A Common Sense Guide to French Press Coffee


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A view of a French press coffee maker with freshly brewed coffee surrounded by hot smoke and other coffee equipment.
A French press coffee maker with freshly brewed coffee.

The French press is one of the most classic brewing methods, and it caught on around the same time that the espresso machines were becoming popular. Before the French press, making coffee at home was something a little messier; one would have to use cloth filters and the like to pour the coffee into a decanter.

This, combined with several different items, made the process of making filtered coffee at home messy and a little ineffective. Hence, the French press was invented. It serves as three different elements: Decanter, filter, and receptacle for used coffee grounds. This little invention might not seem all that much, but it has been around for so long and still is one of the best ways to make coffee attests to the French press’s ability to make good coffee.

That said, making coffee in a French press has a lot of ins and outs. There are plenty of different ways to use the French press, enabling you to experiment and make unique coffee.

Principal characteristics of a French press:

● Works with a metallic mesh filter. This means grind sizes that aren’t coarse enough will leak into your cup; Coarse grind is the only option.

● Works with a piston or plunger, which you must press down slowly to separate coffee grounds from the water.

● It is also ideal from brewing tea and can double as a milk frother.

In this article, we’ll go over the standard method and a few guides that deviate from the status quo.

Common Sense Coffee's Jefferson Roast is a perfect single-origin coffee to use with a French press.
Common Sense Coffee’s Jefferson Roast is a perfect single-origin coffee to use with a French press.

Standard Method

One of the most used coffee-to-water ratios is 1:15. For this recipe, we’ll be using 600 grams of water and 40 grams of ground coffee.

How to:

  1. Boil water in a kettle, turn the heat off and set aside.
  2. Pour coffee grounds in your French press.
  3. Water should be at around 202F now; Pour to one-third of the way up.
  4. Wait 30 seconds for the coffee to bloom (foam forms on top of it).
  5. Set a timer to 4 minutes. Start.
  6. Pour the rest of the water, place the lid on the French press with the plunger up.
  7. Once the timer marks 3:50, start pressing down very slowly.
  8. You should be done around the 4:10 mark.
  9. Serve immediately.

Estimated brewing time: 4:40

Strength: Medium

Yields 2 cups

Important to consider when using the French press is that the numbers we’re giving to you matter a great deal. Since the French press is such a manual, simple brewing method, people tend to eyeball quantities and not pay much attention to these small details.

Always use a scale to calculate precisely how much coffee and water you’re using. Be careful about the water temperature — since there is no machine heating the water up to the ideal temperature, this is the factor that most people get wrong. Either use a thermometer or follow the tip we gave you earlier: Boil the water first thing, then start getting everything ready. Hopefully, by the time you need to use the water, between 5–10 minutes will have passed, and the temperature will be in the ideal spectrum for French press coffee (190–202F).

Let’s take a look at a different method for brewing coffee in our French press:

Strong French Press Coffee

For this recipe, we’ll be using a 1:13 ratio and a slightly more elegant grind size. Something between filtered coffee grind and French press grind would be ideal, but you can also use medium grind intended for filtered coffee (Drip coffee, Hario V60, etc.).

How to:

  1. Sift the coffee grounds to avoid using the finer ones, which would leak into your cup easily.
  2. Pour 20 grams of ground coffee.
  3. Heat up 260 ml of water to 200F.
  4. Pour 20ml. Wait 10 seconds, and stir lightly with a spoon.
  5. Pour 40ml immediately after mixing, and wait 30 seconds.
  6. Set a timer to 2 minutes.
  7. Pour the rest of the water.
  8. After two minutes, press down on the plunger.
  9. Serve immediately.

Estimated brewing time: 3 minutes

Strength: Strong

Yields 1 cup

For recipes like these, a small scale is a lifesaver. These types are a common sight in coffee shops; We recommend buying what’s called a coffee scale, which are scales made of the perfect size for brewing coffee like in the previous recipe. Again, these quantities are carefully calculated, and rough estimates will not yield the same results.

As an additional tip, you may try skipping the plunger step. Some baristas -and famously James Hoffman- argue that this step is not quite as necessary and simply results in coffee grounds making their way into your cup. For this to work, wait until most of the coffee grounds have sunk all the way down to the bottom of your French press and then pour gently.

Long Brew Guide

Regularly, longer steeping time means bitter coffee. However, the longer we steep coffee, the more caffeine, and flavor we can extract. Here is a recipe that aims to maximize steeping time while avoiding bitterness. Using the coarsest grind possible to find and adjust water temperature, we can achieve a very different flavor than we usually get from the French press. The ratio for this recipe is 1:18.

How to:

  1. Heat up the French press with hot water to avoid temperature loss.
  2. Pour 30 grams of the coarsest possible grind.
  3. Heat up 540 ml of water to 195F.
  4. Pour all the water in one go.
  5. Place the lid on top to minimize the loss of temperature.
  6. Set a timer to 6 minutes.
  7. After 6 minutes, press plunger down quickly.
  8. Serve immediately.

Estimated brewing time: 7 minutes

Strength: Medium, light

Yields 2 cups/1 mug

Heating up the French press before using it is a good idea, especially if you’re following a recipe that calls for extended periods of steeping. Your goal is to maintain the water temperature level it was before you pour. When we pour into any sort of material, and this material hasn’t been heated, a small loss of temperature occurs — something that this recipe cannot afford. It is not necessary for every kind of method, but it is for this one.

With that, you should be more than ready to make great French press coffee. Remember, experimenting is the most important thing when it comes to making great coffee. After all, everyone has an opinion of what great coffee is: Keep tweaking these recipes until you find the one that satisfies your palate.

Happy brewing! And if you're in the market to buy a French press coffee maker, we highly recommend the Mueller French Press!

For recommending more brew guides or other suggestions, please head over to our website to submit your recommendation. We read every single comment!


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