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11 Tips For Making The Best Coffee With Your French Press

Jul 11, 2023Jul 11, 2023

Starting the day with a coffee is a time-honored tradition for millions of people across the country. Almost 75% of the entire U.S. population drinks coffee every day, according to Statista, adding up to an overall expenditure of tens of billions of dollars.

In 2021 alone, over $81 billion was spent by folks looking to get their caffeine fix. And if you drink coffee at home, it's possible that those coffee beans and grounds you bought are going into a French press. A French press, also known as a cafetiere, is one of the most popular tools to make coffee at home. Making coffee by extracting it from the grounds directly, the utensil gets its name from the pressing action you perform to separate the ground coffee from the liquid, resulting in a delicious hot cup of joe.

The thing about making French press coffee, though, is that it's not as simple as it looks. While on paper, it sounds as simple as combining coffee and hot water, getting the best result is somewhat of an art form that requires skill, timing, and understanding of the French press' unique qualities. And so, we're here to share the secrets of those coffee pros out there, so you can get a barista-worthy brew at home.

You're never going to get a good cup of coffee if you don't start with good coffee beans in the first place. And aside from buying quality beans from a reputable source, you're also going to want to make sure that your coffee is fresh.

If you're buying your roasted beans whole and grinding them at home (which is recommended), they should have a shelf-life of six months before they become unusable. However, what's important to remember is that while they may last for six months, they'll lose their flavor far faster than that, sometimes deteriorating in taste after just two weeks.

If you buy ready-ground coffee, you might need to use it up even faster than that. Once coffee is ground, it starts to lose its flavor roughly 30 minutes after it's been broken up. This is simply due to the fact that the coffee is separated more, meaning it has a larger surface area for the oxygen in the air to affect, diminishing its quality.

It's worth keeping in mind, too, that all of these timespans are assuming that you're buying vacuum-sealed coffee. Coffee sealed in another way may deteriorate even faster or have deteriorated before you even buy it. For the best results, skip the store-bought coffee grounds, pick up a reasonably-priced coffee grinder, and do it yourself at home.

You might think that all ground coffee is the same, but the grind you use can affect your coffee significantly. This is especially true when using a French press. Coffee that's been ground too finely won't suit the French press' filter, which can have slightly wider gaps than a paper filter for drip coffee.

The grounds will then filter through the holes and end up at the bottom of your mug. But if your coffee grind is too big, it won't plunge properly into the pot, and you'll end up in a wrestling match for your morning brew.

The solution is to go for the middle ground, a medium grind. If you're buying pre-ground coffee in the store, look for "medium grind" or "for use in a French press" on the label. Grinding your beans at home can take a little more guesswork if your grinder doesn't have a French press setting.

If it doesn't, you should grind the beans until everything has a matte finish and a uniform size. Be sure to stop grinding before everything gets too fine. You want your coffee to have the consistency of sand instead of dust and for each ground to retain its own individual shape, even while small.

Once you've nailed the type of coffee you're using in the French press, it's time to turn to the French press itself. And one of the most important things you can do is prepare it correctly. Aside from making sure your French press is clean, you're also going to make sure it's warm before you put your coffee in.

Boil a kettle of water, allow it to cool for a good few minutes, and then pour the hot contents into your empty French press. Allow it to stand for a few minutes before pouring it out, adding in your coffee, and brewing it as normal. While this might not seem like an important step, it is.

French presses are often made from a combination of metal, glass, and sometimes ceramics, and all of these materials tend to lose heat fast. As such, if you're making coffee in a cold French press, you'll end up unintentionally dropping its temperature. If you warm up your French press beforehand, though, you'll keep your coffee hot for longer, which will also allow it to brew optimally. This preparation stage will also ensure that the glass of your French press doesn't shatter if it's been kept somewhere cold — but if it has, it's important to use warm water, instead of hot, to bring it up to temperature.

The amount of coffee you use for each cup of French press coffee can feel pretty random if you don't know what you're doing. You might throw a few scoops in, eyeball it a little, and hope for the best. But there's a lot more to it than that.

The ratio of coffee to water you use significantly affects its flavor. If you use too little, your coffee will end up weak and tasteless. Use too much, on the other hand, and your coffee will become overpowering and bitter. Moreover, using significantly too many coffee grounds can be a waste of money. If you overdo it, the water won't be able to absorb it all, and the coffee will be useless.

So how much is the right amount? It's pretty scientific. The ideal ratio is to use 15 grams of coffee grounds per 250 milliliters of water. This amount doesn't change as the number of cups you're making increases, and you can double up until you've got the right amount. If you don't have any scales to hand, you can also measure it more roughly using a tablespoon. Aim for two heaped tablespoons per cup of water. Weighing using scales is far more precise, though, and will leave you with a much better morning mug.

Given that a cup of coffee is made up primarily of water – almost 99% of your final drink is water, with just over 1% made up of coffee particles — you might want to make sure that the water you're using is the best you can get. The problem, though, is that you may not be able to trust what's coming out of your tap.

Both hard and soft water can affect the taste of your coffee and, over time, diminish the quality of your French press. Hard water is particularly troublesome for this, as it can cause mineral build-up over time. Additionally, the minerals that can cause this, like calcium, can have a strong impact on your coffee's taste and make it seem more bitter.

Soft water can also affect the taste of coffee and make it taste less intense. The solution, though, is pretty simple: Make your French press coffee using filtered water. Water filters work by removing impurities and excessive amounts of minerals in your water, giving you an overall cleaner taste and allowing your coffee flavors to shine through. For the best results, use a pitcher with a removable filter attached, as you can replace them whenever they start to lose their efficacy.

How do you make your coffee? If you use boiling water, then you're doing it entirely wrong. Water temperature is one of the biggest factors in making a quality cup of French press coffee. So, if your water is too hot or too cold, you can either hasten the extraction process, making the coffee taste bitter or slow it down, leaving it sour and weak-tasting.

The key is to find the sweet spot, which generally sits between 195 and 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Ideally, you'll want your water temperature at the lower end of that scale. The easiest way to do this is to employ two utensils, your kettle and a thermometer. Boil your kettle, and then allow the water to cool slightly for a minute or so, popping your thermometer into it to assess its temperature — just be careful of the steam. Once it's dropped into the desired range, you can then pour it over your coffee.

Importantly, too, different roasts may fare better at different temperatures. If you have a darker roast, aim for a slightly cooler water temperature. Lighter roasts, on the other hand, might need more extraction to get a better flavor out of them, so you should aim to use hotter water. Generally speaking, the lighter a roast is, the higher the temperature you can use.

To stir, or not to stir? The answer is that stirring your coffee after you've poured your water on does seem to improve its flavor. Stirring your coffee before plunging disperses the grounds in a much more equal fashion and ensures that each tiny piece of the ground coffee bean comes into contact with the water. This fundamentally makes the extraction process more consistent and makes your coffee taste better every time.

On the other hand, leaving your coffee unstirred before plunging can result in an inconsistently-extracted result and can weaken the coffee's flavor. As for when to stir, that's another question entirely. The general consensus is that you should wait at least four minutes before you break the crust and stir your coffee. Waiting ever-so-slightly longer, however, can give you an even more intense flavor, so aim for around five minutes if that's what you're looking for.

Keeping track of your coffee brewing time is the key to making a good cup in a French press. But wait too long, and you'll regret being so casual about it. If you allow your coffee to brew for too long, it will extract too much, and you'll end up with coffee that's bitter and metallic. Conversely, leaving it for not long enough gives you the opposite problem: Your coffee ends up tasteless and watery.

Combatting this, though, is refreshingly simple: Use a timer. Set your timer for the amount of time required — ideally, four minutes or just above. Next, pour your water over the coffee and then press go.

Once it's up, pour out your cup. It's as simple as that. If you want to make it in an even more technical way, add a little more water in the last 30 seconds before stirring and pouring it. The extra water will serve to replace any moisture that's soaked into the coffee grounds, which can reduce the overall volume of coffee you get.

If you're making your coffee for the day in a French press, it's pretty tempting to do it all in one go in the morning and leave the vessel on the side until it's time to pour another cup. But doing that may leave you with a great first cup and a terrible second one. If you don't decant your coffee into another vessel, it will simply continue brewing until you do, with the extraction process essentially occurring until there's no more flavor to pull out of the grounds. And this is a surefire way to get an acrid, harsh-tasting coffee.

So once you've brewed your coffee, pour the whole thing out, putting what's not in your cup into a separate container. Ideally, you should decant it into a vessel that can hold heat and which is already warm so that the coffee doesn't go cold fast. A preheated thermal flask is a great option to go for. Simply warm it up beforehand by pouring in some boiling water, leaving it for a minute, and then pouring it out once warm.

Remember that reheating French press coffee, while definitely doable, is not the best way to go. This can alter the taste of your coffee, giving it a completely different flavor from your first cup. If you must, however, you can use your microwave by blasting it in 20-second intervals until it's the desired temperature.

After you use your French press, it can be tempting to give it a quick rinse before storing it for next time. But doing so can reduce the quality of your next cup. Repeated use of a French press can result in the coffee's natural oils building up on its walls, which can start to affect the taste of your brew. You should be cleaning your French press every time you're finished with it.

By cleaning it properly, you're not only removing this, but you're also reducing the chance of bacteria developing on leftover coffee grounds or the glass or handle of the press. Begin by removing the leftover grounds, either by straining them out or spooning them from the press with a rubber or wooden spatula. Don't empty them down the sink, as they can contribute to drains becoming clogged, as the coffee grounds may increase in volume when they get wet.

Once that's done, add some warm water and some dish soap to the press, and use the plunger to work the mixture to a foamy consistency. Remove the soapy water, and wipe it all clean, before drying it with a clean cloth.

It's also important to do a deep clean of your French press weekly, to make sure you're getting into all its nooks and crannies. Disassemble the plunger, and put all the pieces in the dishwasher (provided that your French press is dishwasher-safe).

There comes a time when every French press needs replacing. But some parts of it can wear out quicker than others. French press filters are especially prone to deterioration in quality, as they have an unfortunate knack for trapping coffee grounds in them as they plunge. Over time, this can lead to a build-up of residue. This build-up not only causes the filter to become less effective at plunging, but it can also lead to unwanted tastes in your coffee and can also contribute to sediment making it into your cup.

French press filters can also become damaged, thanks to the repeated plunging action and contact with the glass walls, potentially causing fraying. Ideally, you should replace your filter at the first sign of damage or if it's looking particularly unclean or clogged up. Replacement filters can be found relatively easily, and all you have to do is first dismantle your press by unscrewing the plunger plate and removing the mesh filter in between the larger metal pieces. Then, slide in a new filter, and put the whole thing back together.