How To Use a French Press: The Best Tips for Taking the Plunge 2021

Making coffee with a French press is neither trendy nor tech heavy -- and that’s OK. After all, this classic brewing method has stood the test of time and will never go out of style. In this ultimate guide to French press, you'll find hot tips from the Coffeeness community as well as everything you need to know for brewing perfect French press coffee.

Arne with his French Press

Ask, “Anyone for a cup of coffee?” and most people immediately start dreaming of pour-over drippers, portafilters or even super-automatic espresso machines. No one ever seems to give any love to the poor old French press. At least, that’s the impression I get surveying the specialty coffee scene.

So why is that?

For all its supposed Frenchness (it’s sort of Italian), the French press is neither sexy nor is it a money spinner.

What’s worse, compared to the care and attention to detail required for espresso machine or pour-over coffee, press pots seem very rough around the edges.

That’s all true — and completely off the mark. Sure, too-cool-for-school types turn their noses up at French press coffee, but Coffeeness readers know better. All the comments that you’ve posted below this guide over the years are testimony to that.

In addition to showing its age, the original guide contained a few statements — including some about the Bodum French press — that I’d rather back away from now.

Plus, there are all the clever tips on making French press coffee from the Coffeeness community, which were a real inspiration in writing this comprehensive update.

For all the changes, coffee enthusiasts can still count on French press coffee as one of the most straightforward — and cheapest — brewing methods out there. Plus, the enormous caffeine kick it delivers, makes even espresso feel like a yawn.

Who Makes the Best French Press — Bodum, Bialetti, Ikea?

About half the commenters felt I was very wide of the mark when I declared, in no uncertain terms, in the original version of the article that the Bodum Chambord is the best coffee press ever.

Basically, there were two key objections:

  • The Bodum glass is extremely fragile.
  • There’s no reason to spend so much money.

Now that I’ve had a couple of years to mull it over and read more of your experiences, I’m willing to concede the point or at least tone down my enthusiasm a notch. For me personally, the Chambord is still my absolute fave and has been brewing French press coffee 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’s Upphetta French press, which currently retails for around $9. To be honest, it’s hard to bungle a coffee press.

The biggest sticking point is the quality of the glass carafe. Admittedly, the Bialetti and Ikea are a bit more robust. Added to the fact that Bodum shows real nerve in expecting you to cough up about $25 dollars for a replacement. I’d also be resentful about that.

So, why am I still championing the Chambord and the iconic, $15 Bodum Caffettiera? Because they’re a complete package — from the stylish design, through their tactile qualities, to the ease of use.

As you learn how to use a French press, the coffee will get better and better. Once you’re a press pot wiz, it makes very little difference whether your device is branded with Bodum, Bialetti, Ikea or something else. As long as the following basic requirements are met, you’ll get delicious coffee every time.

  • Heat-resistant — ideally borosilicate glass — carafe
  • High-quality finishes, such as a well-designed plunger
  • User-friendly plunger filter with sturdy mesh screens
  • Good weight distribution, allowing you to plunge with confidence
  • Attractive design so the pot can be placed directly on the table
  • Easy disassembly to facilitate cleaning of all components

As a rule, I also think it’s advisable to have a choice of different pot sizes, too. I’ll explain why in a bit. On that front, Bodum is head and shoulders above others who only offer a standard size 34-ounce pot.

My Clear Favorites — the Best French Press Coffee Makers With Glass Beakers

While I haven’t been shy about my love for the Bodum Chambord, there’s plenty to attract a roving eye. If you’re a sucker for classic, old-school quality but the Chambord would break the bank, rest assured that the $21 Bodum Brazil is essentially the same thing, just with a plastic rather than a steel stand. Not quite so pretty, but just as hard working.

Watch out, though, if you have hands like baseball mitts. The space between the handle and glass is small, so you risk grazing your knuckles against the hot glass.

With its range of colors and pot sizes as well as extras in the box (a wooden spoon, cleaning brush and extra mesh filters), Veken is out to woo customers. Like the Bodum Brazil, the Veken French press is a 12-ounce press pot. Except that here, you not only get an aged-copper stand but also a carafe with a volumetric scale on the side in millimeters and fluid ounces for your roughly $20. Sticklers and coffee fanatics everywhere rejoice.

Veken have even gone one-up on Bodum’s three-part filtration with a four-level system, comprising two double mesh screens. While that’s great, remember that sediment often escapes at the sides of the filter. So, don’t think this translates into sludge-free French press coffee.

Their Austrian competitors are also betting you’ll think more is more with the 34-ounce, heavy-duty glass Mueller French press with four filtration layers.

Sludge, silt, sediment, grit, mud, matter. Call it what you like, the inevitable particles in French press coffee are a deal breaker for a lot of people. For this reason, Espro’s innovative double filter system is creating quite a stir.

Instead of the usual flat plate with mesh layers at the end of a rod, it comprises two baskets nested one inside the other, with a silicon gasket at the lip to prevent escapee grit getting into the coffee. The baskets are made of a micromesh so fine as to look almost solid to the naked eye. As result, it still allows the oils through that create French press’ signature full body but is said to deliver an astonishingly silt-free cup of brewed coffee.

In fact, you can even get paper filters to fit between the baskets to brew some sort of hybrid immersion pour-over. If anyone has tried this, I’d be very keen to hear about it.

The Espro P3 French press and its double basket filter system

Innovation never comes cheap and that’s certainly true of Espro. While there are some seriously pricey insulated stainless-steel options, you can get the 32-ounce Espro P3 French press for $35. The plasticky stand and design are about as meh as the Bodum Brazil, so you really are paying for the promise of truly bright, clean flavor.

So What Does French Press Coffee Taste Like?

French press is an immersion brewing method, which means the coffee grounds are totally submerged in hot water throughout the extraction process and generally aren’t removed.

Unlike with brewed coffee from a drip maker, where the liquid passes through filter papers, this is a direct brewing method. Since nothing comes between the coffee and hot water, it’s fuller bodied than any of the indirect methods, with the boldest coffee notes rising to the fore.

Of course, the risk that goes with that reward is excessively bitter or sour French press coffee. Usually, this is only a problem with coffee beans whose flavor profile is literally dead in the water. Yes, I’m looking at you Dallmayr.

For all these reasons, it’s unsurprising that when comparing the usual portion sizes in each case, French press coffee contains a lot more caffeine than espresso. If you’re curious about the science and calculations behind that, check out my full report “How Much Caffeine Is in Your Coffee?

The French press and other equipment used in the caffeine test

Don’t get me wrong. That doesn’t mean that floral aromas and subtle background notes get drowned out in a French press. It all depends on your brewing technique and choice of roast. So, let’s dive straight into the details of how to use a French press.

How To Make French Press Coffee: A Crash Course

At first glance, brewing coffee using a French press is super easy: spoon in an appropriate dose of coarse ground coffee, pour in hot water, let the coffee steep, plunge and then drink.

Even at second glance, there’s not much more to it than that. Best of all, French press is very forgiving of minor missteps in the brewing process. Direct extraction is your friend because if one of your parameters is a little off, other aspects compensate for it.

It’s also one of the reasons that many of you have added your own twist to my basic instructions on how to make French press coffee. Some of you have even created a form of espresso with the coffee press! Whenever possible, I’ve included the Coffeeness community French press tips in this new guide.

Arne proudly presenting his espresso with crema

So, just remember that the following guidelines are very much a matter of interpretation and not hard and fast rules. Think of them as the baseline parameters for brewing a characterful coffee in true press pot style.

Grind Size

When you make French press coffee, grind size is a second in importance only to your choice of beans. Setting your grinder to fine means maximizing the surface area that comes in contact with the hot water. This increases the risk that you’ll over extract the coffee and produce only bitter compounds and acids that smother any delicate notes.

What’s more, a coarser grind also ensures that the granules won’t pass through the mesh filter when the plunger is depressed. So, there’ll be fewer gritty bits in your cup and mouth — which is the biggest French press coffee bugbear for many people.

For this reason, the mesh filter screen in your plunger serves as the physical point of reference in determining the correct grind size.

Solis coffee grinder with grounds of different textures

In absolute terms, on a scale of one to ten, you’re looking at a grind setting of around eight. Play around a bit with your coffee grinder, as every model is calibrated slightly differently.

I suspect that French press doesn’t get hyped much because supermarket coffee is ground too fine. Since the grind size is intended for drip coffee makers, pre-ground coffee like Folgers tastes even more vile than usual in a press pot.

Sure, you might notice some commenters saying they get great results even with very finely ground coffee. Bear in mind that this only works if you reduce both the brewing time — and coffee dosage.

French Press Coffee Ratio

In my experience, you don’t have to be super-precise about how much coffee to use in a French press. Guesstimates and grandma’s scoop measures deliver flavorful coffee.

As a rule of thumb: use 55 to 65 grams (approx. 5.5 to 6.5 rounded tablespoons) of ground coffee per 34 ounces of hot water.

While many manufacturers and roasters recommend 65 grams, I prefer 55 grams of coarse ground coffee. For my palate, the higher dose is overkill and lacks in sophistication.

As I mentioned earlier, press pots are available in sizes ranging from 12 to 51 ounces. Even though decimal point accuracy is not necessary, you still have to calculate the required French press ratio.

Different French presses lined up next to one another

One rounded tablespoon equals roughly 10 grams (0.35 ounces) of coffee. Dosing spoons (i.e. the coffee scoops that come with many drip coffee makers) hold between seven and eight grams (0.25 and 0.28 ounces).

If the numbers are already giving you a headache, and you don’t want to use a scale, I’ve come to your rescue with a small table of coffee-to-water ratios, based on the standard Bodum beaker sizes:

SizeCoffee DosageTimeGrind SizeWater Temperature
12 oz.20 g (2 rounded tablespoons) 3-4 minutesCoarse200°F
17 oz.28 g (3 rounded tablespoons)3-4 minutesCoarse200°F
34 oz.55 g (5.5 rounded tablespoons)3-4 minutesCoarse200°F
51 oz.80 g (8 rounded tablespoons)3-4 minutesCoarse200°F

Before you go overboard on just throwing things together, remember that either extreme — too little or too much coffee — isn’t going to turn out well. With direct brewing methods, such as French press, this will come back to bite you.

Water Temperature

Water temperature is where you have to draw the line with fuzzy dosage and grind size metrics. The ideal water temperature for brewing with French press is 200°F.

Since every coffee granule is immersed in hot water for the entire duration of the extraction process, temperature is a key means of modulating extraction speed and intensity.

A measuring beaker filled with 12 ounces of water

If getting out a kitchen thermometer feels like a hassle, use a water kettle with temperature display. Alternatively, simply follow this rule of thumb: allow the water to boil, then give it 90 seconds to cool slightly. While this is hardly precise, it’s close enough for everyday use.

Infusion Time

If you’re following my basic instructions on how to use a French press, the ideal infusion time is four minutes. Other recipes may require a different duration. While I’m not going declare this the only true path to coffee nirvana, I can’t see any real reason to extend or cut the steeping time much.

Skim or Skip?

A lot of step-by-step guides to French press brewing suggest you should skim before plunging. This involves using a spoon and skimming off the top layer of muddy sediment and foam. Let’s just say that while I’m not against this, I’m also not a major proponent.

Seeing that skimming halts the extraction process, you’re preventing the coffee from becoming too bitter. That allows more floral notes to literally blossom. Plus, there’s less likelihood of pesky coffee grounds ending up in your cup of French press. Another advantage is that plunging becomes easier.

On the other hand, French press coffee is a product of a unique extraction and brewing method. If you’ve bought into this style, taking pains over all the other parameters — from grind size to water volume — why negate it at the end? Why not use the press pot as it was intended and skip the skimming?

My bottom line is to do what works for you. Try it both ways. If skimming makes the coffee more palatable or delicious, be my guest. If you’re not sold on the result, don’t bother.

In the previous version of this guide, I harped on about how metal spoons are a no-no for skimming. Cue a ton of questions.

The reason is simple: metal spoons knocking against (potentially delicate) glass beakers is inviting an accident, spilled coffee, glass shards and tears.

Practical Brewing Tips

Now, we’ve got the basic parameters of making French press coffee down, let’s get to finessing. These tips will help you get the most out of your coffee or even discover new facets of the same old beans.

By breaking this step down into two parts, you loosen the ground coffee, ensuring that each granule is simultaneously in contact with the hot water. In many ways, it’s a rough-and-ready version of the pre-infusion you do with a pour-over coffee dripper.

Obviously, the filter’s mesh screen doesn’t serve as any real barrier between the ground coffee and finished brew. So, while your coffee is in the pot, there’s nothing to stop the extraction continuing. This brings us back to the importance of all those carafe sizes. The volume should match your actual consumption. Sure, you can brew more than you’ll drink in one sitting but then you need to decant the remainder into another container. Leave it in the press pot and you’ll definitely come back to bitter, sour coffee.

Arne pours coffee from a French press

Since the mesh screens drive down against the resistance created by the increasingly compacted coffee grounds, they should ideally seal against the sides of the beaker to form a closed unit. If the screen doesn’t fit snugly, it will allow too much coffee sediment to escape into the brew, cause a jam or even fall off completely. True story.

French press plunger closeup

As I mentioned above, this hot tip comes up pretty often. Personally, I never preheat. Thanks to Bodum’s laboratory-quality glass, there’s no need.

If, when you gently press the plunger, it feels like you’ve hit a wall, retract it slightly before trying again. A tug upwards redistributes the ground coffee, breaking up any clumps.

In the comments, Udo suggests that you press the plunger about three quarters of the way, before gently shaking the pot. Then, gravity works its magic and the grounds sink to the bottom. It’s not a bad idea but might prove rather cumbersome with bigger carafes and large volumes of coffee.

When you read about a 34-ounce French press, you might think whoa, that’s a lot! Keep in mind that’s the total volume — with the ground coffee taking up some of the space. For this reason, you’ll only ever get around 27 ounces of finished coffee from a vessel this size. The same goes for the other pot sizes. While this isn’t an example of false advertising, it still sends a lot of coffee drinkers down the garden path. It also causes confusion of another kind.

Always fill your French press right up and don’t try making half a pot in a large French press. That’s just asking for trouble. Why? Think about it carefully, your pot holds 34 fluid ounces. Not all of that is water, some of the volume is taken up by all the stuff at the bottom of the carafe. Halving the amount of hot water doesn’t change that. So, now you have to factor that into your new coffee to water ratio. Have you got your measuring cup and calculator out? You’re going to need them — if you can figure out whether you’re adding or subtracting. I don’t know about you, but my brain is already melting. So, let’s just avoid the whole headache.

In trying to crack the equation, Bodum fans have noticed that there’s the same amount of space beneath the plunger irrespective of the carafe size. They argue that this is potentially a problem for extraction. Hmmm. Not quite. Although extraction doesn’t stop when you press the plunger, compressing the floating coffee grounds slows it down. If they’re left to float freely in the base, there’s no interruption to the extraction at all. So, we come full circle back to my advice about decanting fast to avoid bitter, sour coffee.

Just how much compacting slows extraction, I honestly don’t know. What I can say for sure is that this isn’t an issue with Bodum’s 34-ounce pots. The fact that there’s the same amount of space below the plunger in all pot sizes raises another problem. It’s difficult to draw conclusions about how much coffee you actually get to drink. My only suggestion here is, ask Bodum.

Interestingly, a similar question mark hangs over the Espro French press. Apparently, the highly effective filtration means that more liquid is retained with the grounds — ergo less coffee.

Which Coffee Beans Should I Use in a French Press?

One of the joys of full immersion brewing is you really get to see the extraction process in action. The downside to this direct method is that it quickly turns coffee beans with bright, fresh and fruity accents sour, while bold varieties with cocoa and chocolate notes end up bitter. So, what do you choose?

Coffee Circle Cerrado coffee beans

The answer is an omni roast. These universal medium roasts are suitable for any brewing method. Don’t for a moment think that means they lack character.

While an omni roast is ideal, if you follow my brewing instructions, there’s no reason espresso beans shouldn’t shine in a French press. For the best French press coffee, choose a roast that’s not too dark and look for a taste profile that’s more milk than dark chocolate.

One of our readers has gone a step further and describes how to use a French press for producing espresso-like coffee with dark roasts.

Mia swears by finely ground (!) espresso beans. She uses a coffee-to-water ratio of eight grams (one level tablespoon) of grounds to 1.35 fluid ounces, heated to around 200°F. Steep time is ten seconds. Next, gently press the plunger, before adding some oomph at the end. Serve the press-pot espresso immediately.

I’d love to know if others also get great results following this recipe.

Coffee beans are where I draw my line in the sand. Mass-market brands like Dallmayr are unacceptable. Tear me a new one in the comments, if you must. I’m not budging on this. It’s not even about whether they taste good or not. They’re cheap products whose lower cost comes at the expense of coffee producers.

A selection of supermarket coffee bean brands

Which Coffee Grinder Should I Use With a French Press?

It goes without saying that if you’re religious about using freshly roasted, quality whole bean coffee in your press pot, it has to be freshly ground, too. That goes for every brewing method across the board.

The good news is that it’s possible to spend a whole lot less on a good grinder for a French press coffee maker than, say, a portafilter machine.

As a rule, grinders either perform well at the fine or coarse end of the scale — but are rarely good at both. Based on my wide range of reviews, I’ve noticed that most grinders achieve better results with coarse ground coffee — regardless of price.

Arne with the Solis Scala Plus coffee grinder

For French press coffee, I generally recommend any grinder that I’ve reviewed and have indicated is a cut above when it comes to drip coffee. That’s because the grind sizes for coffee makers and French press are pretty similar.

I’m a big fan of the Baratza Encore conical burr coffee grinder but the latest Solis Scala Plus burr grinder will also do the job. If you’re keen to try a manual coffee grinder,  just remember that even for coarse ground coffee, you’ll feel like your arm is falling off by the time you’ve ground enough for a 34-ounce press pot.

For hardcore types who think pain is weakness leaving the body, I highly recommend the Porlex Tall, for one.

How Do I Clean a French Press?

Complicated machines, such as super-automatics, have cleaning instructions to match. In contrast, getting a French press coffee maker sparkling is a cinch.

Dismantle the press completely and clean all the components — either in the dishwasher or by hand. Leave them to dry, reassemble, done.

The only snag is putting the screen unit back together in the right order. I learned the hard way to take a photo of the plunger on each new model before taking it apart so that I can correctly reconstruct the mesh filters.

Arne shows the dirty components of French press’ plunger

You want to get the order right, otherwise the French press won’t filter the coffee properly. Working from top to bottom, the usual order is:

  1. Metal spiral plate with round holes
  2. Fine-mesh filter screen
  3. Cross plate

A question that has many of you scratching your heads is: what do I do with the used grounds? And how do I get them out of the carafe?

Don’t just open the faucet and wash the coffee grounds down the sink. Not only are you wasting water, but the grounds will quickly clog the drain.

Gallery ImageGallery ImageGallery Image

Admittedly, I’ve yet to find a perfect solution. I have a wooden spoon reserved specifically for scooping out ground coffee and dumping it into the food waste bin. This is hardly the last word on the problem but it’s the best I’ve come up with. Apparently, it’s also Veken’s solution, since that’s what you get in the box with your press. If you’ve got a better idea, I’d love to hear it.

Can I Use a French Press to Make Tea?

Yes, you can. French presses work equally well compacting tea leaves. Just don’t go making the two beverages with the same press pot. Both tea and coffee leave behind persistent residues that no amount of scrubbing can remove.

The rule is: if you repurpose a press pot into a tea maker, then it’s off limits for coffee forever — and vice versa.

Can I Make Cold Brew in a French Press?

Absolutely! Cold brew is coffee made with cold water. A French press is just the ticket for making excellent cold brew coffee. After all, typical French press grind sizes overlap neatly with cold brew. You’ll just need more ground coffee. Start with about 80 grams (8 rounded tablespoons) for a 34-ounce carafe.

Cold brew with milk

Best of all, using a French press coffee maker to make cold brew coffee means you don’t have to worry about removing the coffee sediment at the end of the extraction process. Simply insert the plunger, depress, serve and enjoy as a cold brew coffee tonic, for instance.

Plungers For the People and the Planet!

Even though the world faces very different challenges as I write this update, we can’t afford to lose sight of sustainability. As far as green credentials go, French press coffee is hard to beat.

French press Arne delighted

That’s because a coffee press doesn’t require any kind of consumables, such as paper filters. What’s more, if well-cared-for, a Bodum press can easily last for several years without needing spare parts. Even if you use less coffee, direct immersion produces brewed coffee that’s strong and full bodied. Bottom line: it’s a very rewarding way to draw out the true character of those high-quality coffee beans you bought at a fair price.

Don’t forget that the cost of a press pot is fantastically low. Sure, you’ll need a coffee grinder, too, but it needn’t be expensive. An entry-level model will do just fine. Aside from a working stovetop or electric water kettle, you don’t need any additional pricey accessories to achieve perfect French press coffee.

Depending on which French press coffee maker has caught your eye, it might not even set you back $9. It doesn’t get more budget friendly than that. A coffee press not only caters to both large and small households but is also an easily mastered technique once you’ve got a few tricks down.

Now, that’s what I call a people’s press! Do you agree that press pots make third-wave coffee accessible to just about everyone? What do you think of the French press coffee maker? I’d love to hear more French press tips, so please share in the comments.

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