How To Use A French Press: A Step By Step Guide - HOMEGROUNDS
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How To Use A French Press (Tools, Tips, Ratios And A Tutorial)

Not sure if you’re brave enough to take on the French press? Fear not!

We’re here to help.

We get it, those French presses you see your cool coffee friends posting on Instagram look awesome. In fact, they are awesome. And they make awesome coffee.

But we also know that it can be complicated getting good coffee out of a French press, and that’s usually what keeps people away.

Not anymore. When we’re done showing you how to use a French press the right way, you’ll be making consistently delicious coffee that is way better than what you’re brewing now.

Did You Know...

Before we get to how to make French press coffee, I want to drop a bit of French press knowledge for y'all.

French Press Flavor

One of the advantages of French press coffee is that it has a more robust flavor to it – this is because there is no thin paper filter involved in the process.

If you like your coffee strong and full of flavor, this may be a game changer for you.

French Press Control

With a French press, you control both the grind size and the length of steeping time.

This means you control your coffee’s strength and overall flavor, thereby bringing you closer to tasting the “true” flavor of the beans themselves.

Is a French Press… French?

Sorry, madame, it is not... or at least, not entirely.

But the guess isn’t too far off, geographically speaking.

The French press that we know and love today was actually patented in Italy in 1929, although a slightly different design was patented in France way back in 1852.

How Does a French Press Work?

Let’s take a quick look at how to use a French press. There are a few parts to this device, but once you familiarize yourself with them, it’ll be a piece of cake!

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.

What makes a French press appear a bit more daunting is the lid with the attached filters and plunger. They are fairly intuitive to assemble, though, and the whole setup is quite simple.

Note: Check out a more thorough rundown of what makes a good French press.

With French press coffee, the grounds are directly soaked in hot water. This makes it a method of immersion brewing, wherein the coffee grounds are submerged for a few minutes in the hot water, rather than a few short seconds as seen in drip methods.

Keep in mind that it’s important to know how to clean a French press. This, of course, goes hand-in-hand with how to disassemble a French press. Make sure you familiarize yourself with your particular press and the user manual before you start.

5 Different Types of French Press Coffee Makers

There are quite a few sizes to choose from – some make a single cup of coffee, and others enough to keep you going for a day (or two!).

The standard sizes, however, are generally 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 meagre 4 oz.

Here are some brief coffee plunger maker reviews, covering some of the more popular types.

The Small French Press

This is the French press you’re going to want 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.

PROS

  • Perfect for one or two servings
  • Prevents coffee from sitting and getting stale

CONS

  • Doesn’t make enough for a larger group of people
  • Tends to use a slightly larger ratio of coffee grounds to water
French Press Single Serving Coffee Maker by Clever Chef
Here is an affordable, single serve French press with a 12 fl oz capacity
Brillante Small French Press Coffee Maker
Here is a slightly trendier option, as well

The Large French Press

Next, we come to the opposite end of the spectrum – the large coffee 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!

PROS

  • Great for large batches of coffee
  • Tends to use slightly smaller ratio of coffee grounds to water

CONS

  • Doesn’t work well for small numbers of people
  • More likely to leave extra coffee sitting and over-steeping
Sale
French Press Coffee & Tea Maker Complete Bundle
Here’s a larger French press that is affordable and a whopping 34 oz!
Cantankerous Chef Rose Gold French Press
Another larger, 32 oz option, this beautiful French press dishes up a good helping of eye candy to wow your friends with

The Metal French Press

While a classic coffee press has a glass beaker, there’s a problem that comes along with this – shattering.

Trust me, I’ve been there, and that heart-pounding moment when the glass shatters and you realize that you have a pile of broken glass and no coffee can be crushing.

The answer?

A metal French press!

These vary in size and are a great way to keep your coffee hot. 

PROS

  • Much less likely to break during use
  • Holds heat well

CONS

  • Can be hot on the bottom
  • Not as aesthetically pleasing as glass models
Secura Stainless Steel French Press Coffee Maker
If you’re looking for a tough, practical product, this large, metal French press can deliver
Large French Press Coffee Maker
If you’re looking to go above and beyond, this vacuum-insulated and double-filtered French press claims to keep your coffee hot for a full hour longer than a glass press

The Electric French Press

While the French press method of brewing coffee is already pretty quick, what process can’t use a bit of streamlining?

That’s what you get with an electric coffee plunger.

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.)

PROS

  • Boils water and makes coffee all in one container
  • Keeps coffee warm

CONS

  • Electric parts can fail
  • Tend to be more expensive
Mr. Coffee Technique + Taste Electric French Press and Hot Water Kettle
Leave it to Mr. Coffee to take care of the convenient option! This electric French press is a great option to consider

The 'so hot right now' Bodum French Press

If you’re looking for style and dependability all in one, you’re going to want a Bodum Chambord French press, which you might recognize from their classic rounded tops.

The company makes these iconic presses 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!

PROS

  • Classic, dependable coffee press
  • Smaller sizes come with an unbreakable glass option

CONS

  • Some versions use plastic parts
Sale
Bodum Chambord French Press Coffee Maker
Here’s a massive Bodum to consider for those of you serving those coffee crowds
Bodum Chambord 4 Cup Shatterproof French Press Coffemaker
This smaller option is good for personal use… and it’s shatterproof, too!

How to Make French Press Coffee

Now that you know a bit more about French presses, it’s time to get started!

What You’ll Need

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

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

French Press Instructions: In 7-ish Easy Steps

Step #1 - Measure out your coffee grounds

What you measure out depends largely on the size of your coffee press and the amount of coffee you want.

Refer to the table below the instructions, if you need to!

Step #2 - Measure Out Water (and Check Temperature)

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.

  • Optional step: 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. Why would you pour hot water into the French press only to dump it out? It 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.

Step #3 - Add Coffee Grounds and then Pour Hot Water

Add coffee grounds and water to the French press 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.
  3. Pour in the remaining water, filling up the beaker.
  4. Stir once more.

Step #4 - Throw on the lid and wait

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.

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

Step #5 - Press Plunger Down...Slowly

Once enough time has passed, slowly press the plunger down.

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. You may need to go back and grind your beans again to get a better cup of coffee!

Step #6 - Decant Coffee (optional)

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!

Step #7 - Serve and Enjoy

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

French Press Ratio, Simplified (Coffee to Water Ratio)

While some coffee aficionados may want to pressure you with the exact or “perfect” amount of coffee to use for various sizes of coffee presses, DON’T BELIEVE THEM!

There is a huge spectrum of tastes and preferences, variations in coffee beans, differences in roasts, etc. that can make each batch of French press coffee entirely different.

But, there’s a difference between tasting different and tasting bad.

You want to be within certain ranges with your coffee to water ratios – at least to begin with.

Use the chart and section below to figure out things like how to use a French press for one cup of coffee or how much coffee per cup of water you’re going to yield with your French press.

STANDARD PRESS POT SIZES

GROUND COFFEE

(grams)

WATER

(ounces)

STRENGTH

3 Cup Press (12 oz.)

14.4

10

Mild

3 Cup Press (12 oz.)

16

10

Stronger

3 Cup Press (12 oz.)

17.6

10

Strongest

4 Cup Press (17 oz.)

21.6

15

Mild

4 Cup Press (17 oz.)

24

15

Stronger

4 Cup Press (17 oz.)

26.4

15

Strongest

6 Cup Press (24 oz.)

36.9

22

Mild

6 Cup Press (24 oz.)

41

22

Stronger

6 Cup Press (24 oz.)

45.1

22

Strongest

8 Cup Press (34 oz.)

46.8

32

Mild

8 Cup Press (34 oz.)

52

32

Stronger

8 Cup Press (34 oz.)

57.2

32

Strongest

12 Cup Press (51 oz.)

70.2

48

Mild

12 Cup Press (51 oz.)

78

48

Stronger

12 Cup Press (51 oz.)

85.8

48

Strongest

Note: If you prefer grams to tbsp (particularly if you’re using a scale), this conversion chart is very helpful in getting your French press coffee ratio in grams.

French Press Sizes (And How Much Coffee You’ll Get From Them!)

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

If you’re dealing with a less common size and you’re wondering how many scoops of coffee for 6 cups or how much coffee for 4 cups, you can visit this great ratio calculator and plug in the amounts that correspond to your brewing needs.

The Right French Press Grind: So Critical, Yet So Often Wrong

The quick and easy answer is to grind the coffee on a coarse to medium-coarse setting.

There, no fuss, right?

Somehow, incredibly, mind-bogglingly, wrong!

I don’t know why, but this is one of the longest standing issues with making a good coffee. So many home baristas struggle with the grind.

And not just that. 

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?

There really shouldn’t be!

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, and that’s no good! What’s worse, though is if you go too fine.

If your grind is too fine, it will over-extract and become very bitter. And, to add insult to injury, because a paper filter isn’t used here, some of it will get through the strainer… and into your cup.

Nothing ruins a smooth sip of java like having some gritty grounds tossed in.

So, if you’re after an excellent cup of joe, remember that grind size matters. And when you’re using an immersion method like a coffee plunger specifically, remember to go for a coarse setting. Think kosher salt, sea salt, or breadcrumbs.

Note: Also, remember that it’s a good idea to grind your own beans immediately before making the coffee.

French Press Brew Time: Make It or Break It...

All coffee brewing methods vary in brew time.

With drip coffee, it’s just a few seconds before the coffee is through the grounds and paper filter and into the pot.

With immersion, however, the grounds and the water are going to get to know each other pretty well before it’s over.

To recap from the instructions above, we first pour in a small amount of 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 cofee press.

What does that mean for you? 

Four words: Have fun with it!

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.

To Decant or Not to Decant, That is the Question

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, be warned. If it continues to sit in there, you can overdo it and get some really bitter coffee.

Don’t let your coffee plunger just sit around for hours and then drink it. It’ll suck.

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. There’s not much point decanting if you have to heat it up again… at that stage you might as well make a new batch!

With that in mind, check out this list of the best thermal coffee carafes to see what might work best for you.

A Few FAQ's to Consider…

Here are some quick answers to frequently asked questions in the coffee plunger brewing world.

What’s the best French press?

As you can guess, the variables here are all over the place, and will depend on what exactly you’re looking for.

Things like size, material, and budget can make a lot of difference! 

Lucky for you, we’ve made a whole post about it. Head on over to see our top 5 picks!

Can I make cold brew in a French press? 

This is a vital question to answer if you have a French press available on a hot day.

Happily, the answer is a resounding YES! Just head on over to this page to see how it’s done.

Is French press coffee bad for you? 

The answer to this one can be a bit… muddy (much like the bottom of your press pot beaker).

There are certainly some factors that can make this type of coffee dangerous, like drinking too much or while pregnant.

I whipped up an entire article to answer this one, addressing the myths, truths, and hard facts about drinking French press coffee.

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.

Once again, though, a full rundown of the coffee options for your French press is in order.

So head on over to this article to find out the details.

French press vs drip?

There are some distinct differences between these two brewing methods.

For example, press post coffee is bold and strong, but more acidic. Drip can be smoother, but has less “oomph.”

If you want a more detailed breakdown on the subject, here’s a great resource that breaks down the competition in a one-on-one face-off!

French press vs Aeropress? 

There are quite a few differences between these popular methods, from the brew time being shorter with the Aeropress to French press coffee being stronger and fuller-bodied.

The debate rages between fans of the two popular methods about which one is better.

Head on over to this article where I break it all down.

French press vs Moka? 

Once again, there are several distinct differences here.

For example, French press leaves you with more control over your brew, but the strong and sharp taste of a Moka pot brew can’t be matched by a French press.

For more info, I break down all of the nitty-gritty details here!

What’s the best grinder for a French press? 

While there is no single grinder that is a clear winner here, there are a couple of important factors to keep in mind that will qualify a grinder as “good.”

First, make sure it’s a burr grinder.

Second, make sure you can get that coarse, sea salt-like grind out of it.

If it has a built-in setting for French press you’re probably good to go, but make sure to check what consistency of grind is really coming out of that thing!

Here's a list of the best burr grinders available - all solid options.


Some Final Thoughts on Using a French Press

So, there you have it: how to use a French press 101.

You just got a crash course in how to make some really great French press coffee in theory, but the reality is that this is going to take some practice.

So, make some mental (or literal) notes, run over that method once again, and then dive into your journey to making the perfect French press cup of coffee!

Oh, one last thing! 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 upgrade with several extra tips to keep in mind while brewing!

7 Tips for the Ultimate French Press Barista

While we know the basics, this list of helpful hints can take that cup of good French press coffee and make it FANTASTIC!

#1 - Use a scale for your coffee and water

Using a scale to get exact measurements can take some of the artistic flare out of your coffee making, but if you want to craft a superior and dependable brew, using a scale for exact measurements of coffee and water is the way to go.

#2 - Use good water

Sure, most water appears fine to the naked eye, but the reality is that the quality of your water makes a huge difference to how your coffee tastes. We suggest using something like a Big Berkey Water Filter or, if you’re up for a bigger and better commitment, even installing a Mineral Pro System to keep everything nice and balanced.

#3 - Be brave

If you don’t like how the coffee tastes, don’t be afraid to adjust things – the coffee to water ratio, your beans of choice, everything! Consider this a call to action for your inner artist. Dabble, experiment, and most of all, do it boldly!

#4 - Don’t burn it!

Use almost boiling water. Remember, 200 degrees F is ideal. It’s a suggestion, but any hotter and you can burn the grounds… and the coffee!

#5 - Use the Kruve

We already went over how important a good grind is for a proper French press brew, and if you’re willing to take that commitment to the next level, consider getting a Kruve. This nifty gadget will ensure that you’re putting only the optimal-sized grounds into your beaker.

#6 - Give it the full 30 seconds to “bloom”

In the instructions, we quickly went over the whole “let it sit for 30 seconds” bit, but don’t underestimate the importance of this step. When you pour the initial water in, you need to give the coffee grounds time to mix with the water, or “bloom”, as it’s called. It’s a necessary part of getting the proper extraction!

#7 - Really push that plunger down slooooowly

Again, we zoomed past it, but it’s SO important. Push that plunger down gently, slowly, like you’re handling a baby or holding an egg. Don’t rush it or you increase the chances of getting more grounds in your cup!

Happy brewing!

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