French Press Tutorial

Of all the different coffee brewing methods, the one I’ve used the most has been the French Press. Also known as a press pot, the French Press is a simple way to make a rich delicious cup of coffee.

The French Press is a low tech portable coffee brewing method. Let hot water steep over coarsely ground coffee for 3-4 minutes before pressing down the filter and serving. It doesn’t get more simple than that. This tutorial will go into grind, water temperature, steep time and fixing common issues when the brew is less than perfect.

french press empty

#1 Dosing The Coffee

By weight or by volume? Weighing will give you more repeatable results than using volume, as there can be more variance measuring when using tablespoons than a gram scale. However, the French Press is pretty forgiving so either method is fine. We will cover both methods.

Measure By Weight

There is no consensus on the ideal brewing ratio for the French Press. Before putting this tutorial together, I visited the recommendations of many roasters and discovered ratios between 10:1 and 18:1. When I threw out the outliers and averaged the rest, the ratio came out to 15.5:1. That means 15.5 grams of water for every 1 gram of coffee.

The fact the ranges were so different speaks to the fact that French Press coffee can taste great using different measurements and precision is less important than other brewing methods.

Measure By Volume

Going by volume, a good starting point is to use 1 tablespoon of coffee for every 4 fluid ounces of water. Some of the stronger recipes say 1 tablespoon of coffee for every 3 ounces. You may increase the amount of coffee to your desired taste. Below is a general range to get you started.

  • Bodum 3 cup (12 oz) = 3-4 tablespoons
  • Bodum 4 cup (17 oz) = 4-5 tablespoons
  • Bodum 8 cup (34 oz) = 9-10 tablespoons
  • Bodum 12 cup (51 oz) = 13-15 tablespoons

Bodum Chambord 8 cup French Press Coffee Maker, 34 oz., Chrome
Bodum Chambord 8 cup French Press Coffee Maker, 34 oz., Chrome

#2 Grind Coffee and Heat Water

Before you start grinding the coffee, heat up some water.

The French Press uses a coarse grind. See the photo below.

French Press Grind by US nickel

From the Coffee Grind Chart

#3 Add Coffee and Water to French Press

Add the ground coffee into the French Press. Once the water reaches boil, wait about 30 seconds before pouring onto the coffee. This will lower the temperature from boiling to around 200° F, which is ideal for brewing.

Start a timer and pour water onto the coffee grounds.

add coffee french press

french press add water

#4 Stir (or not)

When you pour the water into the French Press there may be a bloom at the top where the coffee is either clumped or not making contact with the water. You can minimize that by pouring slowly in a controlled manner, but you still will likely want to give it a stir.

I used to stir the entire French Press. That is not necessary. Just stir the top inch. Use a chopstick or spoon. Some advise using a wooden spoon as there have been cases where a metal spoon has cracked the glass of the French Press. But if you are gentle, that shouldn’t be a concern. The goal here is to get all the coffee making contact with water.

After this, place the plunger on top of the coffee pot in the up position. This will minimize heat loss. Don’t press down yet.

french press steeping

#5 After 3-4 Minutes Press Down Slowly

The recommended brew time for the French Press ranges from 2.5 – 6 minutes, with the most commonly cited time being 4 minutes.

I have brewed thousands of French Press pots and prefer 3.5 minutes. Full extraction and rich without being too heavy. Fellow INeedCoffee contributor Chris Arnold likes 2.5 minutes. At the other end of the spectrum, Seattle Coffee Works advises a 6 minute steep for Indonesian coffees (4 minutes for other beans). This will come down to personal preference.

Beyond all the debates about optimal brewing times, is the reality that in the kitchen we can easily become distracted waiting for our coffee to finish brewing. The longer the brew time, the more opportunities for distraction. Aiming for a 3 to 3.5 minute brew time has worked much better for me than the 4 to 6 minute range.

When it does come time to press the plunger down, be gentle. Slow and even. It should have some resistance, but not too much. If there is no resistance, you might need to grind a little finer. If it is too hard to press down, use a coarser grind.

french press plunging

#6 Serve Coffee

Pour and enjoy. French Press coffee will have some sediment. To minimize getting that grit, I usually leave 1/2-1 inch of coffee in the press pot. I also won’t drink the last mouthful of each mug. The sediment doesn’t really bother me, but I’d like to end each mug of coffee where the first sip tastes as good as the last sip, so I avoid the last few drops.

french press finished

Troubleshooting Bad Coffee

Beginners can make some mistakes early on that may result in less-than-optimal coffee. Below is a chart of some common press pot problems and my solution.

ProblemSolution
Coffee Tastes WeakMost likely the grind is too coarse. Grind the coffee a little finer. Also make sure you are allowing the coffee to steep for 3-4 minutes.
Coffee Tastes BitterThe coffee has been ground too fine. Next time use a coarser grind.
Coffee Taste Too StrongUse a 3 minute steep. Don’t let the brewed coffee sit inside the glass beaker brewing. Move it from the press pot to a thermal container or just brew what you need. Also note that if you’ve been accustomed to drinking drip coffee, press pot coffee will taste richer (stronger) at first.
Gritty/Thick SedimentThis could be a problem with the filter. If the filter doesn’t fit snuggly against the glass, coffee sediment will go into the upper chamber. Filters can become damaged. You can purchase replacement filters.
Sediment WoesIf everything tastes right, but the sediment is bothering you then consider purchasing the Espro Press, which has a tighter filter than traditional French Press coffee brewers. Another option is to cut up a paper filter as shown in this hack.
Water Takes Too Long to BoilI feel your pain. Only boil the amount needed for your press pot. In other words, don’t completely fill your kettle. If heating the water still takes too long, consider getting an electric kettle.
Inconsistent GrindMy guess is you have one of those $20 blade grinders. Some of the coffee is coarsely ground and some is ground fine. Getting an excellent grind from a blade grinder takes practice. Buying a burr grinder is ultimately a better solution.

This table has been expanded into a full article: Troubleshooting French Press Coffee.

Cleaning

The stainless steel french press is easy to disassemble and clean. Although it’s not necessary to disassemble before cleaning, every so often you would want to give your press pot a complete cleaning. For more instructions read Keeping Your French Press Clean. For day to day cleaning, I just give my brewer a quick rinse. Every so often, I will put it inside the dishwasher.

Final Thoughts

Once you’ve dialed in the grind and the dosage, the French Press is a very easy way to make great coffee. if you don’t have a French Press already, check out Buying a French Press – Picking the Right One.

Resources

Bodum Chambord 8 cup French Press Coffee Maker – Amazon USA

Espro Press – High end French Press with an excellent filter – Amazon USA.

Bodum Bistro Electric Burr Coffee Grinder, Black – Amazon USA.

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Michael Allen Smith

Michael Allen Smith fell in love with coffee while attending college. Shortly after graduating college, he found himself in the Tampa Bay area far away from the good coffee he had at The Ohio State University. That is when he starting home roasting coffee. Less than a year later in April 1999, he launched the coffee website INeedCoffee.com. INeedCoffee.com has been going strong ever since with hundreds of articles and tutorials submitted by over one hundred contributors.

In 2007, Michael moved to America's coffee capitol Seattle, Washington. He has visited close to two hundred different coffee places in Seattle, Portland and Vancouver and met many of the top roasters and baristas in the country. Since 2009, Michael has been the Organizer of the Coffee Club of Seattle, which is a Meetup group of over 600 coffee enthusiants. Besides the social aspect of the group, the Coffee Club of Seattle partners with local coffee professionals for educational events such as coffee cuppings, brewing demonstrations and roasting tours.

Unrelated to coffee, Michael has a personal blog at CriticalMAS.com which covers several topics including fitness, cooking and finance.

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