How to use a French Press?

Most coffee drinkers have heard of a French Press before and perhaps, after having piqued your interest with its exotic name, you’ve endeavoured to get yourself one and try it out for yourself. After all, how hard can it be to use a French Press?

Those are usually famous last words, but in this scenario, it really is that easy. A French Press is simply a method for separating coffee grounds from the coffee itself. This device can be bought at your local supermarket. French Presses are generally used to brew Filter coffees or black coffees at home. This is a home utensil and would not be found at your local restaurant.

How to use a French Press?
  • Step One – Remove the lid from the top of the beaker (this usually includes the plunger) and add your coffee of choice into the French Press, then mix in an appropriate amount of hot water. Obviously, the amounts of both are going to depend on the size of the press as well as how strong you want your coffee to be.
  • Step Two –  Allow the coffee to steep. This is the process in which coffee is allowed to soak for between 2-4 minutes in hot water. This allows the taste to seep out of the coffee and infuse the water with its flavour. Just remember, the timing of the steep is very important. Leaving the coffee grounds in the press for too long or too short a time can affect the taste (but more on that later).
  • Step Three – Fit the lid and plunger back on top and gently press down. The speed at which you push may affect the resulting coffee. If you press too slowly you may take too long and extend the steeping process (Don’t push like a little baby). If you press too quickly the pressure might force coffee grounds up into the drink (don’t press like it’s a gym machine).
  • Step Four – Pour out the coffee and enjoy. Just be careful not to pour out every last drop as you may end up including the ‘coffee dregs’ that you’ve been trying to avoid.

How Does A French Press Work?

Most of us make our first ever cup of coffee in the same way. Drop some coffee powder into a cup, add boiling water, maybe some milk and sugar, give it a stir and you are good to go. You may then be surprised to find that for coffee savants the world over, this process is as distasteful as it is crude.

Most self-proclaimed coffee experts would instead grind their own coffee to better control the size and consistency of the grounds. Next, it’s usually undesirable to have said grounds (or beans if that’s more your style) dissolve completely or even mostly. For a high-quality cup of coffee, the grounds are supposed to infuse the water with their flavour before being removed entirely.

The French Press is the go-to way to accomplish this task. The main body of the press is used to brew the coffee as normal, however, once the job is done, the plunger is used to separate the liquid from the solid materials. This is done by steadily pressing the sieve downwards, effectively trapping the larger debris at the bottom of the container and leaving a smooth, clear brew above.

The above process is usually referred to as Immersion Brewing and can be quite simple to accomplish, however, it can be extremely challenging to master, as such there are many guidelines and pointers to keep in mind if you wish to french press your way to the perfect cup of coffee.

How does a French Press work?

Tips for using a French Press

  • Coffee size matters – Smaller grounds have their flavour extracted more quickly by the boiling water, thus if you’re in a rush, a finer grind will give you a nice, full taste, however, the smaller sizes can also find their way through the sieve more easily which can lead to a more gritty texture. Conversely, larger grounds take more time to brew and may result in a weaker taste but you can be certain that they won’t make it past the plunger and into your drink.
  • Water Temperature – The heat of the water will directly impact the rate of flavour extraction and the extent to which the coffee will dissolve. Too hot and the taste will be too strong, too cold and you’ll only be tasting the small bit that manages to infuse the water. The ideal water temperature is thought to be at around 95°C (203°F).
  • Speed of the press – Some french press users don’t pay much attention to the speed at which they use the plunger, however, others maintain that moving too fast may force some coffee grounds to be forced up past the sieve and into the liquid. There’s also the small issue of accidentally splashing boiling hot water into your face!
  • Don’t take too long and remember to leave a bit at the bottom – Once you’ve finished with the press, it’s time to pour your coffee out into your favourite mug. It doesn’t make sense to leave this action waiting for too long as the dregs trapped at the bottom will continue to dissolve into the water as long as the two are mixed. Furthermore, it may be wise not to pour out every last drop and to instead leave the last bit in the press as that final drip will generally contain a high quantity of ‘coffee silt’.
Coffee Silt

The Pros and Cons of Brewing Coffee Using a French Press

There’s more than one way to brew your morning mix, so what’s so special about the immersion process and are there any drawbacks?

Pros of using the French Press

  • Cleaner, stronger coffee – Once you learn how to use the French Press effectively, you’ll be capable of making a cup of caffeinated goodness that has a sharper taste without undesirable dregs spoiling the experience. If you can get the hang of the press method, you can effectively separate the flavour from the beans without combining the two permanently. This means no more bits and pieces of coffee grounds and powders floating on the surface or sticking to the bottom of the cup.
  • Getting the flavour you desire (or maybe the one you deserve) – Most brewing techniques take the wheel out of your hands. You mix the ingredients and come what may, you don’t have all that much control. With a French Press, however, you decide the long the coffee brews for and how much is allowed to dissolve. Once you learn the timing of the affair you’ll be able to tailor the flavour to your palate.
  •  A better, less bitter taste – You may recall a previous article briefly mentioning tannoids. Along with other molecules found in coffee, these little characters are often responsible for the more bitter and dry tastes sometimes present in a cup of joe. This unpleasantness can actually be avoided if the beans or powders are not left to steep for too long. The upshot of which is what many would consider a better tasting drink.

Cons of using the French Press

A French Press
  • The flavour you deserve – Other methods of brewing coffee might take most of the control out of your hands but the benefit therein is that the flavour is normally quite consistent. On the other hand, a French Press leaves a lot of room for small mistakes and big failures. You can very easily leave the coffee to steep for too long or not long enough, this human variable in the equation (you) can create a potentially infinite list of problems and for many, it may seem easier to just leave it to a machine even if the flavour is somewhat lacking.
  • The clean-up – Perhaps the main attraction of a French Press is the ability to remove the dregs from a cup of coffee. These dregs are normally found at the bottom of the press underneath the plunger. Obviously, if they are not removed before the next use, they will continue to dissolve and add their bitter, dry taste to the next cup of coffee. As such, it’s necessary for press owners to clean out their device after every use.
  • A need for time and patience – Combining the aforementioned cleanup and brewing process results in a lot of time and energy going into each and every cup of coffee. Most people don’t have such luxuries and may prefer to just insert a capsule and press a button to get their fix, even if the taste isn’t all there. If you often find yourself in a rush, a coffee press might be a bit too counterproductive to justify.

As with all coffee machines and brewing techniques, the French Press has its ups and downs. It’s always a good idea to do some extra research before you fully commit to any one product.

In Conclusion – How to use a French Press?

The French Press is a commonly used coffee brewing device, it stands out as a method for separating the coffee grounds from the liquid which leads to a clear, strong cup of coffee free from excess materials and coffee dregs. It also allows (or demands) for precision timing when brewing which, if done properly, can result in a reduction in bitterness and a more full-flavoured taste.

After mixing the coffee and boiling water in the main body of the press, the plunger is affixed and gently pressed down. This action traps the excess grounds at the bottom of the device thus effectively separating them from the drink itself. Pour out the coffee and enjoy, just remember to leave a bit of liquid in the press so as not to carry the coffee silt into the mug, additionally, remember to clean the press out thoroughly after every use to ensure that the leftover grounds do not negatively impact the taste of the next brew.

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