French Press Coffee: The Complete Guide

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I still remember the lunch that got me into French press coffee.

It was a counter-service place. We ordered a couple of sandwiches and two coffees. They said they’d bring it to our table, so we just hung around to wait for the coffees.

“Oh, we’ll bring that to your table too.”

We were expecting two cups of coffee. Instead, the server brought us a beautiful glass French press full of hot coffee, with two cups on the side.

French press coffee for two, viewed from above
French press coffee for two.

I held the plunger in place and poured out the coffee.

I took a sip.

This was not my usual lunch-hour coffee.

What is French Press coffee?

French press coffee is richer, more flavorful and nuanced than drip coffee. Because the coffee is filtered only by fine wire mesh, more of the coffee’s natural oils reach your cup. This creates a silky texture and extraordinary flavor.

The brewing method involves immersing coarsely ground coffee beans in a cylindrical carafe full of hot water and letting them steep to achieve extraction. This distinguishes it from other coffee brewing methods that extract by passing hot water through the grounds.

After brewing, the mesh filter is plunged through the coffee to force the grounds to the bottom and separate them from the coffee before pouring.

French press with the wire mesh filter lying separately from the carafe
The wire mesh filter is the signature characteristic of most French presses.

The device itself is most commonly called a French press, but you might hear it referred to as a coffee press, a coffee plunger, a press pot, a cafetière or a cafetière à piston.

French press coffee has been around for well over 100 years. You might think it is France’s great contribution to coffee culture, but that is in dispute.

Two Frenchmen published a design similar to the French press back in 1852, but there is little evidence that it caught on at that time.

The French press we know today more closely resembles a 1929 design by Italy’s Paolini Ugo, which he licensed to countrymen Attilio Calimani and Giulio Moneta. They patented it.

Diagram from 1929 patent registration for a French press coffee maker
Ugo Paolini’s French press design in the 1929 patent registered by Attilio Calimani and Giulio Moneta.

In the 76 years between, French presses were undoubtedly being used, but whether those were French or Italian remains a debate.

Pros and Cons of French Press Coffee

French press coffee made the right way is delicious. However, this brewing method also has its drawbacks. Let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of brewing with a French press.

Reasons to Brew With a French Press

  • A French press is smaller than a lot of other coffee makers. It takes up less space on your kitchen counter and can be easily stored in a cupboard.
  • The filter (usually a mesh screen) is built in, so you don’t need to buy separate filters.
  • It’s easy to use. There are no buttons and you don’t even have to plug it into an electrical outlet. No cords at all.
  • A French press can last a long time, especially if you choose a material like stainless steel. It’s a good investment for something you will probably use at least once a day, if not more.
  • You can travel with one. Again, choose the right material (not glass!) and most are compact enough to pack in your suitcase. No more subpar hotel coffee for you.
  • A French press produces rich, full-bodied, flavorful coffee. It’s designed to effectively steep coffee grounds without filtering out any of the oils that contribute to the coffee’s flavor.
BruTrek OVRLNDR Travel Coffee French Press, 24 fl.oz Drinkable Capacity, Double Wall Vacuum Insulated, Innovative Easy To Clean Removable Bottom, Locking No Spill Lid, On The Go Coffee Brewing (Obsidian)

The right French press can travel very well.

Reasons Not to Brew With a French Press

  • A French press can be a nuisance to clean. To do it well you need to take it apart. Most people get a bit lazy about this, and their coffee maker inevitably begins to deteriorate.
  • The mesh filter can allow sediment into your coffee. The price you pay for retaining those delicious oils is sometimes a slightly muddy cup, particularly when you reach the bottom.
  • Grind size is important. We’ll get to this later, but you can’t just grab any ground coffee off the shelf and expect it to work well with a French press. Coffee that has been ground for a drip coffee maker will likely leave a lot of sediment when using a French press.
  • Very few French presses are designed to keep coffee warm. If you’ve found one made of double-walled stainless steel, then you’re in good shape. However, many have glass carafes. With those, you will have to transfer the coffee to a thermal carafe within 10 minutes of brewing if you want it to stay warm.
Sediment from French press coffee in the bottom of a white coffee cup
Sediment in the cup is one of the unfortunate drawbacks of French press coffee. (© Matt Davis | Creative Commons)

How to Make French Press Coffee

The method of making French press coffee is straightforward. The beauty of it is that you can adjust your recipe in quite a few ways to achieve the kind of coffee that’s tastiest to you.

We’ll go through our recommended step-by-step process, but we encourage you to figure out what you like and tweak everything until it tastes just right.

What You’ll Need

  • A French press
  • Coffee beans (or coarsely ground coffee)
  • Coffee grinder (if the beans aren’t ground)
  • Wooden spoon
  • Water that’s just off the boil

French Press Instructions

11 Steps for Perfect French Press Coffee

  1. Find a local coffee roaster, buy a bag of high-quality coffee beans to your taste, and have the beans coarsely ground by the coffee roaster (or invest in your own coffee grinder). We do not recommend buying pre-ground coffee because you never know how long it’s been sitting. Fresh coffee is best.

    French press coffee grounds spread out on a white plate next to a dime for size comparison
    The appropriate grind size for French press coffee. (© Bean Poet)

  2. Rinse your French press inside and out with hot water. This will warm up the press.

    Water from a tap rinsing a French press
    A hot water rinse before brewing will help your coffee stay warm. (© Bean Poet)

  3. Measure your ground coffee. We recommend two tablespoons of coffee per five ounces of water. So if you have a 32-ounce French press that’s just over 12 tablespoons of coffee. A 16-ounce French press would need just six tablespoons of coffee. See our post on coffee measurements. (Note: This step is something we recommend that you experiment with. This is our personal preference for the coffee-to-water ratio, but one of the great things about French press is that you have control. Figure out how strong you like your coffee by adding more or less.)

    Closeup of French press coffee grounds in a tablespoon measure.
    © Bean Poet

  1. Set aside the lid, plunger and filter, and spoon your coffee grounds into the bottom of the carafe.

    Coffee grounds in the bottom of a French press
    © Bean Poet

  2. Heat your water to 205 F (if you boil it and then remove it from the heat, it should be good after about a minute).

    An electric kettle with water temperature set to 205 Fahrenheit
    © Bean Poet

  3. Pour your water into the French press, covering the ground coffee, and fill it up about halfway. Set a timer for one minute and let it steep.

    French press filled halfway with coffee and water
    © Bean Poet

  4. After one minute, use a wooden spoon to give coffee grounds a gentle stir.

    Wooden spoon stirring a half-full French press
    © Bean Poet

  5. Add more water to fill your French press and set the timer for three more minutes.

    Closeup of a timer on an electric kettle set for three minutes
    © Bean Poet

  6. Insert the plunger so the filter rests on the surface. Secure the lid in place at the top of the carafe. Do not press anything down yet. Let the coffee brew.

    French press steeping on counter with lid in place
    © Bean Poet

  7. After the three minutes are up, slowly push the press all the way down.

    A hand plunges a French press downward
    © Bean Poet

  8. Keep the plunger all the way at the bottom as you pour your freshly brewed coffee. Enjoy!

    Coffee being poured out of a French press
    © Bean Poet

French Press Ratio

The coffee-to-water ratio for French press is the same as it is for most other brewing methods. Honestly, it matters less than your grind size and steeping time.

Here are some rough guidelines for coffee-to-water ratio:

Volume of waterVolume of beans
1 cup2 tbsp
2 cups1/4 cup
4 cups1/2 cup
8 cups1 cup

Always, if you want stronger coffee, increase the ratio of beans to water.

How Much Coffee for a French Press?

French presses come in different sizes, so the amount of coffee you use will depend on the size of your press. Once you know its volume, consult our resource on coffee measurements. It provides detailed advice about how much coffee and water to use for whatever strength of coffee you might want, at any volume.

French Press Grind Size

French presses typically need coarse rather than fine coffee grounds. A French press grind should have particles the size of that chunky rock salt you see on top of bagels.

Coffee ground to the correct size for French press in a tablespoon measure
This is the grind size you want for French press. That’s a standard kitchen tablespoon for reference. (© Bean Poet)

There are a couple of reasons why finely ground coffee is a problem for a French press:

  1. It can make your coffee muddy.
  2. It can make your coffee bitter.

The mesh filter on a French press plunger has much larger pores than a paper filter, so if you grind too fine the grounds can pass right through it when you attempt to separate them from the coffee. This leads to sediment in your cup and a muddy or chalky mouthfeel.

The bitterness happens because fine coffee grounds get extracted very quickly when steeped in hot water. Extraction happens at the surface of the bean where it comes into contact with water, and fine grounds have a lot of surface area in relation to their volume. So extraction happens much more quickly with fine grounds than with coarse grounds.

The most bitter-tasting compounds in coffee take the longest to extract. Grinding coarsely leaves those compounds in the bean and prevents bitter-tasting coffee.

Graphic showing extraction time for the flavor compounds in a coffee bean

If you’re using a burr grinder, it should have a coarse setting. If you’re using a blade grinder, you can start by pulsing it and check the grind size after a few pulses to see when you’re getting close.

If you try a nice, coarse grind and you end up with watery, under-extracted coffee, the solution is to let it steep a bit longer next time to let the extraction play out. That’s much easier and less risky than grinding coffee finer and trying to keep sediment out of your cup.

Ideally, grind your beans just before brewing to get the best flavor. Grinding the beans more than 15 minutes before you brew will give them more time to oxidize, which can diminish the flavor of your coffee.

French Press Water Temperature

Water temperature is important when brewing French press or any other coffee, but you don’t have to be as finicky as some people think.

A French press is best brewed between 195 F and 205 F, but this refers to the temperature of the slurry—the mixture of water and coffee grounds—rather than the water itself. This means you can use water straight off the boil if you like, as the simple act of pouring out the water will reduce its temperature just enough to hit that perfect range.

Some people like to rest their water for 30-60 seconds. This is fine too as your water, when kept in a sealed heating vessel, will retain most of its heat for upwards of two minutes.

How Long to Steep French Press

Properly timing your French press will ensure you brew the best possible cup of coffee.

To keep things simple, steep your French press for about four minutes. If you want to play around, adjusting for the roast of your beans and your grind size will allow you to fine-tune your process and customize your brew to your specific taste.

Grinding your beans a bit coarser than usual and brewing for slightly longer can create a more nuanced and complex flavor profile.

French press coffee steeping next to a white mug

You might also want to add a blooming phase to your brew. Fully wet your coffee grounds and allow them to emit gas for 30 seconds before adding the remainder of your water and completing the brew cycle.

Brewing a great cup of coffee with a French press is quite simple, but you can also really geek out if you choose to. Try adjusting your brewing time in 20-second increments until you find the flavor that’s perfect for you.

Best Coffee for French Press

The cup of coffee your French press produces is only as good as the coffee beans you use. Use the freshest ground beans you can. Pre-ground coffee begins getting stale before it ever leaves the processing plant.

However, using fresh beans is just a starting point for choosing the coffee that bests suits you and your coffee maker. Other factors that contribute to the taste of your coffee include where the coffee was grown, whether it’s light-, medium- or dark-roasted (French press is best with medium or dark), and the type of farming practices used by the grower.

8 Great Brands for French Press Coffee

You have hundreds of coffee brands to choose from. It can get overwhelming. That’s why we’ve done the research for you and are happy to share our favorite coffee beans for French press. They are:

Brewing delicious coffee in your French press is not automatic. Guarantee success by choosing coffee beans with a flavor profile that meets your taste, opting for a coarse grind, going with a medium- to dark-roasted coffee or blend, and choosing a coffee that practices organic and/or sustainable farming methods.

Best French Press Coffee Makers

This year, we recommend six French press models from some of the top kitchen brands in the world:

  1. Secura Stainless Steel French Press
  2. Bodum Chambord French Press
  3. ESPRO P7 French Press
  4. Frieling Stainless Steel French Press
  5. Le Creuset Stoneware French Press
  6. Stanley Stay-Hot French Press

These options range in size, style, price, aesthetic, color and functionality, but they are all solid choices for individual coffee users or those needing to serve larger groups.

We have another post discussing these French press coffee makers in much greater detail.

French Press Tips

Take it from a group of coffee writers who collectively have brewed thousands of carafes of French press coffee. We’ve learned a few things along the way. You might find these tips helpful.

Use a Scale

We provided some guidelines for coffee-to-water ratio above, but if you really want to get this right, a kitchen scale is the way to go.

Hario V60 Drip Coffee Scale and Timer Pour-Over Scale Black (New Model)

Consider the Hario scale, a favorite among coffee lovers.

With a scale, you can measure the precise weight of your coffee beans and however many grams of water you need. Throw in a calculator and you’ll literally be able to taste the difference between a 15:1 ratio and an 18:1 ratio. You can decide which you like better, or whether you want something in between.

Use a Proper Burr Grinder

We talked about grind size above, and it’s important. But what’s equally important is grind uniformity.

A cheap blade grinder hacks coffee beans into pieces, and does so quite randomly. You end up with some particles that are quite large—proper French press size—and others that are quite small.

The problem is, when you brew with coarse grounds and fine grounds at the same time, the coarse ones might be under-extracted and the fine ones could be over-extracted. So you’ll get the worst of both worlds in your coffee cup.

A proper burr grinder grinds the beans only until they can slip between the burrs, then dispenses them. So your grounds will be much more uniform in size and extract at the same rate.

Baratza Encore Conical Burr Coffee Grinder (Black)

The Baratza Encore is a relatively affordable burr grinder that is perfect for French press.

Use a Timer

Ratio, grind size and time are the three big variables you’ll play with in making French press coffee, so it’s helpful to have a timer. You can use your smartphone. Some electric kettles have built in timers.

You’ll know exactly what your steeping time is. If your coffee doesn’t come out quite right, you can adjust for the next brew.

Relationship Between Grind Size and Steeping Time

We mentioned in an earlier section that coarse grounds extract more slowly than fine grounds. This is really important to understand when brewing French press coffee, because when it’s time to adjust your recipe, grind size and steeping time are the two most obvious variables to play with.

If your coffee tastes...Increase your...Or decrease your...
Harsh or bitterGrind sizeSteeping time
Weak or sourSteeping timeGrind size

Pre-heat Your Carafe

French press coffee tends to cool quickly, especially if you have a glass carafe. That’s because there is no heating element, and no insulation for the carafe.

If you use some of your boiling water to heat the carafe just before brewing, your coffee won’t cool as quickly.

Fill the carafe at least halfway and let it sit for a moment. Then dump the hot water and brew immediately.

Bloom Your Grounds

Blooming coffee at the start of brewing can help your coffee achieve its full flavor and aroma. The purpose of blooming coffee is to draw trapped carbon dioxide gas out of the roasted coffee grounds.

Just pour a small amount of water at brewing temperature over the beans to saturate them. Try and dampen every grain without leaving any excess water. Then, let it sit. The areas where you added water will rise and bubble as the carbon dioxide reacts with the water.

French press coffee blooming in the bottom of a glass carafe
The bubbles are carbon dioxide being released from the beans during the bloom. (© Bean Poet)

After 30-40 seconds, most gas will have been released and you can proceed with regular brewing.

Transfer Coffee to Thermal Carafe After Plunging

Pre-heating your glass carafe is one thing, but if you really want your coffee to stay warm, get yourself a double-walled, insulated thermal carafe and pour your French press coffee straight into it after brewing.

Try a Paper Filter

Some French press brewers like to deal with the sediment problem by incorporating a paper filter into their process. There are a couple of ways to do this.

  1. Pour your coffee through a paper filter cone such as a Hario V60 after brewing.
  2. Cut out a circle from a coffee filter to match the size of your mesh screen, then disassemble the mesh filter so you can sandwich the paper filter between its layers.

The first method is quicker and easier. The second method requires disassembly and a change of filter each time.

We’d go with the first. A plastic filter cone won’t cost you much at all.

Clean Your French Press After Every Use

French presses are notorious for gathering residue over time that can compromise the taste of your coffee. Cleaning them is a bit of a pain, but worth it in the long run.

How to Clean a French Press

A clean French press gleams in the sun on a kitchen counter
A gleaming French press. (© Bean Poet)

An improperly cleaned French press can eventually lead to a bitter or even rancid tasting coffee. Unlike with paper filter systems, residue from coffee oils accumulates within the press. Coffee oils and residual coffee grounds may leave a less-than-perfect taste as you brew your favorite coffee.

To complicate matters, small coffee grounds also clog the mesh filter.

Cleaning a French press can be as easy or as difficult as you want to make it. We recommend putting at least some effort into it.

A lot of people simply rinse it out with a little soap and water and then let it air dry. That works for daily cleaning, but you’ll want to go a bit further once a week.

Other French presses are designed to go directly into your dishwasher. All you have to do is wash out and throw away the spent coffee grounds. (Coffee grounds should be composted or trashed, not washed down the garbage disposal or sink).

Fortunately, a little effort after enjoying your coffee guarantees many happy carafes in the future.

There are three ways to clean your French press. Before trying any of these three cleaning options, enjoy your coffee and allow your French press to return to room temperature.

Three Cleaning Strategies

  1. Handwashing: You do this after each use, with daily cleaning preferred. Just get your French press covered in hot, soapy water, plunge it a few times, scrub it with a non-abrasive sponge and rinse it very well.
  2. Using a Dishwasher: This method is appropriate for French press pitchers, plates, filters, and plungers that are dishwasher-safe. All it requires is disassembling your French press and then putting the metal pieces in with your cutlery.
  3. Performing a Deep Cleaning: To ensure that your French press endures and offers the best coffee available, this process should happen at least once per week for those who brew daily. You’ll want to thoroughly disassemble it and clean each piece individually with water and either baking soda or vinegar.

French Press vs. Other Popular Brewing Methods

French Press vs. Pour Over

Graphic showing icons of French press and pour over coffee

A French press will give you a fuller-bodied, more oily cup of coffee than if you brew with a pour-over cone. That’s because the mesh filter allows a lot more through than a paper pour-over filter does.

Darker roasts align nicely with the full, rich character of French press. For lighter roasts and tasting the distinctness of the bean, you might want to choose a pour-over.

Pour-over also offers slightly easier cleanup, and a more active, hands-on brewing method.

We explain more in a post comparing French press with Chemex coffee.

French Press vs. Drip Coffee

Graphic showing icons of French press and drip coffee

Most people come to French press from drip coffee. It is their first “alternative” brewing method.

It makes sense, because the big difference between French press and drip coffee is the flexibility and creativity that French press allows for those who want to experiment. A drip coffee maker is a fuss-free, “set it and forget it” type of coffee maker.

Of course, that also means more can go wrong with a French press. It won’t be as consistent.

Taste-wise, French presses will allow more oil and sediment into your coffee than a drip coffee maker with a paper filter, but a drip machine with a mesh metal filter will produce something closer to French press coffee.

Finally, automatic drip machines contain electronics and technology, so they can go on the fritz. A French press is totally analog, so it will last forever as long as you keep it clean and don’t break it.

French Press vs. AeroPress

Graphic showing icons of French press and AeroPress coffee

French press and AeroPress both use immersion and a plunger, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end.

First of all, AeroPress produces a cleaner, lighter-bodied, less oily cup when used with its typical paper filter. (Metal filters exist as well.)

The AeroPress is much harder to break and much easier to clean, owing to its plastic material and very few parts.

There’s a big difference in capacity: AeroPress brews only one cup at a time—and it’s not a big cup. French presses come in many sizes.

If you’re into experimentation, we’d give the nod to AeroPress. Because its plunger creates pressure that aids with extraction, you can try much shorter steeping times and play around a lot with grind size. Every AeroPress aficionado has their own recipe, but French press fans are generally in agreement about how to do it best.

French Press vs. Moka Pot

Graphic showing icons of French press and moka pot coffee

A French press and a moka pot have comparable brew times and a similar degree of difficulty when it comes to operation, but they produce quite different cups of coffee.

A moka pot brews using pressure, while a French press is all immersion. Perhaps this accounts for the difference in taste.

Moka pot coffee tends to be stronger and sharper than French press, making it a great choice to blend with milk or cream. French press usually has more body, more nuance, and a silkier mouthfeel.

You can’t play around much with a moka pot. The moka pot decides how long to brew for, and it’s usually quite particular about grind size, too. Once you find the grind that works, you should probably stick with it rather than experiment. So a French press gives you more flexibility.

Another key difference is that a moka pot is virtually indestructible. Most French presses are far from it. Choose stainless steel if durability is a concern.

Give French Press Coffee a Try

If you’re already a French press brewer and you’re just looking for a way to improve your coffee, we hope you’ve found something in this post that will help you get there. We encourage you to click on the links where we explore several of these topics in much more depth.

If you haven’t yet taken the plunge—pardon the pun—what are you waiting for? A French press is affordable, and much easier to use than it might look like at first glance.

It may also change your perspective on what coffee can be. The baristas at your local specialty coffee shop know what they’re doing. Ask them to brew you some French press coffee, and you’ll see what we mean.