Say "oui" to a ideal cup, every time

EC: Brew French Press Coffee Like a Pro
Credit: Video and Photos by Alex Tepper

Did you know that you’re only five minutes away from deliciously rich French press coffee that is guaranteed to outshine the watery, tasteless brew from an instant pod or plain old drip machine? The French press has neither on and off buttons nor any cords, but don’t don’t let the lack of technical assistance intimidate you. French press is one of the easiest brewing methods for at-home baristas, and it’s the fastest way to get a coffee-shop-quality cup in the comfort of your own kitchen. You just need to know how.

We spoke with Joe Monnet, a barista at New York City’s Cafe Grumpy, to learn more about the brewing the perfect cup of coffee based on your specific likes and preferences. He explains the strength of your French press brew depends on three variables: the ratio of water to coffee, the length of time that you stir and how much force you put into it, and how long you let the coffee brew. Let’s dive deeper into each step and figure out what will result in the ideal cup of coffee for you.

Measure Your Coffee

The ideal ratio of coffee to water for a French press depends on how strong you prefer your brew. For a standard cup of coffee, Monnet says the general rule of thumb is to stick to a coffee-to-water ratio of 1:16, meaning 1 gram of coffee for 16 grams of water. For a stronger cup, aim for 1:14, and a weaker cup at 1:18. If you’re ever unsure about the math, this coffee-to-water ratio calculator could come in handy.

Note: Monnet suggests that you always use coarse, even grounds. If the coffee is too fine, you’ll find it hard to push down the filter. A French press isn’t designed to accommodate them. If you’re using a standard home grinder like the one made by Bodum, shake it a little while grinding to yield consistent grounds.

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Set the Timer

Start the timer as soon as you begin pouring the water into the French press, because that’s when the extraction gets going. Some roasters recommend letting hot water sit in coffee grounds anywhere from 2 to 6 minutes. Monnet disagrees. “Anywhere below three minutes, you’ll have a sour, under-extracted brew, and anywhere over five, your coffee will taste extremely bitter,” he says. So, it’s probably best to stick around the standard of 4 minutes. For a stronger brew, stop at 3 minutes and 30 seconds; for a weaker brew, leave the hot water steeping for 4 minutes and 30 seconds.

To Stir (Or Not To Stir)

In general, it’s good to stir for an even extraction. If the grounds clump together when the water is added, you’re at risk of brewing a cup that has over-extracted bitterness and under-extracted sourness combined—bleh. But, it’s not just about how long you agitate the grounds. It also matters how much force you put into the swirl. If you’ve used less coffee for a weaker cup, there’s little to no agitation needed. For a standard cup, Monnett suggests giving it a gentle whirl for a few seconds. For the strongest extraction, swirl vigorously for a bit longer. “Here, more is more and less is less,” he says.

Just one more tip: When it’s time to press, push the filter down slowly and gently. Don’t leave your coffee in the French press after that. It will continue brewing and you’ll be left with over-extracted, bitter coffee. If you’re not going to drink all right away, immediately transfer it into a thermos or an insulated carafe, so when you go back for seconds, it’ll be perfectly warm.