Americans love coffee. In fact, the 2020 report from the National Coffee Association says seven in 10 Americans drink a cup of joe every week, and about 62 percent drink coffee every day. That’s an increase of 5 percent since 2015.
Part of that could be because there are so many different gadgets for brewing and preparing the stuff. The top two methods still remain drip coffee makers like your classic Mr. Coffee and single-cup brewers like the Keurig, according to a Statista 2018 survey.
Still, there are lots of other tried-and-true brewing methods that have been around forever, including the French press. This method works by steeping coarse coffee grounds and hot water in a large glass carafe. Once the coffee steeps for a few minutes, you push the grounds to the bottom of the carafe with a mesh plunger that separates the grounds from the liquid coffee.
The first design for the French press was patented in 1852 by Frenchmen Mayer and Delforge. But theirs isn’t the one we know today because it didn’t establish a seal inside the carafe. The French press we use today was similar to the one patented in 1929 by Attilio Calimani and Giulio Moneta — both Italians.
Why a French Press?
“The French press is definitely my preferred method of brewing both hot and cold coffee,” says Grady Laird, president and co-founder of Grady’s Cold Brew, a New Orleans-style cold brew coffee company in New York City. “My big Bodum is very dear to my heart. It’s the only coffee equipment I have at home and was the original brewer I used to develop Grady’s Cold Brew. It literally changed my life.”
So what makes coffee made with a French press different from the coffee brewed in a drip brewer? Mostly it’s the process of steeping the grinds in water — known as immersion brewing — for a lengthy time. The grinds are “immersed” in the water as opposed to the water “dripped” through the grounds as it does in drip-brewing.
This immersion method mixes the water and coffee together more uniformly. When the plunger is pushed to separate the two, the metal mesh filters out the grinds but keeps in the oils and finer particles, which gives the coffee a fuller body and richer aroma.
One caveat about using a French press, though: Because the mesh only filters out the grinds, the coffee can have a grittier mouthfeel.
“I love the simplicity, versatility and value of the French press,” Laird says. “It’s really easy to adjust the strength and quantity of your brew based on water temperature, amount of grounds used, and the amount of time you steep.”
Buying a French Press
When buying a French press, you should consider a few things: size, material and even brand. First, if you’re the only one at home who drinks coffee, a small version might be just fine. But if you regularly make coffee for two or more people, one that makes more than “one cup” might serve you better. Also look to see how much it holds in ounces, rather than cups. Why? Because what one company considers “one cup” might be 4 ounces (118 milliliters), while another might consider “one cup” 8 ounces (236 milliliters).
Also, spend a little more money on a glass or stainless steel press. You’ll get a quality brewing experience without using plastic. And it will likely last longer, too.
Finally, when it comes to brands, one of the most recognizable French press designs is the Chambord from Bodum. Its glass vessel, steel lid and round handle are well known, and the Chambord has been popular since the 1930s when French company Melior-Martin began manufacturing them.
The Low-Key Coffee Snobs blog suggests the Espro Press P7; in fact the blog considers this model the “Cadillac of French press coffee makers.” It has double-walled stainless steel that not only retains heat, but also includes two micro-filters for a smooth coffee drink.
The Perfect French Press Coffee
- Grind some coffee beans to a coarse to medium-coarse grind (think granules not sand).
- Add about a tablespoon of coffee per 4 ounces (118 milliliters) of water. Two tablespoons should be enough for a person if they want a second cup.
- Boil water on the stove or in an electric kettle. Let the water sit for 30 to 45 seconds after it comes to a full boil. (You can experiment with water temp according to your taste.)
- Add your coffee grounds to the carafe and then slowly pour the hot water over the grounds. Stir gently.
- Place the lid on the French press and let the grounds steep for about four minutes.
- Slowly press the plunger down to the bottom of the carafe.
- Pour and enjoy.
Laird admits coffee is arguably the most subjective beverage in the world and having some much-needed control over strength and flavor makes the French press a valuable tool to perfect your cup of joe. It’s also one of the few coffee makers that can brew both hot and cold coffee with ease.
Brewing in a French press may take an extra few steps, but it’s worth it for a lot more reasons than just having control over flavor. Because the grounds are steeped instead of brewed through a filter, you don’t end up with as much waste as you do from single-cup and drip brewers, and that’s always a good thing.
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