May 4, 2020

Coffee Brewing 101 and French Press Tips

The French press is a wonderful method of brewing excellent coffee with consistency. For this reason, many coffee shops will "cup" coffee using the press. Every barista has their own favorite technique of preparing a French press, and many will defend it to the end. The press is very easy to experiment with, and so long as you have the basic steps down, brewing a "bad" French press coffee is not easy.

That being said, the most important component of having an excellent cup of coffee is the freshness of your beans. It doesn't matter if you managed to score a half-pound of Jamaican Blue Mountain that had been sitting on the shelf of your local coffee supplier (though rarely is Blue Mountain coffee left in plain view!) if the coffee has not been roasted in the last week, or very carefully sealed (preferably vacuum-sealed) the coffee just will not bloom. More on that later.

The second component is a good home grinder. There is no argument that a burr grinder will give you the most consistent grind of the bean, which is very important in brewing coffee to ensure even extraction of flavor from every grind particle. If you have to grind your coffee at your supplier, your safest bet is to buy only enough coffee for the next day or two. 

Make sure it is carefully sealed. You might notice a one-way release valve on many aluminum bags of coffee. These valves prevent the bags from bloating as the coffee is degassing, that is, losing its freshness as carbon dioxide is released from the roasted beans. Ground coffee will degas at an accelerated rate. The loss of gases will diminish your bloom.

This is normally where connoisseurs will detail the mineral components of your tap water that will destroy the flavor of your coffee. Honestly, as long as your water is not terribly hard or polluted, a simple Brita water filter will make for an adequate source of water. No need to waste packaging by using bottled water if your tap water is potable.

Finally, your press. Personally, I am a fan of Bialetti and Bodum. Bodum has fairly inexpensive presses in a full range of sizes, from the short two-cup press and upwards of twelve cups. (Remember that a "cup" in the world of coffee is a meager four liquid ounces, called a "tasse.") Bodum is also very easy to find replacement parts for. The glass carafes that cause so much woe are easily replaced, at anywhere from one-quarter to one-third the price of the full French press set. Filters are also readily available.

For the purposes of this tutorial, I will assume you are using a four-cup press, which is the most popular sized press for personal use. You can always measure down if your press is larger. Now we are ready to begin!

Get it ready

Remove the plunger/filter mechanism, and measure enough water for your press. In a separate pot, bring it to a boil. Remove from heat; by the time you finish step 2, your water should be the perfect temperature to brew.

Grind the coffee

While the water is cooling, grind your coffee on the coarsest setting (sometimes labeled "French press" or "Percolator" in-store grinders). You're looking for one rounded tablespoon of ground coffee per four ounces or one cup of water. It might take a few times before you are able to eyeball the number of whole beans you need to grind. If you have a small kitchen scale, approximately .12 pounds of whole coffee beans will fit one 4-cup press. Ground coffee goes into the glass carafe.


Drizzle just enough water over the grounds to dampen them all. This "pre-wetting" stage is important to many different types of coffee brewing techniques, so the grounds are not shocked by the addition of too much hot water at one time. Set a timer for one minute.


You might see the coffee starting to bloom. Congratulations! Your coffee is fresh. If it hasn't yet, you have one more opportunity to see it bloom.

When your timer goes off, fill the press half-way

Again, do not stir. Let it sit for another minute. If you do not see a bloom this time, raise heck with your coffee supplier; your coffee is stale.

Fill the press to the top.

With a wooden or plastic spoon (a metal spoon will cool the water down), stir the slurry 5-10 times until you see a pale rust-colored foam rise to the top. Fresher coffee will reach this stage with just two or three stirs. There is no need to stir beyond ten times, so long as the grinds begin to settle to allow for complete extraction. Let the pot sit for another two minutes.

Insert the plunger

Make sure when you plunge that the force is perpendicular to the surface the press is sitting on. Otherwise, the filter will rock to one side, and grounds will seep into your coffee. Press. Pour. Imbibe.

If the resulting coffee is not at your desired strength, reduce or increase the final steeping time by thirty seconds each test run. Thirty seconds is a long time in the coffee brewing world, especially when the entire process of making a French press takes only four minutes! You might also want to experiment using more or less coffee, using a coarser or (beware!) finer grind.

Good luck with all your coffee endeavors.

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