As PurelyCoffeeBeans knows, using a French press coffee maker is really simple. It’s an enjoyable experience that will fill your kitchen with the aroma of freshly brewed coffee. And the annual sale of 2.5 million units suggests that Americans also like to buy them!
You will also be able to taste that freshness in every cup of French press coffee, because using a French coffee press extracts the genuine flavor out of every bean. Perhaps that’s why it is one of the most popular of all manual coffee makers.
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Now before I begin: Do you know what a French press is called in the UK? Answer at the bottom!
What will I learn about making coffee in a French press?
- How does a French press coffee maker work?
- How do you choose a French press coffee maker?
- What kind of coffee do you use in a French press?
- How do you make French press coffee in basic steps?
- How do you make the best coffee in French presses?
- Can I make iced coffee in a French press?
- How can I clean a French press? Cleaning is VERY important
- Which French press coffee maker do I buy?
How does a French press coffee maker work?
The effect of steeping the coffee grounds in the hot water is effective at drawing out the truest flavor of the coffee bean. Unlike drip coffee makers, a French press extracts the essence of coffee in it’s purest form. A drip maker only gets the grounds wet with hot water for a short amount of time.
As one of the several different kinds of manual coffee makers, the French press coffee maker is relatively easy to use. The coffee maker itself is 100% manual, requiring no outside power source other than to heat the water that you will be pouring into the chamber. Consisting of the water chamber itself, a lid and the filter / plunger this coffee system is very easy to use.
In this Twitter post, you can see how a French Press coffee maker is assembled from Michael Nykamp who adds, “Simple exploded technical illustration of a French Press, designed by YIELD (Yield Design Co).” Nykamp’s illustration is very similar to the original patented design in 1929 by Attilio Calimani, Giulio Moneta. It seems their patent only just expired Dec. 1st!
How do you choose a French Press Coffee maker?
The entire experience of French pressing your coffee should be completely enjoyable. The biggest difference is selecting either a single walled carafe or double walled carafe. Many people feel the glass carafes with their stylish good looks add to this enjoyment.
So think about if you prefer the traditional good looking glass models or want to opt for one of the stainless steel models which will insulate your coffee better than glass will. It’s true that the glass carafes really will not hold the heat of your coffee for long, so unless you are planning to serve more than 2 or 3 cups at a time, the smaller models will fill your needs very well.
Purchasing a 10 or 12 cup capacity press is only recommended if you select the double walled model, or intend to serve up large amounts from one press.
Glass vs. stainless steel: heat vs. flavor
Stainless steel presses are known for their ability to retain the heat of your coffee without it turning bitter for longer than their glass cousins, but beware of products that are poorly constructed or made from cheap materials.
As with everything, you get what you pay for. A budget stainless steel carafe may leave a metal taste in your brew, for example, so you will want to avoid any product that looks poorly manufactured. Check the reviews carefully for quality manufacture problems.
*Thanks to Cherylnkay of Portland who pointed out the poor organization of my sentence previously because my wording confused her (and many other readers, too!). I’ve rewritten the text to clarify what I mean. I accidentally conflated two different ideas with my poor word choice. So I have split and reorganized the entire paragraph.
If you are going to really experience the French press, the coffee is as it should be, a French press similar to the popular Mueller French Press Double-Wall Stainless (below) is well worth buying.
Finding your first French press
There are many brands on the market right now, so it shouldn’t be difficult to find a French press that is priced to your budget. Here are five tips on choosing a good model:
- Buy a French press that is well-made. I’ve broken quite a few, and found the cheaper presses (with thinner glass beakers) tend to break very easily, especially if they are knocked in the sink. Quite a frequent occurrence. Also, check for replacement beakers availability. Or buy a metal French press.
- Some French Presses claim to provide 8 cups (these cups are European sized demi-tasses) in some larger sizes. I rarely find this to be even close to what I consume. I usually pour a 10-12 fl.oz drink each morning, and that’s most of a smaller 4 cup-press pot. Choose an appropriate size for your regular use.
- Does the glass beaker fit well the metal frame in which rests? When you pour, make sure it doesn’t come loose and spill hot coffee everywhere!
- Also, when you open the jug, make sure it sits properly on the table. You don’t want it cobbling over. Some users have noted that some jugs aren’t well-balanced because the four feet are misaligned.
- Does the plunger actually plunge properly? You’ll be using this when there’s hot coffee in the jug, so you won’t want to use too much force… or accidents might happen.
What kind of coffee do you use in a French press?
Your favorite type of coffee! It’s important to note that any coffee you do use in your French press coffee maker should be coarsely ground. Ideally, grind your coffee just before brewing and you will enjoy the best cup you have ever tasted.
Ideally, you’ll want to use fresh beans that have been roasted within the past ten days. Coffee beans that have been roasted a while ago will fail to deliver a pleasing cup, so check the roasting date.
Never use beans for a French press that have been roasted less than three days ago; the carbon gasses released by the bean after roasting must have a chance to escape, while the beans ‘rest’ before you grind them for a press pot.
One of the real advantages with knowing how to use French press pots is that you can pretty much use any kind of coffee bean, with any kind of roast. It’s a very flexible way to make coffee, so let’s go on.
Don’t forget the water!
The water you use has a significant effect on the taste of your finished coffee, so as will any coffee making process, be certain that the water you use is good tasting, too.
Grinding Away: Larger is Better
Use a good quality burr coffee grinder to get larger, uniform grounds (medium ground). The larger the coffee grounds, the easier it is to press down the plunger. If you over grind the beans, you will find that the infusion suffers and you will see residue in your final cup.
How do you make French press coffee in basic steps?
Step 1: It’s a very simple and relaxing process. Begin by heating some water up in a teakettle or pan until a near boiling.
Step 2: While the water is heating, place 1 tablespoon measure of coarsely ground coffee per 8 oz of water into the bottom of the chamber of your French press coffee maker.
Step 3: Next, slowly pour in the heated water, resisting the urge to dump in all in at once. Stir the coffee grounds and water just a bit, and then cover the French press pot with the lid to keep the heat in and let it sit undisturbed for at least 5 minutes.
Step 4: After your coffee has brewed, using medium pressure, press the plunger down to the very bottom of the pot to trap all the grounds. You can now pour and enjoy your cup of French pressed coffee.
Never use Boiling Water
Before you grind the beans, start heating your water. When it just begins to boil, start your grinding. This way the water will cool off to just the right temperature by the time the coffee beans are ground. The water should be between 190-205 Fahrenheit.
Your goal is to infuse the coffee into the water, not to parboil the coffee grounds. If the water is boiling, it will simply cook the coffee and destroy the delicate flavors you are trying to capture. In fact, this tip really is quite useful for many forms of coffee, including instant coffee!
Top Tip: Warm the French Press
It is a good idea to take off the lid, plunger and filter from your French press while the water is heating. Fill it with hot water from the tap to warm up the press or kettle and help keep your coffee hot. Pour it out before you add your ground coffee.
How do you make the best coffee in French Presses? – Advanced Tips
Now spoon the coffee ground into the bottom of the press and slowly pour the hot water over them. You can stir it once or twice to encourage the grounds to absorb the hot water and sink to the bottom instead of floating on top.
Set the lid unit
Replace the filter, plunger and lid and let the coffee steep for about three minutes. The plunger should be in the unused position, i.e. it should be fully extended upwards. Do NOT be tempted at this stage to press the plunger because you must wait for a few minutes for the coffee to brew properly.
Wait, wait… wait.
I usually time it to between 3-5 minutes. The stronger you like your coffee, the longer it should steep. If you don’t have a timer, perhaps it’s the length of the morning weather report!
I usually light stir the coffee at this point. Then hold the lid with one hand, slowly press down the plunger. Be sure that you keep the rod straight and apply gentle but steady pressure.
If you use too much force it’s possible that you’ll be burned by hot coffee shooting out of the press or you crack the class with the force, and coffee/glass spews everywhere. Once the plunger is depressed all the way, let the coffee settle for a few seconds then pour into your waiting cup or mug.
Of course, there are some ways that you have to know how not how to use French press pots. For example, don’t force the plunger all the way down, either. The bottom of the glass contains coffee grounds that will have swelled in size during the infusion. So you won’t be able to get the plunger down more than 90% of the way. Don’t even try.
That’s it. It’s really quite easy to find out how to use French press pots.
Serve ALL the coffee
You should probably dispense as much of the coffee as you can first time, because the glass doesn’t really keep the coffee that warm, and the coffee may still continue to brew in the grounds in the bottom.
Tip: Use a thermal flask to keep the remaining coffee hot until needed. Never leave coffee sitting in the press or try to keep it warm; a French press is meant to brew coffee that is consumed immediately after brewing.
James Hoffman Teaches “The Ultimate French Press Techniques”
The former World Barista Champion and Barista from Mile Coffee Roasters teaches us how to make it the right way! This video is well worth watching! He goes through his steps in quite a lot of detail. Only 3 minutes 33 seconds!
Can I make Iced Coffee in a French Press?
The French press is a multi-purpose device and can be used to make a variety of other drinks, too. So, think iced-tea in summer. Green tea infuses well, too. It’s a generally good piece of equipment for modern kitchens.
While these days you can get French presses in all sorts of colors and types of materials, I quite like the traditional glass beaker with gold-plated metal frames. It really looks attractive on your counter top!
There are also other ways you can explore if you really love the simplicity of how to use French press pots. Try making iced coffee in it, try adjusting the amounts, add flavors, syrups, too, if you dare. It’s a coffee making method that’s extremely simple, flexible, and convenient!
The concept of the French press was around in the 19th century but no one had the means to make a mesh filter that fitted tightly enough to prevent leakage of the coffee grounds.
Recipe #1: Simple French Press Iced Coffee Method
My favorite way to make coffee is in a french press. Take a large french press and add 1/3 cup medium roast coffee, then fill with water. Stick it in the fridge for at least 8 hours or overnight, and presto! Iced coffee ready for the morning! Pour the finished coffee over ice.
If it’s too strong feel free to dilute with a little cold water. I’m glad to spread the gospel of iced coffee, the best way to enjoy coffee in the summer!
Recipe #2: French Press Coffee Makes an ‘Iced’ Easy Mocha
by Irene Johnston
Since it’s been so hot this summer, iced is the only way I can stand to drink my coffee now! I prefer to use freshly ground beans and a French press for iced coffee. Since the press tends to make stronger coffee than a regular coffee pot it works particularly well for iced coffee.
I rarely measure the beans, but every morning I will typically use about two tablespoons of freshly ground coffee. While I typically use a medium roast, Jamaica Me Crazy is a nice lightly-flavored treat once in a while. I generally make about 8-oz of coffee at a time.
One of the great things about using a press is that the grounds are still useable; I can add more hot water once or twice and still make good strong coffee. Generally I’ll let the grounds sit for about a minute in the hot water, then slowly lower the press (this time can be extended a bit if I’m reusing grounds from earlier in the day). Once the coffee looks nice and dark I just pour it over ice and I’m done.
I generally drink my coffee black; since I live alone and would really only use milk or cream for my coffee I never go through enough to buy it consistently. However, I do occasionally use chocolate flavored soy milk in my coffees. I find the flavor much richer than using diary-based chocolates and it’s an easy and affordable way to turn my normal coffee into a mocha.
How can I clean a French Press? Cleaning is VERY important
A French presses should be thoroughly cleaned after each use so that oils don’t build up on the glass. You can clean a freshly used jug with cold running water and perhaps a wine glass sponge. Clean it gently.
Now, I know that manufacturers say that French Presses are ‘dishwasher safe’. I’m sure they are. But when you turn on the machine, you can’t really control what happens as the French press is pummelled by the spray jets. Will it fall on its side? Who knows? I recommend gently washing and let it drip dry by itself. The less handling the better, says the man who’s broken four of them!
For more on cleaning coffee makers, check out this reader’s question.
Why make coffee in a French Press Coffee Maker?
One of my favorite ways to brew coffee is with a French press. Why? Well, French Press Makers brew up a wonderful tasting coffee for you. Not only that, it’s a glamorous way to make coffee, made with lovely shiny bronzes and glass. Learn more about French Presses here.
Key Summary Points for the French Press:
- Makes 2~4 cups easily (or about 1 ~ 2 mugs)
- Needs coffee ground for French press, medium ground.
- Glass jugs are beautiful, but can be broken.
I’ve used quite a few over the years, and loved them for their gorgeous looks. I don’t have any now… they’re all broken!
- Equipment Cost: 4.0 – Once you buy your pot, you really don’t need to buy much else except coffee. Typically prices range from $15 to $35, the cheaper models tend to be made of plastic or cheap glass, while the more expensive models may be double-hulled to keep your beverage warm. Be careful, your French press pot can be easy to break, especially if it is glass or plastic.
- Convenience: 3.5 – It’s one of the most convenient manual methods of making coffee. Simply add several spoonfuls of an appropriate grind, add hot water, and wait for 3~4 minutes. After a few minutes, slowly press then pour. Wash up is easy too. You can simply rinse off the jug and plunger!
- Coffee Quality: 3.0 – I reckon you receive a fuller, natural flavor from the coffee by pressing your coffee in this manner. Watch for the size of coffee grounds you want to use, you need slightly larger grounds. If they’re too fine, you’ll get lots of ‘silt’ in your coffee (like a Turkish or Greek coffee almost). The biggest drawback is that the coffee does not remain hot for long, so look for a double-hulled French press pot to avert the heat loss. Also, the coffee can become bitter if you forget to press the plunger! So watch the time!
In short, if you need decent coffee in simple machine, this is for you, otherwise if you like your coffee lawsuit hot… keep reading! I’ll add more here about using and selecting a French press …
Don’t ask for French press in the UK… they’ll probably tell you to visit a laundromat! It’s called a ‘cafetiere’, from the French word ‘cafetière’. It’s pronounced…
Looking for new equipment, check out the coffee makers, coffee grinders, and bean roasters page.