The Ultimate Guide to All Things French Press

November 6, 2019 | Categories: Coffee, Equipment

The French Press. This fairly modern invention in the grand scheme of things has been gaining popularity as a simple, fast, and often portable way to brew coffee. The French Press is one of the most convenient brew methods, but is it the best for discerning baristas and consumers? We’ll examine what sets the French Press apart, how to use it, and why.


What is a French Press?

The French Press is a brew method that was originally invented in Italy (you read that right) that prepares coffee a lot more like tea than traditional drip coffee. This style of brewing is called “immersion” where coffee grounds are immersed in boiling water to create an even extraction of all the tasty microscopic compounds that make up coffee. Once extraction has occurred, the plunger of the French Press is pushed down to separate the coffee grounds from the liquid and leave you with some good coffee. 

How is a French Press different? 

…from a traditional coffee brewer?

As touched on above, the French Press is an immersion brewer as opposed to traditional coffee which is drip brewed. This difference in brew method can lead to a surprisingly big difference in taste, especially in the body of coffee. 

For those not in the know, the body is a texture characteristic that indicates how thick and rich a coffee is. If you want to experiment to see what body means, try brewing the same coffee by drip and with a French Press. The difference will likely not be night and day, but hopefully you can pick out a subtle weightiness to the coffee from the French Press. It should coat your mouth a little more, and as you swallow you should really feel it in the back of your throat.

The standard for good coffee generally errs on the side of a little more body but not too much. However, lots of people like a lot of body, and lots of people like less body. It’s good to recognize the standard, but having a preference away from the standard is perfectly valid. 

…from an espresso machine?

Espresso and French Press are pretty far on opposite sides of the brewing spectrum. Espresso is a small amount of highly concentrated coffee while French Press is a larger amount of diffused coffee. Espresso grind is extremely fine while French Press grind can be one of the coarser ones out there. These differences mean the same coffee can produce very different flavor profiles. One benefit of French Press in this example is how easy it is to get a consistent, homogeneous cup. Immersion brewing gives the coffee plenty of time to mix with the water, but the flip side is French Press coffee is very easy to over extract. Over extracted coffee happens when too much of the compounds in the coffee grounds are pulled out. You end up with a really bitter, astringent, and generally bland or “dead” flavor. Espresso is also in danger of being over extracted, but is less wasteful.

…from a pour over?

The French Press and Pour Over are two of the most common manual brew methods. Their primary difference is again the body of the brewed coffee and their flavor. Like espresso, these two brew methods lead to almost completely opposite characteristics. French Press coffee is thick and strong while pour over coffee is lighter and usually has a more complex flavor profile. The flavor profile is one of the biggest reasons why pour over is the preferred manual brew method by many fans of specialty coffee, but the French Press still wins out when it comes to portability and ease of use. 

Much of the body of French Press coffee comes from oils that are pulled out of the coffee. Substances in these oils are linked to increasing harmful cholesterol, but only when drinking more than 4-5 cups per day. Pour over coffee does not really have this problem, so consider switching up your brew method if you’re a heavy coffee drinker. Alternatively, try some tea for a mellower caffeine boost.

How to use a French Press 

What you’ll need

  • French Press
  • Coffee
  • Grinder
  • Water
  • A way to boil water
  • (Optional) Scale
  • Timer (Your phone or a watch is fine)


  1. Make sure your French Press is clean. The French Press should be preheated, and pouring some hot water through it is a nice way to make sure it’s clear of debris.
  2. Measure out your coffee. There is no one perfect ratio of coffee to water, but the most common ratio is somewhere between 1:15 and 1:17, 1 gram of coffee for every 15-17 grams of water. For this recipe, we’ll use a 1:16 ratio. If you find you want something a little stronger, try a 1:15 ratio. If the taste is too strong, try 1:17. 

To make a 12oz cup of coffee (the standard mug size) start with around 25 grams of coffee (about 3 tbsp of preground). To make more at once, simply scale up the amounts while keeping the ratio the same. 

  1. Grind your coffee. If you are using preground coffee, skip this step. It is essential to grind French Press coffee fairly coarsely to allow the mesh plunger to catch the grounds. Whatever grinder you use should have a few different settings for grind coarseness. We recommend trying the finest option that doesn’t allow grounds in your final cup, but you may have to experiment a little to find what works with your specific setup. You’re looking for grounds with the consistency of kosher salt. When actually pressing the French Press, if your plunger slides down with very little effort, you’ve probably ground too coarse, but if you have to fight your plunger down, you’ve ground too fine. 
  2. Boil your water at 212 F. Make sure to have enough so you don’t run out. For a 12oz cup, you will want about 12oz of water or 350-355mL.
  3. Time to brew. With the top and the plunger off of the French Press, drop your grounds directly into the beaker and give a little shake to level them. For maximum simplicity, pour your boiling water over the grounds, give it a gentle stir, and put the top of the press on but do not push down yet.
  4. Wait for a total of 4 minutes.
  5. After 4 minutes, push the plunger all the way down. This is where you can know if your grind was right. 
  6. Serve immediately. The coffee continues to steep somewhat even after the press, so do not wait or it will become over extracted.   

Coffee Selection

Pick your favorite! Any coffee can be used for French Press. Certain roasters sell coffee specifically made for French Press which just means they’ve tested it to taste good with that brewing method. One of the joys of coffee brewing is experimentation, so pick what you think might be good. That being said, many people who make French Presses like to lean into the traditional qualities of the brew method by picking medium to dark roasts with fuller bodies. Sumatran, Brazilian, and Ethiopian varieties are all good options to fall back on.  

How to choose the right French Press for your needs 

For Home

One of the first considerations for which French Press to get is: how much coffee do you need. The most common sizes are 12oz (1 standard mug of coffee), 34oz (enough to fill up two thermoses), and 51oz (that’s a lot of coffee). You can always make less than the full amount of coffee possible in a French Press, so 34oz is very popular for its versatility. It’s easy to brew a single cup in the morning or some extra for taking with you, and it’s perfect for a household with two coffee drinkers. Remember though that you can’t really leave coffee in a French Press. Once brewed, it has to be poured somewhere, so getting a larger size press for storing coffee until it’s ready to drink is not a good idea. 

Another important consideration is the material the French Press is made out of. The two most common kinds are glass and metal (stainless steel). Both are capable of making great coffee, so don’t feel like you must choose one over the other. Glass French Presses make pouring the right amount of water easy because you can see inside. Being able to see the coffee brew can also be an exciting part of the process. Stainless steel on the other hand is nearly unbreakable and retains heat better. For a more robust brewer that makes piping hot coffee, metal is the way to go. The choice for home brewing mostly comes down to personal preference. Feel no shame in choosing a French Press that looks cool. 

For Commercial

Because of how easy French Presses are to use, they are not a very popular cafe order. However, having one on hand isn’t a bad idea if someone asks for one, or if your normal drip brewing is down for some reason.

Many of the same considerations apply for choosing a professional French Press. Small to medium capacity presses will still make the most sense again because you can’t brew a bunch and wait for someone to order it. Stainless steel becomes more compelling in the fast paced environment of a cafe, but glass is a valid choice if you want to display your French Press. 

Other ways to use 

French Press for cold brew

Making cold brew with a French Press is quite easy. A French Press is one of the best ways to make cold brew at home. Here’s how:

  1. This time our ratio will be 1:4 or 1:5 depending on your preference. You’ll notice this is a much larger ratio. This is necessary but also means your cold brew will be incredibly concentrated. Make sure you dilute it with ice and/or water when drinking it. 
  2. Put the grounds in and pour your room temperature water over them. For a full 34oz French Press, you will need 7-8oz (200-220g) of ground coffee. No need to stir here.
  3. Let the coffee brew, plunger up, for at least 12 hours and up to 24
  4. When you’re ready to pour, push the plunger down enough that you can pour the coffee, but not all the way down. Do this slowly to avoid agitating the grounds as much as possible. As you pour, you might want to filter the coffee again for maximum smoothness. You can do this with any normal coffee filter. 
  5. You’ve got cold brew! Again, this mixture is very concentrated, so be sure to dilute it before enjoying.

French Press for tea

The process for using a French Press for tea is almost the same as using it for coffee. Here are the few differences to keep in mind:

  • Depending on the tea you use, your water will need to be cooler. Usually this means around 200 F for black tea and 170 F for green teas. 
  • Your steeping time will be different depending on your tea as well. Green teas only need to steep for 1-3 minutes while black teas steep for 3-5.
  • When pushing the plunger down, be careful not to crush the tea leaves. By keeping them intact, they can be reused. Also, crushing them may release fine solids that spoil the flavor of you tea. 


The French Press is a versatile yet user friendly way to brew coffee. It is a great option for limited space setups or while you’re getting ready in the morning. If you’re someone who likes their coffee with cream or sugar, the French Press is an excellent choice as well due to its strong flavor and thicker consistency.