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How to Use a French Press Coffee Maker

Looking for a simple way to make a big batch of tasty coffee? Then a French press coffee maker is perfect for the job – and we show you how

If you like your coffee strong and flavorful, then it may be worth learning how to use a French press coffee maker. More hands-on than a single-serve maker, and less prone to burning and over extraction than stovetop models, a French press offers a simple way to make large volumes of strongly flavored coffee while retaining the ability to experiment and tweak the brew so that it’s exactly how you want it.

In this article, we provide an explanation of what a French press is, how to use one to make your perfect cup of coffee and further down the page, even offer up a simple way to use your French press to make a delicious cold brew. We also spoke to Kaleena Teoh, co-founder and director of education at coffee training campus Coffee Project NY, for her thoughts on French press coffee. We finish with our top picks of the best French presses we’ve tested.

What is a French press and why should I use one?

A French press is a manual coffee maker comprising a cylindrical carafe, a plunger and a built-in mesh filter. You make coffee in a French press by immersing coffee grounds in hot water and steeping them for a number of minutes. The built-in filter then helps strain the grounds, leaving the coffee free to be poured from the device’s spout.

In practical terms, people favor the French press for its ease of use, small worktop footprint and its manual nature; it operates without electricity. Besides its practicality, French press fans enjoy the strong, full-bodied, and flavorful coffee it can produce – a French press will extract more flavor-deriving oils and sediments from your coffee than any other brewing method.

As far as the pros and cons of French press coffee are concerned, Kaleena had this to say: “The French press is great for convenience. It’s easy to use and quite forgiving, to be honest. A full-immersion brewing method, where coffee sits with water for the whole duration of the brew, you can get a balanced cup of coffee without too much effort. The only downside to a French press is that, because it uses a metal filter, it would allow for some fine grounds to pass through to the cup, yielding a sometimes gritty mouthfeel.”

How to use a French press coffee maker

Now that we know what we’re working with, let’s look at how you use a French press coffee maker.

Before we get to the French press, you’ll first need to prepare your coffee. Whether you’re grinding your own beans or using coffee grounds, you’ll want a medium-coarse grind level, which should look similar to kosher salt. In a French press, coarser grounds extract more slowly, while finer grounds are more likely to over-extract and taste bitter, not to mention clog the filter.

Next, measure out your grounds and water. The amount of each you use will depend on the amount of coffee you’re making and the strength you desire. Most people go for a ratio of 1:12 coffee to water; if you prefer your coffee a little less intense, a ratio of 1:16 or higher will be better. Ultimately, don’t worry about ratios too much, because you can adjust them to your taste after a few attempts. For this guide, we’re using a ratio of 1:12, weighing out an ounce of coffee grounds and 12oz of water, plus a little extra for preheating our press. As with any coffee drink, freshly boiled, filtered water works best, since it will contain fewer impurities that could negatively impact the flavor of your coffee.

Now, to get started, place your French press on a level, flat surface and remove the plunger. Most French presses are made of glass or stainless steel, which need a preheat to help them stay at a constant temperature during brewing. Rinse out your French press with hot water and then discard.

With your press preheated, add your ounce of coffee and 12oz of freshly boiled water, which has been allowed to cool to 200ºF (this should take about 30 seconds from boiling).

Replace the lid with the plunger pulled up, so that it rests just above the water, and allow the coffee to steep for three to five minutes. Once you’re happy with the time elapsed, grip the handle of the carafe and slowly but firmly depress the plunger.

You’re ready to serve your coffee. It’s best to decant French press coffee into an insulated container straight away, since the grounds will continue to brew even after plunging, which can lead to over-extraction and a bitter, unpleasant flavor.

How to make cold brew coffee in a French press

If you’re one of the ever-growing number of people who enjoy cold brew coffee for its sweeter, milder taste, its refreshingly chilled temperature, and its higher caffeine levels compared to hot brewed coffee, then your French press will gain some extra utility. To make cold brew, you need a non-porous container in which to store your mixture in the fridge, and something to filter it once it’s brewed – both of which come built in in a French press. To make yourself some delicious cold-brew coffee concentrate, simply follow the steps below:

1. Add coarsely ground coffee and filtered water to your French press in a ratio of 1:4, making sure to leave room for your lid and plunger at the top.

2. Replace the lid with the plunger pulled up, so that it sits above the water level in your press and place it into the fridge. Now we wait for at least 12, and up to 24 hours – the longer you leave your coffee grounds to brew, the stronger and smoother the resulting coffee will be.

3. Once your chosen time has elapsed, remove your French press from the fridge, plunge and decant the coffee into an airtight, non-porous container. It’s important to note that what you’ve made here is a coffee concentrate, which requires further dilution. For a stiffer drink, dilute your cold brew in a 1:1 ratio of water or milk – or, if you prefer a milder coffee, try a ratio of 1:2 concentrate to milk/water.

4. As noted above, cold brew concentrate is smooth-tasting but strongly caffeinated, so you probably won’t want to drink your entire concoction straight away. Stored in an airtight, non-porous container, it should keep in the fridge for around seven to ten days.

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