The Ultimate Guide to Making French Press Coffee at Home
French Press is the closest we get these days to the original way of making coffee, and it’s continued to reinforce its superior qualities as a method the more time that passes. Before you write it off as not possible at the crack of dawn, I have confidence in you — you and your half-awake brain can do this.
I feel good saying that because I’m about to give you the ultimate guide to making French Press Coffee at home.
So I guess I’m more confident in me than you, but you can take the credit. I’m a gracious human being.
The History of French Press Coffee
You likely know the story of Kaldi and his goats discovering the coffee fruit. If you don’t, it’s mostly just the tale of how a herder was tending to his goats, letting them graze and eat mysterious red fruits, ya know, as all pet owners do (not).
It only became apparent when they all started bouncing off the walls like toddlers at bedtime that he had accidentally stumbled upon the greatest fruit every discovered: coffee. These little red ovals were steeped in water and the aromatic scent of the delightful brew made its way across the Arabian peninsula in no time.
It was even used in protein bars to keep warriors awake for battle in some places, fun fact.
The modern version of coffee began in Arabia, where the Muslim community admired the drink for its assistance in keeping them alert during extended prayer sessions. The Yemeni parched and boiled the coffee beans before exporting them, effectively creating a monopoly of the market since parching makes coffee beans infertile. It would be over 300 years before a thrifty Indian pilgrim, Baba Budan, made off with fertile beans strapped across his abdomen.
Back to the OG roasting method, though: french press. Here’s the thing—before some smart, anonymous bloke put a cheesecloth over his pot and strained out the beans and grounds, it can only be assumed that people were swallowing them.
I can’t find definitive proof that people weren’t, at any rate, and I can’t help but shake my head at that nonsense. All hail the dude in France who strained out his grounds using a cheesecloth. You’re the real MVP.
The design was a simple machine that used a metal or cheesecloth screen, which makes it all the sadder that no one put two and two together earlier. It was fitted to a rod and pressed into a pot of coffee to separate the joe from the grounds.
This method wasn’t officially patented until 1929, though, by Attilio Calimani, an Italian designer, really cementing the Italian influence on the coffee industry. French presses go by many names, including cafetière, cafetière à piston, cafeteria (not to be confused with an American place to eat sub-par food on overlarge brown trays—notice the italics), press pot, coffee press, or, the least appetizing of them all, a coffee plunger.
Today, you can find French Presses made of glass, clear plastic, or stainless steel with popular brand names such as Bodum, Melior, Kona, and Mr. Kitchen. They’re made with fancy materials such as borosilicate glass and stainless or military-grade steel. They come with bamboo frames and dual screen filters, and are shaped like R2D2 if you’re really feeling like being that extra. You can attain these bad boys as to-go cups or make full pots to entertain a whole room of people.
We’re fancy folks and we require fancy press pots, so pick your favorite from this total breakdown we've put together for you and then head on back here. We’ll talk morning logistics.
Using a French Press at the Crack of Dawn, The Why
I know that you probably skipped half of that history lesson, and you may or may not have clicked on that link up there about the best-rated French presses on the market.
Okay, I’ll say a little more, largely because I can’t stop myself: choose your French press wisely. Think about how much coffee you drink in the morning or whether you entertain using java. If you like to keep your coffee piping hot for as long as possible, opt for a stainless steel version. If you’re more like me and prefer a brew that isn’t the temperature of molten lava, a borosilicate glass model will likely suit your sensibilities.
If you’ve hit the point where you’re asking why you shouldn’t just set your cup under a Keurig and press exactly one button to produce your cup of black magic: I. Am. Getting. There. Have faith! Or at least a little patience. It’s a virtue, for crying out loud.
The reason you should start using a French press is simple: it tastes better that way.
That’s it. It’s a big it, but that’s 100% why, and the proof is in the puddin’. Or science. Whichever way you’d like to say it.
This isn’t a marginal difference, either. It’s the kind of difference that you’ll notice — even in the zombie-like state of Tuesday morning.
While it may seem simple, what your single serve or percolator does, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes, between the beans and your cup, that are taking away from the complex and gorgeous flavor of your morning mud — and it’s totally innocuous things that are doing the dirty deed.
The very filter that you use to keep your grounds out of your morning cup is taking away from your experience. Coffee beans are naturally covered in oil, and those natural oils bring out the heartiness of the flavor. That thin slip of paper soaks up all of that goodness and ends up in your trashcan. Yes, you should hold a funeral. Those oils deserved better than that — they had so much potential!
Next, heat. It’s pretty standard knowledge that heat plays a large role in the final product. Single-serve machines and percolators heat up quickly and cool down even more rapidly, which isn’t an ideal environment for coffee grounds to steep in.
The flavors are best coaxed out of fresh, coarse grounds by gradual heat loss, i.e., the way a French press naturally works.
And, though I loathe to mention it, all of those pipes and nooks and crannies in your machine are breeding grounds for mold.
What You Need
You need a French press coffee maker (obviously!). Not only is the French press brewing method among the cheapest ways to make a great cup of coffee, but it also happens to be one of the best brewing methods.
Next, you’ll want a conical burr coffee grinder. You can search up and down, article after article, but you’ll likely hear every coffee expert tell you the same thing: toss out your blade grinder and get a conical burr grinder. We prefer ceramic burrs, but you'll also have great results if your grinder has steel burrs. You can take a look at a breakdown of our comparison on manual coffee grinders here, if you so choose. You can also find reasonably-priced automatic ones, but it’s imperative you get a good one.
If you just shook your head and skipped over that last paragraph, here's the short of it: avoid buying pre-ground coffee. Grind it yourself. If you’re committing to make a great cup of coffee every morning, it's simply not easy to do it you're using pre-ground coffee.
The moment coffee is ground, it begins to stale. All of the aroma, the natural oils, what we colloquially call the good stuff, deteriorates. You’ve lost before the battle’s even begun, my friend. French press coffee is also dependent on how the whole beans are ground — if you buy pre-ground, you have no control over consistency.
For a good cup of French press coffee, you want you beans coarse, roughly the same size and consistency as kosher salt. If you grind the coffee too fine, it’ll be difficult to depress the plunger on the press pot, will likely slip past the mesh guard, and the resulting brew will probably be bitter. Most grinders have settings, so make sure you double — even triple — check that you’re good to make a coarse batch of coffee grounds. We went ahead and prepared a guide on the best coffee grinders for French press, so check it out if you're interested in learning more.
So, all that said, the last item you need for French press coffee is a fresh bag of the best whole coffee beans. Fresh is best!
Step By Step
Alright. Here we go. You have three things in front of you: a French press, a conical burr grinder, and a bag of fresh coffee. If you want to do the absolute most, you can also grab a kitchen scale and weigh out the 1.1 oz. of coffee you need to make your morning joe.
If you don’t have one of those and want to dive right in, we have an answer for you. You can do all of the work we did, first by trying to cheat and just type 1 oz. to tablespoons into Google before realizing that fluid ounces and dry ounces are two different things. Then you can regroup and convert ounces to grams so that you can figure out you need 1/8th of a cup, or two tablespoons, or you can realize that I just told you how much you need and grind that much.
Two tablespoons (and, like, a pinch) should bring you pretty close to 1.1 oz. of coarse grinds. That will yield about 17 fluid oz. of coffee. You can fiddle with a little bit more or less on either of these measurements to hit your desired flavor, but it’s a good place to make your baseline.
If this is your first time using a grinder, err on the side of caution. You don’t want to grind too much because, well, you can’t ungrind coffee. Eventually you’ll get a good feel for how many beans you need and it’ll be second nature.
Seal your fresh bag of coffee.
Remove the top of your French press — the lid and the plunger consist of the “top.” You should just have a cylindrical container in front of you.
Next, you can unceremoniously (or perhaps ceremoniously) (however you prefer) dump your coarse grinds into the press pot.
Now, there are several ways to attain hot water at the correct temperature. If you want to just boil some up on the stove, remember that you should not dump boiling water into your French press. You want it just below boiling, between 199-205 degrees F.
Water boils at 212 degrees F. Common sense says to let the water boil over the fire, remove the pan from heat, and let cool for a minute or two before putting it into your French press.
Opting to microwave water is fairly easy, as well. It’s a simple correlation: one cup of water takes one minute to boil. The kicker here is that wattage on microwaves can vary. If your microwave is 1000 watts, you’re golden: the one minute to one cup ratio is dead on. You’ll have to adjust for other wattages.
Remember: do not dump boiling water into your press pot. Let it cool.
You can also be savvy and use a thermometer rather than the guessing method. I mean, I probably won’t, but you can be smarter than me.
Once you’ve acquired water of the correct temperature, settle the lid nice and tight back on the cylinder container.
Now, and here’s the tough part, don’t touch it for four whole minutes. Set a timer. Go make your bowl of cereal, turn the TV on, let the dog out, dance a jig, whatever you’d like, but just let the French press do it’s simple magic uninterrupted.
Once the timer dings, you’ll depress the plunger. This separates the grounds from the delicious java in one fell swoop — and ta-da!
Totally ready for enjoyment. Most French presses have a convenient spout to pour directly from the container to your mug for optimal, fuss-free transference.
And, just like that, you’ve made a coffee-connoisseur-worthy cup of the good stuff that will have been completely worth the wait.
Like everything else, things can go wrong. Let’s chat about what the cause might be.
My coffee tastes weak.
If it’s fresh, up the amount of grounds you’re using. It’s possible that there aren’t enough. Alternatively, if that doesn’t fix the problem, consider the temperature of the water. If it’s cooling too much before you put it in the French press, it might not be extracting all of the complexity and notes.
My coffee tastes bitter.
Check the grind setting on your conical burr. If the grounds are too fine, they will be bitter. Also, if you allow your coffee to steep too long, it can also take on that acrid flavor that’s particularly displeasing. Make sure that you’re removing it from the grounds after the allotted four minutes. If none of that fixes the problem, ensure that the water isn’t too hot. Adding it while it’s still boiling will burn your coffee.
Those are really the two prominent problems. Basically, follow the directions as best you can and you should be handsomely rewarded.
Yes, using a French press to make your coffee takes a full five to seven minutes, depending on how sloth-like you are in the morning. The payoff is great, though, and not just in flavor. That deliciousness helps you start off your day the right way, and that counts for a lot.
This ultimate guide to making French press coffee at home has everything you need to become a pro, and even directs you to some other fantastic resources to gather all of your supplies. Take advantage of this wealth of knowledge and use it!
We have confidence in you!