If you have bought a French Press coffee maker, no doubt you have come across a load of sItes telling you how to make a good cup. But did they tell you how to make the best coffee? Read my guide and find out how to make perfect French Press coffee. You will also find some pretty weird and interesting tricks on the way.
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Short on time?
In the article:
How to make the best French Press coffee: the essentials.
First let me cover the basics. At the start I will cover everything from the coffee beans and grind to coffee ratios and brew times. If you are short on time then feel free to jump to the recipe and you should have everything you need.
If you are happy to stick around I will also cover some quirky tips and hacks to make an even better coffee.
The first rule of the French Press club is that there are no rules…
Making good French Press coffee is about learning how to understand the different variables that go into making it. Once you understand the basic principles you can start experimenting and breaking the rules to get the cup that you want. Start with some of the basics I cover at the start and see if that is for you.
If you really want to up your game then making a truly great cup comes from experimenting and seeing what works for you. Yes there is bad coffee but the only ‘good’ coffee is the one that work for you. Maybe you get a better taste with longer brew times. Perhaps a different grind size or water source really will make the difference you did not taste before. Mastering the different variables is what makes brewing coffee so special.
If you are reading this and intend to use tap water then you do not really have much choice as to what to use. Many people overlook this as a variable and yet it is the substance that makes up most of your coffee. The science behind water and coffee is complicated and buying bottled water is not a guarantee that your coffee will taste better.
To keep things simple, start by using tap water and see how that tastes. If you a really struggling with the flavour and you suspect water is the culprit, consider sourcing coffee from local roasters in your area. They will intimately know which coffee waters best with the local water in the area and sourcing coffee from them could be an easy solution. If you really want to geek out and control every variable however then it is time to start understanding water chemistry.
Coffee beans and degassing:
Ever read on a coffee blog that you should let your coffee ‘bloom’ and wonder what they meant? The answer is due to something called ‘degassing’ which can affect everything from buying, storing, grinding and brewing your coffee. Understand this and you will really up your game.
When a coffee bean is roasted it slowly lets out co2 gas, typically over a period of 10 to 14 days. The quicker this process happens, the quicker the flavour is released and the faster the coffee becomes stale. Because of this process, you should always try to:
- Buy fresh coffee beans and only grind just before brewing. Degassed coffee will not taste as good.
- Storage also affects this process. Put your coffee beans in airtight jars and in a cool dry place at room temperature.
- ‘Bloom’ your coffee by stirring after you have placed the water over the coffee beans. The bubbles will rise to the top and let the flavour extract more quickly.
- The coffee temperature and extraction time will also have an effect on the speed of this degassing process. More on this below.
Grinding your coffee:
If you choose to buy whole beans over pre-ground coffee then you will need a decent grinder. There are two types of grinder you can get and choosing the right one is essential if you want to brew consistently good coffee.
These use a single blade to blend the coffee and is the inferior option of the two grinder types. This is due to the fact that it results in an inconsistent grind as the coffee granules often end up as being different sizes. This makes it more likely for your coffee to have an inconsistent flavour profile and to potentially taste more bitter. You also have less choice in terms of what grind size you want.
If a blade grinder is the only option then check out my blade grinder tips below to give you the best grind.
These grind the coffee beans between two rotating ‘burrs’ or blades that give the coffee a more consistent grind. A good burr grinder will give the option to select the grind size, which is great if you have several different coffee makers or want to experiment with whatever grind works for you.
For a French Press, it is best to start out with a coarser grind. Your coffee will brew in hot water for around 3-4 minutes usually and too fine a grind will most likely extract the coffee faster, resulting in more bitter flavours.
Going back to what we understand about the degassing process I mentioned earlier, the hotter your brewing temperature the quicker this degassing happens and less time is needed to extract the flavours. However, brewing your coffee at too hot a temperature can ‘burn’ the coffee, which could make it taste more bitter. Aim for a balance by picking the right temperature.
A kitchen thermometer is best if you want the most consistent results. Aim for a temperature of around 90C or 195F.
If you do not have a kitchen thermometer then use a timer instead. Leave the kettle to stand for a minute before brewing your coffee.
This is how long you let the ground coffee brew in the water for. The longer you leave it, the more flavours are extracted. Too long and your coffee could taste too strong or too bitter. Too little time and you could end up with weak coffee.
Leave your coffee to brew for no more than 4 minutes to start with and experiment with shortening or increasing the brew time depending on your tastes. You may find that different coffee beans require different extraction times.
Start with a ratio of 1 to 10 if you are new to making freshly brewed coffee. So if you used 10 grams of coffee beans then you would brew with 100mls of water. This is a good starting point and you can then change the ratios over time depending on what you like. Add more if you want stronger coffee and less if you prefer it weaker.
One essential piece of equipment if you really want to master how to make a french press coffee is some kitchen scales. Just eyeballing how much coffee you need will likely just end up in you getting inconsistent coffee flavours every time.
Roast profile & bean type.
This is not directly related to the French Press but is essential to the process of making coffees that you will enjoy as everyone’s taste profiles are different. If you do not already have a preference, you may want to experiment with which roast profile is right for you:
- Lighter roast: Typically characterised as having more flavours due to a higher level of acidity but are also more delicate in taste. They are also usually more lighter bodied, meaning that they have a lighter ‘mouth feel’ when drinking the coffee. Lighter roasts often have a higher caffeine content as well.
- Medium roast: Will be richer in flavour than a lighter roast and heavier in body but still often retains some smoothness. The coffee roasting itself will impose more of its own flavour.
- Darker roast: Much richer and more pronounced in taste. The roasting itself will have a more direct impact of the flavour, giving it a much stronger aroma as well. Typically these coffee are more one note in flavour and give off bittersweet flavours. Only for people who prefer a much bolder coffee taste.
The types of beans you buy themselves are also important. There are many varieties of coffee beans but the safest choice to buy are Arabica coffee beans. Other coffee species such as the Robusta plant are usually used as they are cheaper to produce but often end up with inferior and more bitter flavours.
Making your coffee:
- Grab some kitchen scales and measure out 10 grams of fresh and whole Arabica coffee beans for one cup of coffee. Remember to start with a ratio of 1 gram of coffee to 10 mls of water when starting up and then add more if you want a stronger coffee. In this example I am using 100ml water.
- Use a burr grinder to grind your coffee and choose a coarse grind. Put your ground coffee in the French Press once you are done.
- Boil your water to 90C or 195F. If you do not have a kitchen thermometer then leave your kettle to stand for 1 minute after it has boiled and no more.
- Pour the water over the coffee once it is ready.
- Stir your coffee to make sure any bubbles rise to the surface as quick as possible. Letting the gas expire quicker will allow more time for the water to extract more flavour from the beans.
- Pure the plunger in and push it down slowly once the for minutes are up to separate the coffee beans from the water. You are now ready to enjoy your French Press coffee. Make sure to pour the coffee into a cup or container immediately so that your coffee does not keep extracting and become more bitter.
Weird and useful hacks to make your coffee better.
Now you have learnt the basics it is time to experiment with some strange and useful tricks. Some of these will help you make better coffee or correct mistakes and others can spice up your coffee routine.
Use this weird technique to make your coffee less bitter.
There is a good chance when starting out that you might make some mistakes along way. If you have made a bitter cup of coffee there is a way to make it taste better without reaching for the sugar jar. The secret? Drum roll please…..
What? Add salt did you say? I know it sounds crazy but it is actually something that has some science behind it. Salt actually enhances the sweeter elements of coffee to diminish any bitter elements in your drink. It probably is not a good idea to reach for some salt every time you want a drink but if you have a really bitter cup of coffee then a pinch will probably make it go down better.
Go for a cold brew and make use of older coffee beans.
In this article I have focused on how to make hot coffee with the French Press but there is a whole different type of coffee out there and that is cold brew coffee. Invented in Japan hundreds of year ago, cold brew coffee involves brewing coffee at room temperature water for several hours.
Cold brew coffee is super easy to make and results in a really mellow and smooth coffee once you add ice. Check out my article on how to make cold brew coffee with a French Press if you want to find out more.
Brewing your coffee this way is much more forgiving than making hot coffee due to the fact that it extracts less bitter flavours. If you have some older coffee beans lying around that are still able to be consumed, give the cold brew method a go as there is a good chance that it will still produce a solid coffee taste.
A good tip for travellers.
If you travel a lot then it is not always going to be easy to carry around a set of scales or a water measuring jug but there is an easy hack to get around this.
The next time you put water in your French Press you can draw a line with marker pen or use a sticker on your coffee maker where the waterline is. When travelling you can measure the water up to this level and then you will always know how much water you are using.
In terms of knowing how much coffee to use without a set of scales, find out how much coffee your travel grinder can handle. You should then have a good enough guide for the coffee to water ratios you are using.
Spice up your coffee and use less sugar.
Consider mixing ground cinnamon in your ground coffee rather than sugar if this is your usual routine. Not only is cinnamon naturally sweet, it will give your coffee a little kick and add complexity to the flavour profile of your drink.
Stuck with a blade grinder? Master the grind.
I said that you should use a burr grinder for the best results but what if you are stuck with a blade grinder? Well you will probably not get the same results but I have a little trick to make your coffee grind more consistent.
Put your coffee in the blade grinder. Use the grinder in short bursts and shake the grinder as you do this. Keep going until the coffee grinds look more uniform. For the best results, put the coffee grinds into a fine mesh strainer and let all the fine coffee grounds fall into a bowl. You usually only want to keep the coursers grinds with a French Press although this process may waste more coffee.
Use a fine mesh strainer to filter out sediments.
One of the potential downsides of drinking with a French Press is the residue of coffee that you sometimes get at the end of your drink. I actually quite like this but some people prefer not to have that in their coffee. If this applies to you then consider using a fine mesh strainer as you pour the coffee into your cup to filter this out. Do not forget to pour slowly just in case you spill the coffee everywhere.
How to work out if you have old coffee.
Remember the section where I discussed the coffee degassing process? Well if you try to let your coffee ‘bloom’ by pouring hot water over your coffee beans, you will know if you have old coffee if you do not notice any bubbles rise to the surface.
Use a flask for multiple cups.
More of a tip for the lazy than for making the ultimate coffee but I like to use a flask and fill it to the top with coffee when I use the French Press in the morning. It does not compare to making a fresh coffee every time but when I am working or feeling tired it makes things very convenient. Transferring the coffee into a another container straight away means that the coffee does not continue to extract flavour as well.
Make a latte style frothy drink without a milk frother.
So you want to make a latte like they do in the coffee store but do not have the milk frothing equipment? Get an empty bottle, put some milk inside and shake it hard for a minute or two. When the milk is really foamy, put it into a microwave until it is warm and you have ready made milk for a frothy latte.
Learn how to cup coffee.
I discussed this topic briefly in my article on how to change up your coffee routine but learning how to taste coffee will seriously up your game when it comes to perfecting the best cup. Once you learn some basic terms to describe what you are tasting, you can start to understand what the coffee should taste like and any potential defects as a result of your brewing technique or the coffee itself.
So have you mastered the French Press coffee?
If you follow some of the basic steps in this guide you should easily master how to make the perfect French Press coffee. But as I alluded to earlier, there are no real rules to making coffee as the only ‘good’ coffee is the one you like drinking.
Think of these ideas as a guide that can get you on the path. But once you master the basics, perhaps it is time to start changing things up. Maybe you will come up with some weird hacks and tricks of your own.