The name might sound fancy, but French press coffee is actually one of the easiest and least expensive ways to enjoy a cup of joe in the morning.

By Melanie Fincher
July 15, 2020
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Contrary to popular opinion, French press coffee is not just for coffee snobs. But it certainly doesn't hurt to be one if you're looking to dive into this popular brewing method. French press is a simple, manual brewing method that gives you total control over your brew. Really anyone can do it, and it's one of the least expensive brewing methods available. 

But before you get started, you'll need to be prepared with the proper equipment and brewing technique. And that's what we're here for. Keep reading for step-by-step instructions on how to make French press coffee.

What Is French Press Coffee?

The first time you set out to make French press coffee, just the sight of the French press coffee maker can be a little intimidating. But it's actually one of the simplest brewing systems, and it's been around since the 1850s. According to legend, its invention was actually a happy accident. 

The story goes that a Frenchman was boiling water when he realized he had forgotten to put the coffee in. He decided to add the coffee grounds to the boiling water nonetheless. Once the coffee grounds rose to the top, he used a piece of metal screen and a stick to press the screen down together with the grounds. The result? It was the best coffee he had ever tasted. 

Despite this fun origin story, the patent of the French press coffee maker actually came from the Italians. With time, the version has continued to evolve into the French press we know today — or a manual brewing system in which coffee grounds are steeped in hot water before being pressed to the bottom of the beaker, helping to separate the grounds from the liquid.

Pros and Cons of French Press Coffee

French press coffee has somewhat of a cult following. It extracts a very strong and robust cup of coffee, without the need for any sort of electrical brewing system. You get complete control over your brew, and you can use a French press coffee maker to make other beverages like tea or even cold brew coffee. Plus, it's dirt cheap. You can get a top-rated French press coffee maker for under $20 on Amazon.

But the French press is not without its drawbacks. Because it's a manual brewing system, you can't exactly set it and just walk away. It's also a little finicky when it comes to the grind size — it's recommended that you grind your own beans to achieve the uniformly coarse grind necessary for French press coffee. But once you get the hang of the process, you really will end up with delicious coffee in its simplest form.

How to Make French Press Coffee Step-by-Step

When it comes to French press coffee, the hardest part is getting started. You'll need to make sure you have the right equipment on hand to guarantee success. But once you've got that down, the rest is easy.

Here's What You'll Need:

Pictured: Bodum Brazil French Press
| Credit: Amazon
  1. Whole Coffee Beans: Good coffee starts with good beans ($15, Amazon). And while you can buy them pre-ground, I highly recommend grinding them yourself. French press coffee requires uniform, coarsely ground beans, about the size of breadcrumbs. Smaller sized grains (like those that often come pre-ground) will get through the filter and create sediment in your coffee. 
  2. Burr Coffee Grinder: A burr grinder is going to be your best bet for getting those consistently-sized, coarse grounds of coffee. While a regular blade grinder is going to give smaller grains by grinding them almost like a blender would, a burr grinder is made of two abrasive surfaces (AKA burrs). The coffee beans are ground between these surfaces, and the distance between the surfaces can be moved to change the size of the grind. Burr grinders tend to make a more uniform grind, making them ideal for French press. You can either go with a manual burr grinder ($44, Amazon) or splurge on an electric one ($98, Amazon).
  3. Measuring Cups or Digital Food Scale: While you can use standard measuring cups to measure your coffee, the most precise way of measuring beans is to weigh them before grinding, using a digital food scale. For an eight-cup press (meaning it holds four cups of water, and produces eight 4-ounce servings), measure out ½ cup, or 56 grams of coffee beans. When it comes to the coffee:water ratio, a good rule of thumb is to use 15 grams of water per gram of coffee. So for 56 grams of coffee, that will be 840 grams of water, or 3 ½ cups, although you can go up to 4 cups depending on how strong you prefer your coffee. If all the math is getting a to be a little too much, refer to the list below for a general guide to coffee/water proportions: 
    • 1 cup water (8 fluid ounces) — 2 tablespoons coffee beans (14 grams)
    • 2 cups water (16 fluid ounces) — ¼ cup coffee beans (28 grams)
    • 4 cups of water (32 fluid ounces) — 1/2 cup coffee beans (56 grams)
    • 8 cups of water (64 fluid ounces) — 1 cup coffee beans (112 grams)
  4. French Press: This might go without saying, but you'll need a French press to make French press coffee. There's no need to spend too much money on one, as French presses are one of the simplest of all brewing systems. This $17 top-rated model from Bodum is available on Amazon
  5. Boiling Water: You'll need boiling water to "warm" the press before brewing, and of course you'll need boiling water to brew the coffee.  
  6. Long Spoon or Stirrer: While you can buy a wooden coffee stir stick for just $7, any long spoon (like a teaspoon or a wooden spoon) will work for breaking up the top layer of coffee. It's best to steer clear of metal spoons so you don't accidentally break the glass. 
  7. Timer: Let's be real, this is probably going to be your phone. But you'll need some sort of timer ($14, Amazon) to time the four minutes it takes to brew the perfect cup of French press coffee. 
  8. Your Favorite Mug! Serve your coffee in your favorite mug or tumbler (bonus points for serving it in this Parisian-themed mug).

Instructions:

  1. The first step to fabulous French press coffee is to warm up the press. You can do this by boiling water and rinsing out the press. This will help maintain the temperature while brewing. 
  2. Next, it's time to measure and grind your coffee beans. Start by measuring your desired amount of whole coffee beans (refer to our list above for general coffee:water ratios). Use a burr grinder, whether manual or electric, to grind whole coffee beans into coarse, consistently-sized grounds. 
  3. Discard any hot water from the French press, and add the coffee grinds to the empty press. Bring your desired amount of water to a boil, and then allow it to cool for one minute. Pour the water into the French press. 
  4. Using a long spoon or stirrer, stir vigorously to break up the top layer. 
  5. Allow the coffee to steep for an additional four minutes. Once the timer goes off, gently push the plunger all the way to the bottom of the press. Serve immediately, although you can always store any leftover coffee in a thermos ($29; Amazon) to keep it warm for a while longer (but not too long, as it will start to get bitter as it sits). Congratulations! You've just made French press coffee. 

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