Few coffee brewing methods are as established as the French press is. Although a basic brewing method, the press offers a combination of simplicity and quality that have made it a favorite of many for more than 90 years. Whether you’re new to the brewing method or are looking to further hone a long-practiced skill, here’s what to know about a French press and how to brew excellent coffee with one.
In This Guide:
- How Does the French Press Work?
- How to Brew Coffee With the French Press
- How to Brew French Press – the James Hoffmann Method
- How to Make Cold Brew With the French Press
- The Best Coffees for a French Press
- How to Choose a French Press
- How long do you grind coffee beans for the French press?
- How long to let coffee steep in a French press?
- How many scoops of coffee should be used for French press?
- What is a Cafetiere?
How Does the French Press Work?
An Immersion Brewing Method
The French press coffee maker is an immersion brewing system, which means that the grounds are immersed in hot water throughout the brew. This type of brewing generally creates a fuller flavor and body profile than drip methods (e.g. drip coffee, manual pour- over).
The Basic Components of a French Press
The essential components of a press are the beaker, the filter and the plunger. The filter consists of a metal screen, a perforated metal disk that holds the screen in place, and a coil that presses the screen against the beaker. The plunger is a metal rod that attaches to the filter at the bottom end, and has a knob (basic or decorative) at the top end.
When brewing with a French press, the coffee grounds and hot water are poured into the beaker. The filter/plunger is placed on top of the grounds and water. Once the brew cycle is complete, the plunger is pressed downward so that the filter is forced down. This filters the grounds to the bottom of the beaker, and on top is brewed coffee that’s ready to pour. Most beakers sit in a base that has a handle for pouring.
There are a couple of other components, the lid and the base, but these do little more than retain heat, provide stability and add aesthetics.
How to Brew Coffee With the French Press
As mentioned, the French press is one of the simplest and easiest ways to make coffee. To make coffee with the French press:
- Measure: Measure coffee and water using a weight ratio between 1:16 and 1:18. The volumetric equivalent is 1⁄2 ounce coffee per 8 ounces hot water.
- Heat Water: Heat your water until it’s boiling. Sometimes water that’s just off a boil is recommended for brewing, but the press loses a lot of heat during brewing. Boiling water is preferable.
- Grind Coffee: Grind the coffee on a coarse setting, a couple steps coarser than would be used for drip brewing.
- Add Grounds and Water: Place the grounds in the beaker, and pour the hot water over the grounds. The beaker should be full once all of the water is poured.
- Bloom (Optional): Freshly roasted coffee should be allowed to bloom, which lets carbon dioxide gases escape before actually brewing. Dampen the grounds for 40 seconds with hot water, then add the remaining hot water and brew as normal. Blooming isn’t necessary with older coffee.
- Place Top: Place the top (i.e. lid, plunger and filter) on the beaker, leaving the filter on the top surface of the grounds and water.
- Steep: Allow the coffee grounds to steep for between 4 and 5 minutes.
- Plunge: Push the plunger down slowly to filter grounds. Don’t push down so quickly that grounds escape through the sides of the filter and into the brew. Pushing too quickly also will occasionally cause grounds, water and coffee to spurt out the spout.
- Enjoy: Pour the pressed coffee and enjoy!
How to Brew French Press – the James Hoffmann Method
James Hoffmann is an established coffee guru and leader within the industry. In addition to the standard way of brewing a French press, he’s also had success with a slightly alternate method:
- Initial Steps: Measuring, heating water, grinding coffee, adding grounds and water, and blooming remain the same. There is no change to Steps 1 through 5 listed above.
- First Steep: Allow the coffee to steep for 4 minutes.
- Stir & Scoop: Stir the crust that forms on top, and then scoop any remaining floating bits.
- Second Steep: Allow the coffee to steep for at least another 5 minutes with the lid off, and longer is alright. The exact steeping time isn’t extremely important, because extraction rates reduce and change as the water cools.
- Plunge & Pour: Place the lid on the beaker and barely plunge. The plunger should be just below the surface of the brew, and not pushed to the bottom. Pour.
- Enjoy: Pour. Enjoy the variant French press method, and taste it side-by-side with a traditional press. You’ll likely notice both similarities and differences.
How to Make Cold Brew With the French Press
The French press is ideal for making small batches of cold brew, and it’s easier to clean than many cold brew kits. To make cold brew with a French press:
- Measure: Measuring coffee and water using a ratio around 1:5. A good volumetric ratio is 1.5 ounces of coffee per 8 ounces of water.
- Grind Coffee: Grind the coffee on an extra-coarse setting, a step or two coarser than you would for French press.
- Add Grounds and Water: Add the grounds and water to the beaker. The water should be room temperature.
- Place Top: Place the top on the beaker, leaving the filter on the top surface of the grounds and water
- Steep: Allow the coffee grounds to steep for between 12 and 24 hours. Steeping times vary among cafes, and this range allows for the practicalities of making cold brew around daily life.
- Plunge: Push the plunger down slowly to filter grounds.
- Dilute: The 1:5 ratio creates a concentrate that should be cut with a 1:1 ratio of coffee to water. Cold water is most often used, but you can also use hot water or milk.
- Enjoy: Pour the coffee over ice, or enjoy it as is!
The Best Coffees for a French Press
The French press is highly versatile, and everything from a bright African light roast to a Sumatran dark roast will taste good when brewed this way. A couple of details should be kept in mind when brewing any coffee this way, though.
First, the water temperature profile is ideally suited to bring out the most nuanced flavors in specialty coffees. The water’s initial boiling temperature will extract the acids and other compounds that create a bright or complex cup. The quick cooling of the water prevents over-extraction of bitter compounds, which would cover the more delicate desirable notes.
Second, the mesh screen isn’t as effective as a paper filter. Although most coffee grounds are pushed to the bottom, extremely small grounds — called fines — will escape around the edges of the screen and end up in the final brew.
Fines can generate subtle over-extraction as they sit in a cup of coffee, but this aspect can be addressed or taken advantage of. When brewing a bright and clean coffee, drink the coffee right away before the fines can generate any noticeable over- extraction. If brewing a coffee that’s supposed to be strong and bold, the further extraction of the fines will only enhance these characteristics.
Thus, no one coffee is best suited for the French press. Any decent coffee will taste good in it, but there are a couple of nuances that will help yield the best results possible with any given coffee.
How to Choose a French Press
Because the French press is such a basic brewing method, few features actually change the profile of brewed coffee. The ones that do are whether the top has a lip that extends into the beaker and whether the beaker is double-walled. Both features are desirable from an extraction standpoint, because they reduce heat loss while the coffee is steeping.
French press selection is also highly aesthetic, though, because there aren’t a lot of features to look for. Find a press that’s the right size for you and that you like the look of. Only go for the insulated model if you still really like the looks of it — there’s more difference in how models look than in how they perform.
How long do you grind coffee beans for the French press?
A burr coffee grinder will create the most consistent grind and is preferable to a blade grinder. If using a burr grinder, the coarseness of a grind is determined by selecting a setting on the machine.
If using a blade grinder, the amount of time that beans grind depends on the particular model grinder. The grinder’s size, blade shape and power are only some of the factors that affect how long beans should be ground for.
To begin with, try grinding beans in a blade grinder for 15 seconds less than you would if using a drip brewer. See what the results are, and make adjustments as necessary.
How long to let coffee steep in a French press?
French press coffee should be allowed to steep for between 4 and 5 minutes. The shorter timeframe will result in less extraction, which will create brewed coffee that’s brighter but has less body. The longer timeframe creates more body but less brightness. Anywhere in between makes a compromise between the two.
How many scoops of coffee should be used for French press?
Coffee is always most accurately measured with a scale rather than a scoop, but scoops are convenient. Expect to use about 1 coffee scoop for each cup that a French press has, keeping in mind that most presses use 4- or 6-ounce cups.
What is a Cafetiere?
Cafetiere is simply a European name for the French press. The name is sometimes lengthened to cafetiere a piston, or caffeteria a stantuffo, but these are all different languages’ names for the same brewing method.
The French press is also known as plunger coffee in Australia and New Zealand. Coffee press is another common name used in some places around the world.
Where is the French Press From?
Despite the press’s clearly French nomenclature, the brewing method’s origins are a bit murky. Both the Italians and the French claim to have invented the press.
The Italian Claim to the French Press
The Italians claim to the press’s invention is a legal one. The first pattens for a press-like brewing device were filed in the 1920s, and they were filed by Italians. Based on this, the Italians were the first ones to officially “invent” the press.
The French Claim to the French Press
According to coffee lore, however, the French had created a press-like brewing method long before the Italians filled out their paperwork. The French story begins with an everyday blue-collar worker in the 1850s.
The common brewing method of the day was to put grounds in a mug and pour hot water over them. The grounds would settle to the bottom, so the coffee could be drunk without getting too many grounds in your teeth.
One day, this working-class Frenchman was running late and forgot to put his grounds in first. He instead poured hot water first and added grounds second, which caused the grounds to float on top of the water. On his way to work, the Frenchman bought a cheap metal screen and grabbed a stick — using the screen and stick to push down the grounds, he created the first primitive French press.
The only catch to the French story is the person who sold that metal screen — he was an Italian merchant.
The Possible French and Italian Claim to the French Press
If the French story is to be believed (and it’s as credible as most claims in coffee history), perhaps both the French and the Italians have some role in creating the French press. In either case, the brewing method is clearly associated with the French today but enjoyed around the world.
Enjoy a French Press Coffee
The French press has been and continues to be one of the most popular ways to make coffee. Even in the day of pour-overs and high-tech gadgets, this brewing method deserves consideration. Make a French press, and taste how good it can be.
Scott M. Brodie has over 20 years of professional experience working in coffee shops and writing about coffee (including selling superautomatic machines). When not writing, he can usually be found roasting a new African single origin or composing a fictional work.