Did you know that most people make at least one mistake in using a French press? By the end of this guide, you’ll know if you’re doing it right or wrong, and we’ll make sure you know the right process to make great coffee each time.
The good news is that the correct way is still very simple.
So, if you landed here because your coffee tastes like brake fluid and you’re wondering what the heck is going on, you came to the right place. This guide will also help you troubleshoot your way to a perfect cup of coffee.
If you just bought a French press and haven’t used it yet, start at the next section. If you’re a veteran French press user, skip on ahead to the section on tips.
What Is a French Press?
A French press is a device that uses immersion blending, meaning your grounds sit in hot water for a little bit. The French press includes a few different parts.
There’s the beaker or carafe, which is usually made of glass so you can see what’s going on. However, some aren’t clear glass. The carafe has a base and handle so you don’t singe your hands or a surface you set it on.
Also, there’s a lid that typically has an attached plunger and filters. If you haven’t assembled your French press yet, it’ll only take a few minutes.
The process is simple. You put grounds and hot water in the press, let them brew, press down the plunger and pour your coffee.
French Press Tips
Let’s talk filters for a second. If your French press has multiple filters, that’s good. If it doesn’t, you may not like the result.
So, if you haven’t purchased a French press yet, buy one with a triple filter setup.
We also need to talk about bases or braces, whatever you prefer to call them. The piece that holds your carafe can be a friend or foe.
There are some cheap designs that basically “pinch” your carafe. It can be a headache to pry them open to put the carafe back after you wash it. Look for a removable carafe with a base that isn’t so pliable if you don’t want to take your chances.
With a non-pliable base, you simply slip the carafe back in when you’re done. You can usually find one that fits your preferences if you look closely at the design and read the description before you buy it.
Another pro tip is to buy a metal French press if you live in a very cold area. Metal carafes tend to keep your coffee warmer. Alternately, you can buy an electric French press that does everything for you and keeps your coffee warm.
If you opt for an electric one, only follow the applicable steps.
French Press Brewing Checklist
To make a great cup, gather these things:
- Your French press
- Coffee beans
- Coffee bean grinder
- Distilled water
- Kettle for boiling water
- A gram scale or a heat-safe measuring cup and a tablespoon
How To Make a Perfect Cup of Coffee With a French Press
First, if you’re not sure which type of coffee beans suits your taste preferences, spend a little time reading about how to pick your perfect beans. It’s a must to have the right coffee flavor and aroma profile, which varies between people.
For example, some people prefer blueberry or citrus notes. Some prefer more acidic coffee, and some prefer almost no acidity. Roast level, bean origin, drying and bean quality are all important factors to consider in brewing a perfect cup.
Which roasts work best in a French press? Glad you asked. The general consensus is medium-dark and dark roasts. However, some people swear by a medium roast. Again, this is up to you, so feel free to experiment.
To make this easier to reduce, double or modify, we’ll set the instructions for 12 ounces of coffee. Why? Because most of us can’t function on a small cup of coffee. If you can, you’re awesome!
Now, let’s get to the part you’ve all been waiting for.
Do this first to help your coffee come out the right temperature. Use boiling or very hot water. Pour it into the French press to sit while you prepare everything else.
Once you dump out your preheating water, quickly wipe out the carafe to dry it. Just make sure to brew your coffee before your carafe cools again.
2. Measure and Grind
Measure your coffee next. Use fresh-ground beans at a medium-coarse grind for best results. If you have a scale, it’s much better to measure your coffee beans and water.
With a gram-based scale, measure out 27 grams of beans and 354.84 grams of water. If you don’t have a scale, use about 5 tablespoons of beans and 12 ounces of water.
Remember to use a medium-coarse grind. Don’t use pre-ground coffee from a store shelf since many of those blends skate the line between medium and medium-fine consistency.
This coffee-to-water ratio is right smack in the middle of the strength scale. It’s not too weak, not too strong and should be pretty smooth.
3. Heat the Water
You can heat the water in a stovetop kettle, an electric kettle or whatever you want. Many coffee connoisseurs invest in a gooseneck kettle.
With a stovetop kettle or one with a thermometer, you can easily monitor the water temperature. Let it cool to the right temperature if you let your water boil in an electric kettle.
The ideal temperature for brewing in a French press is between 195 degrees and 205 degrees Fahrenheit. Water that’s too hot or not hot enough can affect the taste.
So, why did we specify distilled water in the checklist? It doesn’t leave residue or buildup on most kettles like tap water or spring water. Also, it yields a better taste than tap water.
4. Brew Your Coffee
Dump the grounds in your preheated carafe. Add the correct measurement of hot water. Put on the lid, and set a timer.
Five minutes is an ideal time length for brewing French press coffee. However, some people prefer to shave off a minute from that. Try both to see which suits your taste better.
Slowly press down the plunger. In some cases, a plunger that’s harder to press down means that your grounds are too fine. However, multi-filter presses can be harder to press down all the time, and that’s normal. You’ll know if it’s a grind issue when you taste the coffee and inspect the bottom of your cup.
Ok, for the love of all things, please don’t let your coffee sit in the French press if you don’t pour all of it into a large cup or thermos right away.
It’s important to decant any coffee that you’re not planning to drink in the next several minutes. Letting it sit in the French press while you savor half of it means the rest that you go back for will probably disappoint you. This is one of the most common mistakes.
French Press Coffeemaking Troubleshooting
If you follow the tips and steps in the previous sections and still wind up with coffee that tastes bitter, sour or some other level of disappointing, there may be several reasons. These are some troubleshooting questions to ask.
What type of coffee beans am I using? Take a look at your beans. If you see a lot of splintered or thin beans, they’re not good quality. Most of the beans should be whole and shouldn’t be too thin.
Some coffee beans have quality grades based on size. For example, Kenyan beans have grades, and anything lower than AB is pretty undesirable.
Is my carafe squeaky clean? Make sure your French press carafe is clean. If you use a darker roast, it’s common to get an oily residue if you only rinse it out.
Wash it with dish soap and water frequently. Gently clean the filters with soap and water frequently as well. Always avoid harsh brushes or chemicals.
Also, clean out your grinder periodically according to its care instructions, and make sure you at least dust out residue after each use. A small paintbrush works good for this, as long as you haven’t used it to paint before. You can usually find one for about a dollar or two.
What’s the filter situation? A cracked or broken filter can lead to sediment and can definitely affect the taste quality of your coffee.
Also, some cheaper single-filter French presses can just create nasty coffee all the time. Many of them leave quite a bit of sediment, and some don’t have great filters to begin with.
If you’ve been finding a lot of sediment in your coffee no matter what you do and are ready to punch something, look for a triple-filter French press.
Since small cracks can develop over time, be sure to make a habit of examining the filters for cracks whenever you clean them.
Is my coffee coming out too weak? If this is the case, your beans may be too coarse. Try grinding them just a little bit finer. Keep in mind that medium-coarse beans are ideal for a French press.
Is my coffee turning out too bitter or strong? First, make sure that you’re using Arabica beans. If you’re using a cheap blend with a decent amount of Robusta beans, throw it in the trash.
Even if the beans look ok in terms of size and color, it’s hopeless. Robusta is only preferable for people who like bitter coffee.
Check your grind next. If it’s too fine, it can make your coffee taste too strong or bitter. Try grinding it a little coarser.
Also, make sure you don’t brew it too long. That’s a common mistake.
There you have it! Now you know how to make great coffee in your French press. Use the right beans, good quality beans, the right grind, the right water temperature and the right coffee-to-water ratio, and you’ll be sipping a cup of pure bliss.