Making coffee with a plunger? Sure, at first it might seem a little intimidating (if not weird—aren’t plungers for toilets?). But although a French press requires a little bit more effort than basic drip or a Keurig machine, it’s way easier than you think. Trust us: If you can put a pod in a contraption and press a button, you can brew a fantastic cup of French press.
And it’s totally worth waking up the few minutes earlier to make. Because the coffee grounds are immersed directly in the hot water during brewing, French press tends to be richer, smoother, and overall more flavorful than most other methods. “There’s no paper filter involved, which really allows the oils and flavor in the coffee beans to come through,” says Chad Moore, a Starbucks Global Coffee Engagement team member.
Ready to brew the best java you've ever tasted? Follow this simple step-by-step guide from coffee connoisseurs and start sipping.
1. Start with delicious water...
Coffee is 98 percent H2O, Moore says, so make sure your water tastes pretty darn good. Still, delicious doesn’t have to mean fancy. “If you want to use tap water, the real rule of thumb is to drink it first. If it tastes OK to you, go ahead and use it,” says Shawn Steiman, author of the forthcoming The Little Coffee Know-It-All. Tap leaving a bad taste in your mouth? Opt for filtered or bottle water instead.
2. ...and really, really fresh coffee beans.
It probably goes without saying, but freshly roasted beans are key to a flavorful cuppa. “You don’t want beans that have been exposed to air for a long time. The beans should look a little oily and smell fresh and aromatic,” Moore says. Three ways to get your hands on them:
- Flavor-sealed containers or bags. Unopened ones are airtight, so the beans inside will stay good until their expiration date (usually about 32 weeks after packaging). Once opened, though, the beans will start to lose flavor after about a week.
- Unsealed containers or bags. If you’re buying beans in a package that isn’t air-sealed (like a paper bag), look for the roast date. Anything roasted more than a month ago probably won’t be very fresh, Moore says.
- Bulk bins. Bulk coffee beans can be fresh—but the roast date isn’t always listed, and the beans are exposed to more air since people are constantly opening and closing the bins. If you’re not sure whether the bulk coffee you want to buy is fresh, speak up! “If you ask a purveyor when the coffee was roasted and they can answer with specific detail, there’s a good chance the coffee is decent,” Steiman says.
3. Grind it up.
You’ll get the best-flavored java by grinding your beans right before you brew them. “If you cut into an apple, it starts to oxidize and turn brown. Coffee beans do the same thing, you just can’t see it,” Moore explains. But watch that grind: The grounds used for drip coffee are way too small and risk clogging a French press filter. Instead, think big. “You want pieces the size of small breadcrumbs or a little smaller than Kosher salt,” Steiman says.
4. Break out the measuring cups.
When it comes to the ideal coffee-to-water ratio, it depends how strong you want your brew. Between 18 and 20 grams of coffee (about a heaping tablespoon) per eight ounces of water is a good place to start, says coffee industry consultant Andrew Hetzel, who leads training courses for the Coffee Quality Institute. Like it bold? Moore recommends using two tablespoons of coffee per six ounces of water. “If it’s a little too strong, you can always add more hot water to your cup,” he adds.
5. Bring the water to the right temp.
Too-hot agua can make for bitter joe, while water that isn’t hot enough means you miss out on flavor. Aim for a temperature of around 200 degrees Fahrenheit—but don’t bother breaking out a thermometer. “Bring the water to a boil and let it sit for 30 seconds,” Steiman says. (Told you this was easy.)
6. Fill ‘er up.
Place the coffee grounds in the bottom of your French press, and pour about a third of the water over top. Let everything sit for about 30 seconds, then give it a gentle stir, Hetzel says. This makes sure all of the grounds are fully saturated with water so you get a flavor-packed brew. Add the rest of the water and place the lid on your carafe with the plunger pulled up all the way.
7. Start your timer.
Again, it’s a balancing act. Brew too short, and your coffee will taste thin and sour. Too long, and it’ll end up bitter or astringent. For the best flavor, Hetzel and Moore recommend letting your coffee brew for four minutes. Though if you like your coffee stronger, you can let it go for as long as six, Steiman says.
8. Extract with care.
When your timer buzzes, gently but firmly press the plunger all the way down. “Too much pressure can cause the hot coffee to spray out of the carafe and onto you,” Hetzel says. Yowch!
9. Pour—and drink up.
If you’re drip person, you’re probably used to brewing a big pot of coffee, pouring some into your mug, and letting the rest sit around all morning. But anything that’s left in a French press will keep brewing since the grounds and the water are still mingling in the carafe, and after a few minutes, it’ll turn bitter. “If you have any leftovers, pour it into another mug or thermos. Or brew less next time,” Steiman says.