coffee and water to the gram, you give yourself enormous power over your brewing ratio and consistency. Scooping coffee and guessing on water is a great way to brew coffee that’s different (sometimes dramatically different) every day.
For this guide, we’ll use the standard 8-Cup French Press size. It’s the most common size French Press, but there are smaller and much larger presses as well.
Make sure your water source isn’t too hard or soft, since too much and too little calcium hardness both destroy flavor. Also, make sure you like how it tastes. If you don’t like the taste of your water, you won’t like the taste of your coffee. Essentially, use clean, tasty water.
Lastly, your coffee beans should be freshly out of the roaster in the last two weeks. Local roasters or reputable coffee shops are great places to find these fresh and high quality beans.
With the proper tools, coffee, and water, you’re ready to begin!
The French Press Brewing Guide
For this recipe, we will use the following:
- 50g Coffee Beans (ground coarsely)
- 800ml Water (also can be measured as 800g)
- Bring a kettle of water to 95° Celsius, then pour some of that water into the French Press. This preheats the carafe, which helps the coffee extract with balance later on.
- Grind your coffee beans at a coarse setting. The grounds should come out looking like kosher salt or pearl sugar. Each particle should be distinct and the shapes should be visible.
- Throw out the preheat water, put in the coffee grounds, set the French Press on your scale, tare it to zero, and start the timer. It’s time to brew!
- With your water still just off the boil, begin pouring it into the carafe in slow circles to saturate all of the coffee grounds evenly. Pour continuously until you reach 800g of water on the scale, then stop.
- After one minute has passed, take a spoon, spatula, or the filter of your French Press and gently submerge the coffee grounds that have formed a crust at the top of the carafe. You want all the grounds to extract evenly, so they all need to be fully saturated. Place the lid on the press to preserve heat, but don’t press the plunger down.
- After four minutes have passed, grab hold of the plunger and press it down slowly and carefully until it reaches its lowest point.
- Pour the brewed coffee into a mug or decanter to separate the brewed coffee from the coffee grounds entirely. Sip, share, enjoy.
Now wasn’t that fun? Just wait till you actually get to drink the coffee.
Troubleshooting Your Brew
Balance and flavor in coffee are all about making the different variables find harmony. If one variable is off (the grind size, for example), is can cause disruption with the rest of the variables, producing coffee that’s less than amazing.
Even though brewing coffee with the French Press is a simple process, we all make mistakes. If your coffee doesn’t come out as rich and balanced as you expect, there are a couple easy ways to bring it back to balance.
This is how we troubleshoot our brews in the specialty coffee world.
Under extracted coffee is the result of, essentially, not brewing the coffee enough. It means the water didn’t pull out all of the stuff from the grounds that’s necessary for rich and balanced flavor.
Under extracted coffee often tastes overly acidic, sour, and sometimes salty. The sweeter, fuller flavors haven’t been pulled out of the coffee yet, which is why the acids seem to be unchecked and too strong. Sometimes under extracted coffee has an astringency that dries out your tongue.
The way to solve under extraction is to extract more next time you brew.
With the French Press, you can do this a few different ways.
- Grind your coffee beans at a slightly finer setting. Smaller particles extract more quickly than larger ones, so if you grind your coffee slightly finer and use the same amount of time, you should end up with slightly more extracted coffee. Just be careful to not go too fine - those mesh filters are easy to clog if you go below a medium-coarse setting.
- Extend the brewing time. Instead of changing the grind size, you can simply add time to the brew. An additional 30 seconds should make a noticeable difference.
When your water dissolves and extracts too much from the coffee grounds, you end up with over extracted coffee. This is coffee that was at peak flavor and balance, but was still being given extra stuff from the coffee grounds.
There are a few easy ways to tell that this has happened to your coffee. Firstly, the rich flavors will be muted and replaced with deeper, darker flavors that are less sweet and pleasant. Secondly, it’ll be just bitter enough to not feel balanced. You may even feel a slight scratchiness towards the back of your throat from the bitterness when you swallow.
To resolve your over extraction issues, you need to extract less next time you brew.
Here are a couple ways to do that with the French Press.
- Grind your coffee beans at a slightly coarser setting. The larger your particle size, the longer it takes for the water to extract stuff from it. By increasing the size, but still using the same brewing time, you slow down the extraction, giving you a less extracted cup of coffee.
- Reduce the brewing time. Another easy way to extract less is simply to use less time to brew your coffee. Take away 30 seconds and see if that brings back flavor and balance.
Other Possible Problems
While the problems and solutions above are all most people will need, if you still find yourself unsatisfied, there are a few more things to try.
- If there is too much resistance when you plunge, you probably ground your coffee too finely and the grounds are getting stuck in the filter. Coarsen the grind setting a bit to keep that from happening.
- Check your coffee beans. Were your beans roasted more than two weeks ago? Have they been stored in open air? Either one of those things could cause them to lose some of their precious flavor.
- Check your water source. Is your water softener not working? Do you see any rust in your kettle? Check to make sure your water is coming out just fine.
- Check your water temperature. Did your water temperature fall below 90 Celsius? If so, it probably didn’t extract as much from the coffee grounds as it should have, producing under extracted coffee. The easy fix is to make sure your water is just off the boil right before you brew.
- Check your French Press. Are your carafe and filter clean? Are there any coffee grounds or oils left over from previous brews that could be tainting the flavor? A good cleaning should fix that.
If you’ve tried everything and still aren’t satisfied, there’s only one other option: change coffee sources. Maybe the roaster of your coffee isn’t as dedicated to quality as you are. Maybe they just had a bad roast. A new bag of coffee (and maybe a new roaster) should set you back on the path towards rich and delicious French Press coffee.
The French Press: Brewer Of The Ages
With a romantic design, sensory-captivating process, and rich results, the French Press will be one of the world’s most beloved coffee makers for centuries.
It’s simple enough for newcomers to delicious coffee, yet performs well enough for seasoned coffee veterans. It’s the well-rounded coffee brewer that appeals to all.
If you’re in the market for a new brewer or just want to see the ways some brands have gotten creative with the device, check our French Press Selection.
The classic French Press features a glass carafe and metal frame, but some models combine the two pieces into a single, double-walled carafe. Whatever type of French Press you choose, make sure it’s not made with low-grade glass or plastic.
Since the natural coffee oils and micro-grounds are able to pass through the filter, coffee from French Presses often has a rich flavor and full body. It stands in contrast to drip coffee makers and other brewers that produce a light body and crisp flavor.