The French press is an excellent method for brewing coffee. That is; if you do it correctly.
It saddens me to say but more often than not, the coffee coming out of this otherwise classic and noble brewing device is atrocious.
The problem is that there are a lot of urban legends regarding the French press. These myths have somehow seeped into the collective unconscious, and most people find it difficult to unlearn them.
The French press was one of the first brewing methods I delved into back in my padawan-barista days. It was a profoundly frustrating experience.
I completely gave up on the brewing method for years before I finally figured out what was wrong and how to fix it.
Let me share these tips with you right here so you can speed up your learning curve.
#1: Don’t grind coarse when using a french press.
Okay, so that is the somewhat murky and obfuscated history of the coffee press as we know it today.
With that kind of backstory, it’s no wonder that everybody has misunderstood the best way to brew coffee using a French press.
The most widespread misunderstanding when it comes to the French press is that you have to grind coarse. This piece of advice will take some severe lobbying to reverse.
There are many problems when it comes to grinding coarse and only a few upsides:
- Grinding coarse makes it very difficult to extract the coffee properly. Water has to penetrate the coffee grounds. The bigger particles, the harder it is.
- It is more difficult to obtain an even grind size when going coarse due to the way most grinders are designed.
You have to fiddle around with different grind settings at home.
Here’s my proposal: Use precisely the same grind setting you use for pour-over coffee.
That way you’ll be able to steep the coffee for a shorter time and be able to use less grounds. It’s simply much more efficient.
One of the typical problems with the French press is that people go to the extreme with the ‘grind coarse’ advice, which results in thin and underextracted coffee.
The main argument people have for going coarse is that it somehow ‘prevents sediment from getting into the cup,’ but that is just nonsense. You can get a clean cup, even with a finer grind size.
#2: Use The correct French Press brew ratio
There is an oft-cited ‘Golden Ratio’ for coffee which is usually “60 grams of coffee to 1 liter of water.” This translates to a brew ratio of 1:18.
However, there is a significant problem.
This brew ratio applies much better to coffee brewed in a conventional coffee machine. Because French press coffee is steeped (or a so-called ‘infusion’) it means that you’ll have to use more grams of coffee per liter than otherwise.
I know that this seems counterintuitive at first. Steeping coffee should make it stronger. However, when you start thinking about it makes sense.
Check out this video by James Hoffmann, he explains it well.
So what brew ratio is suitable for French press? Somewhere around 66-70 grams per liter is, but it depends on your personal preference. I’d suggest starting with a 1:15 ratio and make it either weaker or stronger according to personal taste.
#3: Use a more generous brew time.
The standard brew time for a French press is usually 4 minutes. However, if you ask me and a bunch of other people, this is too short a time (even more so if you pair this parameter with coarse grounds!)
When coffee professionals do cupping, they will break the crust after four minutes. Copy them and do the same.
Stir lightly at the top of the press, and let the grounds settle. Use a spoon to remove the white foam on the top. In spite of what you might think it’s not crema but rather impurities only attributing to a dry mouthfeel. Put the plunger in. Wait a few more minutes, and then serve gently, to avoid disturbing the grounds.
Of course, the steeping time is closely connected with the grind size, but I’d encourage you to go closer to 6-10 minutes for full and rich extraction.