French Press Coffee: The Basics
French press coffee falls into a broad category of coffee brewing called immersion brewing. In immersion coffee brewing coffee grounds and hot water steep together for a period of time before being filtered to separate the liquid from the grounds.
In comparison, drip coffee techniques (such as pour over and automatic drip coffee machines) involve pouring hot water over coffee grounds and allowing gravity to pull the water through the grounds and a filter into a carafe or other vessel.
French press uses a course metal filter to separate the coffee grounds, which leaves coffee oils and tiny coffee particles suspended in the coffee liquid. This results in a coffee that typically has a full-body, thicker texture, and has some sediment in the bottom of the coffee cup. This sediment or sludge is probably the most common thing that turns people away from french press coffee. But the sludge can be decreased if you follow my brewing instructions below.
In my mind, french press is one of the most underrated methods for brewing coffee.
- French press is a relatively quick and easy coffee brewing technique.
- No need to buy filters or expensive parts. A coffee grinder, method to heat water, and a french press coffee maker (which typically sell for $20-30) is all you need. I have used the Bodum Chambord French Press Coffee Maker for 4 years and I love it.
- Thick, full-body coffee. This is a love or hate kind of thing.
- Great coffee to add milk to. French press coffee has more sediment and oils then most other brewing techniques, which makes this type of coffee a great choice if you prefer to add milk to your coffee. Plus, the addition of milk actually causes some of the sediment to settle at the bottom.
- Thick, full-body coffee. I’m including this as both a pro and a con because some people love this, others prefer a clean, sediment-free coffee. Your choice!
- The infamous sludge.
- Risk of overextraction. Extraction, the process of drawing the flavors from the coffee grounds and into the water, is very important and a bit like Goldilocks. Too little extraction (underextraction) is bad and results in coffee that is weak, sour, and sometimes salty. Overextraction occurs when coffee grounds and water spend too much time steeping together and results in a coffee that tastes bitter and strong. French press coffee is prone to overextraction because the water and coffee sit in the vessel together. Overextraction can be avoided by using course-ground coffee and pouring all of the coffee out in a separate vessel once brewing is complete.
French Press Coffee: How To Make
This is the step-by-step method that I use to make french press coffee.
- Preheat the french press vessel with a small amount of hot water.
- Boil the water to 200-205F. I personally use the Bonavita 1.0L Digital Variable Temperature Electric Kettle.
- Weigh out the proper amount of coffee grounds for how much coffee you are going to make. I use a 1:20 coffee/water ratio. My french press coffee maker holds 1,000 mL of coffee (1 mL of water = 1 gram) so I use 50g of ground coffee. You can tailor this ratio to your preferences. Use more coffee ( 1:10 or 1:15 coffee/water ratio) for a stronger coffee and use less coffee for a weaker coffee.
- Empty the preheating water from the french press.
- Place the coffee grounds in the bottom of the french press.
- Start pouring hot water rapidly into the french press. Fill to the desired amount. I typically fill my french press to about 1 inch from the top.
- Set a timer for 4 minutes. After 4 minutes there will be a crust of coffee at the top. Use a wooden or plastic spoon to break this crust. The coffee will fall to the bottom.
- Set the timer for 2 minutes to allow the coffee grounds to settle to the bottom.
- After 2 minutes put the lid on the french press and slowly press the plunger HALF WAY to the bottom. I find you can limit the amount of sludge if you press the plunger half way rather than all the way down.
- Pour the coffee slowly from the french press to another vessel. This still will help prevent overextraction.
- Enjoy your french press coffee! Cheers!