This article is an expansion of our French Press Coffee Tutorial. We have brewed a lot of coffee using the French Press. Along the way, we developed a checklist of steps to improve the taste. Some variables are easy to correct, and some take little effort.
Before you start tweaking, it is important to get the basics correct. The steps listed below should be followed in sequence. There is no point in adjusting the grind if your water quality is poor.
#1 Water Quality
There are a few articles that cover water quality. We have a simple rule to measure water quality. Drink the water by itself. Does it taste good? If so, then that is good enough. Your coffee will also taste off if the water doesn’t taste right. Seek out a good water source (bottled water) before you start to brew your coffee.
#2 Brewing Temperature
When brewing French Press coffee, you want the temperature off a boil. This equates to 195-205 F or 90.5-96.1 C, for lighter roasts aim to be closer to 205 F. For darker roasts, strive for 195 F. A kettle such as the Bonavita will let you dial the exact temperature you need. Not only is that good for coffee, but a necessity for some teas.
#3 Fresh Coffee
Coffee is a perishable item. As it ages, it loses flavor. How much flavor loss is acceptable is up to you. If you don’t roast your coffee, look for a use-by date on the bag of coffee before purchasing. Ground coffee not opened will last 6 months or more. Whole bean coffee not opened will last up to 1 year from roast or use-by date. As you attempt to make a perfect cup of French Press coffee, you’ll want to eliminate as many variables as possible. Having a high-quality fresh coffee to work with will increase your odds of success.
#4 Grind Size
A French Press uses a coarser grind than drip coffee. If the grind is too fine, the coffee will taste bitter. If the grind is too coarse, the coffee could taste weak. When it comes to grinding, a coffee drinker has two choices.
Have it ground when you purchase using a commercial-grade grinder or grind it yourself. Grounding it at the roaster or grocery store will guarantee the perfect size. However, the flavor compounds in the coffee will start breaking down immediately after grinding. In other words, ideally, you’ll want to get a grinder. Once you have your grinder, dialing in the perfect grind takes a little practice.
#5 Steep Time
The most common steep time recommended for French Press coffee is 4 minutes. We have talked with many coffee professionals, and their range varies from 3 to 6 minutes. After brewing thousands of pots of press-pot coffee, our recommended time is 3 ½ minutes. In our opinion, the coffee tastes brighter and more flavorful at the lower end.
We have found that the body takes over the flavor the longer the steep time. We are in the minority opinion, so this will take your experimentation. Another option is to adjust the steeping time based on the actual coffee. If you want to highlight the bright flavors, do a 3 ½ minute steep. If you want to develop a richer body, add an extra minute.
Getting the dosage correct is the last step. It is the last step because the other steps tend to have more fixed rules. Although there is a recommended dosage, the dosage will be a personal choice. The debates over water quality, coffee freshness, grind size, and brewing temperature are over. Steep time has a sliding window of +/- 60 seconds. So, the only real variable left is the dosage.
Dosage can be tricky because people new to French press coffee often perceive the taste as “too strong.” French press coffee is supposed to taste richer. If that richness comes off as being “too strong,” then those new to press pot coffee may experiment with a lower dosage of grind and then, over time, gradually move the dosage in line with standard recommendations. But you don’t want to go too low, or the coffee will taste bitter.
What is the dose? According to Bodum, the most popular French Press coffee maker manufacturer, for each 4 oz. cup of water, put 1 rounded tablespoon of coarse-ground coffee into the pot. We advise starting with this dose and then adjusting it up or down.
Another dosage option is to weigh the beans using a kitchen scale. The common ratios used are covered in the French Press Coffee Tutorial.
#7 Slow Press For a Cleaner Cup of Coffee
There will be coffee sediment in a mug of French press coffee. Thirty seconds before the steep ends, slowly press down the French Press plunger. It should move so slowly that it takes a full 30 seconds till it hits the bottom. This gentle press method results in a cleaner cup of coffee.
Another tip you can use if you want a cleaner cup is to scrape some or all of the coffee grounds from the top of the French Press before pressing down. Using a large spoon or two, remove the grounds on the top. Then, proceed to press the filter down. This does require more work, but I have noticed that the flavor of the coffee is brighter using this method. The downside is that the scraping method might make the coffee taste too clean or weak.
We prefer the slow press technique over scraping, but you could try both.
#8 Time to Buy a New French Press?
If you have tried all the steps above and your coffee still doesn’t taste good enough, the filter may no longer fit tight enough on the French Press. The filter can become loose or even bent. If it is time to replace your French Press, check out our guide, Buying a French Press – Picking the Right One.
#9 Time to Try Another Brewing Method?
You may like certain coffee types in a French Press more than others. Experiment. We like dark-roasted in a French Press the best.
Good luck with your French Press brewing.
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