How to use the french press

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An Introduction

In this guide, we’re going to show you how to use a French press coffee maker to brew an impeccable cup of coffee. 

All in all, it is actually quite easy to master the basics of the French press brewing method. However, knowing how to use a French press is just the first step to creating true perfection in a cup.

If you want an exquisitely crafted cup of French press coffee, you’re going to need a bit of skill, some in-depth knowledge, and a good amount of trial and error.

Brew Time

2-4 min

What you’ll Need

The Basics

Recommended

  • Grinder (if using whole bean)
  • Stovetop or electric kettle
  • Timer
  • Measuring spoons
  • Measuring cups
  • Scale
  • Stirring spoon
  • Water thermometer

What Is The French Press?

Fun fact, although its name would suggest otherwise, the French press isn’t actually a French creation. It is Italy, one of France’s neighbors, that is responsible for inventing the French press.

More specifically, the French press was the brainchild of Ugo Paolini and it was patented by Attilio Calimani and Giulio Moneta in 1929.

The Parts Of The French Press

Knowing how to use a French press becomes much easier when you are aware of the role that each of its parts plays. Unlike some of the other types of coffee makers out there, the French press is a relatively simple device. The primary parts of a French press coffee maker are:

  • The brew chamber, carafe, or beaker, is the most prominent part of any French press coffee maker and this is where your ingredients (hot water and coffee grounds) are going to be placed. It is usually made of either glass, stainless steel, or plastic.
  • The frame is the exterior section of the French press that supports the beaker and the rest of the moving parts. The two primary parts of the frame are the handle (which you will be holding) and the base.
  • The lid is, as you would expect, the part that covers the brew chamber. The plunger and the filter (or filters) are connected to the lid.
  • The filter is the part that is responsible for separating the coffee grounds from the brewed coffee. Some French press coffee makers only include one filter but more complex models will have multiple filters.
  • The plunger is the part of the French press that does the most work. It is connected to the lid and the filters and works in tandem with them. When it is pushed down, the coffee grounds are forced to the bottom of the brew chamber.

What Are The Benefits Of Knowing How To Use A French Press?

You are already a master when it comes to using your good old drip coffee maker, right? You put coffee in the filter, put water in the reservoir, push a button, and voila, you have a cup of coffee.

So, why should you even bother learning how to use another type of coffee maker? Are there some benefits that you should know about?

You Have More Control

If you want to have the utmost control over the final product that ends up in your cup, then manual coffee makers are the way to go.

Automatic coffee makers, like the ubiquitous drip coffee makers that can be found in countless homes and offices, have the benefit of convenience but they take a considerable amount of control out of your hands as a result.

On the other hand, coffee makers like the AeroPress (the new kid on the block) or the French press (the tried-and-true veteran) take a bit more work than just pushing a button but you have far more control over your brew.

You Get A Richer Flavor

Nowadays, a considerable amount of coffee drinkers make use of paper filters when they are brewing (with a drip coffee maker or another type of device).

The popularity of paper filters is understandable for several reasons. First off, paper filters are convenient because all you have to do is pop one in when you’re ready to brew and then dispose of it when you’re done. Secondly, paper filters are great at their job, if you’re using one then you’re going to have no sediment (or a negligible amount) passing through to your cup.

However, the drawback to paper filters is that they lead to a “weaker” cup of coffee. If you were to compare a cup of coffee that has been brewed with a French press (or another device that uses a stainless steel filter) to a cup of coffee that has been brewed in a device with a paper filter, you would notice the difference.

Metal filters create brews that have bolder or richer flavors and this is due to one major factor – the oils. What’s so special about oils? Well, most of the flavor that we experience when we’re drinking a cup of coffee comes from the oils that are contained within the bean.

Do you get where we’re going with this? That’s right, paper filters trap most of the oils from your coffee grounds, preventing them from reaching your cup. However, on the other hand, metal filters allow most of these oils to pass through into your cup.

How To Use A French Press To Brew A Great Cup Of Coffee

You’ve got your French press, you’ve got your beans, and you’ve got all the additional tools that you’ll need – let’s get brewing!

Step 1: Heat Water

We recommend that you start heating your water before you do anything else because it is probably going to be one of the longest steps of the entire process.

If you’ve got a thermometer or a kettle with temperature control, then you can fine-tune the temperature of the water for optimal results. The temperature that you’re going to be aiming for here should be somewhere between 195°F and 205°F (91°C and 96°C).

Step 2: Grind And Measure Your Coffee

If you’ve bought pre-ground coffee, you can skip this step. However, you should know that many coffee aficionados will tell you that you should always grind your coffee if you’re using a French press.

We recommend using a burr grinder instead of a blade grinder. This is because a burr grinder is going to give you a more consistent grind, a factor that is extremely important to the French press method.

What grind size should you be aiming for? Well, the recommended grind size for the French press is medium-coarse. You could use coarse grounds, but that might result in a relatively weak brew. On the other hand, a medium grind could potentially make its way through the filter and into your cup.

Step 2.5: Preheat The French Press

This step is optional but we recommend that you do it if you want a great tasting brew. This step ensures that you have a more consistent brewing temperature throughout the entire process. Brewing coffee is all about temperature control. So making sure your french press vessel is warm helps to prevent the brew from becoming under-extracted if it hits the cold decanter.

If you know your way around a kitchen, then you might think that we mean that you should pop the French press onto the stove and heat it. You really don’t want to do that. Instead, all you need to do is pour some of that water that you’ve been heating up into the brewing chamber, swirl it around for a while, and then pour it out.

Step 3: Measure Your Water

You could always eyeball this step if you’re confident in your coffee brewing ability but it doesn’t hurt to err on the side of caution and precisely measure out your water.

We recommend that you start with a ratio of 1:15 when it comes to coffee and water. So for example, for every 1 gram of coffee, you should add 15 grams of water (a cup of water should be enough for about 3 tablespoons of coffee).

This ratio should serve as a baseline for your initial French press brewing experience and you can tweak it from there if you want a drink that is stronger or weaker.

Step 4: Add Coffee And Water To French Press

Now the brewing process truly begins. You should always add your coffee to the brewing chamber first and shake the French press lightly so that the coffee is distributed somewhat evenly.

Next, pour the hot water into the brew chamber in a relatively gentle and consistent manner.

Step 5: Lightly Stir And Wait

Once the optimal amount of water has been added, take a stirrer and lightly stir the contents of the brew chamber. This isn’t a necessary step but it is recommended because it helps to kick start the brewing process by ensuring that the coffee is fully immersed in the water.

After stirring (or not stirring), place the lid on top of the brew chamber and start your timer. The recommended steep time for the French press is between 3 to 4 minutes, so aim for somewhere within that range. During subsequent brews, you can always adjust the time to meet your personal preferences.

Step 6: Press The Plunger Down

Once your timer has hit zero, it is now time to plunge. Never do this step quickly, no matter how much of a rush you’re in.

Take it slow and steady, start pressing down lightly on the plunger and you should feel your force being met with some resistance. Alter your pressure to combat this resistance and gradually push the plunger down towards the bottom of the brew chamber.

Step 6.5: Decant Your Brew

This is another optional step but again, we recommend that you do it if you want a great tasting cup of coffee.

You should always try to decant your French press brew because this step separates the brewed coffee from the leftover grounds. This prevents over- extraction, which can lead to bitterness and an overall compromised flavor profile.

Step 7: Drink!

If you’ve made it this far then there is just one thing left to do – drink your delicious cup of French press coffee.

Conclusion

Sure, nothing can beat the “press a button and wait” convenience of a drip coffee maker but a French press has its own benefits as well. If what you truly value in your coffee drinking experience is having the richest and most pleasant flavors in your cup, then knowing how to use a French press is a vital skill to have.

Enjoy!