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June 2, 2022  |  Kitchen

How to use a French press

Making coffee in a French press

If you're looking to change up your current coffee-making technique but you don't want to spend hundreds of dollars on a high-end coffee maker, you might be wondering how to use a French press. 

Despite its small price tag, this style of coffee maker gives you the richness and complexity that can be lacking in drip coffee. It also gives you more control over the brewing process without being overly complex. 

A French press might take a little extra work to brew coffee compared to a fully automatic coffee maker, but it's still a quick and easy process.

What is a French press?

A French press is a simple coffee maker that consists of a carafe and a lid with a built-in plunger that doubles as a filter. It's also known as a cafetière, a coffee plunger, or a coffee press. As it's a manual process, you have more control over factors such as the grind size and brew time than you would with an automatic coffee machine, but it isn’t complicated to use. 

How is French press coffee different from drip coffee?

When making coffee in a French press, the ground coffee is mixed with hot water to steep for a few minutes. This process is known as an immersion brewing technique, while drip coffee is made using a drip process where water filters through ground coffee. The filter in a French press is also made from a mesh screen so larger particles can pass through compared to paper filters. 

The combination of these two factors means that French press coffee is richer in natural oils than drip coffee, resulting in a richer and more intense flavor. 

How to grind coffee for a French press

Choose your coffee 

As long as you choose quality coffee beans that you like the taste of, you can't go wrong. While many agree that the slow extraction of oils in this process lends itself to a full-bodied medium or dark roast, others like light, fruity beans in their French press. 

However, you should start with whole beans rather than ground coffee, not only because whole beans are fresher, but because ground coffee is usually ground to the right size to make drip coffee, which is too fine for a French press.

Use the right grind size

You need a relatively coarse grind to make coffee in a French press, because otherwise the ground coffee simply slips through the filter in the plunger, leaving you with grounds in your cup. 

If you have an electric burr grinder, you can easily set it to give you coarsely ground coffee, and many have a dedicated French press setting. With a manual burr grinder or blade coffee grinder, there's more trial and error involved, so you may need to experiment for a while until you get the grind size right and know how to achieve it. 

How to brew coffee in a French press

Measure your ground beans

When you're new to making French press coffee, start with a 1:16 ratio of coffee to water. This means one ounce of coffee for every 16 ounces of water you'll be using. For the best results, weigh the coffee using an electric kitchen scale. However, this equals roughly six tablespoons of coffee to two cups of water. You can experiment with ratios once you've got the process down, with more coffee to water giving you a stronger brew. Measure your ground coffee into the carafe of the coffee press.

Boil water

Now boil the water you need to make your coffee. Filtered water is ideal but not essential. You should make French press coffee with water that's at around 200°F (boiling water is 212°F). You don't need to get a thermometer out for this, just let the water sit for 30 seconds after boiling it and it will be around the 200°F mark. 

Pour water 

Pour the hot water into the carafe on top of the waiting ground coffee. You'll probably notice the coffee floating up on top of the water. Give the mixture a stir until it drops down to the bottom of the carafe and make sure to break up any clumps. 

Put the lid on

Put the lid on the carafe with the plunger pulled upright. You don't need the plunger just yet, but putting the lid on keeps too much heat from escaping, which results in lukewarm coffee. 

Wait for the coffee to brew

Now give the coffee time to steep. It takes roughly three to five minutes to brew coffee using this method, with too short a brewing time resulting in weak, tasteless coffee and too long in overly bitter coffee. Start around the three and a half minute mark and increase or decrease the next time you use your French press if it's not to your taste.  

Plunge

The final step is to slowly press the plunger down. This filters the loose coffee grounds down to the bottom of the carafe so they aren't poured out into your mug. Your coffee is now ready to drink.

FAQ

Q. Is coffee better in a French press? 

A. This is down to personal preference. French press coffee differs from drip coffee, but this doesn't necessarily equate to being better or worse. Some people love the rich, full-bodied results you get from an immersion brewing technique, while others prefer the smoother, less intense flavors from drip coffee. 

There are also espresso machines and other coffee brewed using a pressure-based method. These are even more intense than French press coffee and often seen as the gold standard of coffee, but they aren't to everyone's taste. 

Q. Do you need an electric kettle for a French press? 

A. An electric kettle isn't a necessity when making coffee in a French press, but you need some method of boiling water, even if it's just a pot on a stovetop. That said, an electric kettle saves you time, so it's worth buying one if you intend to make French press coffee regularly.

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Lauren Corona writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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