How to Use a French Press – 5 Easy to Follow Steps

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How to Use a French Press

Chances are you have seen or at least heard of a French Press.  But do you know how to use a French Press to make coffee?

I have spent over 40 hours researching best practices and expert advice.  Then I put that advice to the test.  

I learned several key takeaways through this process. The most important is how much control a French Press gives you over the taste of your coffee. And almost equally important was how forgiving a French Press is for beginners.

Check out our step-by step guide below to see exactly how it’s done.

Quick Steps on How to Use a French Press

  1. Prepare water
  2. Grind beans
  3. Bloom beans
  4. Add water and steep
  5. Press and serve

What You’ll Need

  • French press
  • Burr grinder
  • Fresh coffee beans
  • Filtered water
  • Measuring cups/spoons
  • Digital scale (optional)
  • Water thermometer (optional)
  • Kettle
  • Coffee cup

How to Use a French Press, Step-by-Step Guide

1. Prepare Your Water

You’re going to want to fill your kettle twice. Once to get hot water to pre-warm your French press, and again for your actual brew.

Bring your first kettle to a boil and pour it into your French press. Set the French press aside and refill the kettle with your desired amount of water for your brew.  We recommend weighing your water if you want to guarantee consistency each time. 

French presses come in all different sizes. Be sure to measure out the right amount for the equipment you have.  Usually 2 cups (450 grams) will do the trick.

2. Measure and Grind Your Beans

The amount needed here is going to depend on a few variables. 

How big is your French press?  How much coffee do you plan to brew? How strong do you like your coffee?  That is why I recommend using a ratio rather than suggesting set amounts.  

A 1:16 coffee to water ratio is pretty standard.  If you are just starting out and not sure what you like, I’d start there.  Once you get the hang of it, try adjusting this ratio up and down to see what you like best.

As far as grind size goes, it is most common to use a coarse grind.  

A French press uses immersion to extract the coffee.  This means water must stay in contact with the beans over a relatively long period of time (3-5 minutes).  If you use a grind that’s too fine, you’ll over extract and get a bitter cup filled with sediments.

Note: It’s OK to explore with other grind sizes.  Try out a finer grind but shorter steep time if you want. Or longer… Just see what works for you. This is half the fun of a French Press!

3. Bloom Your Beans

By this time your second kettle should have boiled.  Make sure your water temperature has cooled down to somewhere between 195 – 205 degrees.  You will scorch your beans if you pour boiling water on them!

If you don’t have a thermometer, just remove your kettle from heat and let it stand for 30-45 seconds.

Now add your beans to the French press. If you choose to preheat your French press with hot water, remember to dump it out before adding your beans!

Slowly pour your hot water over the beans in a circular motion.  Only fill until the beans are completely saturated.  DO NOT fill all the way just yet.

Let the beans sit for one minute.

4. Steep the Rest

Use a spoon to break the top layer or “crust” from your bloomed beans.  Give it a gentle stir.

Add the remaining hot water and place the lid and plunger on top.  DO NOT press the plunger down yet.  This keeps the heat in while the coffee steeps.

Let it sit for 3-4 minutes. 

5. Press and Serve (or Decant)

You have two options from here; to press or not to press.

Traditionally, this is where you press.  To do this, slowly press down on the plunger stopping just before it reaches the bottom.  Don’t push too fast or too far.  This will stir up unwanted sediment at the bottom of the glass. 

Once pressed, serve immediately or decant.  The coffee continues to be extracted if you leave it in the French press.  This results in a bitter oily cup. 

Your other option is to NOT press.  The argument here is that all the grounds and sediments have already sunk to the bottom of your press. Plunging, although filtered with the mesh screen, will actually stir up those sediments and they wind up in your cup. 

If you choose this method, push the plunger down to just below the water surface.  Then pour slowly into your cup or other container to decant.  You’ll be left with a surprisingly smooth cup with little to no sediments in it.

I prefer not to press, but you should try out both ways and see which you like best!

That’s it! Now you know how to use a French Press! If you’re like me and really enjoy a full body flavor with a rich creamy texture, French Press coffee is a great method to master.  It’s forgiving for beginners, but allows a lot of freedom to define your own cup.  Oh, did I mention they are inexpensive too?

FAQs

What is a French Press and how does it work?

A French Press is a manual brew method that uses immersion to saturate coffee beans with hot water. The hot water dissolves the solids and pulls out the oils from the beans leaving you with the full-bodied coffee flavors you are looking for.

A French Press can come in many shapes and sizes, but they are typically glass with a metal mesh plunger and lid. 

The immersion process takes time (3-5 minutes) which means the coffee and water are in contact with each other for longer than most other brew methods. It tends to be more forgiving because of this.

How do I choose the right French Press?

Like most brew methods, there are several variations to choose from when looking to buy a French Press.

Size matters!  Depending on your needs, a French Press can range from 3-12 cups. You need to ask yourself how many people you plan to brew for.  Is this for just you, or are you preparing for a large group?

The material it’s made with matters too.  Most are glass, but you can find metal and ceramic options as well. 

Metal and ceramic insulate better than glass, but metal presses may leave an unwanted flavor. 

Ceramic presses can be more expensive and harder to find.  You may consider adding insulation to a glass press instead.

For you techy coffee lovers (or for the lazy folks), you can buy an electronic French Press that does everything for you. 

What is the best coffee to water ratio?

The standard has been a 1:16 coffee to water ratio.  This is a little bit higher than the golden Ratio given the coarse grind and long brew time.

It’s important to note, while there are widely accepted “best practices”, coffee experts and enthusiasts are continuing to experiment with these ratios.

Why are we talking about ratios in the first place? Why not recommend a set amount?

This is because of the different sizes of French Presses.  The amount will vary drastically between a 3 cup press and a 12 cup.  Not to mention people’s personal preference on the strength of their cup.

What is the best coffee for a French Press?

Honestly, the type of coffee is far less important than the freshness.  No matter the beans you choose, just make sure they are fresh!

We recommend you use beans that are within 2-3 weeks of roasting.  But anything within a month should be fine.

As for the type, I hesitate to make any specific recommendation. It’s your cup of coffee after all!  Try experimenting with different roasts and origins until you find what you like.

Historically, a medium to dark roast will produce the full bodied flavor you typically think of when you think of French Press coffee.

What is the best grind size for French Press?

The quick answer, coarse to medium-coarse.

A French Press uses immersion to extract the coffee from the grounds.  This technique takes time.  If your grind is too fine, your coffee will extract too quickly leaving you with a bitter cup filled with sediment.  On the flip-side, if you grind too coarse, your coffee will turn out weak.

Your grounds should resemble something close to sea salt.  If they are too powdery, start over.  You can always save those fine grounds for your next drip cup or pour over.

It’s also important to use a quality burr grinder.  Remember, it’s consistency you are going for here. 

Select a setting in the top 3rd of the range provided on your grinder (8-10 if out of 10, 12-15 if out of 15, etc.)

How long do you brew a French Press?

This is a two-step process that takes between 3-5 minutes depending on your grind size and flavor profile preference:

  • 1 minute for the beans to bloom. Just enough water to completely saturate the beans.
  • 2-4 additional minutes after you fill the press with remaining water.

For a lighter more acidic taste, steep for less time.  For a stronger, more bitter taste, try steeping longer.  

Try playing around with this until you find what you like.

How do you clean a French Press?

For most French Presses, a simple combination of soap and water is all you need.

That said, the extraction process drags out oils from your beans. These oils can build up over time in your French Press. Consider using a dedicated coffee cleaner every 5-10 brews to help remove the oils from your French Press.

Be sure to take apart the pieces of your plunger and clean as well. Usually three parts (spiral disk, screen, and cross disk).

You can buy several different cleaning solutions online for around $10-$20. If you want to save some money, you can make your own coffee cleaning solution at home using common ingredients like vinegar, salt, and ice.

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Neal Drown
Neal has been proudly wearing the label of coffee enthusiast for over a decade now. He has an M.A. in Research and a true passion for all things coffee. Let's Brew Coffee was created to leverage his skills as a researcher and deliver the best content available on crafting the perfect brew.