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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.
When evaluating for quality, keep in mind that the plunger/filter should not feel loose in your hand, and the seal between the assembly and sides should be snug but not overly tight. The handle should feel cool to the touch and balanced for serving.
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:
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
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. 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.
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 (vs. stainless steel) do exist, but we question their durability and heat retention properties.
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.
You should use medium-coarse to coarse grinds in the French press in order to prevent grinds from going through the filter – and will prevent over-steeped, bitter coffee.
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.
French presses take more time than pod or automatic drip coffee, if you love strong, rich coffee, the results are worth the wait.
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.
You may feel tempted to stir the coffee while it steeps, but for best results leave it alone until the water and grinds have sat for the proper amount of time.
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.
When coffee is finished steeping, be sure to pour it all out of the press so that it does not get too strong and bitter.
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.
Born and raised in Paris, the land of unapologetic butter, Francois has spent the last 20 years shaping the American culinary world behind the scenes. He was a buyer at Williams-Sonoma, built the Food Network online store, managed product assortments for Rachael Ray's site, started two meal delivery businesses and runs a successful baking blog. When he's not baking a cake or eating his way through Europe, Francois enjoys sharing cooking skills with cooks of all levels. Rules he lives by: "Use real butter" and "Nothing beats a sharp knife."
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
Primula 6-Cup Tempo
The plunger and filter assemblies are made of stainless steel, but the actual grade of that steel may be variable. 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. Our conclusion is that 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.
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:
Unlike typical coffee makers, a French press system requires no paper or gold filters. If you’re an occasional coffee drinker, this is a definite money saver.
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.
At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.