How to use a French Press

For those who crave a sense of ritual in their daily coffee brewing experience, there is the always lovely French Press.  Also known as a “press pot”, this device features a cylindrical carafe with a lid/plunger, complete with wire or nylon filter and a sturdy frame and handle.  Surely, the popularity of the French Press has a great deal to do with its aesthetic appeal as well as the careful routine involved in its preparation, but there are also a few distinct differences in a cup of French Press coffee that set it apart from other brewing methods.  Here we will go over the process of brewing in a French Press, and why someone may or may not want to choose this as their preferred method of making coffee.

Once you have chosen a French Press that suits your individual needs (yes, there are endless styles and sizes), and you have your favorite freshly roasted whole bean coffee on hand, you are ready to begin the French Press ritual.

  1. Begin heating your water (remember it is best to start with cold, filtered water).
  2. Grind the coffee as evenly as possible, enough to where the grounds will not pass through the filter screen.  Usually, the appropriate grind will be a bit coarser than that used for a filter drip brewer, but not as coarse as that used for a percolator.  Note that the finer the grind used, the more oils and aromatic compounds will be released in your cup.
  3. Measure out the ground coffee (7.25 grams per 4-5 oz. of water depending on desired strength) and place it into the bottom of the vessel.  Remember, if you use a typical 2 Tbl.  measuring spoon use one scoop per 8-10 oz. of water.
  4. Once your water is heated to 195 degrees F., pour the correct amount of water slowly into the vessel to mix with the coffee grounds.  Do not fill the vessel too full.  Just below the spout is as full as you ever want to go.
  5. Now that your coffee and water are together at last, take a spoon and mix the grounds to help them disperse into the water.
  6. Place the lid/plunger into the vessel to where it is keeping the bulk of the heat trapped inside but not weighing on the grounds and brew.  Usually leveling the screen filter to just below the spout works fine.
  7. Now for the most difficult part of French Press preparation – wait four minutes for the brew to develop.
  8. After four minutes, slowly push the plunger downward to the bottom of the vessel, being careful at first to stay evenly atop the grounds.  As urban legend has it, the best pot of French Press coffee comes from a plunge that is slow and steady, using only the weight of your hand to apply pressure to the plunger, though some resistance is normal and may require you to use some force near the bottom.
  9. Now, leave the plunger depressed so it keeps the grounds in place, pour a cup, and enjoy. Any left over coffee should be poured into another cup or carafe immediately, so as not to over-steep the remaining coffee.

Given your taste preference, grind style and technique, the environment, as well as the desired strength of the brew, you may want to experiment with your brew time, as well as the grind.

Now,just why does that French Press coffee you drank taste so darn different?  Well, one major difference between a French Press and other brewing methods is the control you have over the water temperature and brew time, which are so very important yet often are out of your control on many automated drip machines.  Also, the absence of a paper or cloth filter allows many of the precious coffee oils to make in into your cup instead of stuck on a filter.  And, if you enjoy a heavy body presence in your cup, the added sediment and oils will surely appeal to you. On the other hand, French Press coffee is not for everyone, especially those without a decent grinder.  Because many consumer grinders do not get a consistently even grind, one may find the brew too thick or sludgy, due to an increase of fine grinds or sediment in the cup.  Also, most French Presses are not designed to keep coffee hot, so you should not make a huge pot and allow it to sit, as it will get cold quickly and will also continue to strengthen the longer it sits.  With those things said, the French Press produces a truly unique and tasteful cup of coffee. It gives the brewer a high level of control over the process, as well as a preparation technique and artful vessel to enhance the coffee experience.