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The Ultimate Guide to French Press Coffee
Written by: Raj Jana
I still remember the first time I used a french press. I wish I could say I threw some coffee and water in there and had the best cup of my life, but that wouldn’t be completely honest.
Instead of considering the instructions or looking up a guide, I went for it completely blind. You can imagine how that turned out. Maybe you don’t have to imagine.
It didn’t take long for me to fall head over heels for the french press and the coffee it produces, despite a rough start. I have acquired many coffee brewers over the years, but my french press holds a special place in my heart.
Whether you’re a veteran of french press brewing or a newcomer to this exciting world, this guide will have something (or a hundred things) you can use to brew better coffee.
Look no further. The ultimate guide is here.
What Is a French Press?
The origins of the world-famous french press are mysterious, but documents from the 1800’s suggest that early versions of the device came from - I bet you didn’t see this coming - France. The device didn’t explode in popularity until 1929 when Italian designer Attilio Callimani patented the design.
The french press is a very simple coffee brewer that is essentially made of two parts: a carafe for holding the coffee and water, and a rod with a fine metal filter attached to the bottom. With the filter placed over the coffee and plunged down, you can pour out the liquid and filter it at the same time.
While there are many variations to the simple design, the most effective french presses almost always include three elements.
A Strong Glass Carafe
Seeing the color of the water change as your coffee brews is an incredible sight and never gets old. More practically, glass is easy to clean and maintains temperature well for optimum flavor. The best carafes (including ours) are made with heat resistant borosilicate glass.
Quality Filtration Systems
Poorly made filters often break and result in a mug of coffee filled with grounds. High-quality filters are strong enough to keep most of the grounds out but still allow for that classic full body that a french press offers. This is the most important part of your french press.
A Classy and Durable Frame
Trust me, you don’t want to grab the glass when your coffee is brewing. This is why french press makers case the glass carafe in a frame. We use industrial grade chrome for our frame, but there’s a lot of leeway for personal choice here. Make sure to choose a frame that you can proudly show off because french press coffee is meant to be cherished and shared.
Strengths And Weaknesses Of The French Press
The simplicity of the french press is one of its greatest strengths. There are no wires or screens to break or explode, just a few durable materials. While some of the highest rated automatic coffee makers are prone to malfunctioning and complicated setups, I can assure you that those fears can be put to rest with a french press.
The process isn’t complicated either. You add ground coffee and hot water, plunge after a few minutes, and pour the brew into a mug. Many people fear that brewing coffee manually will be too difficult or time-consuming, but the french press method is very easy and doesn’t require any more effort than an auto drip pot.
Most french presses are built to be able to brew several cups at a time. This is great for serving guests, but the glass frame will cause issues when traveling. If you’re a frequent traveler, check out our preferred brewer to deliver fresh coffee on-the-go.
The Brew (The Important Part)
Extremely fine micro-coffee grounds are able to pass through the fine mesh filter, which gives your final mug a full bodied feel, rather than a light, tea-like one. These, along with the coffee oils that slide through the filter as well, produce an incredible amount of flavor
To a few, the full bodied, full flavor coffee made in a french press is overwhelming or just too strong. Understandable, but most people find they truly enjoy the full realm of flavor that french press coffee has to offer.
Let’s Find Out If This Is The Brewer For You
- Are you ready to tip-toe your way into specialty coffee? This brewer is for you.
- Are you willing to learn a new (and very simple) skill? This brewer is for you.
- Do you find the french press to be romantic? This brewer is obviously for you.
- Do you enjoy a full bodied and flavorful cup of coffee? This brewer is for you.
- Do you want your coffee to be ready as soon as you’re awake? This brewer may not be for you, but you may want to rethink your morning routine.
- Are you always traveling? This brewer may not be for you, but here’s how we stay caffeinated on-the-go.
Even if you aren’t completely sure whether the french press is your ideal coffee brewer, I’m pretty confident it’ll convince you it is once you’ve used it and tasted its glory.
Coffee beans tend to decline from peak freshness about two weeks after being roasted. Ground coffee loses its freshness in a matter of hours. Do yourself a favor and don’t buy pre-ground coffee. You will be amazed at how much better your coffee will be when you grind it a few minutes before brewing.
Using too much water will brew weak and bitter coffee. We call this over extracted coffee. Too much ground coffee will result in an acidic, overpowering cup. We call this under extracted coffee. We want to aim right for the middle, where everything is balanced and flavorful.
To achieve that satisfying balance, you’ll want to use a range of coffee to water ratios. If you use 1g of water and 1g of coffee, your coffee to water ratio is 1:1. For best results, stick between 1:15 and 1:17.
The recipe I’ll show you in this guide uses 50g of coffee and 850g of water, a 1:17 ratio.
If you would like to brew a different amount of coffee, just take the total amount of water you’ll use and divide it by 17 to find the amount of ground coffee you’ll need. Easy!
Use Delicious Water
I live by a simple water rule: if I don’t like how it tastes on its own, I don’t brew high-quality coffee with it.
Most coffee lovers agree that the best temperatures for brewing coffee fall between 195 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit. I agree with most coffee lovers. Water just off the boil should be fine if you don’t live at sea level. If you do, just give it a minute or two to cool down before beginning to brew.
Use a Consistent, Coarse Grind
Fine coffee grounds extract quickly. Coarse grounds extract slowly. Since the coffee and water will be sitting together for a few minutes, you want to use a coarse grind so the coffee doesn’t extract beyond that point of perfect balance. As a reference, your grind should look like heavy kosher salt.
Important point: Consistency is everything. Using electric blade grinders often leads to uneven chunks of beans in your grounds, which will lead to significant variances in extraction. Burr grinders are essential to achieving a consistent grind. If you don’t feel like spending hundreds on an electric version, our manual burr grinder is inexpensive and just as capable. It takes a minute or two to grind the coffee, but having uniform coffee grounds is one of the keys to finding flavor balance in your brewing, and our grinder will get you there every single time.
A Step-By-Step Guide
Assemble your ingredients and tools and you’re ready to brew some delicious coffee.
Weigh out 50g (about 10 tablespoons) of coffee and grind it coarsely with a burr coffee grinder.
Place your french press on a kitchen scale and pour the coffee grounds into it. Tare the scale so it reads zero. Begin a timer for four minutes
Slowly pour 850g (850ml) of hot water over the coffee. Saturate all the grounds.
After one minute has elapsed, use a spoon or paddle to submerge the top layer of coffee grounds (we call it ‘the crust’). This helps all the grounds brew for the same length of time, which contributes towards that balance we’re after. Go ahead and place the filter and spout on the french press to conserve heat.
After all four minutes have elapsed, slowly plunge the filter down and trap the coffee grounds at the bottom of the french press. Then pour immediately into mugs or a separate carafe to avoid any continuous brewing, which will lead to bitter coffee if left too long (8+ minutes).
Extra (Optional) Step: If you occasionally find yourself in the mood for a cleaner, thin bodied cup, you can always pour your french press coffee through an additional filter before it lands in your mug. Our stainless steel pour over dripper is perfect for just that.
This is also a great option for when you’re taking your coffee to go. Even those small bits of coffee grounds can slowly continue to brew, so the extra filtering helps keep coffee at its peak flavor and balance longer.
I make mistakes when brewing coffee with a french press every once in awhile - and I’ve been doing it for years. There’s no shame in it, and thankfully, making adjustments for a better brew next time is easy.
Here are a few common problems you may face and their solutions.
The Coffee Doesn’t Taste Right
Is the coffee dull and bitter? You’ve got a classic case of over extraction. Essentially, the coffee brewed too much. Your options are to reduce the brew time by thirty seconds or so, or grind your beans at a coarser setting.
Is the coffee acidic and sour? It is probably under extracted and needs to brew a little more next time. You can increase the time a bit, or fine the grind setting next time. Be careful about going too fine, or you’ll run into the next problem.
It can take a few brew cycles to really hit the sweet spot with these small adjustments, but the reward is perfectly balanced coffee and the satisfaction of success.
The Filter Won’t Plunge
This may not actually be a problem. Since you’re plunging down a filter, there’s always a chance that the coffee grounds will simply just get in the way. An easy way to solve this is to lift up on the filter a bit, then continue to press down.
If this simple fix doesn’t resolve your problem, you may have used a grind setting that was too fine. Try coarsening it up next time so that the grounds are less likely to get lodged into the holes of the fine filter.
When it’s all said and done and you’ve had a few sips of your precious coffee, it’s time to clean the french press. My favorite method is to tap the filter rod on the edge of a trash can, launching any attached grounds into the trash. I then give the french press carafe a good upright shake, turn it over, and shake a little more over the trash can.
You can also dump all of the grounds into a strainer and dispose of them from there. It all depends on where you are and what’s available.
There are bound to be a few leftover coffee grounds after the shaking. I just wash them down the drain with plenty of water.
While a soap scrub isn’t necessary after every brew, I suggest a more thorough cleaning by hand every few weeks. Use plenty of warm water to get all the soap off the filter and the carafe. I’ve had soapy coffee, and I don’t recommend it.
Here’s an in-depth video that goes over the basics of cleaning your french press after use.
My french press has been a faithful friend and has carried me through many sleepy days. It is reliable, easy to clean, and delivers quality coffee. It was my first coffee brewer, and it will likely be the last.
I often use my french press for more than hot brewed coffee these days. I’ve made many batches of cold brew coffee and tea, and have mixed some cocktails in there too. The range of uses is deep and wide.
Now it's your turn. Grab your own french press and brew coffee that you'll never forget!
Chief Brewing Officer
JavaPresse Coffee Company