Press Pot Tutorial

My favorite method of brewing coffee is using the press pot. The press pot, also known as the French Press, produces an extremely rich cup of coffee. Brewing in the french press is simple and easy. In this article we will go through how the press pot differs from other brewing techniques. I’ll also cover how to make an excellent cup of coffee and troubleshoot some of the most common mistakes beginners make.

Before we dive into brewing a cup, let me first describe the taste of press pot coffee. Press pot coffee is coffee steeped for 3-4 minutes at a high temperature (195-205 F), which gives it a thicker and richer taste than you’ll find with an auto-drip machine. Drip coffee makers produce a very clean coffee, whereas the press pot may have trace amounts of coffee sediment. Some people will be turned off by the sediment. Others will cherish the richness. Since discovering the press pot 6 years ago, I stopped making drip coffee in my home. In fact my drip coffee-maker is buried underneath the counter.

Grinding and Dosage

According to Bodum, the most popular manufacturer of the French Press coffee maker, for each 1.25 dl/4 oz. cup, put 1 rounded tablespoon of coarse ground coffee into the pot. That may seem like a lot for many. I have found the French Press is extremely forgiving if don’t get the measurements exactly right. Experiment and you’ll find the ideal dosage that you enjoy the most. You will be striving for an even grind that is slightly larger than the grind you use for drip coffee. If you grind too fine the plunger can clog and the result is a bitter cup of coffee. On the flip-side, if your grind is too coarse and uneven the coffee will taste weak. Investing in a quality grinder is the single greatest thing you can do to improve the quality of your press pot coffee.

French Press Coffee Setup
French Press Coffee Setup

French Press Coffee Grounds
French Press Coffee Grounds

Brewing Instructions

  1. Remove the plunger from the press pot.
  2. Grind coffee coarse for press pot and add the ground coffee to the glass carafe.
  3. Pour hot water over the ground coffee. The water should be just off boil (195-205 F). Once a kettle comes to a boil, remove from heat and wait 10 seconds before pouring.
  4. Using a knife, spoon or chop-stick give the coffee a quick stir. That will ensure total saturation of the ground coffee.
  5. Place the plunger unit on top. Don’t press down yet.
  6. Let the coffee steep for 3-4 minutes.
  7. Using steady pressure depress the plunger. It should have some resistance, but not too much.
  8. Serve and enjoy!

Coffee Steeping for 3 to 4 minutes
Coffee Steeping for 3 to 4 minutes.

I recommend serving all the coffee immediately after the 3-4 minutes of steeping. Keeping the coffee in the glass beaker will slow, but not stop the brewing. The coffee may begin to get bitter. So if you have extra coffee consider transfering it to a thermal container. Personally, I only brew enough for one mug of coffee. My only decision is whether I want a 10 oz, 15 oz, or 24oz mug!

Coffee Brewing in the French Press
Coffee Brewing in the French Press

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.

Problem Solution
Coffee Tastes Weak Most 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 Bitter The coffee has been ground too fine. Next time use a coarser grind.
Coffee Taste Too Strong Use 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 Sediment This 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 Woes If everything tastes right, but the sediment is bothering you then consider replacing the stainless steel screen with a nylon fine sediment screen.
Water Takes Too Long to Boil I 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 a top of the line electric kettle.
Inconsistent Grind My 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

The press pot is the perfect brewing system for the office and for camping. At the office you can stay clear of the gross break room drip pot and brew your own. You may need to bring in your own electric kettle as most hot water dispensers do not produce water hot enough for optimal brewing. Because the french press itself doesn’t require electricity, it is the ideal brewing method for the great outdoors. Your only requirement is heating up the water over a campfire.

Tips From Richard Nelson of Sandy, Utah

One thing to keep in mind as you prepare your delicious French Press brew: most of these pots are made of glass, and they love to break. Several manufacturers mention the importance of using a wooden spoon to stir the grounds. I always assumed it was a taste thing, until I inadvertandly klunkled the side of the pot a wee bit too heartily. CRASH! Instant debris. My next FP lasted a bit longer, due in part to my careful use of the wooden spoon method. Then I grazed the hard sink edge ever so slightly while rinsing it out. Similar effect.

NOW, I have discovered the Starbucks Stainless Steel French Press! I find others are carrying them, too. Williams-Sonoma, for example. I was concerned about taste, but I can report the metal matters not! It just doesn’t break, and it keeps the coffee hotter longer if you pre-heat.

Tip From Christine McLaughlin of Sarasota, FL

I just wanted to add that I use a wooden chopstick for stirring in my glass press pot, and it’s ideal … it doesn’t carry enough weight to shatter the glass, and I get a perfect “bloom” every time.

Photos by Ryan Jacobs.

Bodum 1548-01US Brazil 1-liter 34-Ounce French Press Coffeemaker, Black
Bodum 1548-01US Brazil 1-liter 34-Ounce French Press Coffeemaker, Black (AMAZON.COM)

Resources

Troubleshooting French Press Coffee – A guide to impriving your French Press coffee.

Bodum Brazil 1-Liter 34-Ounce French Press Coffeemaker – Product page on Amazon.com.

Keeping Your French Press Clean – How to clean your Press Pot.

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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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