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Ultimate Guide to French Press Coffee

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By Matt Woodburn-Simmonds

French press coffee is one of the simplest and most popular brewing methods available. If you’re new to this style of coffee, think rich, smooth, indulgent… French.

As brewing methods go, it couldn’t be simpler: ground coffee and hot water left for a few minutes before plunging. But like all things, there are ways to perfect this seemingly simple method of coffee brewing.

To help you master your brew, we have put together this guide on all things French press coffee. Read on for helpful tips on how to use a French press, learn about the best coffee-to-water ratio to use, the ideal grind size, and common mistakes to avoid.

Whether you drink French press every day or only on lazy Sundays, this brewing guide will help take your coffee to the next level.

This article may contain affiliate/ compensated links. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases at no additional cost to you. For more information please see our disclaimer here.

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What is a French Press Coffee Maker?

French Press is the “most underrated method of brewing coffee” – James Hoffman in The World Atlas of Coffee.

If you’re new to using this type of coffee maker, don’t worry. As brewing methods go, the French press is inexpensive and easy to get the hang of – they consist of just a carafe and plunger.

Despite the French getting a name check, the current design was patented in 1929 by two Italians – Attilio Calimani and Giulio Moneta. This design is still used today.

But, digging into the origin of the French press coffee maker will take you back to 1852 when the first documented evidence is found. At this time, a simpler version held the patent: the brainchild of two Frenchmen – Mayer and Delforge.

Since then, the French and Italians have argued back and forth over who can call it their own. But, wherever it started, its popularity has grown around the world thanks to the easy, delicious flavor.

Around the world, you may hear the French press coffee maker referred to as la / a cafetière, coffee plunger, or coffee press. But they all mean the same thing.

French press coffee on a wooden table
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How to use a French Press

Follow this quick, easy French press coffee recipe and be rewarded with delicious, rich coffee. Every time.

Time needed: 5 minutes

1. Grind Your Beans

Coarse ground coffee

For the best-tasting cup of joe, you need to freshly grind whole coffee beans – the pre-ground supermarket stuff just doesn’t hit the same.

So, set your grinder to a coarse setting and grind enough beans for the number of cups you are making. Our French press ratio guide will help, but a good starting place is 2tbsp to every 5oz of water.

Not all grinders are created equal, so make sure to use one that performs well at the coarse end of the spectrum. Our French press grinder guide will set you on the right path.

2. Heat the Water

Heat the water to 195-200ºF. If you have a thermometer or temperature-controlled kettle this will be fairly straightforward. But, if you are doing this “blind”, heat the water to boiling then allow it to cool for 1 minute before you pour over the waiting coffee grounds.

Whilst you are waiting, add boiling water to the empty brewing chamber to keep the whole coffee maker hot throughout the brewing process.

3. Let the Coffee “Bloom”

Coffee grounds being left to "bloom" in a French press

Add coffee grounds and an equal amount of water to the weight of coffee beans and wait for 30-45 seconds. The mixture will become frothy – this is the gases from the grounds escaping and is called the “bloom”. This stage is critical for making barista-level coffee at home, it transforms good coffee into great coffee.

After 45 seconds, stir with a wooden coffee stir stick like a bamboo paddle or chopstick.

4. Pour the Water

After you have stirred your coffee grinds, pour in the rest of your water and stir a little – but not too much.

5. Steep Your Coffee Brew

Place the lid on – but don’t press the plunger. Start your timer and aim for 3 minutes 30 seconds, so a total of just over 4 minutes with “bloom” time. This is the bit that will need some tweaking to get just right:

If your coffee is thin and acidic, steep for longer. If you find it too bitter, try reducing the steeping time. With a little practice, you’ll get this nailed down to an art form.

6. Plunge and Serve

Hands pressing plunger on French press coffee maker

Now that your coffee is perfectly extracted, press the plunger down and pour. If you have extra, fill a thermos flask so you can enjoy it later.

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How to Make French Press Cold Brew Coffee

If hot coffee isn’t for you, or you just want a more refreshing drink on a hot day, you will want this recipe for how to use a French press to make cold brew coffee.

Infographic: How to make Cold Brew in a French Press

1. Freshly grind your beans – To start, you need coarse ground coffee. Use our coffee-to-water guide to help work out how much ground coffee you need, but a good place to start is 2tbsp (12 grams) of coffee for every 5oz of water (150ml). After grinding, pour the ground coffee into the brewing chamber.

2. Add the water – The joy of making cold brew coffee is that you don’t need to pre-boil the water. Instead, room-temperature water is perfect. Once added, stir with a wooden coffee stir stick like a chopstick.

3. Steep in the refrigerator – Place the lid back on but don’t press the plunger. Then place your French press in the fridge overnight.

4. Remove, plunge, and enjoy – When you wake in the morning, all that’s left to do is remove your press from the fridge and push down the plunger. Now you can enjoy your cold brew, French press coffee.

Top Tip: If you have a whipped cream dispenser, you can make nitro cold brew coffee at home by using our guide.

Read Next: Best Cold Brew Coffee Beans

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Common Mistakes to Avoid

Learning how to use a French press for the perfect brew means learning the most common mistakes so they don’t catch you out:

Grinding Too Finely

The main mistake people make is the size of the grounds. If your grind is too fine, it will cause over-extraction and very bitter coffee.

To help, most grinders will tell you the range you should use for French press. And, although it may need slight tweaking depending on your own preference, it should only take a couple of tries to get it exactly how you want it. 

Of course, if you use pre-ground coffee, the size will already be right. But you’ll never get the same great coffee flavors as freshly ground delivers.

Burning the Coffee Grounds

Brewing temperature is crucial to get the right extraction from your beans. And it is surprisingly easy to burn coffee grounds and something that’s best avoided to save you from a bitter, burnt-tasting cup of joe that will be oh so disappointing. So don’t pour boiling water over your delicious, freshly ground coffee.

The ideal coffee brewing temperature is 200ºF/ 93ºC.

We use a temperature-controlled kettle to ensure our water is at the correct temperature. But you can also use an instant thermometer like the kind you’d use to check the temperature of meat. Either option works to ensure you’re brewing at the optimal temperature.

As the temperature is a key variable, it’s important to pre-heat your French press. Otherwise, achieving the perfect temperature will be pointless when it hits a cold coffee brewer. 

Using Distilled Water

The chemical makeup of your water will affect the final flavor of your coffee (yup, we are that geeky!)

To make the best coffee, you should avoid using distilled water as the lack of dissolved minerals will make a flat, flavorless cup. Filtered tap water or bottled mineral water is ideal for coffee extraction.

Being Impatient (or Forgetful)

When you’re in need of coffee and waiting for it to brew, it can be tempting to plunge too early.

Avoid that temptation.

You’ll soon regret your impatience as you sip on acidic, thin, under-extracted coffee.

But, the opposite is also true: If you walk away and leave your French press coffee brewing for way too long, you will be equally disappointed. The result is a very strong but insanely bitter coffee that is offensive to everyone who worked hard to bring you those excellent coffee beans.

Your best bet is to use a timer rather than just guess how long your coffee has been brewing. Most people carry a timer in their pocket (a mobile phone), so you don’t need to buy any extra equipment.

The ideal time to brew French press is four minutes. This includes 30 seconds of “bloom” time for maximum flavor extraction.

Psst… Want to see how the French press stacks up against other top coffee makers? Check out the following comparisons:

French Press vs Espresso | AeroPress vs French Press | French Press vs Moka Pot

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Choosing Your Coffee Beans

The key to fabulous French press coffee is to start with quality whole coffee beans.

Where the French press differs from other brewing methods is its versatility. So, unlike espresso which needs specific espresso beans, when making French press coffee you can opt for any roast level from any coffee-producing country that you like. It’s a great exploration of coffee: try different regions and different degrees of roasted coffee beans to find your perfect brew.

The only thing to be aware of is ensuring your coffee beans are being ethically sourced. As a consumer, it’s important to ensure fair wages are paid to the farmers and that there is an emphasis on environmental sustainability. This transparency is more common when buying specialty coffee beans.

Read Next: Best Coffee for French Press

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Best Coffee Grind to use with French Press

First up, to get the best French press coffee you need to use freshly ground beans:

Ground coffee starts to lose its flavor 15 minutes after grinding. So pre-ground coffee will never have the same exciting coffee flavors as freshly ground.

When it comes to using a French press, you want coarse ground coffee so your grinder needs to be set towards the coarsest setting. For ideal extraction, the grind size should be about the size of kosher salt crystals.

If you go too fine, the grounds will slip through the mesh filter and leave you with a rather chewy cup of coffee. Or, if you have a poor-quality grinder, you will end up with uneven grounds, coffee bits getting through the filter, and a shoddy cup of joe.

From the different types of coffee grinders available, your best bet is to choose a burr coffee grinder.

Psst.. Need help picking the best grinder for French Press. Click here to check out our reviews of all the top picks.

Short on time? Spoiler alert: the top pick is the Breville Smart Grinder Pro

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Water to Coffee Ratio

The coffee to water ratio for French Press is crucial to getting the best tasting cup of coffee.

You may see a golden ratio expressed as something between 1:11 and 1:17. This works by splitting your brew up into ‘parts’ where 1 is the coffee and the second number is how many parts of water. But it all boils down to how strong you like your coffee.

We recommend starting with 2 tbsp of ground coffee for every 5oz of water (a little stronger than the traditional drip coffee brewing ratio). If this feels a little strong then dial back the coffee about 0.5oz at a time until it’s just right. Not strong enough, then up the amount of coffee.

To get to grips with the perfect French press ratio, check out our full guide including a done-for-you calculator:

Infographic: handy coffee to water ratio French press guide
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Choosing Your French Press

A French press coffee maker is a very simple piece of equipment – it’s just a vessel and a plunger. So when it comes to choosing your French press device, ask yourself these questions to get best one for your needs:

Infographic: How to choose a French press coffee maker

How Many Cups?

One of the main factors in choosing your French press is the size. You can choose anything from a single serving up to large vessels suitable for entertaining.

Too small and you will spend all your time waiting for your coffee to steep. Too big and you are left with too much coffee for one sitting (yes, it is possible to have too much coffee).

When looking at the sizes of coffee presses (or any other coffee makers), it can be confusing as they quote the size either in ounces or cups. For example, a 12oz coffee press will be advertised as a 3 cup size. But this refers to a traditional coffee cup (tasse à café) which is 4oz.

Generally speaking, 12oz is the size of a standard mug (a Tall cup from Starbucks) – so 12oz is a 1-person French press.

Luckily, they aren’t too expensive so you can have more than one in different sizes.

What is it Made of?

The body of your French press carafe can be made of a range of materials with little difference in quality. So, pick one that suits your aesthetic best.

Borosilicate glass (heat-resistant) or plastic gives you a view of your coffee and are generally the more affordable options. But whilst glass will be of higher quality, it won’t stand up to being dropped on the floor like plastic will.

On the other hand, stainless steel or even the less common ceramic provides better heat insulation. So, your coffee will stay warmer for longer (especially if it’s double-walled stainless steel) – but you will pay more for the privilege.

How Good is the Filter?

The filter is part of the plunger and is a vital part of your French press coffee maker:

It is made up of three stainless steel fine mesh layers. You want these to fit tightly to the walls of the carafe. If it doesn’t, you will end up with an unpleasant cup full of coffee grounds.

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Best French Press Coffee Makers

Barista Warrior French Press

$$

Barista Warrior French Press

In-built thermometer

Stainless steel, available in a range of finishes

Top Choice: Bodum Chambord

$$

Bodum Chambord - Top Choice for Best French Press Coffee Maker

Heat resistant borosilicate glass

Stainless steel frame, available in a chrome or copper finish

Yama Glass French Press

$

Yama Glass French Press

Modern, stylish design

Heat resistant borosilicate glass

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Top Travel Coffee Press’

If you want to enjoy French whilst traveling or camping, you need a travel press: This is the perfect French press coffee solution for coffee lovers on the go – a travel mug with an integrated press.

For our full reviews, check out our guide on the Best Traveling French Press Coffee Makers.

Bodum Travel Press

$

Bodum Barista Travel Press

Interchangeable lids to use as either a travel mug or a French press

Can also use for loose leaf tea

Top Choice: BruTrek OVRLNDR

$$

BruTrek OVRLNDR: Top Travel Press Mug

Designed with campers in mind

Bottom is removable to make cleaning easy

Stanley Classic 16oz

$

Stanley Classic 16oz Travel French Press Maker

Lifetime warranty

Excellent heat insulation – will keep coffee hot for up to 4 hours

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How to Clean a French Press Coffee Maker

All the best coffees start in pristine, clean coffee makers.

Your French press isn’t like a wok which gets seasoned over time. Instead, those leftover coffee grinds and oils are taking everything you’ve learned about how to brew French press for delicious flavor and pouring it down the sink.

Luckily it couldn’t be easier to clean, just follow this step-by-step guide: 

1. Let it cool down – At the risk of sounding like your mum, please don’t try to burn yourself. Instead, let your coffee maker cool down whilst you enjoy your brew and come back to the cleaning invigorated from the caffeine. 

2. Empty the coffee grounds – To avoid a call to your soon-to-be-upset plumber, don’t pour the grounds down the sink. This will result in blocked pipes. Instead, add a little water to the carafe, swirl it around, and pour the water and dislodged grounds into a mesh sieve.  

To minimize any waste going down the pipes, rinse the plunger off over the sieve too. Luckily, coffee grounds can easily be recycled.  

3. Rinse and scrub – Add some warm water and dish soap then pop the plunger back in and plunge a few times to remove some of the coffee stains and oils. Then take a sponge or brush and thoroughly clean the carafe and plunger separately. Take care around the filter. 

If there are any stubborn stains, use baking soda and a brush. 

4. Rinse and dry – Thoroughly rinse your French press to prevent any soap from getting into your next brew. Dry and get ready to make your next French press coffee. 

Ultimate French press coffee guide
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The Final Word

We are big fans of French press coffee, and truly believe you will be too.

With this brewing guide at the ready, we hope you will no longer be left wondering how to use a French press. All that’s left for you to do is choose your coffee maker and beans. Then, get to work making your perfect brew. 

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Matt Woodburn-Simmonds

Matt's coffee obsession started in 2006 when working as a Barista. A tendency to turn up to work hungover kickstarted his coffee journey which quickly turned into a love affair. As he moved on to work as a Restaurant Manager and Sommelier, the obsession continued to grow. Now, his passion is helping others to enjoy better coffee at home.

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