The French Press—sometimes called a press pot or coffee press—is a popular brewing device that’s been around for almost a century. The classic design has changed little since its invention, and learning how to make French Press coffee is relatively simple with our French Press 101 recipe.
People love the full-bodied and rich taste of this method, and in bigger sizes, you can make enough coffee for four people.
And the brewing process takes much less babysitting than many other methods.
So let’s explore the basic instructions for French Press and a recipe for getting a bold and delicious cup every time.
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What Is French Press Coffee?
The French Press, also called a press pot or coffee plunger, is one of the oldest brewing methods. This method is called immersion brewing because the coffee grounds steep in water for an extended period. The mesh filter creates a cup with a bold flavor and heavy body. The French Press is similar to the AeroPress but with crucial differences.
Basic Instructions For French Press Coffee 101
Unlike the more laborious process of brewing coffee on a pour-over like a Chemex, learning how to make coffee in a French Press is simple.
Instead of slowly pouring water from your kettle over the 4 minutes, the instructions for French Press have you pour all of the water immediately. You only have to keep track of the ratio and brewing time so you know when to push the plunger down and decant the coffee.
While there are interesting variations to coffee brewing on the French Press, it’s usually best to start with a more standard and basic recipe. Once you can make a consistently delicious cup and control the flavor with grind size and ratio, you can feel more confident experimenting.
Easy French Press Recipe
Even though the French Press makes a dense and heavy-tasting cup of coffee—not as clean as Chemex coffee—it can still produce a delicious and refined cup. You just have to follow a recipe and be willing to adjust your brewing parameters to find the right flavor.
The following recipe is a great start, intended for use in an 8-cup French Press:
Best Way To French Press Coffee: The Details
- Boil water in a kettle, enough to fill the French Press plus some extra for preheating (approx 700 g/ml of water should be enough).
- Measure out 55 grams of fresh coffee beans. Without a scale, you’ll have to measure by volume, which is about 8 Tablespoons.
- Pour the coffee beans into your grinder. French Presses require coarsely ground coffee, roughly the size of bread crumbs. Very fine grinds will likely over-extract and taste bitter.
- Prepare the French Press by pre-heating it with hot water. A warm brewing device leads to a more even extraction.
- Pour the ground coffee into the brewer and gently shake to even the grounds out.
- Start the timer and pour in an initial 100 grams of water and give the mixture a gentle stir. This is called blooming and helps you achieve a more even extraction. **Tip: Use a wooden spoon as metal can easily crack the glass.**
- After letting the coffee sit for 30 seconds, pour in the rest of the water (a total of 660 grams) and carefully place the lid on top to retain heat (do not plunge yet!!).
- Wait for 4 minutes, gently press the plunger down, and serve the brewed coffee immediately. Do not let your coffee sit in the brewer.
The reason for serving French Press coffee immediately is that extraction continues and creates bitterness when water and ground coffee sit together.
Understanding Coffee Ratio For French Press 101
The recipe above, for an 8-cup French Press, should produce around 4 decently sized cups of coffee. But French Press coffee makers come in all different sizes. If you are brewing in a smaller brewer or just want to make less coffee, you can always adjust the dosage while keeping the same ratio.
The ratio in this recipe is 1:12, which means you use 12 times the amount of water as you do coffee grounds. If you drink coffee with milk, this strong ratio pairs well.
That is because the French Press coffee ratio in this recipe is a bit stronger than your typical ratio for a drip machine or pour-over. We find that French Presses perform best with strong and bold coffee.
French Press Ratio vs. Grind Size
This particular ratio for French Press is just a starting point that we recommend, and you can feel free to experiment with using less coffee or more water. As you approach a more typical ratio of 1:15 or 1:16, the coffee will taste less intense, and you will likely produce different flavors.
The reason French Press coffee tastes so great with a stronger ratio is complicated, but it comes down to the fact that the heavy body of the coffee pairs well with a strong and intense flavor. In tasting, a heavy body means the mouthfeel of the liquid on your tongue is thick and viscous. And the reason a French Press produces heavy-bodied coffee is that many of the small coffee particles—the so-called fines of the coffee grounds—don’t get stopped by a filter.
We recommend that when you want to change the extraction, you should adjust the grind size first while keeping the ratio constant. Changing more than one parameter at a time means that you won’t know which factor changed the taste. A fine grind will extract more and a coarse grind will extract less. For a more in-depth understanding of coffee ratio, grind size, and extraction, you can check out our article on the basics of brewing.
But of course, if you want a more delicate-tasting cup, something less bold, use less coffee and notice how it affects the taste. Specialty coffee skills mostly involve noticing data points and dialing in the details until you get the right flavors.
Choosing a French Press Coffee Maker
Our best advice is to refer to this guide on choosing the best coffee press. But to get some quick tips on what to look for, here are the main considerations for choosing the right press pot for you:
- Material: Do you want glass or stainless steel?
- Size: French coffee makers range from 12 oz to over 50 oz.
- Filter type: Do you want a classic metal mesh or a more modern multi-layer filter?
- Insulation: Do you need a pot to travel with that will keep liquids hot?
Troubleshooting the French Press
In many coffee brewing methods, data points that seem simple often have a big effect on the taste. For example, inconsistencies in how you pour water or how you stir the grounds alter the taste in positive and negative ways. When you are surprised by a particularly delicious brew, you can enjoy that coffee but be unable to recreate it. And when you brew an over-extracted and bitter cup, it makes you want to dump it all out and start over.
Luckily, the issues people have with the French Press tend to circle the same basic topics that we’ll address here.
French Press 101: Why Won’t the Plunger Go Down?
Difficulty pushing down the plunger is a common issue with French Press brewing. For most people, pushing more gently and using a coarser grind will fix this problem. However, check out this guide to why the French Press can be hard to press for detailed causes and fixes.
Why is my French Press coffee bitter?
People often assume incorrectly that French Press coffee is supposed to be bitter. But this is not true, and you can fix bitter coffee in the French Press by grinding coarser and brewing for less time.
How To Lower French Press Extraction
The short of it is that bitter coffee is almost always the result of over-extraction. Over-extraction means you took too much from the coffee grounds and all of the sweeter acids and nutty flavors are covered up by astringent and bitter flavors.
If you are sure that you followed the basic instructions for French Press coffee making, check in with the following details to help avoid bitter flavors:
- You should decant the coffee immediately after the 4 minutes of brewing time. Similar to leaving a tea bag in the water for too long, liquid in a French Press will continue to extract and produce bitter flavors.
- Make sure the grind size is not too small. When it feels too difficult to press the plunger down, that is a good indication that your grounds are too fine.
- Be gentle, mindful, and consistent about how you are stirring. Stirring too aggressively will lead to over-extraction.
- Use freshly ground coffee
You can also check out our complete guide to fixing bad-tasting coffee.
What If I Don’t Have a Scale?
The reason that you should use a scale when brewing coffee is that, similar to baking, measuring by mass is more precise. Volume measurements like tablespoons get you close, but different coffees have different densities. For example, a Tablespoon of dark-roasted coffee will have a different mass than that of lightly roasted beans.
But if you don’t have a scale, measuring by volume is the next best method. You can do this with a Tablespoon or a coffee scoop that you will use every time.
Or you can make coffee like Beethoven, who counted the same number of coffee beans every day. This method assumes an average mass for each coffee bean, and it is technically a bit more precise than scooping. But who has the time to count 60 beans every morning?
For measuring water without a scale, you can rely on the convenient fact that 1 milliliter of water equals 1 gram of water. Use a measuring cup to fill up your kettle with exactly 700 ml of water.
**Note: Our ratio for French Press uses 660 grams/milliliters of water, but we boil a bit extra to account for evaporation and to have pre-heating water.**
How Do I Dial-In Grind Size For French Press Coffee 101?
When we’re working with a new coffee, it usually takes a few tries to find the grind size that leads to the best extraction. And every brewing method requires this dialing-in. For example, specialty coffee shops open early and pull many shots of espresso to dial in the dose and grind each day.
At home, you probably don’t want to waste an entire French Press to adjust your grind size. So make a mental note of the flavor and adjust your grind the next day. If it’s sour and weak-tasting, try a slightly finer grind. And if it’s bitter and drying, try a coarser grind. Our ratio for French Press in this recipe, 1:12, is on the stronger side. This tighter ratio helps prevent over-extraction and makes an intense cup.
To get in the right territory for French Press grind size, use the following two data points:
- Visually, the coffee grounds should be coarse enough to resemble bread crumbs.
- When plunging, the right grind size should create approximately 15 pounds of resistance.
Those parameters will get you in the right territory of grind size. From there, your taste will guide you to the sweet spot for your particular coffee beans.
French Press 101: What Coffee Works Best?
There is no firm rule about what type of coffee or roast level will work best in a French Press. However, the idiosyncrasies of each brewing method do tend to pair up with specific aspects of coffee. In our article comparing pour over vs French Press, we said that delicate and lightly roasted coffees pair well with the thick filter and clean taste of Chemex.
Similarly, French Press coffee tends to taste best with a medium to dark roast. Shop for beans that are on the darker side of roasting so that your French Press highlights the nutty and richer coffee flavors. These flavors pair well with the bold flavor and heavy body of this brewing method, and they pair well with milk or cream too. Some of our favorites include:
But this rule is by no means firm, and we’ve brewed some delicious cups with delicate and lightly roasted beans as well.
How To Make Coffee in a French Press 101: Final Thoughts
The French Press is a classic brewing method, and the bold flavors of our recipe will stand up to milk or half and half. If you want to alter the flavor or just experiment, adjust the grind size first. To get more experimental, you can adjust the ratio for French Press and observe how it affects the flavors.
And then once you get consistent with these basic instructions for French Press, there are loads of alternative techniques that you can try to get new and interesting flavors!
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