90% of people use the French press wrong. Crazy, considering it’s one of the world’s most popular coffee brewing methods. Making great coffee using a French press is actually quite simple if you follow a few rules.
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.
How Does A French Press Work?
Its quite simple, really:
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. There’s more to it than simply rinsing it out.
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.)
You’ve probably heard about the ever so popular Bodum Chambord – an iconic looking thing which is 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.
If you’re in need of a good coffee press, [read our review roundup of the best french press coffee makers here], otherwise, let’s make some mother-friggen-coffee!
Now we’ll jump into the tutorial section of this guide, but if you’d prefer to learn visually (while being entertained) watch our in-house brewing expert, Steven Holm show you how to brew the best French press coffee you’ll ever try:
What You Need
A French press
Just off boiling water
Water thermometer (optional)
Stovetop kettle (optional)
At a Glance
Steps By Step: How To Use A French Press
Steven has mentioned two methods in his brew guide. We’ll call them the basic method and the advanced method. Below we’ll walk you through the basic method.
1. Preheat Your Press
The first you need to do is preheat your french press. This is an important step in all coffee brew methods.
Preheating your brewing equipment will stop your brew temperature from fluctuating as the cold equipment and the hot water even each other out.
All you need to do is add some hot water to the press, swill it around until it is warm to the touch, and then discard the water responsibly. As an added bonus, preheating your french press will also help you [keep your coffee hotter for longer].
2. Measure/Weigh Your Coffee Grounds
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.] For the basic method, you want a medium-coarse grind but if you’re following the advanced bonus steps, you want a medium grind.
Refer to the table below the instructions if you need to. For bonus points, measure your grinds using a scale rather than a spoon – [here’s why].
3. Measure/Weigh Water And Check Temperature
Again, [refer to the table below] to get your coffee to water ratio for coffee presses but the core ratio you should aim for is 1:15. This means 1 part coffee for every 15 parts water.
PRO TIP: Weighing rather than measuring your water with a spoon, just like with your coffee, will give much greater control. This will facilitate more consistent results.
Heat the water in whatever way works for you. I recommend using a stovetop or gooseneck kettle: If you have a thermometer or a kettle with temperature control, the recommended coffee press water temperature is 195-205 degrees F.
4. Add Coffee Grounds And Hot Water
Add the your coffee grounds to the preheated french press and then add the correct ratio of hot water afterward, all in one pour. Then you need to take your spoon and give your coffee a quick stir to ensure that all your coffee grounds are properly immersed in your water.
5. Put The Lid On And Start Timing
Placing the lid on will help insulate the press, keeping the heat inside as your coffee brews. Set your timer, and then play the waiting game! The standard coffee press steep time is 4 minutes , but you can later adjust this to suit your preferences. We talk about this below in our [FAQ’s here.]
6. Slowly Press 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.
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
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
You did it! Rejoice and be glad, for coffee has been made.
Want a handy, custom-illustrated (& printable) cheatsheet for brewing epic French Press coffee? [Download it here]
Related: [How to Use a Percolator to Make Coffee]
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.]
What’s 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, 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!
PRESS SIZE DESIRED
STRENGTH GROUND COFFEE WATER
3 Cup Mild
Strong 4 Tbsp/22g
6 Tbsp/35g 12oz / 350ml
4 Cup Mild
Strong 5 Tbsp/31g
8 Tbsp/50g 17oz / 500ml
6 Cup Mild
Strong 7 Tbsp/44g
12 Tbsp/71g 24oz / 700ml
8 Cup Mild
Strong 10 Tbsp/63g
17 Tbsp/101g 34oz – 1000ml
12 Cup (51 oz.) Mild
Strong 16 Tbsp/94g
25 Tbsp/151g 51 oz / 1500ml
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?
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.
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.