In the course of researching and testing French press recipes, we at Beancraft have gained an appreciation for the whole spectrum of human thought on coffee. There are those erudite individuals amongst us who insist on using precisely 660 millilitres of water heated to exactly 93.5 degrees Celsius, but there are also those special characters who simply dump an unknown quantity of ground coffee in their French press, fill it with boiling water, immediately jam down the plunger and call it a day.
We’ll be honest: we don’t use a thermometer to make our coffee every morning. But we also don’t compromise on coffee quality; in fact, we’ve based our livelihoods on it. Over the years, we’ve discovered that there are some things that can make or break your cup of French press coffee, but none of them require special equipment (apart from a French press, of course). And so, we present to you our Fuss-free Guide to Making Great French Press Coffee.
Our first order of business is to fill the French press with hot water. We won’t be using this water for brewing. We’re using it to bring up the temperature of the carafe so that it doesn’t cool down the coffee we will soon be brewing too quickly. Think of this as preheating an oven: inconvenient, but a step you definitely shouldn’t skip (unless you have a ceramic French press, which is better at retaining heat than the usual metal or glass).
Water is half the battle
It’s paramount that the water you use for brewing is clean, fresh and soft. We’re going to immerse our coffee in water, so if the water you use is hard or unfiltered, the resulting coffee won’t taste good. Make sure to boil the water and let it sit until it reaches 96°C (as promised, no thermometers necessary; just let it sit for about a minute). If the water is too hot, your coffee will be burnt; if it is not hot enough, the coffee will suffer under-extraction.
Grind size is king
We know we keep repeating ourselves, but it really is true. The grind size of your coffee can make or break your cup. For the French press, you’ll need your coffee ground to the size of coarse rock salt. We’ve put together a handy grind chart to better illustrate this.
Get the ratio right
Our preferred ratio is 35 grams ground coffee to half a litre of water. This is what we would recommend if you’re just starting out with the French press, but once you get the hang of it, feel free to vary ratios.
Set a timer
Yes, we said no special equipment, and no, this does not count. Have your phone ready, and as soon as you add the water to the ground coffee in the carafe, start a 4-minute timer. At the 1-minute mark, give the mixture a stir. You want to break up the crust at the top. This causes the larger particles of coffee to sink to the bottom, which means less sediment in your final cup. Attach the lid but do not push down the plunger yet.
After your remaining 3 minutes are up, you can slowly push down the plunger. We want to leave the sediment at the bottom as undisturbed as possible. Do not leave any liquid in the carafe, because the immersed coffee will continue brewing. To avoid bitter, over-extracted coffee, pour the leftover coffee into a different jug.
You can enjoy French press coffee with milk or without. For extra credit, froth milk in your French press to make a cappuccino (but definitely clean it first if you’ve just made coffee). Now that you have the basics down pat, you are free to play around with your French press as you please. A good place to start would be James Hoffman’s French press technique. Or you can add a pinch of salt to your coffee like Alton Brown does. Everyone has a recipe they swear by, and it’s up to you to discover what tastes best to you. This is the joy of the French press: it is one of the simplest brew methods and therefore very easy to experiment (and fall in love) with.
If you’re in the market for a new French press, we suggest the Bodum Chambord — a product we swear by for its efficiency and reliability. Also, keep in mind that not every coffee is suited to every brew method. Generally, less acidic coffees are more suitable to the French press, especially if you’re going to be adding milk, which doubles down on acidity. We’d recommend our Heritage, Pitalito and Monsoon coffees for the French press.
Got a pressing French press question? Shoot us an email, DM us on Instagram or Facebook, and we’ll see what we can do.