How do you brew a great cup of coffee? Automatic drip and single pod coffeemakers have removed much of the guesswork from the process, and that’s a good thing. But some coffee enthusiasts prefer a more primal brewing method: the French press.
A French press consists of a cylindrical, heat-resistant carafe and a filter/plunger that fits snugly against the interior. Everything happens in the carafe, from the steeping of the grounds to the pouring of the brew. No paper filter or separate water reservoir are required.
French press coffee retains the essential oils and acidic tannins that often slip away during paper filter brewing. For those who prefer a strong, complex cup of joe, a French press is a great way to wake up in the morning.
We heartily enjoy our coffee here at BestReviews, and we don’t want to deprive our readers of a great java experience. That’s why we’ve combined product research with consumer feedback to create a shortlist of the best French presses available. We’re proud of the five recommendations in our above matrix.
A myriad of philosophies exist as to how to brew the perfect cup of French press coffee. We waded through the research and identified some “common ground,” as it were, among the philosophies.
Follow these steps for a great cup of French pressed coffee:
Remove the plunger/filter assembly and heat water for the carafe. The amount of water you use determines how many cups your French press will yield. We consider six fluid ounces to be one cup.
As the water heats, grind your freshly roasted coffee beans to a medium consistency using a conical burr. A “fine” grind setting will not work for French press brewing, as the smaller grounds can pass through the mesh filter.
Carefully measure your dry coffee grounds and pour them into the bottom of the carafe. The proper ratio of grounds to water is a matter of debate among coffee experts, but we suggest two tablespoons for every six ounces of water. Metric users should adopt a 1:10 grounds-to-water ratio for equivalent results.
Add a portion of water equal to that of your grounds to the carafe. Stir the mixture carefully with a wooden skewer or small spoon. When the grounds are saturated, allow them to bloom for approximately 30 seconds. This will “wake up” many of the essential flavors locked within the roasted beans.
Once the beans have bloomed, add the rest of the hot water to the carafe and allow the coffee to steep for at least three minutes (but no longer than five minutes).
This step gives the French press its name and reputation. Attach the plunger/filter assembly to the top of the carafe with the plunger fully extended. Using steady pressure (approximately 15 to 20 pounds of force), push the filter slowly to the bottom of the carafe. The spent coffee grounds should remain trapped behind the mesh filter, and the finished beverage should be dark and hot.
Serve and enjoy the coffee as soon as possible. Many French presses are heavily insulated to enhance heat retention, but the finished beverage loses its peak quickly after brewing.
The French press anatomy remains fairly constant from model to model: a plunger/filter assembly fits snugly over a cylindrical, heat-resistant carafe. But manufacturers can choose from a number of construction materials.
Here are the most popular:
Stainless steel retains heat exceptionally well, especially when the carafe features an insulated double wall. Because stainless steel is a non-reactive metal, it will not leach unpleasant metallic flavors into the coffee. For this reason, a number of experts favor stainless steel.
On the downside, stainless steel French presses can be notoriously expensive. And unlike glass and plastic, you can’t see through steel, so you must depend on the prescribed brewing time to get your coffee just right.
Cheap French presses made of regular metal do exist, but we question their durability and heat retention properties.
The Frieling 18/10 Stainless Steel French Press uses stainless steel everywhere, from its double-walled carafe to the plunger and filter assembly contained within. We find that the Frieling is suitable for both coffee and loose tea brewing, as the stainless steel is non-reactive to acids in both beverages and will not transfer any metallic flavor to the drink.
The double-wall construction provides significant heat retention, but the coffee does cool down after an hour or so.
In terms of design, the Frieling's full-length handle adds comfort and stability to the mix and protects human hands from the heated carafe. The plunger fits snugly against the carafe's inner walls and the mesh filter does a great job retaining coarse coffee grounds and loose tea leaves.
The Francois et Mimi Double Wall French Press is often compared favorably to the more expensive Frieling French press.
The Francois et Mimi French press also features a stainless-steel construction; this includes the plunger and filter assemblies. The biggest difference we find between the two models is the fact that, unlike the Frieling, the Francois et Mimi does not offer an exterior mirror finish.
The double-walled carafe provides exceptional heat retention, especially compared to typical glass-walled carafes and pots.A full-sized stainless handle allows for safe pouring, and the lid locks into several positions to prevent accidental spills between pours.
Some users have concerns about the model's hollow lid, which could be a challenge to clean.
Glass is a popular French press carafe material, but not just any glass will do. Many manufacturers use the heat-resistant borosilicate glass found in laboratory beakers and test tubes to make their carafes.
Glass is an ideal medium for coffee brewing, as it retains heat very well and doesn’t interfere with coffee’s natural acidity. And because it’s transparent, you can observe the brewing process from start to finish.
However, glass carafes can and do shatter from time to time. Manufacturers incorporate protective elements into their glass carafes, but they cannot guarantee an accident-free experience. A cheap French press with a thin glass carafe is more likely to shatter than a high-end French press with thicker glass.
The SterlingPro Coffee and Espresso Maker uses a heat-resistant borosilicate glass in its carafe, making it less likely to crack due to thermal shock. However, we still urge users to avoid adding boiling water directly to any glass French press carafe. (Allow the water to cool down to around 190-200 degrees Fahrenheit for maximum extraction.)
The lid does contain some plastic, but this material does not make direct contact with the brew. The carafe features a stylish chrome framework. The transparent glass body results in a considerable trade-off in heat retention and durability.
The Bodum Brazil French Press Coffee Maker has been on the consumer market since the 1980s, and it still uses many of the same materials as the original model.
The carafe is made from heat-resistant borosilicate glass. The handle and lid both contain BPA-free plastic. The plunger and filter assemblies are made of metal, but we cannot confirm the use of stainless steel.
The Bodum Brazil's carafe design is basic and straightforward with an extra-long plastic handle and a drip-resistant spout for easy pouring.
Although the finished coffee or tea will have some incidental contact with the plastic lid during service, the plastic itself does not pose any sort of health risk.
While a “cheaper” material like plastic may sound less elegant than glass or stainless steel, polycarbonate offers many of the same positive qualities as glass — but without the fragility or heat retention issues. Polycarbonate carafes are shatter-resistant and allow you to observe the brewing process. Many entry-level and mid-range French presses include polycarbonate carafes.
Unfortunately, polycarbonate is prone to scratches and dings over time. Cleaning can pose a challenge, and interior staining can occur. There is also the concern that a chemical called BPA could leach out of the plastic and into the food. We urge consumers to look for phrases like “BPA-Free” or “Contains No BPA” when considering a polycarbonate model.
Although not as common on U.S. shelves as stainless steel and glass, some French presses feature ceramic or clay-based carafes. The basic brewing method remains the same, but the process obviously can’t be observed due to the opaque nature of stoneware.
The carafe and lid are typically made from kiln-fired, glazed ceramic materials, and the plunger/filter may be a combination of ceramic and metallic elements. Heat retention is generally excellent, and capacity is rarely an issue.
However, many consumers view stoneware as more decorative than functional. In other words, the piece might ultimately end up on a fireplace mantel instead of the kitchen counter. Like glass, stoneware is prone to shattering, and some people worry that chemicals from the glaze or paint could leach into the coffee as it brews.
Each material has its pros and cons, and no single material clearly rises above the others. The “best” French press material often comes down to the consumer’s personal preference.
In today's world, with the plethora of options available to the coffee connoisseur, there is a new breed of carafes making the rounds. These are hybrids, with construction made of a combination of glass, stainless steel, and plastic parts. Though the durability of the products, and the quality of the brew they produce, are yet to be thoroughly tested, we believe a mention of them does need to be made for a complete review of the french press genre.
Like other budget-priced glass French presses, the Primula Tempo Coffee Press uses heat-resistant borosilicate glass, but the carafe itself is noticeably thinner than the Bodum Brazil, a model to which it is frequently compared. Some users refer to the Primula's carafe as a refurbished chemistry lab beaker.
The plunger and filter assemblies are made of stainless steel, but the actual grade of that steel may be variable.
Some users report seeing flecks of rust in the coffee after several uses and cleanings.
We do like the fact that the Primula's fragile carafe is protected by a plastic framework with a full-sized handle for easy pouring.
For individual coffee drinkers, a carafe capacity of six to sixteen ounces is often enough to enjoy one cup of high-end brew — plus top-offs. Rather than brewing too much coffee in an automatic drip pot, an individual can grind just enough beans to make one or two cups of java.
There are also times when bulk coffee brewing is required, and some French press pots are up to that challenge. If brewing large quantities of coffee is your goal, we recommend a glass or polycarbonate carafe with a capacity of four to eight cups minimum.
Some large French press carafes can hold up to 64 ounces of brewed coffee at a time. This translates to eight to twelve cups of coffee. It’s important to remember that many manufacturers consider a cup to be six fluid ounces, not the larger eight-ounce measurement commonly used in the U.S.
The Frieling's advertised capacity is 36 ounces, although we would not recommend filling the carafe completely to the top. (The plunging action after brewing can sometimes create pressure and turbulence in the carafe, causing some hot liquid to escape unexpectedly through the serving spout.) However, brewing 33 ounces of freshly pressed coffee still means enough to fill four standard coffee mugs or a large thermos. We like the fact that Frieling's double-walled construction will maintain heat four times longer than standard, thin-walled glass carafes.
The advertised capacity of the Francois et Mimi French Press is approximately 34 ounces, but as with other French presses, we urge owners not to fill the carafe completely to the top. (Because the coffee grounds themselves occupy space in the carafe, there can be problems with leakage during the plunging process.) Some owners suggest that 28 ounces would be a more realistic capacity -- enough for three cups of coffee and a warm-up. Like the Frieling, the heat-retaining qualities of the Francois et Mimi's carafe allow the finished brew to remain hot for at least one hour.
The SterlingPro's stated capacity of 32 ounces feels accurate enough, but we urge users to avoid filling any French press to its absolute capacity. (The plunger needs some space to move through the liquid and compress the grounds at the bottom.)
The SterlingPro's plunger assembly is designed to stop approximately one inch from the bottom in order to avoid damaging the mesh filter. This significant gap can prevent the complete release of oils from the coffee grounds, but many users say it does not affect the overall taste of their coffee.
The Bodum Brazil's stated 34-ounce capacity most likely includes the weight and volume of the coffee beans or loose tea leaves themselves. However, this model is capable of delivering about 32 ounces of a hot beverage at one time. Because coffee may trickle out of the spout during the plunging process, a slow, deliberate pressing motion is recommended. The liquid coffee should be able to permeate the filter without introducing any coffee grounds around the edges. Some users report the appearance of coffee grounds in the finished product, but we suspect that the problem lies with the size of the grind, not the Bodum Brazil itself.
The Primula Tempo is ideal for the casual coffee drinker who may only require one or two full cups at one sitting. The Primula Tempo's advertised capacity is six cups, but that is closer to three American-sized mugs. A 24-ounce capacity does not put the Primula Tempo in the same league as our other top contenders, but some users simply don't require a full quart of strongly brewed coffee every day. For the same price as a typical one or two-cup French press sold in coffee shops, consumers can use the Primula Tempo to brew twice as much coffee or tea at one time. As such, the Primula Tempo is a good compromise between the high-capacity models that require a lot of ground coffee and the smaller French press models that only deliver one large cup at a time.
How much does a French press cost? Prices range from $15 for a plastic travel model to over $200 for a stainless steel model by a well-known European coffee company.
We recommend that most shoppers aim for a mid-range price of $35 to $75. Unless you’re looking for an ultra-stylish presentation piece or the best stainless steel money can buy, that is.
At $73, the Frieling 18/10 Stainless Steel French Press is clearly among the more expensive of our top contenders. However, many of its most loyal customers are gourmet coffee fans who grew tired of replacing bargain-priced glass French press carafes year after year.
The superior stainless construction and the remarkable heat retention of the Frieling French Press elevates it to long-term kitchen appliance status.
Automatic drip coffee machine users might be accustomed to replacing their cheaply constructed glass carafes on a regular basis, but Frieling owners rarely face that problem, even after years of constant use.
The Francois et Mimi French Press is comparable in many ways to the much more expensive stainless steel Frieling model, but it sells for a much lower price, $25. However, it is also more expensive than the thin-walled glass carafes it was designed to replace. The product would make an ideal introduction to the more intense practice of French press coffee making (although the brew itself is not visible). Preparing ground coffee beans or loose leaf tea through timing alone may seem counter-intuitive at first, but satisfied owners swear that stainless steel carafes like Francois et Mimi deliver a much better product for the price.
The glass SterlingPro's retail price of $27 puts it in line with the stainless steel contender Francois et Mimi. As such, potential customers should strongly consider the pros and cons of both glass and stainless steel before making a purchase. The SterlingPro can also produce other forms of coffee and tea, making it a better value than some inexpensive glass French presses. While stainless steel may be the preferred material among higher-end models, plenty of French press owners like glass for its non-reactive qualities and heat resistance. The SterlingPro is definitely an upgrade from the inexpensive and fragile French presses often found in coffee shops and discount stores.
At $20, the Bodum Brazil French Press is definitely among our least expensive contenders. The Bodum brand is commonly used in coffee shops and frequently purchased in retail outlets. Its capacity is on a par with much more expensive models, and the basic pressing process is virtually the same. Our only major concern is the fragility of the glass. In fact, this is a concern with French press carafes in general. For the exceptionally low retail price, however, replacing a broken carafe from time to time could be more economical for the casual coffee drinker than investing in a high-end stainless steel model that won't be used often enough to pay for itself.
Bargain-seeking customers will definitely be enticed by the Primula Tempo's incredibly low retail price of $9. This is just a fraction of the cost of the highly regarded Bodum Brazil, another top contender at a low price point. We like the Primula's protective plastic framework and extra-large handle for easy pouring. The Primula Tempo won't break the bank, but it still delivers the same level of service as models costing three times as much. It's ideal as a starter appliance for coffee drinkers who want to experiment with other brewing methods.
French press carafes are simple instruments, but they still require careful handling and routine maintenance. A well-maintained French press should last for five to ten years, if not longer.
Remember these tips when caring for your French press:
If someone were to ask gourmet coffee enthusiasts around the world to design the ideal French press coffee maker, we'd be willing to bet it would look precisely like the Frieling French Press, our Best of the Best selection. This appliance is meant for discerning coffee drinkers and gourmet coffee aficionados alike.
Non-reactive stainless steel is the preferred construction material for high-end French presses, and the Frieling uses not one but two layers of 18/10 stainless steel for the carafe alone. The double-wall construction creates a reliable insulation that allows Frieling French Press coffee to remain hot for at least an hour. The carafe's generous 36-ounce capacity translates to over four cups of strong, flavorful coffee for breakfast or a full thermos for transportable enjoyment.
The plunger and filter assemblies are made of the same high-grade stainless steel and are designed to extract as many oils, essences, and acids from ground coffee beans as possible. Everything is dishwasher-safe and can be easily disassembled and reassembled for easy maintenance. The large handle provides stability while pouring, while the brushed or mirror finish gives the Frieling French Press a stylized, elegant appearance.
If you're looking for a stainless steel French press of superior construction, look no further than the Frieling French Press. At a cost of $73, it's a bit of an investment, but our research indicates that this durable appliance would give you many years of gourmet coffee satisfaction.
At a reasonable cost of $27, the high-quality SterlingPro French Press and Espresso Maker is the Best Bang for Your Buck.
The SterlingPro uses glass instead of stainless steel -- a common practice with budget French presses. However, the carafe is thicker than average and made from heat-resistant borosilicate glass. You must still be careful not to break or damage the carafe, of course, but you're less likely to have an accident with this higher-end material.
Stylistically, the SterlingPro looks great and works like a dream. The chrome used on the lid and supporting frame enhance its overall appearance. The comfortable handle acts as an effective insulator. With a 32-ounce capacity, you can enjoy four mugs of delicious morning coffee or store it in a thermos for later consumption.
Add in the incredibly affordable retail price to this list of virtues and you'll understand why we declare the SterlingPro French Press to be the Best Bang for Your Buck.
Indeed, coffee and tea enthusiasts don't need a higher-end French press system in order to enjoy a good, strong brew. The basic mechanics of French press coffee brewing are the same across every price point. As such, budget-conscious consumers should give the SterlingPro serious consideration.
Q: Why do many coffee fans prefer the French press method over other brewing methods?
A: When professional coffee buyers test different beans for flavor quality, they often brew a straightforward and unfiltered mix of fresh roasted coffee beans and hot water. This is called “cupping” in the industry.
The French press method closely resembles cupping, since the essential oils and acidic tannins are not removed by a paper filter or recycled in a percolator. French press coffee is often bolder in flavor and stronger in body than coffees brewed by other means.
Q: Would raising and lowering the plunger make my coffee even stronger?
A: As tempting as it may be to agitate the ground coffee for maximum extraction, don’t do it. All of the essential oils and other flavor elements should be stripped away from the beans during the initial three- to five-minute brewing session.
The plunger does have the same effect as squeezing a tea bag for maximum yield, but its main function is to separate the grounds from the beverage itself. Pushing and pulling on the plunger repeatedly will only produce a bitter finished product.
Q: I have a friend who loves coffee. Would a French press make a good gift?
A: Some coffee enthusiasts are loyal to a particular brewing method; others prefer to experiment. The French press method requires dedication from the user, since the process involves freshly ground coffee beans and a longer brewing time than a single pod or automatic drip machine.
We advise you to gauge your friend’s interest before buying a high-end French press. However, a cheaper model made of polycarbonate or tempered glass could be an excellent gift.