There is something about a delicious, robust cup of coffee in the morning that starts the day off right. I love going by my local coffee shop and picking up an artfully brewed coffee, but I don’t always have the time or money to do it. I’ve had to learn how to make cafe-quality coffee at home.
The most common home coffee brewing method is drip coffee because it’s easy and convenient, but that doesn’t make it the best. There is not much artistry or control involved in drip coffee, which can lead to pretty generic-tasting coffee. Plus, if you leave it on the hot plate for too long it will start tasting burnt and bitter.
When I was at University, my standard drip coffee maker broke and I was shopping for a new one. I was pretty broke at the time so when I saw a French Press for $20, I decided to go for it. After a little research and practice, I learned how to use a french press to create delicious coffee from home.
It’s been 10 years and the French Press remains my go-to home brewing method. It is just as fast and easy as drip coffee but allows for much more control over the final result. Not to mention the coffee produced tastes like cafe quality without the hassle or expense of going to a coffee shop.
How to use a French Press to create the best coffee?
In order to make the best use of a French Press you need to understand a few things. First, you need to know what a French Press is and how it works. Second, you need to know how to best use a French Press. And finally, you need to know what to look for when you buy a French Press.
What is a French Press?
A French Press is a manual coffee brewing system that involves steeping coffee grounds with freshly boiled water in a cylindrical carafe. You then filter out the grounds using a plunging filter.
The coffee produced has a very full-bodied flavor that is comparable to pour-over or Aeropress coffee. The method is more controllable and gentle than drip coffee but requires less attention and technique than pour-over.
Facts about the French Press:
- They usually hold 34 oz of liquid and produce 2-3 cups.
- More oils and sediment are extracted from the coffee grounds using a french press than any other method. This contributes to the robust flavor and creamy texture.
- They are easy to use and clean
- Can be very affordable
- There is no electricity needed making it a great option while traveling or camping.
- No need for disposable filters so it has a small footprint.
- Can be used for cold brew or loose-leaf tea.
- Requires you to boil water separately.
- You need to monitor water temperature, grind size, and brewing time
- Needs to be served immediately.
How does a French Press work?
The process is fairly simple. Soak your ground coffee in hot water for a specific duration of time then use the built-in plunger to filter the grounds from the coffee.
The absence of filter paper allows more oils from the coffee to transfer to the water. Those oils are what gives the coffee its flavor. More oils equal more flavor!
It was not until I started using a French Press that was able to start actually distinguishing the differences between coffee beans. Before, all coffee pretty much tasted the same. Now, I am able to notice the different flavor profiles because they actually taste different.
What do you need?
Water – Ideally, you would be able to use water that has been filtered to remove any impurities or odors that might affect the final taste.
Coffee beans – The type of coffee beans is up to you. Generally speaking, the fresher the roast the better the taste.
Personally, I prefer a medium roast. Dark roasts tend to be too acidic for my stomach and light roasts don’t lend themselves well to a slower brewing method.
The French press is designed to draw out the rich, smooth, full-bodied flavor so choose coffee beans that fit that agenda.
Coffee grinder – For the freshest-tasting coffee, every barista will tell you that grinding your coffee to order is the best option. However, If you want to save a little time and money a coffee grinder isn’t entirely necessary. You can always buy your coffee pre-ground.
Note: if you buy your coffee pre-ground, try to get coarse grounds if possible. They will filter and bloom better than fine grounds. Finely ground coffee will taste bitter and harsh due to over-extraction.
Scale or coffee scoop – You will need a way to measure your grounds. Most baristas like to use a scale because it is a sure way to get consistently great coffee.
However, at home, I am less concerned with consistency and prefer the ease of a scoop. If you use a scoop, just make sure you level it out.
Note: Use the ratio of 1:16 coffee-to-water. That’s 1 ounce of coarsely ground coffee (5-6 tbsp) for every 16 ounces of water (2 cups)
Thermometer – For the best results, your water needs to be approximately 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Too hot and your coffee will taste bitter. Too cold and your coffee will taste watered down. You need a way to check the temperature of the water to make sure you get it right.
Kettle – I personally use an electric kettle but you can use a stove-top one as well. If you don’t have a kettle you can always boil water in a pot and then carefully pour it in. A kettle is just a safer option.
When shopping for a French Press
You will want to consider the following:
Consider the material
Make sure the material is solid. Glass or stainless steel is the most recommended for first-timers. If the carafe is made of plastic it won’t last as long and over time it will negatively affect the taste of your coffee.
Consider the size
Depending on how you plan to use your french press, there are a variety of sizes available. The average size is 34oz which will make about 3 small cups of coffee.
Will you be needing to make batches often? If so you might want to go with a larger-than-average size. If you only plan to make a single cup at a time, they have small options available as well.
Note: Just remember that French Press coffee needs to be served quickly. It will not stay good for long so there is no need to make batches in advance.
Consider the design
If you are concerned with whether or not it will fit your design style then you might want to consider the visual design of the press. Some feature solid insulated carafes while others are clear glass with stainless steel, plastic, or even wood handles.
Consider the extras
Many french presses will come with added features like a built-in thermometer, a silicone seal, or rust-proof material.
A few helpful tips before you get started:
1- Use Coarse Grounds
The finer coffee is ground the faster it absorbs into the water. So the slow brewing process of a French Press is ideal for coarsely ground coffee. It’s basically the opposite of espresso in that way.
2- Use The Right Water Temperature
As I mentioned above, the temperature of the water can impact the taste of your coffee. The perfect temperature is between 195-200 degrees Fahrenheit.
If you don’t have a thermometer to check this, you can get close by waiting 30-45 seconds after your water has reached its final boiling point in your kettle.
3- Push The Plunger Slowly
The plunger is what filters your coffee. If you move too quickly loose grounds might push their way through the sides. Nobody likes loose grounds in their coffee.
4- Clean It Well In-Between Uses
Make sure you take the time to clean out your French Press in-between uses. Old, left-over grounds and coffee residue will leave a nasty taste in your coffee.
Note: You can easily take apart the plunger to clean the filter properly. The filter can also be replaced if necessary.
5- Remember Your Ratios
It’s very tempting to use too little coffee when you first switch to using a French Press. You will want to use 1 ounce of ground coffee for every 16 ounces of water. That’s roughly 5-6 flat tablespoons for every 2 cups.
Step-by-Step Guide on How to Use a French Press
Step 1: Bring your water to boil using a kettle. Once it’s reached a full boil, check the temperature and allow it to cool to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. This should take around 30 seconds.
Step 2: While you wait for the water to cool, measure out your coffee grounds and add them to your empty carafe. If you are doing a full (34 oz) carafe I would recommend 5-6 tablespoons of coffee or 1 oz.
Step 3: Pour about half of the hot water over the coffee grounds to begin the bloom. After about a minute a crust will form along the top. Once it has, let it sit for about 30 seconds.
Note: When hot water is poured over the ground coffee it releases trapped gasses. The wet grounds begin to expand or “bloom.” This blooming releases delicious aromas and creates a crust that traps rich flavor in the coffee.
Step 4: After your coffee has had time to bloom for 30 seconds, break up the crust by stirring the coffee gently. Pour the remaining half of the water into the carafe. Place the lid on top with the plunger resting on top of the water/grounds. Let your coffee steep for about 3.5 minutes.
Step 5: After 3.5 minutes, slowly filter the grounds from the coffee by pressing the plunger all the way down.
Step 6: Pour your coffee into your mug and enjoy!
To Wrap it Up
Compared to your drip coffee maker, a French Press might seem like it requires more time and work. But in reality, when you start making a habit of it, it really doesn’t feel like very long.
In total it probably takes 8-10 minutes which might be just as long as your drip coffee. The only difference is you have more say in the process. I’ve found that the deliciously rich, full-bodied flavor and creamy texture make it worth the extra effort required.
French Presses aren’t ideal for everyone. If you like to brew large batches of coffee in advance or need to press a button and be done, they might not be the right choice for you. But if you are like me and like to have cafe-quality coffee at home, then they are a great affordable option.
Using a French Press is pretty easy. Just let your coffee grounds sit in hot water for a little while then use the press to filter them out. Now, if you want to make the best coffee possible with a French Press, then I highly advise you to follow the tips and guidance above.
Choose your grounds well. Pay attention to your temperatures. Watch your ratios and timing and you will find yourself with delicious coffee that is full of comforting flavor.