How to get the most out of your French press

Coffee is amazing. And using a French press is one of the best ways to extract the maximum flavor from your beans. I’m going to give a very brief overview of using a french press, and then I’m going to expand on ways to make using a press easier.

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Here’s a quick rundown of how to make coffee in a french press

  • Start with fresh coffee. If you have a grinder, buy whole beans and grind your coffee fresh before brewing. But even pre-ground coffee will taste better if you use a French press! The beans should be evenly ground but not as fine as the standard drip coffee grind. Catalina ‘s Coffee,  is an excellent choice. It’s grown and harvested sustainably from a single farm in Nicaragua, and is deliciously well-suited to the French press.
  • Make sure your press is clean and free from any old grinds.
  • Press with very hot but not boiling water. 200 degrees is generally considered the ideal temperature.
  • Use two heaping scoops (a scoop = 1 tablespoon) of ground coffee per cup of water. That’s a good starting guideline, but you can add or reduce the amount of coffee if you prefer.
  • Put the ground coffee in your press, add water, then push the screen into the carafe so it’s just above the surface of the water.
  • Steep for 3-4 minutes. The longer you steep, the more oils you extract. Steep too long and the coffee ends up bitter. Too little steep time and you’ll have weak coffee.

The above formula will give you a guideline for making good coffee in your french press. But it’s only a guideline and you should only use it as a starting point. The type of coffee, the roast and the length of time you steep all affect the flavor. It pays to experiment and see what the ideal process for you is.

French press problems

While the French press preparation is one of the best ways to make coffee, there are a couple of hassles with the method. The first is that most presses are small, so it can be a pain to make enough coffee for a group or for yourself, if you typically drink several cups. The second is that keeping French pressed coffee warm is difficult if your press isn’t insulated. Fortunately, I’ve got workarounds for both of these issues.

white coffee cup and saucer with silver spoon and large steel French press

Using a french press to make a BIG pot of coffee

It’s hard to argue that the flavor of pressed coffee isn’t superior. But it can be darned inconvenient to make a large amount of coffee in your french press. Many presses only hold a few cups of liquid and if you’re like me, you drink a few substantial mugs every morning. My husband and I tried a number of french presses over the years and although we liked the coffee better, we just got tired of making several pressing every single morning. Additionally, many french presses aren’t insulated, so even if your press holds a larger amount, it’s going to get cold.

So what does one do? What’s the biggest french press available?

For starters, buy the biggest French press you can find. Depending on how much coffee you drink and how many coffee drinkers are in your household, that may solve the problem of volume.

I scoured the entire internet to find the largest french press in existence. I am sorry to say that at the time of writing, that model, which holds 175 liters, is no longer available. The same brand, Sterling, offers a 150 liter version, which you can buy here. I’ve been really happy with our Sterling press and I highly recommend their products.

For us, 175 liters yielded 10 finished cups of coffee, which still left us short in the morning by a couple of cups. Our morning mugs hold about 16 ounces and we each drink two. So we were inevitably stuck having to make a second, small pot of french press or go short on coffee (perish the thought). To fix this problem, we simply started pressing stronger coffee and then diluting it with more not-quite-boiling water.

Let me just go ahead and say that if you are a French press coffee connoisseur, the previous statement might appall you and that’s totally fair. There’s definitely a time and a place for carefully pressing a cup or two of exquisite coffee. That time is not a weekday morning, in my house. My thought it that French press coffee is so much better than drip coffee that even tinkering around and doing a press-and-dilute will still yield a better cup of coffee.

It took some trial and error but we eventually discovered that adding two extra scoops of ground coffee to the press produced a sort of coffee concentrate. We add just over 2 cups of 200 degree water to that, and we have a full 12 cup pot of delicious coffee.

The easiest way to heat water for your french press

You’re probably thinking “so you go through all of that and then you still end up having to heat more water? Boo!”. But no, because I’ve got another French press trick for you.

We don’t heat water at all. At least, we don’t put water into a kettle and wait around for it to get hot. Instead, we have this counter-top water heater and dispenser. You might hear that and think “really? that seems excessive and specialized” but honestly, it is SO useful. It holds 3 liters of water and maintains a preset temperature at all times. So any time, day or night, I can dispense very, very hot water at the touch of a button. Which means we don’t wait for water to reach temperature in the morning to press our coffee and it’s not a big deal to add that extra two cups once the coffee has pressed. While the topic of this post is French press coffee, let me just add that our water dispenser makes brewing tea or cooking rice, pasta, legumes or miso soup incredibly easy. We use it all the time, and not just for hot beverages.

How to keep French press coffee hot

This is the final piece of the puzzle. If you’re using a French press that’s insulated, this may not be a big deal. But our press is not insulated, which means that coffee we worked so hard for gets cold fast. Additionally, we have to add those extra two cups of hot water after pressing and the press won’t hold those. To solve both issues, we pour the freshly pressed coffee (and the extra water) into a thermal carafe! The coffee stays hot for hours, we can both drink our fill and as a result, we’re far better able to face the day.

If you don’t have a thermal carafe but you do have a drip coffee maker, you can also use the coffee maker carafe and heat plate to keep your coffee warm. This isn’t ideal, since the hot plate keeps heating the coffee and can lead to a scorched, burnt taste. But it will do in a pinch.

It's easy to make a fantastic cup of coffee with a French press, and now you've got some ideas for scaling up your coffee and keeping it warm.

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