How to make French press coffee, according to baristas

For the perfect pour every time

Published April 1, 2023 1:59PM (EDT)

French press coffee (Julia Gartland / Food52)
French press coffee (Julia Gartland / Food52)

This story first appeared on Food52, an online community that gives you everything you need for a happier kitchen and home – that means tested recipes, a shop full of beautiful products, a cooking hotline, and everything in between!

The way you make your coffee is a highly personal choice. Some people swear by their Chemex pour-overs, while others rarely stray from their at-home espresso machines. Many favor a classic drip, and when the weather gets hot, you can't go wrong with a batch of cold brew. One of the most beloved of these methods is, of course, the French press.

The first iterations of the French press—sans seal—were invented in 1852, but a version similar to the one we use today was patented in the United States in 1929 by Attilio Calimani and Giulio Moneta. In the near-century since, it's become one of the most consistent and reliable methods for brewing coffee at home.

However, for someone who hasn't used a French press before, these little contraptions can appear confusing. Where does the coffee go? How long should it steep before pressing? Does it matter what kind of coffee beans are used, or how finely they're ground?

Whether you're new to this style of coffee or just in need of a quick refresh, we've put together this guide to making the most delicious coffee with your French press. Read on for our best tips and tricks.

Why Use A French Press?

First off, it's important to understand the specific benefits a French press offers. "French press is a very easy minimal effort method to brewing at home," says Food52 contributor César Pérez, who has over 15 years of experience in the coffee industry at places like Blue Bottle and Stumptown.

"I think the main benefits are the amount of coffee you can make at once and how easy it is to do," echoed barista Cody Westbrook, a former barista at La Colombe and Devoción. "Most methods take a bit more setup and management while only making either a single cup of good coffee or an ever bigger pot of okay coffee. [The] French press is a good middle ground."

For Tallulah Schwartz, a former barista based in New York, the best part of using a French press is its reliability, which allows her to experiment with coffees of different origins and roasting styles. "I find that I get to exercise a lot of control over flavor and intensity, and [I] can also more acutely taste the distinct qualities of the coffee I'm drinking," she says.

How The French Press Works

In order to make a perfect cup of coffee in a French press, it's important to understand how the method works. A cylindrical pot which features a plunger and filter, the French press, at its most basic, works by steeping coffee grinds in hot water. When it's done, the plunger/filter is used to press the grinds to the bottom of the pot, leaving your freshly brewed coffee above it.

"French press is what's referred to as a full submersion method, meaning all of the coffee grounds are covered in hot water at once and left to brew versus pour-over methods like a Chemex or a V60 which require a bit more finesse," César says. "Since there are no paper filters involved, French press brews a cup which retains all of the coffee's natural oils, resulting in a very full bodied and rich cup." Because it's so full-bodied, coffee made in a French press is particularly well suited for additions like milk and cream, he added.

How To Make French Press Coffee

According to Cody, the most important factor to consider when using a French press is the grind size of your beans. "For a French press, you want the coffee very [coarse] because the longer it soaks in water, the more it'll be extracted," he says. A coarse grind will ensure that the coffee doesn't become overextracted, which can lead to an unpleasant, bitter brew. "Overextraction is generally where people think the coffee is bad and has bitter flavors," Cody says.

To ensure your coffee is ground just right, you have two options: Either invest in a grinder—Tallulah recommends a burr grinder for a more consistent, even result—or get your whole beans from a local shop (they'll usually grind the beans for you, and take into account to the method you'll be using to make your coffee). In terms of which coffee to use, the French press is versatile enough to use with most beans and roasting styles. César, however, recommends beans from Latin America, because "the chocolate and nut notes really have a chance to stand out."

Once your beans are ground, it's time to brew some coffee. César swears by the ratios and instructions from Stumptown Coffee Roasters, which he keeps written on his fridge in dry-erase marker for easy reference. The recipe calls for an 8 cup French press, 56 grams (or about 8 tablespoons) of fresh coffee, along with water that's just under boiling (at about 205° Fahrenheit). Their process is fairly simple:

  1. Start by swirling a small amount of hot water in your French press to warm it up. Discard the water.
  2. Put your coarsely ground coffee into the empty French press. Add hot water (starting a timer the moment you do) until you've filled up the press halfway.
  3. At the one-minute mark on your timer, give the grounds a good stir, ideally with a wooden spoon or spatula.
  4. Fill to top with hot water and put the lid on the French press, but don't press it yet.
  5. Let sit until you hit the 4-minute mark. Then, press your coffee.

If you're not serving the coffee immediately, César adds, it should be decanted from the French press and put in another vessel. If left in the press, "the coffee [will] continue to brew and result in overextraction."

Once you have the mechanics down, feel free to experiment with different variables—like the type of coffee you're using and brew time—to get your cup just right. "If it tastes watery, steep it longer," Cody says. "If it tastes bitter, steep it [less] next time."

Lastly, don't forget to clean your French press (a step many overlook, according to César). "The plunger needs to be unscrewed and disassembled to get all the oils and coffee grounds out," he says.


By Anabelle Doliner

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