How to make the best coffee with your French Press / Coffee Plunger

For many, using a Plunger / French Press has been the preferred method for brewing the perfect cup of coffee. The press is simple to use and will produce a very rich, superior cup of coffee once you understand the basic technique.

A French Press is a simple device that consists of a glass beaker or carafe, and a tight fitting plunger device with a mesh filter that’s used to separate the grinds from the coffee once the brew has finished steeping.

The biggest problem with the French Press is that most people just don’t use it correctly.

One of the primary advantages of the French Press method of making coffee is the ability to better control the brewing process. This is critical for coaxing the best out of the humble coffee bean, as we have explained here.

Did you know: The French Press, also known as a “press pot” or a “plunger” has been available for over one hundred years. The simple design commonly in use today can be traced back to the original models as early as 1930.

You can extract a richer and more flavourful cup of coffee by better managing the optimum temperature of the water and controlling how long the grinds remain in contact with the water while the coffee steeps.

Because the press pot does not use a paper filter, more of the flavor oils will infuse into the brew.

So, now that you have the basics, how do you use that to make the perfect cup of coffee?

What you need

  • A French Press / Coffee Plunger (kinda obvious, we know)
  • Really good coffee (Your favourite Pan Roasted Single Origin of course!)
  • A coffee grinder (We strongly advocate grinding as you use, rather than buying pre-ground)
  • A kettle to heat your water
  • Something to stir with (ideally not metal if you don’t want to scratch the glass of the press)
  • A scale (to measure your water and coffee)
  • A timer (most phones these days have one if your kitchen doesn’t)
  • Optional: a thermometer to measure water temperature

Some advice

Before we give you a step by step guide for making that perfect cup of coffee, let’s touch on a few things you should know first.

The Water

As with any coffee brewing method, water is the predominant ingredient so always start with fresh, clean water. If your water has a bad taste or aroma, this will come through in the final brew, so if your tap water isn’t fresh or good tasting, use a water filter or bottled water instead.

Next you need to consider the temperature of the water. No, we are not expecting you to sit with a thermometer in your kettle (although some do). A simple guide is to allow the kettle to come to a rolling boil, and then remove from heat before you grind your beans.

By the time you have ground what you need, the water will have cooled to the ideal temperature. If you are using pre-ground coffee (GASP!) let the kettle stand for about 30 seconds.

The Grind

Even though we provide pre-ground coffee, we are firm advocates of using whole beans and grinding as you use, as this will provide you with the best coffee.

Grinding the coffee beans is the most important step to get right. As we have discussed, different coarseness suits different types of brewing.

The mesh filter used in a French Press requires a slightly coarser grind, to prevent the grind from passing through the filter, but fine enough to allow more of the desirable flavour oils to infuse into the coffee.

The key is to produce an even grind, where the particles are of uniform size, so we strongly recommend you use a burr grinder for this step.

Step by Step guide

First, decide how much coffee you are making.  For every cup of coffee, you will need a ratio of 7.5 grams of ground coffee (roughly 1 tablespoon) to 125ml of water.

Place roughly double the amount of water you will be using in the kettle and bring the water to a boil.

Place the correct amount of freshly ground coffee beans in the glass beaker of your French Press.

Remember to allow the kettle to cool slightly from a full boil. Letting it stand for about 30 seconds should cool to the right temperature. For those looking for perfection, you want the water at 93 degrees Celsius.

Pour the water into the beaker slowly, rotating the pour as you go, to saturate the grounds evenly.

The grounds will tend to float to the surface as you add the water.

Fill the beaker with the right amount of water, then place the plunger filter assembly over the top of the beaker to hold the heat in, but don’t press down.

Leave this in place for about one minute.

After a minute, remove the lid and stir the coffee briefly with a wooden spoon to agitate the coffee grounds. (A wooden chop stick also works well to stir with). This is an optional step but helps to produce a more complete extraction.

Replace the plunger filter assembly back over the top of the beaker, but don’t press down. Leave in place to allow the coffee to steep.

Steeping time will vary depending on how much coffee you’re brewing, but in general, 4 to 5 minutes for a coarser grind, and 2½ to 3 minutes for a slightly finer grind is optimal. (Keep track using the timer)

The finer the grind, the faster the extraction time. Remember, a finer grind also allows more of the flavour oils to infuse into the brew.

If you don’t allow enough time for steeping, the extraction will be weak. If you allow the coffee to steep for too long, the coffee will become over-extracted and exhibit an undesirable bitter taste.

Practice makes perfect. If your coffee is weak, make a note and lengthen the steeping time on your next brew, if too bitter, shorten the steeping time.

With a little practice, you can determine the proper steeping time that matches the grind that you like to use to achieve the best result.

When steeping is complete, it’s time to plunge. Hold the lid in place with one hand and carefully start to push the plunger screen downward, forcing the grinds with it to the bottom of the beaker.

Make sure to keep the plunger straight.

If the disk goes in crooked it can allow some of the grounds to escape around it. Don’t worry if this happens, you can recover easily enough. Simply remove the plunger and filter assembly, rinse in hot water, quickly replace the plunger and start over.

There should be some resistance, but you should be able to reach the bottom in 20 to 30 seconds at the most. If you’ve used freshly roasted beans, you should have a nice crema on the top.

Pour right away and enjoy. Don’t keep the coffee in the French Press, or it may continue to brew and become over-extracted. Coffee is always best within the first 10 minutes after brewing.

You may find a bit of sediment at the bottom of your cup. If you prefer, the easiest way to avoid the settled coffee grinds is just to skip that last sip.