As much as I enjoy ordering a sharp espresso or creamy latte from my favorite coffee shop there will always be a space in my heart for the french press. The rich and bold flavors it produces alongside the satisfying motion of the plunger makes it a great option for those bleary-eyed mornings.
If you’re a fan of the french press, then you may have experienced the issue where one batch of coffee from it tastes fantastic and the next lot is too weak, bitter, or just plain unpleasant. These wild variations usually come down to inconsistencies with the brewing routine and are easy to troubleshoot once you understand how to use your french press.
It’s actually pretty easy to use a french press so long as you get the coffee grind size, ratio, and brew time correct. Make sure it’s super coarse, use a 1:15 ratio, and leave it for 4 minutes.
This wonderful brew vessel deserves a lot of love and praise so I’ve created this complete guide on how to use a french press so you’ll always end up with rich and delicious coffee every time you use it.
Why Choose The French Press?
After drip coffee, the french press is one of the most popular brewing methods due to the ease of use and the unique coffee it brews. Paper filters remove the thick sediment and coffee oils from your java but this also takes away an element of the flavor and mouthfeel that many coffee lovers enjoy.
The french press pot produces a bold and rich brew that’s quite thick and satisfying and lingers on your tongue for a while. It’s cheap to buy and can last a lifetime if it’s well cared for.
As with most coffee brew methods, there’s a right and a wrong way to use a french press so follow this guide if you want to get the very best out of your coffee beans.
The first decision you need to make when you reach for a French press is what kind of coffee to choose. To get the freshest, fullest flavor from those beans it’s always best to choose whole bean coffee and grind it up at home. If you must choose pre-ground then make sure it’s a very coarse grind option or labeled as good to use in a french press.
Old beans taste of just this. Old and stale.
If your coffee has been sitting open for a long time it will start to lose its aroma and flavors, especially if it’s been ground up. Choose fresh beans and if possible, from a local roaster as freshly roasted beans showcase the very best side of coffee.
The final thing to consider is the type of beans. The coffee-growing region and species of coffee influence the flavor massively. There’s no real correct choice here and you really just have to get out there and try a variety of options to discover which one suits you best.
Check the roast darkness when you choose a coffee as this gives a good indication of what to expect. Lighter roasts have more fruity, floral, and complex flavor notes throughout and are a bit more acidic and lighter in color. Dark roasts are rich in single note flavors such as burnt caramel, chocolate, and woody notes. They are less acidic with a more oily texture and a dark brown-black appearance.
Once you’ve chosen your coffee beans you need to turn them into coffee grounds ready for the brewing process. This is where the coffee grinder comes in.
To make french press coffee you need a coarse grind setting and this is only really achievable with a burr grinder. These types of grinders will grind the coffee evenly and consistently, giving a balanced flavor from the extraction process.
Blade grinders tend to unevenly chop the coffee which leads to under or over-extraction and the heat generated by the blades can even burn the coffee as it chops it.
How Much, Coffee: Water Ratio?
Before you grind up your coffee beans you need to weigh out the correct amount. It can be tricky to figure out how much coffee you need so here’s a good ratio to aim for.
A 1:15 coffee to water ratio is ideal so this translates to 1 gram of coffee for every 15 grams of water. An 8 cup french press (the Bodum model) holds 1 liter (34 fluid ounces) so that’s 1000 grams of water. You’ll need 66.7 grams (or 2.3 ounces) of coffee to make the 8 cups.
Remember 1ml of water weighs 1gram and this should keep you right!
A less accurate but easy method to achieve close to this ratio is 1 tablespoon of coffee for every 1 cup of water. This is a useful method if you don’t have a set of scales to hand.
Delicious coffee is made of two ingredients, coffee, and water and if the water tastes off then so will the coffee. It’s best to use filtered water when brewing coffee as this will avoid any unpleasant flavors from ending up in your cup of coffee. You can buy a filter jug or attach a filter to your kitchen tap great-tasting water instantly.
Hot water is needed to brew the perfect cup but if the temperature isn’t right then you’ll struggle to make good-tasting java. If the water is too cold the brewed coffee will be under-extracted and boiling water ends up burning the coffee so it tastes bitter.
The water should be around 195-205F in temperature (90-96C) to make the best coffee. You can buy kettles that preheat the water and hold it at this temperature for you or you can use a thermometer to check before you pour.
Alternatively, you can boil water in the kettle or on the stovetop and then take it off the heat and wait for 1 minute as this allows it to cool to around this temperature. This method is less accurate but easy to do if you don’t have specialist equipment.
Let’s Get Brewing
By now you should be familiar with the coffee and water requirements and it’s time to actually brew some coffee!
Add your freshly ground coffee to the carafe and measure out your water into a beaker or you can place the french press on a set of scales and tare it to zero so you weigh the water as you pour.
Make sure your water is sitting in that ideal temperature range and then you’re ready to move onto the coffee bloom stage.
The coffee bloom is a process where coffee fizzes and moves around as it lets off carbon dioxide gas when it contacts water. Generally speaking, the more the coffee bubbles and moves the fresher it is. This process removes some of the acidity in the coffee before you brew the whole lot.
To get a good bloom going, gently pour some water over the coffee to dampen the lot. The amount of water you use is roughly a similar weight to the amount of coffee used. If you’ve got 60g of coffee, around 60g of water will do but you may need a tad more to wet the grounds completely. You can give it a gentle stir at this phase.
As soon as the water is in contact with the coffee start a timer. You want the blooming process to last around 30 seconds so when the timer hits 30, go ahead and pour over the rest of the water to make it up to the full amount.
Give the mixture a gentle stir to ensure the coffee is well distributed and leave the timer running.
The full brew time for a french press coffee maker is 4 minutes. Your timer should be ticking away from the start of the bloom stage so keep it running until it reaches that 4-minute mark. You can stir the coffee straight after adding the hot water but don’t stir it again for the rest of the coffee brew process. This allows the sediment to settle to the bottom.
How To Press
Once those 4 minutes have passed it’s now time to press the plunger. It sounds like a simple task, but a lot of people make tiny mistakes here that can drastically affect the taste and texture of the resulting cup of joe. You want to press the plunger down gently and evenly without stopping or starting.
If you press too hard the filter will create turbulence in the coffee and can cause sediment to be washed up into the main body of the brew. If you press too lightly, then the filter can get stuck with resistance and this creates a bobbing, up and down, motion that also causes turbulence.
Press firmly but not forcefully and you’ll soon get a feel as to how hard your press needs.
Now the coffee is brewed and ready to pour and enjoy. The best way to serve the coffee is to keep the french press as upright as possible and move the mug to meet to spout. This helps keep unwanted sediment to the bottom of the pot. If you are pouring more than one mug of coffee top them all up together in small increments as this mixes all the flavors and gives a balanced taste to every cup.
Sit back, put your feet up and enjoy your marvelous creation!