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The French Press: One of the Best Ways to Make Good Coffee

Updated on May 28, 2014

Once You Try It, You'll Never Go Back

The French Press coffee maker is widely regarded as one of the best ways to make good coffee - by novices and hard-core coffee lovers alike. It offers more flavor, more body, and less acidity than typical "Americano" or drip style coffee makers. French Press coffee is stronger than regular drop coffee, or at least it can be and usually is, but it also has much more flavor. You can brew it weaker if you don't want it so strong. Using a press is one of the best ways to make coffee, if not THE best. (The Aerobie Aeropress rivals it by most reviews, but I can't say since I've never tried the Aeropress personally)

French Press coffee makers are easy to use (but watch out for the heat once you put the hot water in), and contrary to a common misconception, you don't work the handle like a pump. Just pour the water, wait a few mins, and pour the cup. You'll have a really good cup of coffee in less than ten minutes, including time to heat the water first.

If you just want to skip to Making Good Coffee with a French Press, click here to go there now or scroll down.

french press coffee easy to brew
french press coffee easy to brew

What Makes French Press Coffee Great?

French Press When you make coffee using a French Press, you're literally 'brewing' the coffee: steeping the grounds in the hot water, as opposed to just pouring hot water through a pile of them and hoping for some good results (AKA, Drip coffee). This leads to more flavor without a big jump in caffeine (most of the caffeine is extracted in the first few seconds or so of the water hitting the coffee), less acidity because you can use less coffee to get more flavor, and more body and character. Is French Press coffee strong than drip coffee? it can be, but that's all up to you. One thing it will have is more flavor.

With regular drip makers you have no control over 2 of the 3 items that effect coffee flavor: Water temperature & brewing time.

There are three main things that go into making a good cup: Water temperature, brewing time, and coffee (coffee type, grind coarsity, etc). With a Drip coffee maker, you automatically lose control over two of these Big Three things: Temperature and brewing time - you're leaving these crucial steps up to a mass-produced piece of electronics. a French Press allows you control every element of the brewing process, and once you get the hang of it it's almost impossible to make a bad cup of coffee.

French Press history
French Press history

History of the French Press

A Bit of Background

Leave to a coffee-loving Italian to be the father of the modern coffee press. The first French Press can be traced back to 1929 when it was patented by Attilio Calimani, but the basic method of brewing coffee grounds in water can reach back as early as the first coffee drinkers - steeping tea, herbs, or in this case coffee bean in water to make something to drink is as old as the hills. After modifying the original design, another man in Italy patented his unique version in 1958, manufacturing the press in a factory that also made clarinets - and the popularity of the French Press began to grow.

Following up on successful designs that were introduced by British company Household Articles LTD, the popularity of the French Press reached English. Finally, more most people today, the name most often associated with the French Press is the Danish company Bodum.

French Press makers today can come in all shapes and sizes - from travel mug presses (I had one of these when Starbucks made them, and it was wonderful), to expensive and professionally-design, vacuum-operated models. Again, you and I likely don't need the fancy ones and any difference in taste can be overcome by brewing with better ingredients. Basically they all work the same way, so buy what best suits your taste - literally and aesthetically.

All French Presses basically work the same way - so choose one to match your style & environment.

glass of water
glass of water

It Starts with Water

Most of the flavor that you get in coffee obviously comes from the coffee beans, but water plays a big part also. Here's why:

When you brew coffee in a French Press*, the heat of the water and also the minerals in the water combine to extract the most flavor from the coffee grounds, and then the water passes through a filter giving us "coffee" and not sludge. This means there has to be minerals in the water or else the coffee may come out too weak and flavorless. Water that's has been softened too much produces the same weak results (the softening process is removing the minerals from the water), and the same is true for distilled water.

The result is bland coffee - kind of like having food with no salt to enhance a particular flavor.

Good quality water is the first essential ingredient to a good cup of coffee; don't use distilled water or water that has been softened. If you don't use a water softener, chances are you don't have to worry about it, so proceed to step two! Keep in mind that tap water usually lends a bit too much of a mineral taste to coffee, but distilled water is almost too flat and flavorless. Most coffee enthusiasts recommend filtering your water before you brew. If nothing else, it gives you an even playing field for sampling and adjusting your brewing methods.

For temperature, you'll want water that is almost boiling, but not actually boiling because that will make it bitter. You can either stop the kettle just before the water boils, or bring the water to a boil and then let it cool for about 15 seconds. Then, you're ready to brew.

*For espresso, the opposite can be true, since a different brewing process is involved.

arabica coffee beans
arabica coffee beans

How to Choose Good Coffee

Look for Only 100% Arabica Coffee!

This is the most obvious step of making a good cup of coffee. You need good coffee to begin with or you'll get some awful hot beverage that tastes vaguely like coffee that you don't want to drink (think gas mart style coffee). There are coffees for every taste and palette, and when someone says they don't like strong coffee they mean either the level of caffeine or the robust flavor - but for most people it's a combination of both.

Coffee comes in several roast styles - from the light roast where the beans are a dull brown to the Full City Roast where the beans are black, oily, and shiny. If you don't like strong coffee, stay away from dark, shiny coffee beans.

The other thing to consider for flavor is the part of the world the coffee beans are grown, because this will have an influence on whether the coffee tastes citrusy, woodsy, earthy, or floraly. Floral and citrus notes in coffee will give it a lighter taste, while earthy and woodsy will taste a bit 'heavier' and stronger to most people.

If you buy bagged coffee in the supermarket, the bag itself will tell you where the coffee was grown, and how it will taste. Experiment with a few types to learn the what identifies different regions, and which ones you like best.

Buy Good Quality Coffee - Only Buy 100% Arabica Coffees

My favorite is the Starbucks Sumatra Blend - it's earthy, a bit spicy, and full bodied... and strong. Each of these coffees will do well for your tastes, and I've also included a couple decaf brands also.

Choose the Best Coffee Grinder - A Good Grinder Will Give You the Best Results

For a French Press, you want coarse-ground coffee. Fine coffee is used for espresso. Coarse ground coffee has less surface area overall, which is what you want because the coffee is sitting in the water for several minutes to brew. The opposite is the case for espresso - very fine grounds have more surface area to extract the flavor, but are in contact with the water for a fraction of the time. It's hard to describe what 'coarse' means, but for most coffee grinders this means the lowest setting (on a mill grinder) and only a short time in a burr grinder. To see how coarse the coffee should be ground for a French Press, visit this website - they break all the grinds down very nicely to help you get it just right.

If you buy your coffee already ground, that's fine too. Most pre-ground coffee comes for the American drip style coffee machines, and will be a finer grind than you ideally want for a French Press, and can lead to bitterness. Adjust this by either lowering the temperature of the water just a little bit, or reducing the time you let the coffee steep in the press.

Buying a Grinder

It doesn't matter if you use a burr grinder (the like a mill-stone style) or a blade-style grinder. I've always used a mill grinder and these are recommended by most coffee connoisseurs, but so long as you make sure the coffee is ground coarse you'll be fine.

Kyocera Advanced Ceramic Coffee Grinder, Black
Kyocera Advanced Ceramic Coffee Grinder, Black

For an old-fashioned feel, this one uses a hand crank. This is a cool old-school way to grind your coffee beans but your wrist may get tired after a while!

 
Bodum Insulated Stainless-Steel Travel French Press Coffee and Tea Mug, 0.45-Liter, 15-Ounce, White
Bodum Insulated Stainless-Steel Travel French Press Coffee and Tea Mug, 0.45-Liter, 15-Ounce, White

This is a great French Press for busy schedules and coffee on the go. You don't have to sacrifice quality for speed.

*A word of caution: The coffee can get quite strong as you drink it down at the bottom. This is because the coffee will continue to brew a little even after you compress the plunger. To counter this, I add more hot water about 3/4 of the way through.

 

Choosing a Good French Press

Simple is Good: Two Recommendations for Both Busy & Quiet Kitchens

This is the easiest way to get enjoyable coffee: Just pick a French Press! These models all operate the same basic way. I can't recommend the expensive, flashy models because (a) I haven't tried them for myself, and (b) I don't believe anyone should have to pay loads of money for decent coffee.

The key thing to remember when you shop for a French Press is if you're easy on your machinery or not. A house without kids or cats will do better with a simpler coffee press without the extra protection. But, if you have kids nearby, a pet that gets up on things, or you go camping or traveling, look into the presses with the added casing around the glass.

I can personally recommend these two, one for each of your needs if you have a relaxed or more busy kitchen:

Buy a Recommended Press: The Simple Bodum - Minimal, Easy to Clean, & Low Cost

This is my daily press - I've used it every day for years and it's been great. The glass is durable and can hold up to most kitchen use just fine (but then again I've never been rough on it!)

If you need a press for a more 'active' kitchen, look at the option below this one; It has extra protection around it to protect the glass from most bumps and knocks.

Buy A Protected Coffee Press: Well Suited for Busier Kitchen - The Added Protection Will Stand Up To Most Environments

I've used this model also, and can personally recommend it for the additional protection.

Bodum YOUNG PRESS Coffee Maker, Shock Resistant French Press Coffee Maker, Red/Black, 34 Ounce (8 Cup)
Bodum YOUNG PRESS Coffee Maker, Shock Resistant French Press Coffee Maker, Red/Black, 34 Ounce (8 Cup)

The added protection around the carafe on this model really does help keep it safer - although it feels bulkier and is a bit heavier than the simpler model above.

 

How to Make French Press Coffee - ...And Get it Right Every Time!

This is an excellent home-kitchen, real-world video of making coffee using a press. Pause the video if you have to catch up or follow along.

Advanced French Press Brewing - Once You've Mastered the Basics

How Do You Like Your Coffee? - Or Just Talk About Your Morning Coffee Routine!

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    • squidfish profile image

      squidfish 4 years ago

      Great lens. Very informative information on the French Press. Just love this site.

      www.coffeefrenchpress.org/coffee-french-press/

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Is a must have in my house. Thanx for the interesting lens.Now I need a coffee.

    • TemporaryTattoo1 profile image

      TemporaryTattoo1 4 years ago

      My Morning Routine is to use a French Press Coffee Maker you just can't beat a real Coffee in the morning :)