guide to using a French press

If you enjoy robust, intense coffee flavors, we have fantastic news for you. You don’t have to own thousands of dollars worth of expensive coffee-brewing equipment to get the best cup around; you just need a simple French press!

A French press brews coffee without the use of a filter, which is crucial to its design (and the incredible coffee it can brew). The basic idea is that you actually brew the grounds inside the water itself, as opposed to straining it through a filter.

Having the grounds submerged in the water that will eventually turn into your coffee may sound less-than-ideal, but don’t worry, that’s where the real magic of the press comes into play. Every French press has what is commonly referred to as a plunger, which is pressed down through the liquid, separating out your grounds as it goes.

Sold? Great! Just wait until you actually taste it. Let’s jump in with our step-by-step walkthrough.

At a glance:

  • Measure out your coffee grinds
  • Preheat your French press with hot water
  • Add in your coffee grounds
  • Mix a bit of water into the grounds and stir
  • Add in the rest of your water and brew for 3-4 minutes
  • Decant your coffee into a separate container
  • Pour a cup and enjoy, you’re done!

Step-By-Step French Press Instructions

Step 1: Grind and measure your coffee grounds

The type of bean you use is completely up to your personal taste. Be sure to experiment with different kinds, as the flavor profiles of various beans can be drastically different from one another. You never know which one might be your new favorite!

Once you’ve settled on the type, you’ll need to grind and measure them out. Any standard hand-held grinder will do, but you can also opt for a good, inexpensive electric grinder.

Pro tip: The type of grind you use is essential to the final product. A fine grind will lead to a stronger, bolder flavor, while a coarse grind will be lighter and more watery. The trick here is to find the perfect balance between the two. We suggest starting with a medium coarse grind, then adjusting to taste.

With your newly-ground coffee beans in hand, it’s time to figure out how much liquid energy you’re going to make.

As a general rule, a standard 12 oz. French press will need about 2 Tbsp. of grounds to yield one 9 oz. cup of Joe. If you’re making coffee for more than one person, or have a larger press, you can measure accordingly.

FRENCH PRESS STANDARD SIZEYIELD (9 OZ. CUPS)TABLESPOONS OF COFFEE GROUND
3 Cup Press (12 oz.)1 Cup2 Level Tbsp.
4 Cup Press (17 oz.)1.6 Cups3 Level Tbsp.
8 Cup Press (34 oz.)3.4 Cups6 Level Tbsp.
12 Cup Press (51 oz.)5.3 Cups10 Level Tbsp.

Step 2: Get your water ready and your French press preheated

We recommend using a stove-top to heat up your water, but anything will work. 200 degrees Fahrenheit is often cited as the optimal temperature for brewing if you want to get specific and have a thermometer, but this is totally optional.

Pro tip: Take some of your heated water and pour it into the French press. Put the lid on and allow it to sit for a minute or two. This will heat the press itself, allowing your coffee to brew more easily and stay warm longer. Once heated, pour out the water and dry off the inside of the press.

Once this is done, get ready to add the rest of your heated water to the press (but don’t do it yet!)

Step 3: Add your grounds to the French press

Dump all of your grounds into the bottom of your press. In just a moment, you’re going to pour a bit of water–not all of it!–over your grounds. Once your grounds are evenly laid out in the bottom of your French press, you’re ready to start the big show.

Step 4: Pour in your water

French-press-pouring-water

This is the part where you pour a small amount of water into the press (and begin the brewing process itself; go you!)

There’s no precise measurement here, just use your intuition. The water you pour should be just enough to soak the grounds completely. Gently stir this mixture together for about 20 seconds, then wait for another 30 or so.

Once this is done, you can go ahead and pour in the rest of your water. Go ahead and give it a bit more stirring, but there’s no need to overdo it. At this point, you’re almost done with the hard work!

Step 5: Let it brew!

This is it; the moment the magic happens. Go ahead and place the lid back on your French press and set your timer (if you have an iPhone, try using Siri!).

The exact brewing time is, again, not an exact science. Most expert brewers recommend anywhere from 3-4 minutes in the press, but you’ll need to experiment to determine what works best for you. Keep in mind also that different types of coffee beans may work better with a longer or shorter brewing time!

Be sure that your lid is on during the wait. You want to ensure the water is staying as hot as possible while extracting all of that flavorful goodness.

“Hey Siri (Okay Google), set my timer for 4 minutes”.

making coffee with a French press

Step 6: Filter the grounds and decant the coffee

Once your timer goes off, it’s time to get rid of those grounds. This is what makes a French press so unique, is that it acts as its own filter! Slowly begin to put pressure on your plunger to press the grounds down to the bottom of the container.

Important to note here; how easy or difficult it is to press your grounds can be very telling; too difficult, and you’ve likely gone a bit too fine with your grind. Too easy, however, and you went too coarse. Remember, you’re in this for the long game, so it may take a few rounds of brewing to get the consistency exactly right!

Once you’ve pressed all the way down as far as it will go, you’re basically done! However, there’s one more crucial step that we recommend trying. Decant your newly-brewed coffee into another container, so that it doesn’t sit in your press and continue to brew, which may cause it to taste a bit too bitter.

Step 7: Enjoy the fruits of your labor

Give yourself a round of applause–you did it! You’ve successfully brewed coffee using a French press. Pour your decanted coffee into your favorite mug and get ready to start your day in the best note possible.

Remember; using the French press is an art, and mastery takes time.

Like all worthy pursuits, you’re bound to make a few mistakes on your way to being an expert brewmaster. Don’t let this get you down; eventually, you’ll know exactly the right process for your individual taste.

In fact, that’s part of the fun of using a French press in the first place. You’re able to experiment and determine exactly how you like your coffee, which in turn will improve your life and make you happy!

So what are you waiting for? Grab your French press, and get to brewing.


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Anthony is a professional barista in the city of Chicago. He has written for many online publications on various topics related to coffee.