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How To Make Good Coffee In A French Press

Written by: Oli Baise
Last updated: May 16, 2023

There’s a lot of conflicting information online about how to make the best possible coffee in a French press.

In particular, there are discrepancies about:

  • What the best coffee to water ratio is (I found this to be 12:1 water to coffee)
  • How long to steep the coffee for (8 minutes according to my testing)
  • The best grind of coffee to use (medium coarse according to my testing)

I spent an afternoon testing all these variables out with my French press to work out the best way of making coffee with this method.

If you are interested in easier ways of making filter coffee you might want to check out my drip coffee machine reviews.

How To Make Coffee In A French Press – Step by Step

1) Measure out your water

The taste of the coffee did vary a lot depending on the ratios used (more on this later) so to achieve the best tasting French press coffee it’s vital that you measure out both the coffee and water that you use.

I found that the best water to coffee ratio was 12:1.

When measuring parts of coffee to water, you want to compare the weight of the coffee to the volume of the water. Using the metric system (grams and milliliters) is the easiest way to do this since one milliliter of water weighs one gram.

A large serving of French press coffee is about 300 millilitres (10 fluid ounces) so adjust this for the number of servings that you want to make.

Enough water for one large cup of coffee

2) Grind your coffee medium coarse

I found that medium-coarse coffee led to the best tasting French press.

Overly coarse coffee was a bit on the bland side, whereas medium or finer ground coffee led to the final drink being too bitter.

I will show you the setting I used on my Delonghi KG79 below:

3) Measure out your coffee

Coffee should be measured by weight rather than by volume.

For a 12:1 water to coffee ratio, you want 25 grams of coffee for 300 ml (10 fluid ounces) of water.

Since we are measuring coffee by weight, the ideal way to portion out your coffee would be by using a scale.

If you do not have a scale, then you can roughly assume that a level tablespoon of ground coffee weighs 8 grams.

4) Add your coffee and boiled water to your French press

This is the point where you want to add the coffee and boiled water to your French press. Add the coffee before you add the water.

Put the plunger on top of your French press to stop as much heat from escaping as possible (do not plunge though).

Some places online talk about warming up your French press before adding the water, or wetting the grinds before submerging them. Both of these make a negligible difference to the final coffee and are therefore not necessary.

5) Let the coffee steep for 8 minutes before plunging

Eight minutes may seem longer than most French press recommendations online, but I found that this gave a much richer (in a good way) flavor than the usual 4-5 minutes suggested online.

If the room that you are making your coffee in is cold then you might want to wrap your French press in a tea towel while it steeps to minimize heat loss.

6) Skim off the top layer of coffee

Before I plunge, I like to skim off any coffee that has risen to the top of the French press for two reasons:

  1. This slows down the brewing process meaning that if you have any leftover coffee in you French press after serving it will last longer before it goes bitter.
  2. It makes it far less likely for coffee grounds to end up in your cup when you serve.

You can stir the coffee back into the pot instead of skimming it off, but I don’t see any real advantage in doing this.

Skimming off any floating coffee

7) Plunge and serve

Although some guides online might tell you to plunge your coffee as slowly as possible, I prefer to just press naturally against the resistance of the liquid.

My main aim when plunging is just not to spill the coffee, knock the French press over, or do anything that will make a mess.

There is no “correct” force to plunge with.

There are two things to remember when serving French press coffee:

  1. Leave about an inch of coffee in the bottom of the French press when serving to avoid coffee grounds getting in your drink.
  2. If you have made a large portion of coffee then decant the liquid into another (ideally insulating) container to stop the extraction process. Not doing this will make your second cup stronger than you want.

What Is The Best Coffee To Water Ratio For A French Press?

You want to be using a coffee to water ratio of either 14:1 or 12:1 in a French press.

I prefer to use 14:1 as I like a strong coffee. A 12:1 ratio will get you a slightly weaker coffee, but not one that could ever be accused of being watery. It’s worth testing out these two ratios to see what you prefer.

When you measure out coffee to water you want to compare the weights of these two constituent parts.

You can find a table of how much coffee you need for different amounts of water below:

Amount of water you are using Coffee needed for 12:1 ratioCoffee needed for 14:1 ratio
300 ml (1 serving – 10 fluid ounces)25 grams (3 tablespoons)21 grams (2.5 tablespoons)
600 ml (2 servings – 20 fluid ounces)50 grams (6 tablespoons)42 grams (5 tablespoons)
900 ml (3 servings – 30 fluid ounces)75 grams (9 tablespoons)63 grams (7.5 tablespoons)
1200 ml (4 servings – 40 fluid ounces)100 grams (12 tablespoons)84 grams (10 tablespoons)
You see the pattern here. Scale this up depending on how much coffee you want to make.

After doing a bit of research online, I found that recommendations on how much coffee to water you should use in a French press varied from 8:1 to 16:1.

I therefore tested all these out to find what the best ratio was. All these coffees were made by steeping the coffee for 5 minutes 30 seconds (the average time that I could find recommended online) and using a medium-coarse grind.

You can see a table of my findings below:

Coffee to water ratio:My Verdict:
1:8Tasted like tar. Had almost a soup-like consistency. Avoid
1:10Had a very bitter finish. Enjoyed the first few sips but then the bitterness became too much. The strong side of acceptable.
1:12Had a nice balance of bitterness and smoothness. Like an Americano from a good coffee shop (except less watery)
1:14A bit on the mild side but still nice. Would be a good “starter” French press for people who are used to instant coffee.
1:16Bland and watery. There was barely any resistance when I pushed the plunger down. Also avoid.

In short, a coffee to water ratio of 1:12 – 1:14 is optimal for a French press.

How Long Should You Brew Coffee In A French Press?

You should brew a French press coffee for 8 minutes if you like it strong, and 6 minutes if you like it medium strength. Although 4 minutes is often recommended, this will create a weak, watery coffee.

During my research, I found recommended brewing times ranging from 2 minutes to 10 minutes.

I therefore decided to brew coffees for each of these amounts of time and taste-test them against each other. Each of these were brewed at a concentration of 1:14 coffee to water and with medium-coarse ground coffee.

My findings are in the table below:

Brewing time:My verdict:
2 minutesTasteless
4 minutesAcceptable but still very watery
6 minutesI would drink this but still a bit on the watery side
8 minutesNow we’re talking. Strong but in a good way.
10 minutesThe strong side of nice. Well worth trying if you like your coffee strong. Wrap the French press in a tea towel to keep it warm while brewing.

I think the reason why French press coffee has the reputation for being too watery is that people don’t let it brew for long enough. Brew for 6-10 minutes for best results.

How To Grind Coffee For A French Press?

Medium coarse ground coffee works best for a French press.

Since I had seen places online suggesting everything from a medium grind to as coarse as possible for a French press, I tested out medium, medium coarse, and coarse grinds against each other.

I found that medium grind size created a coffee that was overly bitter, and the taste got flatter and blander as the grind became coarser.

A medium coarse is the best type of grind to use for a French press. Medium is acceptable too, but you might want to brew the coffee for slightly less time if you are using this type of grind.

Is It Worth Buying A Fancy French Press?

A more expensive French press won’t lead to better-tasting coffee. It can only help you make more coffee in one go and keep coffee warmer for longer periods of time.

When buying a French press the variables that you can choose are its size and the materials that it is made out of.

Glass French presses are the cheapest and most common. They retain heat the least well and are fragile.

You can also buy metal and ceramic French presses that retain heat much better (with ceramic being the most insulative.)

Personally, I use a cheap and cheerful glass French press. It can hold up to 900 milliliters (enough for 3 large coffees) and cost me all of $10.

Troubleshooting Common Issues With Your French Press

I did some research into the common problems that people have when trying to make coffee with their French press and answered these questions based on my experience.

1) The plunger does not go down easily

This is almost always down to one of two reason

  • Your plunger is broken in some way

Check for any cracks or tears in your plunger. Lift up the top of your plunger (that sits on top of the pot) and check if the filter or springs are broken in any way.

  • The grinds that you use are too fine

When you use grinds that are very fine in a French press, such as ones that are designed for espresso, they do not sink to the bottom and instead float in the water. This can make your coffee very difficult to plunge.

Using finely ground coffee in a French press will also make your coffee very bitter.

2) The coffee is too strong/weak

The two variables that affect the strength of your coffee are coffee to water ratio and length of steeping time.

If your coffee is too strong, either reduce your coffee to water ratio or steep it for a shorter amount of time.

If it is too weak then either increase your coffee to water ratio or steep it for longer.

3) My coffee is too bitter

Getting coffee that is too bitter out of a French press usually means that you are using coffee that is too finely ground.

Either grind your coffee on a coarser setting or try to buy coarser ground coffee (look for coffee that is labelled “medium coarse”).

Final Thoughts

French press coffee does often get accused of being watery, and I think the main reason for this is people use too little coffee and brew it too quickly.

Using a coffee to water ratio of between 1:12 and 1:14, and brewing for around 8 minutes should give you better French press coffee.

A French press is also good for making cold brew coffee. If you are interested in trying this you can read my cold brew coffee recipe.

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