When it comes to brewing your own coffee at home, using a French press is actually one of the simplest, most fool-proof ways to get a great cup of coffee. But how exactly does this simple machine work, and how do you use it? In this article, we’ll be covering everything you need to know about using a French press: from choosing the coffee beans to steeping the coffee and decanting it—here’s how it works:
So you got a standard French press with a beaker, a plunger and a filter. Now how do you use it to make coffee? It’s a pretty easy process.
First, you’ll want to start boiling some water in the kettle or on the hob.
Next, measure out the right quantity of coffee grounds for your size of French press/strength preference (we’ll be covering that in a latter section). Place the coffee grounds at the bottom of the beaker, then carefully pour the hot water on them. Ideally, the water temperature will have to be around 200F; this is roughly the temperature of just boiling water in a kettle.
Although you could pour all the water in one go, we recommend that you take a few steps. First, add in just enough water to cover the coffee grounds, and stir with a tablespoons. As the grounds begin to rehydrate, they will start expanding. At this point, add the rest of the water, and stir once more.
Close the lid of your French press without pressing the plunger down, and wait for about 3 to 4 minutes.
Once the time has elapsed, press the plunger down slowly and carefully; going too fast could create backsplash! Press it all the way to the end, until only the coffee grounds are left. And there you have it! Great coffee just ready to be poured into your favorite cup.
If you are not planning on drinking your coffee straight away, then you may want to decant it (another process we explore in this article). Simply place it in a thermos or coffee pot, and discard the coffee grounds so they don’t over-infuse your coffee.
A French press essentially works by steeping coffee in hot water, the same way you would a cup of tea. As opposed to sitting in water for a couple of seconds like drip coffee or being pressed through boiling water like espresso, the coffee grounds have a few minutes to “bloom” in the water and release their aroma. We love using a French press because it is easy to use and clean, quick, inexpensive, and doesn’t require any single-use coffee filters.
So far you probably got that a French press is a great, easy way to make coffee—but what good is that if it doesn’t taste nice? Fortunately, making coffee with a French press is a great way to get the full-spectrum of taste out of your coffee beans. With a French press, there is no filtration process: the oils that would be filtered out when making drip coffee are left in the beaker for you to enjoy. Add this to the fact that actually stepping in water for longer releases the flavor of coffee grounds the best, and you got yourself a cup of coffee with a rich flavor profile. With French press, you won’t be getting the intense taste of coffee that is created in a shot of espresso. But if what you’re looking for is a simple, well-rounded cup of coffee or a pitcher for your whole family, then a French press has got you covered.
Both are simple and easy to make, both give you a large cup of black coffee, and both are constant favorite with the people who champion them. So what is the big difference between French press coffee, and drip?
Well, first of all, a drip coffee machine may be quite a bit easier to use. This fully-automated device lets you place the ground coffee in its filter…and takes care of the rest. From brewing the coffee to keeping it hot, it’s a great device if you don’t want to have to think about making coffee.
With a French press, you will need to stay around to let your coffee steep, before filtering it by hand by pressing the plunger down. This is not a time consuming process, but it is something to think about. On the other hand, some people love making French press coffee in the morning, as it gives them a little ritual to follow when they first wake up.
With a drip machine, you’ll also have to wait a bit longer to get your morning cup of coffee: they can take up to 10 minutes before the coffee is ready to drink. A French press on the other hand, can serve you a cup in the space of 5 minutes, depending on how fast your kettle is to boil the water up.
Finally, let us address the most important question: how does it taste?
French press coffee differs from drip coffee in that it retains more of the sediment from the coffee grounds. In a drip machine, the filter that you use retains some of the oil from the coffee, as well as sediment. The result is a cup of coffee that has a lesser spectrum of flavor—but no annoying specs of coffee thickening the beverage up. Real coffee lovers will usually favor a French press brew which gives them more flavor and intensity, but some do remain partial to the lighter, easy-drinking coffee you can get from a drip machine.
When it comes to finding a good French press, you’re spoiled for choice. From individual ones to larger, family ones, you can get almost any size. The smallest size of French press will make coffee for 1 or 2 people, a larger one could get you up to 5 or 6 cups. It’s also worth noting that while most French presses are made out of glass, you could also get a metal one, which will keep your coffee warm for much longer. So when looking for the French press of your dreams, keep in mind what use you will be making of it.
While you can technically make any type of coffee in a French press, some beans and roasts respond much better than others. French press lovers tend to prefer a medium to dark roast, as this gives them a heavier, darker cup of coffee that is full of taste. With a lighter roast, you may be getting a cup of coffee that is too mild, or not very interesting. On the other hand, brewing a dark roast with anything other than a French press can easily result in a bitter, overwhelming experience.
French press coffee should be made with beans that are ground quite coarsely. Aim for a coarse to medium-coarse grind setting. The danger in having coffee beans that are ground too finely is that they will over-steep much faster, resulting in a bitter coffee. That being said, grounds that are too coarse could result in a very weak cup of coffee, so experiment a bit around a medium-coarse grind until you find just the size that works for you.
Although it can seem easier to buy your coffee pre-ground, a really great cup requires you to grind your coffee fresh, every day. Not only does grinding your own coffee let you experiment with the grind setting more, it will also release a much fresher aroma into your cup. So when it comes to choosing your coffee grind, there isn’t really an option: grind it yourself for best results.
The amount of coffee that you should put in your French press will really depend on the size of your machine, and the strength that you are after. In a basic, small two-persons French press, aim to put between 4 to 7 tablespoons of coffee, depending on the strength level you are after. 5 will be mild, 7 much stronger. With a large, 51 oz. French press, you’ll need to go as big as 16 tablespoons for a mild cup of coffee, 25 for a strong one. Here are some guidelines for determining the amount of coffee grounds you should add in to your French press for a medium-strength cup of coffee:
3-cups French press: 5 tablespoons
4-cups French press: 7 tablespoons
6-cups French press: 10 tablespoons
8-cups French press: 14 tablespoons
12-cups French press: 21 tablespoons
Bear in mind that the strength of the coffee beans that you get will also impact the outcome, as will the steeping time.
The rule of thumb for letting your French press coffee steep is 3 to 4 minutes. The steeping time will affect the taste of the coffee, and its strength. So if you have a preference for something a bit lighter, 2 minutes might be ideal for you. On the other hand, you could leave it up to 10 minutes if you really like strong coffee. Be careful though, if you leave coffee in for too long, it will release too much bitter aroma, resulting in an unpleasant cup of coffee.
To decant or not to decant
Coffee experts say that coffee made in a French press should be decanted before it is served. This means that you shouldn’t let the brew you’ve made sit around in the beaker, but rather place it somewhere else to avoid over-extraction. Indeed, even after you’ve filtered the coffee with the plunger, the beans at the bottom can still infuse your coffee, and risk giving it an unpleasant, bitter aftertaste. So a decanter has two purposes: it keeps your coffee warm, and it avoids it getting bitter.
This is mainly useful for larger French presses that make more than a few cups of coffee. If you are making coffee for yourself in an individual French press, simply pour yourself a cup as soon as you’ve filtered the coffee, and you should manage to avoid that dreaded bitterness.
A French press needs to be cleaned regularly for hygiene reasons…and to produce the best cup of coffee. As soon as you have finished using your French press, discard the coffee grounds at the bottom in your bin, or (even better) in your compost or organic waste trash can. Then, take your French press apart. That means separating the beaker from the plunger, the filter, the base, and the lid. Unless your machine says otherwise, all of those parts should be dishwasher-safe, meaning that the easiest way to clean them is simply to stick them in the dishwasher. If you don’t have a dishwasher, wash them by hands with some soap, being careful to remove the bits of coffee grounds that may be sticking to the beaker or filter. Give them a thorough rinse, leave them to dry and reassemble the machine. This process shouldn’t take more than a few minutes but it is important: making coffee in an unclean French press can result in some unpleasant after tastes, and won’t give you the cup of coffee you were expecting.
A French press is an easy machine to use, which lets you make great coffee in a matter of minutes. We love how easy it is to use, and the fullness of flavors that it can produce. Compared to drip coffee, using a French press requires more effort, and you may be getting some specks of coffee grounds in your cup. Overall however, it remains one of the best ways to make coffee at home if you are one who enjoys a full-tasting, powerful cup of coffee with a wealth of flavors.