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How to use a French press

Alvina Wang/BestReviews

Everything you need to know about using a French press coffee maker

Are you wondering how to use a French press? Maybe you’ve seen one in a store or cafe, and you’ve been curious about what it does. Or you’ve got one, but you aren’t sure if you’ve been using it right.

French presses are famous for their full-bodied, full-flavored coffee. To get the best coffee out of your French press, though, you need to pay attention to a few things. The right water temperature, the right size of your ground coffee and how long to let the coffee sit are all key factors in learning how to use a French press.

Step-by-step French press brewing guide

Step 1: Heat water

The first step in using a French press is heating your water. Water for coffee should be hot but not boiling. A temperature of around 200 to 205 degrees is ideal. Make sure to heat more water than you need for your coffee. You’ll need some for the next step.

Step 2: Preheat your French press

Once you’ve heated your water, pour some into your French press. Some experts suggest filling it all the way up, others say just a quick rinse. What’s important is that you bring the press’s temperature up, so when you add the water for brewing later, it doesn’t cool down instantly.

Step 3: Grind your coffee

The best coffee for your French press is coarsely ground, like breadcrumbs. It’s best to buy whole-bean coffee and grind it yourself. Grind just enough for the batch you’re making. If you have a scale, measure out 1 gram of ground coffee per 12 to 14 grams of hot water.

Step 4: Add coffee and water

Now it’s time to put everything together. Pour out the water you used for heating the French press. Add your coffee to the vessel or carafe. Pour in some hot water, up to half your total amount. Let stand for about one minute.

Step 5: Stir and steep

With a wooden spoon, a bamboo chopstick or other nonmetallic implement, break the crust of coffee and water that’s formed on top of the mixture. Pour in the rest of your hot water. Place the press’s lid and filter back on top. You may want to let the filter rest on the surface of the brew. Let it stand for no longer than four minutes.

Step 6: Press

Firmly press down on the French press’s plunger until the filter reaches the bottom. There should be a certain amount of resistance as you press, but not too much. If it’s difficult to press your brew, your coffee was probably ground too fine.

Step 7: Serve

Serve your coffee immediately or transfer to a separate vessel. Keeping the coffee in contact with the grounds leads to overextraction and draws out more bitter and sour flavors.

Common mistakes people make when using a French press

  • Not preheating: If the French press is cool or at room temperature, it will cause the hot water to cool upon contact and affect the coffee’s bloom.
  • The water’s too hot: Water above 205 degrees will draw out too much of the bitter flavors and oils of the coffee.
  • The coffee is too fine: Medium-ground or fine-ground coffee can clog up the French press filter, make it harder to press and leave more sediment behind.
  • Not stirring: Stirring the coffee shortly after pouring and then again before steeping increases the contact between the coffee grains and the water.
  • Brewing too long: Steeping for longer than four minutes allows for overextraction, where the bitter and acidic flavors in the coffee develop.
  • Leaving brewed coffee in the press: Like oversteeping, keeping the pressed brew in contact with the grounds allows for overextraction.
  • Breaking the glass: If you use a metal spoon for stirring, or press too hard on the filter, you might damage or break a French press with a glass carafe.

How much coffee should you use in a French press?

Most experts agree that the ideal ratio of coffee to water when using a French press is between 1:12 and 1:15 — that is, 1 gram of coffee for every 12 to 15 grams of water. A ratio of 1:12 translates to about 1.2 tablespoons of coffee per 6.7-ounce cup of water. Others suggest a stronger brew of 3 tablespoons to 8 ounces of water.

This ratio should work for all sizes of French presses, from 16 ounce 2-cup models to big 50-ounce sizes. It’s said that smaller presses result in stronger brew and larger presses in weaker brew, but using consistent measurements should result in consistent results regardless of press size. A kitchen scale is an important tool for serious coffee fans.

Choosing the right ingredients

When it comes down to it, ground roasted coffee beans and hot water are the only ingredients in making French press coffee, so get the best of both. Like we said above, coarsely ground coffee, coarser than sand, is best for French press coffee, delivering flavor without passing through the filters and causing grit or sediment. The three- to four-minute steeping time means medium and dark roasts do best for full-flavored cups.

As always with coffee, start with fresh, pure water brought to a precise temperature of 200 to 205 degrees. An electric kettle is ideal for heating water for coffee, especially one with a gooseneck spout.

If you’re wondering: yes, French roast coffee, being particularly dark and intense, is very well-suited for a French press.

Serving techniques

French press coffee is best served immediately. You don’t want it to stay in contact with the used grounds. If you’ve made more French press coffee than you can consume at once, pour the remainder into a carafe or other vessel, even a teapot, to maintain its flavor.

The bold, full-bodied flavor of French roast can be intense if taken black. A bit of cream and a touch of a sweetener like raw or muscovado sugar can mellow its impact and bring out more complex flavors.

If you’ve ever wondered what the right temperature is for drinking coffee, researchers have suggested a range between 136 and 150 degrees, lower than many people might expect.

Cleaning and maintenance

Getting the used grounds out of a French press is a little more laborious than in drip machines or pour-over methods. To avoid having to reach inside and claw the gunk out with your bare fingers, add a little water to loosen the grounds and then empty as much as you can directly into a wastebasket or compost bin. Use a spatula to get at the remnants. Never pour used grounds into the drain, unless you enjoy unclogging your sink. Used coffee grounds can be effective as garden mulch.

A French press with a glass carafe can be washed by hand or run through the dishwasher. Some French presses have aluminum parts or certain finishes that should only be washed by hand. Don’t forget to wash the filter as well. Many French presses use a filter made of metal plates and mesh that can be disassembled and rinsed to get at every last trace of grounds.

Properly used and cared for, a glass-and-metal French press may last for five to seven years or more. Presses with plastic components will wear out sooner. The filter on a French press may last a year or more, and it may only need to be replaced if you notice damage or more grounds passing through.

How to use a French press: Final thoughts

French press coffee is a delicious and flavorful style of coffee to enjoy. As with all coffee, the right ingredients and the right techniques help you get the most out of every cup. But with a little practice, care and some experimentation, you’ll be brewing quality coffee from your French press for years to come.

Prices listed reflect time and date of publication and are subject to change.

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