As with all things coffee related, everything should be tailored to your liking. Although there is a method, it’s up to you to bring the madness.
I personally like my coffee, like I like my husband. Strong, dark and kinda mouthy. Ergo, the French press has become the most used appliance in our home.
If this is your preference as well, no amount of dark drips will do it for you, you may want to consider getting a French press.
Using a French press is the best way to experience robust coffee.
Although the coffee brewing basics, such as correct grind for method, water temperature, measurements, and timing all apply, things get a little tricky when it comes to this super simple method.
Generally speaking the best water to coffee grind ratio for the french press is roughly 2 Tbs of coarse ground coffee for every 6 fluid ounces of water..
..but in the gourmet coffee prep industry this is just the starting point for a larger debate.
There are 3 topics that are frequently debated within the brewing process.
- Water to coffee ratio
- Grind size
- Breaking the crust
We’re going to explore the details of the disagreements and then I am going to make myself into a guinea pig for you guys. I will try each method and describe my findings, so that you can figure out where you stand on the spectrum.
But before we dive into that, it’s important to understand the mechanics.
As an immersion brewing method, the coffee continues to infuse into the water until pressed, when it slows to about ¼ the extraction rate. Which means that you are getting all the flavor, texture and oils out of the grounds.
The two main reasons for this are:
- The anatomy of the maker
- The process
Made up of 2 simple pieces, the French Press is compact, mobile, and easy to clean.
Its two main pieces are the carafe and the plunger.
Most are made of glass, but there are also stainless steel models available. Speaking from personal experience, the stainless steel models retain heat for longer. My press stays warm for up to 3 hours.
They are also much more durable. The glass ones, though incredibly cool because you can see the particles changing, are extremely delicate. If you don’t warm the carafe ahead of time, or if you throw it in the dish washer, instead of hand washing it, you’ll be searching for a replacement faster than you can say, “caffeine.”
But regardless of the material the carafe is made of, the plunger is built the same.
The plunger is made up of 4 parts.
-The lid, which keeps the coffee within the carafe.
-The filter, made of super fine metal and mesh, keeps grounds out of the water.
-Lastly, the disk that holds it all in place. It has spiral rungs along the side as a secondary filter.
These components provide the perfect foundation to build a coffee routine on.
Because this is an immersion method, as I mentioned before, coffee masters across the country advise that French press newbies immediately decant into an insulated travel mug or glass lined carafe. This keeps the flavor notes from changing as you go about your day.
Check out some of our favorites in our online shop.
If you’ve been in the French press game for a while, can hash out the longer brew, and are on the go, we also have an all-in-one maker and mug combo available.
Now that we are geared up, let’s get down to business.
Typical French Press Instructions: The Basic Process
Since the step by step directions are essentially the same, even though details vary, I’m going to visit each technique within the guide, giving tips, tricks, and anecdotes from my misadventures in my coffee journey along the way.
Step 1: Pre-warm brewing vessel.
An easily excused task, but completely necessary one.
This ensures that the heat stays consistent within the carafe. Sudden contact with the cold walls of the carafe will shock the brew, and can set the chemistry off in a negative way. Coffee is a delicate art-slash-science. The sweet spot between 190-210 cannot be tampered with, if you want a smooth mouth feel.
–Anecdote: Prewarming the vessel should never be skipped. I was once staying at a friend’s house in central Washington for a weekend. It was late July and we had the air conditioner cranked. I skipped this step because I thought it was stupid and I completely shattered her Starbucks Coffee Master French press just by breaking the crust with a butter knife.
–Tip: After you warm the rig, use the same water to warm the mug and place them both in the middle of the stovetops, warming them further while the water boils.
–Trick: If you have a glass carafe, use a wooden spoon instead of a metal one. Avoid my mishap.
Step 2: Pre-warm mug.
As easy to skip as the previous step, this one is especially important to that glorious first cup of Joe. Chemistry matters after all.
Step 3: Grind coffee beans.
This is where opinions start flying about.
Every barista that lives across the Atlantic Ocean will tell you that Americans have it all wrong. Coarse grinds, almost the same texture as bread sidewalk salt, are all wrong for this method. European baristas say that a medium grind is the proper consistency for the press because it allows more of the oils and solutes to escape from the bean.
The second opinion is the American way. Nearly every coffee shop in the US grinds coarsely for French Presses. This is the general rule of thumb because Americans, for the most part, do not like the texture of the volatile oils.
–Anecdote: back in college, I was too broke for a grinder, as most people are. And I used pre-ground Seattle’s Best Coffee in my faithful French press. I didn’t mind the consistency at all because I grew up in the Rheinland-Pfalz area of Germany where every coffee that you order is as textured as their beer. But when some buddies of mine took a cupful from my press while I was away and later described it to me as “sludge.”
–Tip: use a burr grinder to get even grounds. If you use the common blade grinder, each coffee molecule will extract at different rates. For a better understanding, check out my previous article here. Also check out the ones that we swear by and have up for sale.
–Trick: this one comes from an old family friend, who loves strong coffee and hates the “sludge.” Take a paper towel and cut it to the size of your filter. Place in between filter and the disc holder. This absorbs extra oils and works as a tertiary filter, catching the undesired solutes.
Step 3: Pour water over grounds
Caution: more controversy up ahead.
Though America and Europe agree that the classic coffee to water ratio: 1-2 tablespoons to 6 fluid ounces, there is some discussion about how to properly pour water over the beans.
Some claim that it is necessary to “bloom” the grounds, once every minute until the press is full to get the most out of the grounds. This process is simply the pre-pour saturation of the grounds. Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is released upon contact between the hot water and grounds. The discharge of CO2 is allows for some of that mouth feel and flavor.
Others say that you should pour all water in at once, making sure everything is fully saturated.
–Trick: if you’re on team bloom, start on the circumference of the carafe and work your way toward the center. This order makes sure most of the grounds sink to the bottom and keeps the sides clean for plunge.
Step 4: breaking the crust
As simple as it sounds, this is the process of pushing the grounds down to into the cylinder. This moves allows the beans to continue to brew, and prevents undesirable silt from staying at the top.
Others break and bloom every minute until the chamber is completely full.
–Anecdote: throughout my marriage, my husband and I have bantered back and forth about who makes coffee the best. We were both avid French press junkies in college. Carrying our rigs around with us, rushing back to the dorms to fix another batch in between classes. I am 100% on team bloom; he, on the other hand, makes a lot of coffee all sleepy-like and skips this step. He claims not to taste a difference. But that’s the cool thing about coffee, everyone is different.
Step 5: and we wait
Coffee aficionados in the UK swear by at 8-10 minute brew time after you break the crust.
In America, the typical recipe is 4 minutes then press.
The longer you wait to decant, the less sediment is on top.
–Tip: scoop froth and leftover grounds off of the top before pressing to avoid the sludge.
Step 6: take the plunge
There are two ways to go about this.
Don’t press all the way, to continue brew, and use plunger as a filter.
Press all the way to slow the brew.
–Trick: Plunge at an angle, so that you don’t get any froth or small grounds in the first mug.
As promised, I have followed the steps to both the typical American recipe and the European routine to report the taste difference. It was a fun way to know exactly where I stand on the on the French press spectrum. Knowing the difference in all the slight details hones your craft and makes for consistently good coffee, the two biggest goals of a barista’s life.
Batch #1- American
Elements: coarse grind, filled completely, broken crust at the 1 minute mark, 4 minute steep and press.
This is the process most American coffee drinkers follow (my husband included.)
Taste: acidic and dark
Mouth feel: slightly oily with visible silt.
Batch #2- European
Elements: medium grind, 4 crust breaks 1 minute apart, 10 minute steep
Taste: more acidic, dark but lighter than the first
Mouth feel: no silt, full mouth, less astringent
Based on my experiment, I know that I will be following the European technique every day for the rest of my life. Following my tips and tricks, I hope you find what works best for you.