One of the easiest ways to make a delicious cup of coffee is with a French press. What we love about using this method is how simple it is to make a rich, flavorful cup of coffee.
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Why French Press Coffee is so Good
What makes French press coffee so good is its simplicity. It’s nothing more than freshly ground coffee beans taking a short bath in hot water for a few minutes.
The genius of the press method is in its simplicity, with only a small mesh screen on the bottom of the plunger the essential oils and tiny dissolved particles in the grounds seep into the water creating a richer, more full-bodied cup than coffee brewed with paper filters that hold on to the particles in the grounds.
It helps that this technique uses coarse ground beans that are fully steeped at the beginning of the process making it easier for them to transfer all of their goodness to the coffee without it becoming bitter.
There is a meditative aspect to brewing coffee this way – the ritual of putting the kettle on the stove, grinding the beans, and brewing the coffee helps to center oneself and focus on the day ahead.
What is a French Press
A French press also referred to as a coffee press, press pot, and cafetière has a long history going back to at least the 1850s. It consists of a cylinder, usually made of glass, that is paired with a lid and plunger that includes a fine mesh filter that fits tightly into the cylinder and is used to separate the grounds from the coffee when the plunger is pressed down.
It uses an immersion method to brew – which is when the coffee is completely submerged and stays in contact with the water throughout the brewing process. Other commonly used processes are pour-over where the water is poured over the grounds and the vacuum method that uses heat and a vacuum to extract flavor from the beans.
Using a press pot is often considered one of the most environmentally friendly methods for brewing because it doesn’t use any filters and the only energy it uses is what it takes to heat the water and the tiny bit of exertion it takes to press down on the plunger.
A part of its popularity has to do with the iconic designs from companies like Bodum and Le Creuset that have elevated coffee makers to an art form. Our favorite is Bodum’s Chambord model.
How to Make Perfect Coffee in a French Press
The key to brewing coffee is to understand that the perfect cup is about balancing the relationship between time, water, and beans. Too much or too little of any one of them and the coffee will turn mediocre.
The central ingredient in this mix, by far, is the beans. Whether you like a lightly roasted South American or the dark chocolatey flavors that come through in a Scandinavian roast the best coffee comes from freshly roasted beans, stored in an airtight container, that are ground for each pot.
The reason it’s a good idea to store the beans in an airtight container and grind them as needed is that once coffee beans are ground they start to oxidize, releasing their flavors and essential oils.
It’s important to use a coarse grind for coffee made using the press method. A coarse grind creates more surface area, increasing the amount of time it takes for the water to extract the beans’ flavors. A finer grind used in a press can cause the coffee to become muddy, over-extracted, and taste bitter.
In general, burr grinders tend to work better than blade grinders because they create a more uniform grind. The ideal grounds for this method should be uniform in size and end up resembling breadcrumbs.
How Much Coffee
One of the most common questions people ask is how much coffee should they use in a French press. A good guide is to use 1 heaping tbsp of ground coffee for each 1/2 cup of water. This works out to a ratio of approximately 1 to 16. It’s worth noting that if you like your coffee strong, you should emphasize the heaping part.
Our recipe is written for an 8 cup press that uses 8 tbsp or 52 grams of whole coffee beans. It’s worth noting that an 8 cup press is equivalent to what most American’s would consider 4 cups of coffee. It can be scaled up or down for different sizes.
|French Press Coffee Ratio|
|8 Cup||4 cups of water||8 tbsp (1/2 cup) (52 grams) of whole beans|
|4 Cup||2 cups of water||4 tbsp (1/4 cup) (26 grams) of whole beans|
|2 Cup||1 cup of water||2 tbsp (13 grams) whole beans|
|1 Cup||1/2 cup of water||1 tbsp (7 grams) whole beans|
How Long to Steep
Time is everything when you’re making a pot of coffee. Four minutes of steeping time is generally considered the right amount of time to fully extract the flavor from the grounds without turning the coffee overly bitter.
In our testing, we found that brew time was an important variable and an easy way to adjust the coffee to your tastes. For us, 4 minutes was spot on, at 3 minutes the coffee tasted watery, and by 5 minutes it had grown as bitter as a freshly spurned lover.
The temperature of the water also makes a big difference but is harder to adjust on the fly than brew time. We found that 195℉ creates a perfectly balanced cup where you can taste the richness of the beans without having their flavor masked by the bitterness that comes from water that is too hot.
A tip to get the water temperature right every time is to bring your kettle to a boil then take it off the heat for a minute before pouring it over the grounds. Also, unless you like your coffee extremely bitter, don’t ever use boiling water.
As with all things coffee related, there are many different schools of thought for improving a cup. Some recommend pouring hot water from the kettle into the pot right away, before adding the grounds to warm the pot. Others like to pour the water in a swirling motion to make sure the grounds are completely submerged and evenly distributed.
A common recommendation is to start the brewing process by pouring just enough water on top of the grounds to submerge them for 30 seconds or so before adding the rest of the water to allow the grounds to bloom.
Blooming allows the grounds to purge themselves of carbon dioxide, which is created during roasting. Blooming allows the gases to escape creating space for the water to interact with grounds and extract the flavors and volatile compounds that provide the coffee’s flavor.
It’s easy to see coffee bloom as the grounds seem to expand when the water is first poured on top of them. How much this improves the final product is debatable. In our testing, we couldn’t tell the difference between a pot that used blooming and one that was filled to the top all at once. This is one of those small tricks that we encourage you to play around with to see if you can tell the difference.
Getting More From Your French Press
Here are a few tips for getting more from your French press that also add a little value to those fancy beans that required a second mortgage.
A little known secret is that you can use the same grounds to make a second pot of coffee. As long as you’re starting with full-bodied beans that have recently been roasted and freshly ground there’s enough flavor in most grounds to make a second pot.
The second pot tends to be a little weaker, which isn’t a bad thing when you’re drinking your second one of the day. On days that we want the second pot to be as strong as the first, we’ll add a tbsp or two of fresh grounds to the second pot or reduce the water by a 1/2 cup.
During the summer we use the grounds from our morning coffee to make cold press by filling the French press with cold water, giving it a stir, and leaving it in the fridge overnight. The next morning we’ll press the plunger and pour the cold press into a pitcher before making our morning coffee.
Whether you’re brewing a second pot or cold brew, make sure to vigorously stir the grounds after the water is added. Stirring the grounds distributes them, allowing the water to extract the flavor still in the beans.
One misconception that is worth clearing up is that if you’re not going to drink the coffee right away it needs to be poured into another container or the coffee will continue to grow stronger and more bitter.
For years and years we’ve made a pot of coffee in the morning, wrapped the pot in a little cozy, and brought it up to our office to drink throughout the morning and we’ve never had a problem with the coffee turning bitter. In fact, the addition of a little cozy keeps the coffee warm for a couple of hours allowing us to drink it at our own pace.
If you’d like to learn more about brewing better coffee, read A Few Easy Tips for Better Coffee. We’d also love it if you’d leave your tips for brewing coffee in the comments below.
You can also check out Umami’s Coffee Section for more recipes, stories, and equipment.
- 52 grams coffee beans, ground
- 4 cups water
- In a kettle bring slightly more than 4 cups of water to a boil. Take the kettle off the heat and let it rest for 1 minute.
- While the water is heating up, grind 52 grams (1/2 cup) of high-quality coffee beans in a burr grinder.
- Place the ground coffee in the bottom of the French press. Once the water has rested, pour it over the grounds until it’s reached just under the top of the French press. The ideal temperature for brewing coffee is between 195ºF and 205ºF degrees.
- Put the top on to the French press and let the coffee brew for 4 minutes before depressing the plunger.
- Once the plunger has been pressed down, the coffee is ready to drink.