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Ultimate Guide to French Press Coffee

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By Matt Woodburn-Simmonds

The easiest manual brewing method which can also result in some of the best-tasting coffee. French press should be at the top of any coffee lover’s list of brewing methods to try if only because the equipment is so cheap, the difficulty so low, and the coffee quality so high.

Our guide to French press coffee covers everything you need to know to get the best out of this brewing method and enjoy amazing coffee at home with ease.

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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 2 tbsp 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.

Alternative Method

Coffee legend James Hoffman, 2007 World Barista of the Year, has his own little twist on the classic French press brewing method to get crystal clear coffee without the usual fine sediment at the bottom.

After you’ve finished brewing, when you’d normally plunge and pour your French press. James breaks up the crust at the top of the carafe and scoops all the floating grounds and foam out. You don’t need to get everything, just most of it.

He then leaves it for 5 minutes, this allows the fine sediment to settle at the bottom of the carafe.

After resting for 5 minutes, push the plunger to the surface of the liquid, we don’t want to disturb the fine sediment at the bottom, and then pour.

You will be rewarded with a clearer and brighter cup of coffee than using the traditional method. It does involve more time but you needed to wait for the coffee to cool down a bit anyway.

Our Recommended Gear

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Our favorite manual grinder, the 1Zpresso J Ultra
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Breville Smart Grinder Pro – top electric grinder
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A digital coffee scale for accuracy
Fellow Stagg EKG gooseneck kettle
Temperature-controlled Stagg EKG kettle
Stirring French Press coffee with a bamboo paddle
Bamboo paddle (or chopstick)
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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 and the beans you’re using. 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. Or just regular tap water if you live somewhere with excellent water.

Being Impatient (or Forgetful)

Timing is everything with all methods of brewing coffee. The extraction process needs to be long enough to get all the delicious flavors from your grounds to get a balanced cup. But not too long that you end up with a really bitter brew.

The ideal length of time for French press is 4 minutes of brewing, including the 30 seconds “bloom”. This isn’t a hard and fast rule as it will depend on the grind size, dose, and your coffee beans. But start at 4 minutes, if its too sour then steep for longer, too bitter then shorter.

It might take you 2 or 3 tries before you’re really happy with it. But once you’re all set, you’ll get amazing coffee every time.

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

French press coffee on a wooden table
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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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Why you should freshly grind coffee for 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.

Grinding too fine will result in bitter, over-extracted coffee, and probably a very muddy texture as grounds slip through the mesh of the plunger.

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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How to Clean a French Press Coffee Maker

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

Sadly French press brewing is a little messy. Lots of coffee grounds to be recycled, and a carafe that needs a deep clean. To ensure the best taste every time you brew, make sure you clean your French press correctly.

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. Also, cold water onto hot glass is a really good way to break your French press.

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.

Using a French press is the easiest way to step up your home coffee quality and enjoy some amazing specialty coffee beans. You only need a grinder and a brewer and you’re good to go. That’s why it’s one of our favorite methods.

It’s also ideal for campers, hikers, and travelers. It’s an extremely portable coffee brewing method whether you’re staying in tents, dorms, or hotel rooms.


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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