Second only to the Drip Machine in popularity according to a survey of our customers, the French Press is a manual brew method that makes delicious, rich, full-bodied coffee.
What is a French Press?
A French Press is a coffee brewing device that works by soaking coarse grounds in hot water. There are many different styles and sizes of press to choose from. Below is a picture of all the french presses that we have in our house and have personally used.
In a French press the coffee grounds are immersed in water for a set time (exactly like the cold brew method except the water is hot instead of room temperature and the immersion time is about 4 minutes rather than 12+ hours).
How a French Press Works
Brewing coffee in a French Press requires these steps:
- Heat the water
- Grind the coffee beans (use a coarse grind setting on your burr grinder)
- Place the grounds inside the press
- Saturate the grounds (pour the water) and stir gently
- Place the plunger apparatus on top of the press (but don’t plunge yet)
- Set a timer for 4 minutes
- Plunge the grounds to the bottom
- Pour your coffee
Important tips you want to keep in mind with this brew method:
- Water temperature – recommendations on this are a small range of 195-200 (no lower than 190) degrees fahrenheit. The reason it should be this hot has to do with flavor extraction from the coffee grounds to achieve the BEST TASTE – which we will get into in a later post. If you don’t have a thermometer, or don’t want to measure the temperature of the water, a good rule of thumb is to put the water on the stove, get it just to boiling, remove from heat, wait 30-60 seconds, then pour.
- Use a coarse grind – set your burr grinder to coarse grind and you’ll be set. The reason for a coarse grind is, again, extraction – if you use a medium or finer grind you’ll end up with bitter coffee and too much sediment in the bottom of your cup.
- Coffee to water ratio – start with 2TBS per every 6-8 oz of water – This method is forgiving when it comes to ratios – in other words, it’s hard to screw it up. Which is why, when brewing with a French press, you should commit to experimenting until you get the ratio that you love. You should also keep in mind that, in general, most people are in the habit of using too little coffee. Using too little coffee (such as 1 TBS to 8 oz of water) produces a brew that is bitter and doesn’t taste right. If you’re using a French press, it means you WANT a rich bold, nuanced brew. To get that, you must use enough coffee.
- Before pressing the plunger down, steep the coffee for 4 minutes – some recommendations say 3-4 minutes. You can try 3, we recommend you start with 4.
As a manual method, the French press gives the maker more control over the end result. It also requires precision and practice – because there are more steps. If you’re new to French press, expect it to take a few tries to get it “right.” In this context “right” means the coffee tastes amazing. To YOU. Yours is the only opinion that matters here. If you’re a seasoned French press user, you may well think it’s the best brew method on EARTH.
Advantages of Brewing With a French Press
It’s Cost Effective
You can get a French press from $7.99 (here’s an example) up to $129+ (here’s an example). As with most brew methods, there are a lot of models, sizes and prices to choose from.
Rich, Delicious Taste
Because there is no paper filter used with a french press, more of the oils inside the coffee bean make it into the brew. The oils are what gives the coffee its taste and are therefore part of what allow you to start to distinguish between one variety from another (beans from Guatemala vs. Kenya for example).
You Have More Control Over How Your Coffee Tastes
Unlike with a drip machine, you control the water temperature and brewing time. Which means you can experiment to determine exactly how you like your coffee to taste.
Portability – You Can Use It Anywhere
You can take a French press pretty much anywhere. It’s one piece, it can be packed easily in luggage, and it can make great coffee possible wherever you are.
Just because hotel rooms are outfitted with pod makers these days doesn’t mean you have to settle for stale, poorly brewed swill. You can use those machines to get hot water and make your own coffee with freshly ground beans in your French press.
Disadvantages of Brewing With a French Press
It’s Slightly More Time Consuming Than Other Methods
Once you have the hang of it, this method doesn’t take a lot of time. If you’re a beginner, it will take a bit of extra time to get the steps down and it may take a few tries to get it down to exactly the way you like it.
Clean Up is Annoying
In most French press models you’re left with the grounds in the bottom which you then have to empty and clean. Compared with the swift easy movement of dumping a filter out of a drip machine and being done, scooping and scraping and rinsing the grounds away is a bit more hassle.
Grounds Sometimes Slip Into the Coffee
Some sediment in the bottom of your cup is normal. If you can’t stand the thought of that, French press isn’t for you. If you repeatedly get a gritty and or thick sediment (as opposed to the occasional grind that may slip through or a thin sediment), check the mesh filter – if it doesn’t fit snugly against the glass or stainless steel surface of your press as you plunge, it may need replacing.
Reflections of a Coffee Snob
French press is my personal favorite brewing method. Over the years I had become quite snobby about it. Until we got our commercial drip machine, at home (after one of our commercial accounts closed its doors) after one use of which I abandoned my French press, much like the way I abandon mediocre TV shows.
Unlike bad TV, I will eventually use my press again at home. Traveling, however, is another story. I absolutely and without discussion refuse to settle for anything less than freshly roasted coffee, brewed the way I want it.
Whenever I travel, I take our coffee with me. I grind it at home (while I am a fanatic, I’m not enough of one to take my burr grinder traveling with me), and take it, along with my French press, wherever I go. When I stay in someone’s home, I bring my coffee and press. When I stay in a hotel, I bring my coffee and press. If I go camping, I bring my coffee and press. No filters, nothing to assemble or disassemble. All I need is hot water and I’m set.
I can’t remember exactly when I started travelling with my own coffee, but it changed my world for the better. No matter where I go, my coffee tastes amazing, and I don’t have to go without because of my refusal to settle.