An Illustrated Guide to Using Your French Press

For those looking to up their coffee game from a standard drip brewer, the French press is a great, and easy to use, next step. Not only does a French press provide great results, it also brews coffee in less time than a traditional coffee machine.

But what makes a French press so much better than a regular coffee machine?

Well, to start, a French press is fully self-contained, meaning that paper coffee filters are a thing of the past – perfect for someone looking for a more eco-friendly brewing method. While the presses themselves come in several styles, (such as being made of glass, ceramic, or metal, and coming in various sizes) they all function the same. The three main components will be a brew chamber, a lid with a spout, and a removable steel mesh filter attached to a rod. This steel filter is what really separates the French press from a drip brewer, because while a paper filter will soak up most of the flavorful coffee oils, a steel filter allows all of it to pass into the cup.  Coffee produced from a French press also is high in antioxidants that some studies have found can have neurological benefits.

One of the downsides of a French press, which is keeping the brewing water at a hot enough temperature, can easily be circumvented by preheating all glassware and the press beforehand. This is a segue into our first step: heat the water.

The amount of water needed depends on how much coffee you want to brew; a good ratio is 27 grams (5 tablespoons) of coarsely ground coffee to 400 grams (1.75 cups) of fresh water, and these proportions can be scaled up or down. So, for 1.75 cups, it is best to heat a bit over two cups, so some can be used preheat everything. There are several ways to heat the water to 200 degrees Fahrenheit (93 degrees Celsius), with one of the most common being an electric kettle, but a traditional kettle, a pot on a stove, or even the microwave, can be used; it doesn’t exactly matter how, as long as the water reaches the desired temperature. As a side note, if you’re using coffee that is very lightly roasted, using water a few degrees higher for brewing will really help bring out the flavor of it. So instead of 200 degrees, go for 203 or 205 at the max.

Once that temperature is reached, dump some of the extra water into the press, put the lid on, and then push the plunger down; then use more to preheat the mugs. While everything preheats, grind the coffee beans on your grinder’s coarsest setting. Most grinders will have a suggested French press setting, and it usually does a good job. However, if you find that the coffee tastes too bitter, going slightly coarser will help. And if the coffee is too weak, going a notch or two finer should get the job done. 

Pour out the water in the press and add the ground coffee. While doing this, make sure as little as possible sticks to the sides of the brewing chamber. Now, make sure you have a timer on hand set to four minutes, and make certain that the remaining 1.75 cups of water in the kettle are still at 200 degrees. What we’re going to do now is a little advanced, but totally worth it in the end; we’re going to bloom the coffee grounds.

Start by pouring roughly one third of the hot water into the press and start the timer at the same time you start pouring. The goal here is to ensure that all of the grounds are wet, and if the coffee is reasonably fresh, you’ll notice the grounds floating up into the press and forming a sort of crust; this results from the releasing of gasses trapped in the grounds. After 30 seconds, use a wooden instrument, like a chopstick, to stir the water and grounds, pour in the remaining water, and put the lid and plunger on and in the chamber. Make note not to push the plunger down into the brew chamber. Though, some do push it down to just over the grounds, but this is optional.

And now, find a way to kill the remaining three minutes. Whether you’re serving yourself, or a party, it may be a good idea to pull out your favorite creamer and sugar. Other activities to do during this duration are checking your email, cleaning up in the kitchen a little, or admiring the magnets on your fridge.  Just before the timer goes off, dump the hot water from the now preheated mugs, and when it does start beeping, push the plunger down slowly, but firmly all the way down. Ideally, it should only take two or three seconds for the plunger to hit the bottom (depending on how full the press is), but keep in mind it is good to agitate the grounds as little as possible at this point. Now, while pouring the coffee into the mugs, you’ll notice a slight and light brown crema forming; this is where all the flavor is. If there is any coffee left in the press and you don’t plan on serving it immediately, it is best to transfer it into another, preferably preheated, carafe, as the coffee at the very bottom will continue to brew and grow bitter. It’s recommended to try the coffee as is first, because some people who use sweetener and cream in their coffee end up loving French press coffee black. However, it does end up coming down to personal preference.

Cleanup is thankfully a breeze with a French press. The first step of this is to dispose of the spent coffee grounds inside, which can either be dumped into the trash can, added to a compost bin, or even scattered over plants. It might not be a good idea to dump them straight down the kitchen sink though, unless you have a garbage disposal. After that, most French presses are completely dishwasher safe – just make sure to fully disassemble and separate the filter plates to ensure a quality clean.

Be sure to check out our beans and French press in the store!

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