How To Use A French Press (Tools, Tips, Ratios And A Tutorial)

How Does a French Press Work?

an image showing the parts of a french press

The main part is the beaker which is where you place your coffee grounds and hot water. Attached to the beaker are the base and handle. These ensure you won’t burn yourself or the surface you place it on. You have the lid with the attached filters and plunger. They are fairly intuitive to assemble, though, and the whole setup is quite simple.

The best part is: no need for paper filters, With French press brewing the grounds are directly soaked in hot water.

This means it's a form of immersion brewing; the coffee grounds are submerged for a few minutes in the hot water, rather than a few short seconds (e.g drip methods).

To get good coffee every time, it is important to know to disassemble and clean your french press. Aim to do this once per month. This really helps.

Before We Begin: Choose The Right French Press

You're going to have a hard time making great coffee if you use a cheap, crappy press pot to brew. It's tempting to go for the cheapest option, but will it really be worth it when you have to replace it in 6-9 months?

The standard press pot size is between 4 and 8 cups. Just remember, a “cup” is much smaller than a typical mug of coffee. Many companies count a standard cup as a meager 4 oz.

In general you have small, large, metal and electric options:

  • Small french press - if it’s just you and maybe a friend or loved one using it on a regular basis. Typical sizes include 3 and 4 cup presses.
  • Large french press - These 8 to 12 cup behemoths are meant to pacify a crowd of coffee seekers and can produce several cups of coffee in a single batch!
  • Metal french press - Are more durable, and seem to retain heat better than glass. Choose if you live in a cold area.
  • Electric french press - For the lazy. These units heat the water, brew the coffee, and keep it warm after it’s ready! (Although we strongly recommend you decant the coffee when it’s done.)
an image showing the things you need to look for when choosing a french press

You've probably heard about the ever so popular 'Bodum Chambord' - an iconic looking thing which are made in three different sizes: 3, 8, and 12 cups.

They generally have glass beakers with a stainless steel base and handle. The two smaller options even come with an unbreakable beaker option!

However, Perfect Daily Grind recommends trying out French Presses made out of other materials (1).

"If you’re serious about playing with variables and finding the best method, try a ceramic pot or add an insulation layer to your glass pot. Stainless steel pots provide good insulation, but I find that they add a subtle taste to my cup that I dislike." - Dorian Bodnariuc, Perfect Daily Grind

If you're in need for a good french press, read our review roundup guide here on the best picks.

Steps By Step: How to Use A French Press

Ok, lets get started.

What You Need

There is some equipment involved with using a coffee press, but nothing too overwhelming.

  • A French press
  • Measuring cup
  • Measuring tablespoons
  • Coffee grounds
  • Just off boiling water
  • Water thermometer (optional)
  • Stovetop kettle (optional)
  • Stirring spoon

1. Measure coffee grounds

putting a scoop of grounds into the french press

What you measure out depends largely on the size of your coffee press and the amount of coffee you want. I hope you used a coffee grinder to freshly grind your beans. See the FAQ's below for the right grind size.

Refer to the table below the instructions if you need to.

2. Measure Water and Check Temperature

water being poured from the kettle to a measuring cup

Again, refer to the table below to get your coffee to water ratio for coffee presses.

Heat the water in whatever way works for you. I recommend using a stovetop kettle: If you have a thermometer, the recommended coffee press water temperature is 200 degrees F.

PRO TIP: Pour hot water into your coffee plunger. Allow it to sit for a minute or two. Then pour out the water and dry the device. This heats up the coffee press before you actually make the coffee. This will keep your coffee hot longer. You will want to dry it so that when you pour the dry grounds into the coffee press it won’t stick to the sides.

3. Add Coffee Grounds and Hot Water

water pouring from a measuring cup into the french press

DON'T JUST ADD WATER IN ONE GO. Add coffee grounds and water to your press pot in this order:

  1. Pour a small amount of water onto the grounds (just enough to cover them) to prep them. The water should only be slightly over the soaked-through grounds. Think of it as roughly a 1:1 ratio of grounds and water, creating a muddy looking slosh.
  2. Stir and wait 30 seconds. Let it bloom.
  3. Pour in the remaining water, filling up the beaker.
  4. Stir once more.

4. Put the lid on and start timing

a french press filled with water and coffee

Set your timer, we’re going to play the waiting game! The standard coffee press steep time is 3-4 minutes, but you can later adjust this to suit your preferences. We talk about this below in our FAQ's here.

Just make sure you put the lid on so it stays hot.

5. Slowly Press Plunger Down

a photo of a hand pressing the plunger down

Once enough time has passed, slowly press the plunger down. Make sure you press it down all the way, or your coffee will continue to brew into over-extraction.

PRO TIP: If there is too much resistance when you plunge, then your grounds are too fine. Not enough resistance and they are too coarse. 

6. Decant Coffee 

pouring the coffee from the press to a decanter

We recommend decanting your coffee before serving because the longer your coffee is in a container with the coffee grounds, the more flavor will be pulled out.

You don’t want over-extracted, bitter coffee!

7. Serve and Enjoy

coffee pouring from a french press

You did it! Rejoice and be glad, for coffee has been made. 

an image showing the steps on how to make french press coffee

Final Thoughts

So, there you have it: how to use a French press 101. Make it right and you'll brew amazing coffee. Here are more ways to do that: The complete list of coffee brewing methods.

If you’re a fan of extra free stuff (and come on, who isn't?), you’re going to want to download this French press brewing guide upgrade with several extra tips to keep in mind while brewing!

FAQs

Whats the right French Press ratio? (Coffee to Water Ratio)

There is no 'one-size-fits-all' ratio. There is a huge spectrum of tastes and preferences, variations in coffee beans, differences in roasts, etc. that can make each batch of coffee entirely different. So start with a ratio, and then adjust from there based on how it tastes.

RULE OF THUMB - Use a 1:15 ratio of coffee to water. For every one gram of coffee you need 15 grams of water, which is about 3 tablespoons of coffee for 1 cup of water. Start here, as this will be on the weaker side, so you can always add a little more coffee if you find it to weak.

Below, you'll find a French Press ratio calculator + chart. 

How to use the calculator: First, click the red number under "how much coffee do you want to brew in fluid ounces?" and enter your number. Refer to our table above if you need to:

Next, Click the red number under "how strong do you want your coffee?" It has a range for strength, from 1 to 7.

  • 1 = Strong (think heavy, bold and thick) 
  • 7 = weak (think a lighter cup of coffee without much edge)

An example - If I have a 3 cup coffee maker, and I want to make a strong brew, I'll enter 10oz. for the amount of coffee I want to brew, and 1 for the strength, and the calculator will give me a ratio of 1:10. The calculator will tell me exactly how much coffee and water to add, in customary and metric units. Cool!

The chart is easier to use. Just select your press size + desired strength and you can find out the amount of coffee and water to use instantly!

PRESS SIZE

DESIRED
STRENGTH 

GROUND COFFEE

WATER

3 Cup

Mild

4 Tbsp/22g

12oz / 350ml

Medium

5 Tbsp/30g

Strong

6 Tbsp/35g

4 Cup 

Mild

5 Tbsp/31g

17oz / 500ml

Medium

7 Tbsp/42g

Strong

8 Tbsp/50g

6 Cup 

Mild

7 Tbsp/44g

24oz / 700ml

Medium

10 Tbsp/59g

Strong

12 Tbsp/71g

8 Cup 

Mild

10 Tbsp/63g

34oz - 1000ml

Medium

14 Tbsp/84g

Strong

17 Tbsp/101g

12 Cup  (51 oz.)

Mild

16 Tbsp/94g

51 oz / 1500ml

Medium

21 Tbsp/126g

Strong

25 Tbsp/151g

How much coffee will my French Press make? (French Press Sizes)

I don't know who invented the french press 'cup' size system - but they obviously did not have enough coffee when they did it.

You should generally get the following number of 9 oz cups of brewed coffee per each press size:

  • How much coffee for 3 cup press – 1 cup
  • How much coffee for 8 cup press – 3.4 cups
  • How much coffee for 12 cup press – 5.3 cups

What's the right grind size for a French Press?

a french press, decanter, a manual coffee grinder and a coffee bean container

The quick and easy answer: somewhere between a coarse grind and a medium-coarse grind setting. Not sure exactly what that looks like? Here, have a grind size chart. To achieve these grinds you'll need a good burr coffee grinder grinder.

If you get pre-ground “plunger” coffee at the store, more often than not it’s freaking fine-ground too! WTF? Why is there so much confusion over the press pot coffee grind?

The basic rule of thumb with a coffee press is: the finer the grounds, the stronger the brew. The coarser the grounds, the weaker the brew. However, you definitely want to avoid going too far in either direction. If it’s too coarse you’re going to get some weak-ass coffee. Too fine and it will become very bitter thanks to over-extraction.

Remember that it’s a good idea to grind your own beans immediately before making the coffee

How long should French Press coffee steep?

To recap from the instructions above, we first pour in a small amount of boiling water, stir, and wait. Then we pour in the remaining water and stir again, and wait.

3-4 minutes is the “optimal” window of time to get an average strength cuppa out of a coffee press.

If you prefer lighter coffee, finish the batch off a bit early. If you’re a fan of stronger stuff, give it more time. However, I wouldn’t give it TOO much time, as you may ruin the coffee by allowing it to over-extract and get bitter.

Should I decant?

Even after you’ve pushed the plunger down to finish your brew, remember that the coffee grounds are still in there. If you’re going to immediately pour it all out into your cup(s), then you’re set. However, if you’re going to leave coffee in the beaker with plans to finish it later, you'll be drinking some really bitter coffee.

Don’t let your coffee plunger just sit around for hours and then drink it. Instead, decant it! Pour that leftover coffee into another container before it gets cold and bitter. Perhaps the most important feature of a decanter is the ability to keep your coffee hot. 

What’s the best coffee for a French Press?

This can largely come down to personal preference, but in general medium and dark-roasted beans are the best way to go. Here are our top picks for french press coffee.

How does French Press coffee compare to other brewing styles?

There are some distinct differences between french press brew and other brew methods. Here are some of the common comparisons - and links to articles to help answer your questions:


Reference

  1. Bodnariuc, D. (2018, November 28). Should You Grind Finer For Better French Press Coffee? Perfect Daily Grind. Retrieved July 6, 2019, from https://www.perfectdailygrind.com/2018/11/should-you-grind-finer-for-better-french-press-coffee/
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Alex
 

Alex is the Founder and Editor of Homegrounds.co. He is passionate about brewing amazing coffee at home, and teaching others to do the same.

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