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How to Make Coffee With a French Press- Tips for the Best Results

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Using a French press is a very popular manual coffee brewing method. Most people are at least vaguely familiar with it. Although French press brewing is a relatively straight forward method you may have a few questions. Below you will find my coffee to water ratio for French press, grind for French press (plus recommendations on a French press grinder) and a recipe for French press coffee.

French Press vs. Pour Over

While drip brewing is in the pour over brewing category, French press brewing is an immersion brew method. Immersion brewing methods generally utilize a larger grind size and longer brewing times. The result is typically a cup of coffee with a lot more body, but less brightness in the cup flavors.

Here are the main differences in French Press vs. Pour Over brewing:

  • The equipment- Unlike pour over brewing, a gooseneck kettle isn’t necessary for achieving consistent results. If you have a French press, coffee and hot water, you can brew.
  • The taste- French press will generally produced a cup of coffee with a lot more body than a pour over, especially if you are using paper filters for your pour over. The French Press allows a lot more of the fats and oils from the ground coffee to end up in the final cup of brewed coffee.
  • The difficulty-The French press is considered to be a little more simple of a brewing method. It is a little easier than most pour over techniques to control your variables and get a consistent cup of coffee. There are also far less variations and techniques associated with brewing with a French press.

What Size Grind For French Press? 

I like to use a pretty coarse grind for French press- think coarse sea salt. More important than grid size is the grind consistency though. You can use a finer grind for French press if the particles are roughly all the same size.

As long as your coffee isn’t ground too fine, you can adjust your brewing recipe to accommodate a finer grind.

When you have a an uneven distribution of particle size (some large coffee grounds and some tiny coffee grounds). All the separate particles of coffee will extract differently. While this can not be completely avoided, the greater variance in particle size the harder it will be to brew a consistently great cup of coffee.

I would also try to avoid using your average store brand, pre-ground coffee for French press coffee. The pre-ground coffee that is sold at the store is simply ground a little too fine for optimal French press brewing.

Don’t let this stop you from trying it though. If you want to brew with pre-ground coffee, I recommend cutting down the steep time to around 4 minutes.

Most coffee shops are happy to grind coffee for you at a particle size that is optimal for your brewing method.  However while this is a solution, it is also not ideal. Coffee begins to stale 15 minutes after it is ground. It would be a shame to purchase a nice fresh-roasted coffee only to have it stale in your pantry over the next days (or weeks?) waiting to be brewed.

Still, if you are looking to getting into immersion brewing and don’t want to spring for a burr grinder, this might be your best option. What is you want to buy a grinder for French Press?

What is the Best French Press Grinder?

Grinding your coffee at home with a quality grinder is the best way to make sure your coffee stays fresh until you are ready to brew. Whole bean coffee will stay fresh in it’s original bag for many weeks, especially if it has not been opened. If you follow my rules for keeping coffee in the freezer, you can keep coffee fresh for even longer.

Using a blade type grinder to grind your whole beans at home is not a very promising prospect for the French press. As discussed in my grinder post, the particle size and consistency is a variable that is very hard to control with a blade grinder. This problem is magnified with immersion brewing methods. Inconsistent particle size yielded by a blade grinder, will result in over extraction, excessive fines in the brewed coffee, as well as problems with repeatability and consistency. I would avoid grinding with a blade grinder for French press if at all possible.

Here are my top three burr grinder picks for brewing French press coffee (and all manual brewing methods):

  1. Baratza Encore: This has been the standard entry level manual brewing grinder for a long time. Baratza grinders are great quality and repairable.
  2. Baratza Virtuoso: This is a step up from the Encore with some nice upgrades. It includes all the nice features about the Encore, including the great customer service.
  3. Fellow Ode Brew Grinder: This is brand new to the coffee market but it is already getting grew reviews. I own one and love it. It has a smaller profile that the Baratza grinders and a flat burr. It is also made to last a long time and can be repaired.

If you do not own a quality burr grinder, it will be hard to get consistent, enjoyable, and repeatable results with the French press method at home.

Supplies you will need

  1. French press brewer- There is a seemingly endless number of brands and varieties of these brewers out there. They are all basically the same design from a functionality perspective. Choosing a French press boils down to personal preference and the quality of the product. I prefer a French press with a glass carafe (this is pretty standard). I recently received a Bodum Chambord as a gift after I broke my older model Bodum in a freak accident with the plunging apparatus. I like the Chambord and would recommend it.
  2. Hot Water- You will need water, fresh off the boil around 200 – 205 degrees fahrenheit.
  3. Ground Coffee- Coffee should be coarsely ground for this brewing method. Start with ground coffee about the size of breadcrumbs and adjust from there based on your brewing results and preferences.
  4. Timer- Pretty self explanatory. If you don’t have a smart phone with a timer, dust off the old stopwatch or use an actual clock or watch.

Coffee Dosage

I recommend starting with a 1:16 coffee to water weight ratio. If you are measuring by volume, start with two level tablespoons of ground coffee per cup and a half of water.

If you don’t have a scale, seriously consider adding one to your manual coffee brewing arsenal as you sip on your delicious, full bodied French pressed coffee.

Brewing it

As with all brewing methods, the French press has many little nuances and techniques that people champion to improve the brewed cup. If you have a tip or technique that you use for French press brewing, please feel free to share it in the comments below. This is how I brew my coffee in a French press.

Start with a clean brewer

It should go with out saying but I am going to say it anyway. You will get the best results by starting with a clean brewer. The French press has places for old grounds to hide, so take it apart and clean it before you begin.

Preheat the brewer

It is always a good idea to preheat your brewer. To do this with your French press, simply fill it with near boiling water (carefully) and let if sit for 15-20 seconds. Discard the water and you are ready to brew.

Let it bloom

Dump your coffee into the bottom of the brewer. Start a six minute timer. Pour around a third of the water over the grounds. Make sure they are all covered and wet. Wait 30-40 seconds. This is call the bloom. This step helps to off gas some of the carbon dioxide that may still be clinging to the grounds.

Fill ‘er up and wait

Pour the rest of the water (by weight or volume) into the French press. Give the coffee grounds a stir (A few swirls with a spoons is good enough). Place the top of the French press onto the carafe and depress the plunger until it is slightly below the coffee level. Wait for the timer to expire.

Plunge

At the six minute mark from when you started to wet the grounds for the bloom, your coffee is ready to plunge. Depress the plunger down to the bottom of the carafe slowly so you don’t shoot piping hot coffee out of the brewer. You are now ready to decant and enjoy your coffee.

Tips for enjoying

Coffee brewing via the French press method is best enjoyed fresh and immediately. Do not leave coffee in the carafe much longer than the brew time. It will continue to extract flavors from the grounds and it does not take long for the resulting cup to be over-extracted and unpleasant.

If you are unsatisfied with your first experience brewing with the French press, try tweaking some of the variables. The most obvious starting point is to use better coffee. You can also adjust the grind particle size and extraction time. If your coffee was weak you can either grind your coffee a bit finer or increase your extraction time up from six minutes. Conversely, if your coffee was too strong, bitter, or unpalatable, try grinding you coffee coarser or having an extraction time shorter than six minutes.

4 Comments

  1. Steve

    Have you tried cowboy coffee? It is another immersion method, but it breaks all the rules, ie, it’s boiled, and you pour cold water in to finish it. And it makes the brightest smoothest coffee I’ve ever drunk.

    • John

      Steve, Thanks for your comment. I have cowboy coffee as a possible post topic in the future. I must admit I don’t have much experience with it. Do you have a cowboy coffee recipe/method you would like to share?

    • John

      Here you go Steve! Thanks for the suggestion. Let me know what you think.

      Cowboy Coffee

  2. A.Dude

    Thank you! I’m going to give this a try right now. (Just got the press, beans, and whatnot.)

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