How to Use a French Press

Of all the possible brewing methods to learn to do, a coffee enthusiast needs to know how to use a French press. While an automatic drip coffee brewer may be the easiest to operate, making French press coffee is almost just as easy and results in an even more delicious cup of coffee

Specifically, the French press method of coffee brewing is more properly called the immersion method because of how one’s steeps or immerses the ground coffee into the water, and unlike other methods like a pour-over or using an Aeropress, the French press can be easily scaled to make more than just one serving.

If you are new to this brewing method or style, our guide is here to help dispel any myths, offer a few polite suggestions, and may even provide a few new tips and tricks that you may didn’t know. As you develop your expertise with this brewing method, you can get increasingly technical with the French press. So, let’s dive into just what makes this coffee brewing style one of the most used.

A Brief History

While the name “French Press” betrays where it was originally developed, the French press we know today was invented nearly simultaneously in a few different parts of the world. However, the original forerunner was used in France and consisted of using either cheesecloth or a metal filter that was attached to a rod that would be pressed into coffee grounds and hot water, not quite unlike how the French press operates today.

However, there are a few different people whose names can be attributed to similar creations. The first known patent for a device that would later become known as the French press was filed in 1852 by two French inventors, Henri-Otto Mayer and Jacques-Victor Delforge. Originally called a cafetière, the design looks almost identical to a contemporary French press.

Almost 100 years later, an Italian inventor, Ugo Paolini patented what was ostensibly a tomato juicer that had a press action and filter, and just a year later, in August of 1924, another French inventor, Marcel-Pierre Paquet dil Jolbert filed a patent. However, Mr. Paolini gave his design to the American-Italian designer-duo of Attilio Calimani and Giulio Moneta who then filed a patent for a redesigned contraption specifically made for coffee on the 2nd of April 1929.

While it may be bestowed with a name that speaks to its origin, the French press is a relatively new creation when it comes to coffee brewing, and that is reflective of the truly international nature of coffee culture in general.

Some Roast and Coffee Ground Suggestions

While we don’t exactly want to tell you how to make your coffee; after all, it is your cup of coffee – something that is personal and reflective of one’s tastes. That being said, we politely recommend two particular things.

The first being that French presses elevate the flavors of darker roasts or big-bodied coffee beans, so when using this brew method, go with some bold that takes to a medium-dark to dark roast well. Personally, Indonesian coffee beans excel using a French Press. The other point is to use coarse grounds when brewing using a French press.

Finer grounds also tend to become over-extracted during the steeping phase of the brewing process, which winds up with an extremely bitter cup of coffee, no way to start the day if you ask us. Using finer grounds will not only leave you with a bitter coffee but will also result in a coffee that is muddy, full of small coffee particulates left over.

Finer grounds also require excessive force from the plunger and may result in some of your morning coffee spills out of the sides, burning your hands in the process.

To ensure you achieve consistently coarse grounds, we recommend using a burr grinder. Luckily, we carry two specific coffee grinders, the Bodum Bistro and the Baratza Encore that are perfect for this application. Both grinders are robust, durable, and can achieve consistent grinds suitable for not only coarse grinds but achieve fine grinds perfect for other brewing methods like espresso or the Turkish method.

If you keep these two general guidelines in mind, even without following our other guidelines, you’ll end up with delicious French press. However, if you want to get more into the nitty-gritty on how to elevate your French press, continue reading!

A Quick Word on Water Temperature

Another factor to take into consideration is finding the correct water temperature when brewing coffee using a French press. For this aspect, some people go quite overboard and record differences using different temperatures of water, but generally, the water temperature should be hot, but not boiling. This range is around 200F (90C).

If you use boiling water, it will result in over-extracting the beans during the steeping process. Which just like using fine grounds will create a bitter cup of coffee. On the flip, using tepid water will under-extract the beans. Whichever way you slice it, neither scenario is particularly enjoyable.
But don’t feel the need to go overboard and break out the food thermometer to measure the temperature of your water. Just be sure to take off the kitchen burner before it starts to boil, and you’ll be just fine.

Coffee to Water Ratio

Another aspect that you can sink your teeth into once you develop a knack for French press is to play around with the coffee to water ratios. Just with water temperature, ratios between the grounds and water can have drastic effects that impact flavor, body, and mouthfeel.

However, we recommend a 1:12 coffee to water ratio for those just starting. Another way of illustrating this, is for every 30g of coffee grounds, use about 500ml of water. This ratio is a tried-and-true method that has served us well in the past and creates a well-balanced cup each time.

Step By Step Instructions

Now after all of our advice, recommendations, and sage wisdom let's get down to brass tax; just exactly how does one brew French press coffee? Well, it's nearly as simple as an automatic drip brewer. For the newbies out there, just follow our instructions below and you’ll be whipping up a great cup of coffee in no time flat.

  1. Take out the plunger cap of the French Press.
  2. Pour in your coarse coffee grounds (be sure to stick to the 1:12 ratio we explained earlier).
  3. Pour in your hot, not boiling, water and gently stir the grounds. Use a wooden spoon as a metal utensil may crack the glass.
  4. Put the plunger cap back, but don’t plunge just yet. Let the water and stirred coffee steep or bloom for three to four minutes
  5. Press the plunger cap down carefully and with even pressure.
  6. Pour into your favorite coffee mug and enjoy!
  7. If you don’t plan on drinking the brewed coffee immediately, pour it into a thermos or carafe as the brew will continue to steep and get increasingly bitter as the grounds begin to over-extract.

How to Make Cold Brew with a French Press

Did you know you can make a cold brew from a French Press? For our cold brew lovers out there, making the drink is just as easy if you were making a regular French press.

Instead of using hot water, just use cold water and let the coffee grounds bloom for twelve to fifteen hours in a cold, dark place. The fridge works just fine.

After blooming, plunge and pour over ice. Feel free to add milk or creamer, any of your favorite syrups, or other flavorings you like in your regular cold brew, and enjoy!

Conclusion

While certainly an easier brewing method than an espresso, the French Press is a robust, yet humble, brewing method that can create an equally delicious cup of coffee using little skill and just a bit of patience. It’s a perfect (not to mention low-cost) way for a coffee enthusiast and home roaster to develop a new aspect of their craft while not becoming overwhelmed by the technical aspects of some other brewing methods. So why not try out this brewing method today!