French Press: The Best Tips 2021 for Brewing Coffee Using a Press Pot
Published on: December 7, 2020
Making coffee with a French press is neither trendy nor innovative – and that’s OK! Classics like the Bodum Chambord Coffee Press don’t really need updating. I’ll provide you here with the ultimate French press guide as well as some hot tips from the Coffeeness Community.
As soon as the call to “Make coffee!” goes up, everyone’s thoughts jump immediately to pour-over drippers, portafilters or even super-automatic espresso machines. No one ever seems to think of the poor French press. That’ s certainly the case when I look around at the specialty coffee scene anyway.
The French press isn’t sexy.
There’s hardly any money to be made with French press coffee.
And coffee presses seem like country bumpkins in comparison to the accuracy offered by portafilter machines and the like.
That’s all true – but also completely wrong. While snobbish trendsetters might ignore French press coffee, it’s highly popular with all of you. This is proven by the numerous comments you’ve left under this guide over the years.
The original guide was getting pretty old though, and also contained a few statements that I’d no longer blindly put my name to today. The Bodum French Press being one example.
Besides, you, the Coffeeness Community have contributed so many clever tips that I couldn’t help but write a comprehensive update.
One thing hasn’t changed, however: French press is one of the most straightforward preparation methods out there. Not to mention one of the cheapest. It also provides an enormous caffeine kick, surpassing even espresso!
Unfortunately, this video is only available in German.
You’ll find out how all this is possible below, or in my video:
Unfortunately, this video is only available in German.
While exploring my YouTube channel, I recommend you take a look at my latest French press video called “French Press Coffee: Two Recipes in Comparison”. You can also check out my two older videos (even if it’s just for laughs):
Half the comments section below the original version of this article is filled with criticisms. That’s after I insisted that the Bodum Chambord Coffee Press is the best French press ever.
Your grievances basically boil down to two factors:
That Bodum glass is extremely susceptible to breakage.
There’s no reason to spend so much money.
Having had a few years to think about things and collect notes on your experiences, I’ve come to agree with you here. Despite this, the Chambord remains the undisputed number one in my view and has been in use in my kitchen for many years.
In the meantime, I’ve also reviewed the Bialetti French Press and taken a closer look at the Ikea French Press UPPHETTA, which currently retails for around nine dollars. I have to admit: you can’t really go all that wrong with French press pots.
The quality of the glass carafe is the biggest problem. Yes, Bialetti and Ikea are a bit more robust in this regard. I also agree it’s a bit rude to have to pay 18 dollars plus for a replacement from Bodum. I can well understand that you’re not willing to invest that.
Yet for me, in the case of the Chambord or classic Bodum CAFFETTIERA (which costs less than 20 dollars), it’s the whole package that counts. I like the look, I like the feel, I like the easy handling, and I’ve really come to really love these French presses.
The more familiar you are with your version of press pot, the better the resultant coffee will be. It really doesn’t matter then whether it’s a Bodum, Bialetti, Ikea or any other brand. I find you must simply ensure that the following basic prerequisites are meet:
Carafe made of heat-resistant material – preferably borosilicate glass
High-quality details such as a pleasantly designed plunger
User-friendly plunger filter unit with sturdy mesh screens
Carefully balanced in terms of weight, so you can plunge coffee with confidence
Aesthetically pleasing, so the pot can be placed directly on the table
All components able to be completely disassembled, making cleaning easy
In general, I think it’s important to have a choice of different pot sizes too – you’ll find out why below. Bodum sets a very good example here, whereas other manufacturers only offer a standard size of 1 liter (34 ounces).
The Best French Press with Insulated Carafe: Is There Such a Thing?
While we’re on the subject of your comments: there are just as many criticisms about Bodum as there are criticisms regarding my aversion to French presses with carafes made of stainless steel. These thermos versions are designed (among other things) to keep the coffee nice and warm so you can enjoy it at your leisure.
Strictly speaking, this isn’t a stupid idea. There’s one catch, however: coffee from a French press should either be drunk directly from the pot without delay or immediately served out. By keeping it warm in the carafe, the coffee becomes more bitter and sour with every passing minute. I’ll outline the reasons for this below too.
This conviction formed the basis of my old review report on the Ecooe French Press, which is now no longer sold. You can still find a bunch of other versions based on the same principle though.
After conducting the review, I gave the Ecooe away. I received two pieces of important feedback from the recipient:
A French press made of stainless steel is practically indestructible.
It’s ideal for travelling with.
I fully accept these arguments – and have thus relaxed my resistance to the insulated carafe versions of press pots just a little. Personally though, I still don’t really like them because you can never see what you’re doing.
This has led to many a coffee plunging accident. If you cannot correctly assess whether there’s too much water and coffee in the pot, you sometimes push the plunger down too rigorously, causing the mixture to immediately erupt back up.
The classic Le Creuset Coffee Press suffers from this problem too. I was somewhat blinded here though by its stylish appearance, which positively oozes French country house romance.
Earthenware is an interesting material, very high quality and heavy. In my experience, however, it does need some help in the temperature department. These pots should ideally be preheated a little so that the added water doesn’t cool down too much. This preheating stage isn’t necessary with glass or stainless-steel carafes – even if many people do recommend it.
Le Creuset is also synonymous for show-off kitchen paraphernalia. Though both their French press and well-known cooking pots are of exceptional quality, you do pay a lot for the privilege.
How Does French Press Coffee Taste?
French press is an immersive preparation method – i.e. a process whereby the individual coffee granules are completely suspended in water for the entire duration of the extraction process and generally aren’t removed. The opposite would be all types of coffee made using filters.
We could therefore also refer to this as a direct preparation method, which has an enormous influence on the typical coffee style: it is much fuller and has more body than any of the indirect methods, thus bringing the boldest coffee character traits to the fore.
This, in turn, carries the risk that the resultant coffee may turn out too bitter or too sour. However, this usually only happens when using coffee beans that don’t otherwise have much to say in terms of flavor. *harrumph* Dallmayr *cough*.
For all these reasons, it’s no wonder that French press contains comparatively more caffeine than an espresso (based on typical serving size). You can find the exact calculations and scientific measurements in my full report “How Much Caffeine Is in Your Coffee?”
That doesn’t mean, however, that floral subtleties and background nuances don’t stand any chance in a French press. It just depends how you go about the preparation and which roasts you use. We’ll cover that now.
Brewing Coffee Using a French Press: A Brief Tutorial
At first glance, brewing coffee using a French press is super easy: pour in a reasonable amount of ground coffee, add water, wait a moment, plunge, then drink.
It doesn’t get much harder, even at second glance. I consider French press to be a preparation method that readily forgives any mistakes you might make. This is an advantage of direct extraction, which compensates for problems with one parameter in another elsewhere.
It’s also the reason why many of you have added your own tips and ideas to my basic instructions. Some of you have even created a form of espresso with the French press! So far as I’ve been able to fit them in, I’ve included these tips from the Coffeeness Community in this new guide.
The following parameters are therefore somewhat (!) a matter of interpretation, but they’re also the standard by which you’ll obtain a coffee of strong character typical of the French press style.
In addition to choosing the right coffee beans, I consider grind size to be one of the most important factors influencing press pot coffee. The finer you grind your beans, the larger the contact area will be. This increases the risk that you’ll over-extract the coffee and produce only bitter compounds and acids that overwhelm all the other nuances.
Using coarser coffee granules also ensures that they’ll be caught by the mesh filter screen and pressed down inside the pot. This then reduces the amount of coffee grinds that end up between your teeth – one of the biggest objections people have to French press coffee.
The mesh of the screen in your plunger filter unit should therefore be seen as the physical reference value determining the correct grind size to use.
In absolute terms, on a scale of 1 to 10, you’re looking at a grind setting of around 8. But experiment a bit, every coffee grinder is calibrated slightly differently.
By the way, I get the impression that one reason the French press isn’t so heavily promoted is because it doesn’t make use of the grind supplied as ready-made supermarket coffee. This is optimized instead for drip coffee makers and is thus too fine for coffee presses – hence why Folgers tastes even worse when brewed using a press pot.
Some commenters have indicated they’re able to achieve great results even with very finely ground coffee. This only works if you decrease the brewing time, however. You should use a smaller amount of coffee in this case too.
Quantity of Coffee
I’ve found you don’t have to be quite so precise when it comes to the amount of coffee you use with your French press. A loose wrist or guesstimating techniques will still yield good results.
The ratio generally is: 55 to 65 grams (approx. 5.5 to 6.5 rounded tablespoons) of ground coffee per 1 liter (34 ounces) of water.
I normally use 55 grams, but many manufacturers and roasters recommend 65 grams. The latter is usually too powerful for me and lacks any sense of elegance.
As mentioned previously, press pots are available in different sizes ranging from 0.35 liters (12 ounces) up to 1.5 liters (51 ounces). Even if you don’t have to be one hundred percent accurate, you do still need to calculate the actual quantity of coffee required.
One rounded tablespoon corresponds to around 10 grams (0.35 ounces) of coffee, a so-called dosing spoon (i.e. the coffee scoop that comes with many drip coffee makers etc.) holds between 7 and 8 grams (0.25 and 0.28 ounces).
If doing the math is just too much trouble and you don’t want to use scales, I’ve put together a small table of the usual Bodum carafe sizes for you:
Amount of Ground Coffee
0.35 L (12 oz)
20 g (2 rounded tablespoons)
0.50 L (17 oz)
28 g (3 rounded tablespoons)
1.0 L (34 oz)
55 g (5.5 rounded tablespoons)
1.5 L (51 oz)
80 g (8 rounded tablespoons)
Despite the imprecision, be sure to neither overdo nor underdo it in terms of dosage. As a direct preparation method, French press does quite clearly reflect this parameter – usually for the worse!
The ideal water temperature for French press brewing is 95 degrees Celsius (200°F). You should be a bit stricter here than with the dosage or grind size guidelines.
Each and every coffee granule is in constant contact with the water during the entire extraction process. Temperature is therefore an important adjustment parameter affecting the speed and intensity of extraction.
If you don’t feel like using a kitchen thermometer, you can use a water kettle with temperature display. Or simply follow the rule of thumb ‘the boiling point of water plus 90 seconds wait time’. This isn’t exactly accurate, but sufficient for everyday use.
If you follow my standard procedures for all other points, the ideal infusion time is 4 minutes. Following other guidelines will see this time change accordingly. I’m not dogmatic about this, but likewise don’t see any reason why you’d let the coffee steep longer or shorter.
Skimming: Yes or No?
Many guides say that, before plunging, you should take a spoon and skim the surface of coffee sludge and foam. I have a strongly indifferent opinion about this, however.
Skimming stops the extraction process, thus preventing the coffee from becoming too bitter. Floral notes then also have a chance to shine. Skimming also reduces the risk of annoying coffee grounds ending up in your cup. Thirdly, the whole brew becomes easier to plunge.
On the other hand, French press coffee is what it is precisely because of the unique characteristics of its extraction and preparation processes. You’ve adjusted all the other parameters beforehand, to fit these unique characteristics – from grind size to fill quantity. And that’s why I think it makes sense for you to just use the device the way it was originally intended. Without skimming.
What I mean to say is: try both options. If skimming makes the coffee taste better or more palatable, stick with it. If not, then don’t.
In the previous version of this guide, I mentioned several times that I now no longer use a metal spoon for skimming.
This statement prompted very many questions. The logic is simple: metal spoons knocking against glass – especially if it’s not extremely thick – can cause shattering to occur.
Practical Preparation Tips
Having covered the basic parameters, I’d now like to give you a couple more tips to help you get the most out of your coffee or enable you to get to know that same old coffee bean in an entirely new way.
This intermediate step loosens the coffee grounds and ensures that each coffee granule comes into contact with water at the same time. It can therefore be seen as a quick and crude version of the pre-infusion step undertaken when brewing with a pour-over coffee dripper.
Because the mesh filter only somewhat separates the coffee grounds from the finished brew, every second spent in the French press sees the coffee continue to undergo extraction. Hence why different sizes of carafe are available to suit your actual levels of demand. You can brew greater amounts too, of course, but should then immediately serve the coffee out into another vessel. Not doing so will certainly cause it to become bitter and sour.
The mesh screens and plunger work against the resistance of the increasingly compacted coffee grounds and ideally form a closed unit against the rim of the carafe. Poorly fitting screens allow far too much coffee sediment to pass through, can cause a jam or even completely fall off – it’s all happened to me before.
If the plunger starts to encounter too much resistance, try pulling the whole plunger filter unit back up slightly and then pressing down again. Pulling upwards gives the coffee grounds a chance to redistribute more evenly, loosening any lumps.
According to commenter Udo, you can also press the plunger about three quarters of the way down before gently shaking the pot. Gravity then causes the grinds to sink to the bottom. Yeah, that works too – but might be bit cumbersome with large carafes and large volumes of coffee.
When manufacturers promise you a 1-liter (34-ounce) French press, they’re referring to the entire container, which not only has to accommodate the water, but also the ground coffee. For this reason, you’ll only ever get around 800 milliliters (27 ounces) of finished coffee from a vessel this size. The same principle applies to the other pot sizes too. This isn’t an example of misleading advertising, but does regularly mislead customers. It results in another kind of confusion too.
Always fill your French press right up and don’t just halve the amount of coffee and water when you only want half a pot of brew – that trick won’t work without using a calculator. That’s because a 1-liter (34-ounce) pot doesn’t just hold a liter of water, but a liter of water plus ‘stuff’ at the bottom. Halving the water doesn’t change the amount of stuff. This means you also have to factor this amount of stuff in when calculating the amount of finished coffee. I’m not sure whether you have to add or subtract it – my head’s already smoking! Let’s just avoid this whole nonsense then.
Incidentally, in the course of working out this stupid calculation, many people interested in Bodum have noted that the space underneath the plunger (for stuff) is just as large in the smaller Bodum coffee presses as it is in the larger ones – and that this could be disadvantageous during extraction. I halfway agree with you there. That’s because compression of the coffee grinds by the plunger doesn’t entirely stop extraction taking place, but does substantially slow it down. If the coffee grinds are allowed to float freely on the bottom, however, no interruption to the extraction process occurs at all. This results in coffee that quickly becomes bitter and sour.
How strong this effect is in reality, however, I can’t say. Especially since you should either drink the coffee immediately or serve it out into another vessel anyway. The one thing I do know is that this problem doesn’t seem to occur with the 1-liter (34-ounce) pots. That said, having the same amount of free space at the bottom of all pot sizes is a problem because you then also can’t draw any accurate conclusions about the amount of coffee you actually have available to drink. Probably the only thing that would help here: ask Bodum!
Which Coffee Should I Use With a French Press?
One of my favorite synonyms for the French press is ‘Kaffeedrücker’ (literally: coffee squeezer) – a German word that makes you almost instantly want to hug it. Although this has nothing to do with the best coffee beans to use in coffee presses, I did just want to mention it.
In any case, when brewing using a ‘coffee squeezer’ (teheehee), the motto “what you see is what you get” certainly applies. Your coffee beans will rarely show themselves more authentically. But this leads to a problem:
Coffee beans with clear, fresh and fruity accents quickly turn sour in a French press. Bold varieties with cocoa and chocolate elements quickly taste bitter.
The ideal coffee to use in a French press is therefore called omni roast. These universal roasts of medium hue have proven effective for all methods of preparation. That doesn’t mean they lack character however! Current examples include Cerrado from Coffee Circle or any of the omni roasts from Flying Roasters.
Using my preparation guidelines, you can even make espresso beans sing in a French press. Choose varieties of bean that aren’t too dark and orientate yourself in terms of taste profile towards nuances of milk not dark chocolate.
Commenter Mia has gone a step further and developed a trick for producing espresso-like coffee using a French press. Even with dark roasts:
She swears by finely ground (!) espresso grind, which at a ratio of 8 grams (1 level tablespoon) of coffee per 40 milliliters (1.35 ounces) of water per cup, she lets steep at around 95 degrees Celsius (200°F) for ten seconds. Press the plunger slowly initially, then towards the end, press down with quite some oomph. Serve the press-pot espresso immediately.
I’d be very interested to know if others of you have also had such positive experiences with this!
There’s one thing that I’ll stick to my opinion forever and a day about though, even if you decapitate me for it in the comments section: Dallmayr and friends are crap! Not necessarily because these coffees don’t taste good, but because they’re cheap products sold at high prices at the expense of producers!
Which Coffee Grinder Should I Use With a French Press?
It goes without saying: if only fresh, good quality coffee beans are added to the pot, they’ve got to be freshly ground too. Regardless of the preparation method being used.
The good news is that, with coffee presses, you can spend significantly less money on a suitable coffee grinder than, for example, one that will serve as a companion to a portafilter machine.
In general, grinders tend to work particularly well when set to either their coarsest or finest settings, but are rarely good at both. My reviews have shown that the majority of grinders are designed for coarse grinding – and this isn’t at all related to their price.
For French press coffee, I can generally recommend any grinders that have exceled in my reviews producing the grind used for pour-over drip – because as you know, the grind for drip coffee isn’t too far removed from that for French press.
I’m a big fan of the Baratza Encore, but have nothing against the current Solis Scala Plus either. If you’re thinking of using a manual coffee grinder, keep in mind that you’ll quickly turn yourself a lame arm preparing the typical amount of coffee needed for a 1-liter (34-ounce) press pot.
However, that doesn’t stop me from highly recommending, for example, the Porlex Tall Hand Grinder, without any hesitation.
How Do I Clean a French Press?
With complicated machines such as super-automatics, the cleaning instructions are usually incredibly long. In the case of a French press they go something like this:
Take the thing completely apart and clean all its components, either in the dishwasher or by hand. Leave them to dry, reassemble, done.
The only problem is then reassembling the screen unit in the right order. For each new model, I’ve therefore gotten into the habit of taking a photograph of the plunger unit in order to be able to assemble the mesh filters correctly.
Be sure to adhere to this assembly sequence, otherwise the French press will no longer filter coffee properly. The usual order (from top to bottom) is:
Metal spiral plate with round holes
Fine mesh filter screen
Spoked cross plate
One other question really bugs you too: what to do with all the coffee grounds? And how to get them out of the carafe?
It’s not a good idea to simply turn on the tap and wash the coffee grounds down the sink. That’s a waste of water and will quickly clog the drain.
I’ve yet to find a perfect solution though. I use a wooden spoon, specifically set-aside for the job, to spoon the grounds into the organic waste bin. This isn’t all that great either, but works. What other ideas do you have?
Can I Use a French Press to Make Tea?
You can. French presses don’t particularly care whether they’re compressing coffee or tea. The two should never be brewed in the same vessel, however. That’s because both tea and coffee leave behind indelible traces, even after rigorous scrubbing.
The advice thus is: if you want to repurpose a press pot into a tea maker, it’s then off limits to coffee forever. The same is true conversely too.
Can I Prepare Cold Brew in a French Press?
Go for it! Cold brew is coffee prepared using cold extraction. Why shouldn’t this be done in a press pot? Your typical French press grind is perfect for cold brew too, you’ll just need to use a greater amount of coffee. For a 1-liter (34-ounce) carafe, I’d start with about 80 grams (8 rounded tablespoons).
Cold brew made using a French press also has the upside that you don’t have to worry too much about removing the coffee sediment at the end of the cold extraction process. Simply insert the plunger, press down, then serve and enjoy, for example, as a cold brew tonic.
French Press is Sustainable Coffee Democracy!
Even though the world faces quite different concerns at the time of this update, we shouldn’t lose sight of the issue of sustainability. And in this regard, French press is no match for any other method of preparing quality coffee.
Press pots don’t require any kind of consumables (such as paper filters), and when looked after well, a Bodum model can easily last for several years without needing spare parts. The coffee produced is also forthright, full and strong – even when using somewhat less grounds. For buying quality beans at a fair price, you’ll thus be rewarded with coffee of well-rounded character.
What’s more, the total cost of purchasing a press pot is fantastically low. You’ll need a coffee grinder too, of course, but that needn’t be expensive – entry-level models do just as good a job as any other. No additional expensive preparation equipment is required, just a working stovetop or electric water kettle.
Depending on which French press your heart desires, the pot itself sometimes won’t even set you back more than nine dollars. French presses are therefore also well suited to those on small budgets, can cater for both large and small households and require mastering only a few tricks of the trade during coffee preparation.
Is it any wonder, then, that I consider press pots to be one of the most “democratic” pieces of equipment in my profession? How do you view them? I look forward to many more comments!