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How To Use French Press Coffee Makers + The #1 Mistake

pouring coffee from French press into white mug, how to use french press coffee makers

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It may surprise you that most people who drink French press coffee don’t actually know how to use French press coffee makers. While brewing with a French press is pretty straightforward, several factors may easily influence the quality of your brew.

Here we’ll look at common mistakes many people make when it comes to French press usage and guide you step-by-step in learning how to use French press coffee makers to get the most out of your French press.

So let’s get plunging.

How To Use French Press Coffee Makers

Learning how to use French press coffee makers is more straightforward than other brewing methods, thanks to the universal design of the French press. While there are subtle differences between brands of French press coffee makers, the universal principles remain the same.

When recommending a French press, we advise buying a high-quality unit to last you for many years to come. Models made from glass, stainless steel, and ceramic are all equally suited to brew a rich, full-bodied cup.

We love a stainless steel French press for its heat retention properties, but some may find a slight difference in the brew’s flavor. Opt for ceramic if you’re looking for heat retention without affecting taste.

So what is French press coffee, and how is it different from other brewing methods?

Fellow Clara French press in black

What Is French Press?

While the origin of the French press is a subject of heated debate and scandal between the French and the Italians, we know for sure that French press usage has been commonplace in Europe since the 1920s.

This is partly because French press coffee makers are so simple to use. Brewing coffee in a French press involves pressing down (or plunging) ground coffee into hot water (or if making cold brew, room temperature water).

This style of coffee brewing is known as immersion brewing, as the ground coffee is immersed in hot water rather than pouring hot water over the coffee as we see in drip and pour over methods. 

No matter which brand of French press coffee maker you choose, you’ll notice the same components in each:

  1. Beaker: the main body of the press made from glass, stainless steel, or ceramic
  2. Handle and base: keep the press steady and gives you a cool spot to hold onto
  3. Filter/Plunger/Lid: the plunger and filter are attached to the lid of the press 

Because of how French press works, it is essential to use the correct grind size and coffee to water ratio for French press to avoid an over-extracted brew.

French Press Usage

disassembled French press beside white coffee mug on counter

Grind Setting For French Press

When learning how to use French press coffee makers, you’ll soon find that one of the most critical steps in the brewing process is coffee grinding.

The best grind setting for French press is coarse to medium-coarse. Ground coffee should resemble sea salt. Not table salt. Not kosher salt. Sea salt.

Getting an even, consistently medium-coarse grind is critical to brewing the best cup of French press coffee possible. There will be too much pressure in the plunge if the grind is too fine, and the brew will be over-extracted. Not to mention you may end up with fine grounds in your cup. Gross.

If the grind is too coarse, you’ll end up with a weak, under-extracted brew that’s bland and sour.

The best grinder for French press, and any other brewing method, is a burr grinder. Always buy the freshest whole coffee beans available and grind them just before brewing. Store your beans whole in an airtight container or in the resealable foil bag that they came in.

Airscape coffee storage canister in turquoise
Airscape Stainless Steel Coffee Canister

Please note that pre-ground coffee will not work for French press coffee. Or for any type of coffee if you ask us.

Pre-ground coffee is ground to medium or medium-fine grind size. This grind is too fine for French press brewing and will leave you with an over-extracted cup of soot. Besides, pre-ground coffee is already stale when you bring it home and will never taste as good as coffee beans that are ground just before brewing.

Food for thought.

barista pouring water from kettle into stainless steel French press

French Press Coffee Ratios

So what’s the best ratio for French press coffee? 

Well, that’s a matter of personal opinion if you ask us. Now that isn’t to say that there aren’t guidelines and suggestions for the best ratio for French press coffee, but when it comes down to it, coffee is a very personal experience.

This is the one piece of learning how to use French press coffee makers that isn’t an exact science. You’ll have to experiment a bit with French press coffee ratios to find your ideal ratio.

But, not to worry, we’ll recommend the French press coffee ratio that we use and enjoy, although you may find that brewing a stronger or weaker ratio yields a better-tasting result (for you).

And we’re totally cool with that.

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FREE Glass Travel Vial With Purchase

So what’s our recommended coffee to water ratio for French press coffee?

When learning how to use French press coffee makers, we advise starting with a 1:12 coffee water ratio and adjusting. But for best results, we recommend keeping your experimentation somewhere between 1:10 and 1:18.

By design, French press coffee is meant to be heady, rich, and full-bodied, so start strong and add water as needed until you find your favorite French press coffee ratio.

And if you’re wondering how to use a French press coffee maker for cold brew, we’ve got you. Check out our how-to article on cold brewing in a french press. For now, we’ll start with a traditional hot brew.

French Press Coffee Maker How-To

So what’s the number one mistake that most people make when learning how to use French press coffee makers? Leaving the coffee in the French press once brewing is complete.

If you remember nothing else from this article, please remember this: decant your coffee immediately once ready. We can’t stress this enough.

Leaving the coffee in the French press after plunging will result in an over-extracted brew, so pour it promptly. Simply transfer it to an insulated carafe if you want to keep it hot.

Now that that’s out of the way let’s walk through how to brew French press coffee. 

Bodum french press
instructions for bodum french press
bodum french press instruction
The Bodum French Press

Step 1: Gather What You’ll Need To Brew

  1. French press (umm, duh). We’re guessing you’ve got one if you clicked on this post, but if not, try this one
  2. Filtered water (yes, using filtered water for coffee will make it taste better)
  3. Kettle (or other means to boil water)
  4. Coffee beans 
  5. French press grinder 
  6. Scale
  7. Paper filter (While not totally necessary, it’s good to have a filter on hand if any sediment passes through in your French press)
  8. Wooden Spoon

Step 2: Heat Water To Ideal Temperature For French Press

The best temperature for French press is around 195-205 degrees Fahrenheit or about 45 seconds to a minute off the boil. If you don’t have a kettle with a temperature read-out, boil the water and set it aside for about a minute to reach the best brewing temperature for French press.

For an 8-cup French press, use 700 grams (34 ounces) of water. We’ll be working on a 1:12 coffee water ratio, so adjust the amount of water and coffee as needed to suit whichever size French press you’re using. 

As we mentioned before, the ratio for French press coffee isn’t an exact science. Each of us has different palates and taste preferences, so our standard ratio for French press may not work best for you.

But try it out and go from there.

fellow opus grinder
The Fellow Opus Grinder

Step 3: Measure & Grind Coffee For French Press

Using the 1:12 ratio for French press coffee, you’ll need about 60 grams of coffee for your 700 grams of water.

Weigh the coffee beans, grab your burr grinder, and grind your coffee to a medium-coarse grind. Ground coffee should resemble sea salt.

Remove the French press lid and pour the ground coffee into the cavity. Set your French press on the scale and tare to zero.

Step 4: Add Filtered Water

Start by pouring about 120 grams of hot water over the ground coffee. Using a wooden spoon, gently stir the coffee grounds.

Allow the coffee to bloom for 30 seconds before proceeding. 

(The blooming process allows the ground coffee to release carbon dioxide and create voids to allow the water to interact more with the coffee, resulting in a more flavorful brew.)

Continue pouring hot water over the ground coffee until you reach 700 grams. Place the lid on the French press, but do not plunge.

looking down into a Melita French press with grounds floating on top

Step 5: How Long To Steep French Press Coffee

Allow the coffee to steep for four minutes. Not three. Not five. Four minutes exactly.

We recommend setting a timer so you don’t get distracted and accidentally over-extract your brew.

Once four minutes have passed, place your French press on a solid surface and slowly press the plunger down.

You should feel some pressure here, but not so much that you struggle to move the plunger. If this happens, it means your ground coffee was too fine. If the filter freely plunges to the bottom of the French press, your grind setting is too coarse.

Once you’ve reached the press floor, serve the coffee immediately. Leaving the coffee in a French press will result in over-extraction and a bitter taste.

French press pouring coffee into clear mug on tray

Final Thoughts

Now that you’ve learned how to use French press coffee makers correctly, we predict your French press usage will increase dramatically in the future. It may even become your go-to for a quick, strong brew. 

Just remember to pour that delicious brew promptly once ready to ensure you’re enjoying optimal flavor without any over-extraction and bitterness.

After all, why go to the trouble of learning how to use French press coffee makers only to make the most common mistake in French press brewing? Not your style.


Heather Calatrello

Heather Calatrello owner of ShedLight Coffee Roasters