How To Use A French Press – Quick Start Guide To Hand-Making Coffee

by | Jul 12, 2018

In the 21st century, coffee is made with electronic machines most of the time. However, there are still coffee makers that only require hot water and some elbow grease. One of the most popular manual coffee makers is the French Press coffee maker.

The French press coffee maker has been around since the 1920s. It was invented in Italy, and to this day remains one of the best hand-operated coffee makers. However, how it works remains a mystery to some. When first looking at a French press, this is not surprising. So how exactly does this coffee maker work?

Components of a French Press

The components of a French press coffee maker are vastly different from a typical drip brewer. While a modern drip brewer needs a massive machine that has the pump and all the buttons and gizmos, you need precisely none of that with a French press. All you get with a French press is a beaker, a lid, and a plunger with a filter at the end of it. Simple enough, right?

A French press coffee operates as a type of vacuum coffee maker. Instead of relying on electric technology, vacuum coffee makers use only basic physics in their design. (Please don’t fall asleep on me.)

french press

Basically, you use the plunger and filter to push the coffee grounds to the bottom of the beaker. This creates a vacuum at the upper end of the beaker. The water and coffee extract can escape through the space around the filter, but the grounds cannot.

So, the concept behind the French press is simple enough. But the question still remains, how do you use a French press? Well, if you’ve got your coffee maker ready but don’t know where to begin, here is a quick start guide to help you make delicious, low-tech coffee.


How To Use a French Press

#1 Heat the Water

Obviously, you can’t make coffee without hot water. The National Coffee Association USA (NCAUSA) recommends using water that is 195-205 degrees Fahrenheit. They also say to never use boiling water, as this will burn the coffee.

If you’re heating water on a stove at home or, say camping, a good method is to bring the water to a boil, then remove it from the heat source and let it sit for a little while. This will let it cool to the optimum temperature.


#2 Rinse Beaker With Hot Water

Rinsing your beaker with hot water has two purposes. First, it cleans the beaker and rinses out any grounds or residue from the last batch of coffee. The second purpose is that it preheats the beaker. This helps maintain the brewing temperature and therefore keeps the taste intact.


#3 Grind Your Coffee (Optional)

French press typically requires a coarser ground blend of coffee than regular coffee. The thickness of the grounds is roughly the same as sea salt. There are two ways you can get French press coffee grounds. One is to purchase a pre-ground French press blend. The other is to grind the beans yourself.

For the best taste, grinding your own beans is always the way to go. Whole beans, when freshly ground, contain more flavorful oils than pre-ground coffee does.


#4 Combine the Grounds and Water

After the grounds are ready, combine them with the hot water in the beaker. You can experiment with the ratio of grounds to water to get the best taste. A good starting point is using 1-2 tablespoons of grounds per 6 ounces of water. For a stronger flavor use more.

how to use a french press

You would think that you would just add the water and grounds together. Surprisingly, there are different methods of adding in the water. One method is to pour the water in all at once. The second method is to pour the water in gradually. The theory is that the second method will saturate the grounds more thoroughly.


#5 Stir the Bloom

Now, you may be asking, “What is a bloom?” Well, the bloom is the phenomenon when carbon dioxide is released from the coffee grounds when it interacts with water. How much of a bloom there is depends on how fresh the coffee grounds are.

After pouring the water in, let the coffee bloom for 45 seconds. Then, stir the bloom until it settles to the bottom of the beaker.


#6 Steep The Brew

With a French press, you steep the coffee in a similar manner to tea. The steeping time for French press coffee is 4 minutes. You can experiment with longer steeping times, but be careful. Steeping too long could ruin the coffee.


#7 Press The Plunger

This is the most enjoyable part of the brewing process. Pressing the plunger down traps the grounds in the bottom of the beaker and completes the brewing.

Be careful not to press the plunger too quickly! Going too fast will crush the grounds and release an extremely bitter flavor. Press the plunger gradually and gently.


#8 Pour And Enjoy

After pushing the plunger to the bottom, your coffee is ready to be enjoyed. Keep in mind, when you leave the coffee in the French press, it will continue to brew. Remember this when determining how much coffee you plan on making.


Conclusion – French Press Quick Start Guide

The French press is a great way to make coffee without technology. When first using a French press, it can be confusing as to how it works. Hopefully, this guide helped simplify matters. So now instead of pressing your temples in frustration, you’ll be pressing coffee grounds.

If you want to get started using a French press, or if you’re looking to upgrade your current one, check out this guide to the best French Press coffee makers here.

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