Why French Press Makes Better Coffee

Everybody’s got an opinion and I’m sure that French press is not everyone’s preferred brewing method. Overall, I do think that French press makes better coffee than most other brewing methods. Here’s why.

More control

Automatic drip brew coffeemakers have internal presets for how hot to make the water for brewing your coffee. Usually, the water temperature is set too low, resulting in an under extracted, bland brew. The French press gives you a lot more control over the brewing process. You get to choose how hot you want the water to be when you pour it in (make sure it’s not boiling or you’ll burn the coffee!). With a French press, you’re in total control over the water’s temperature and its contact with your ground coffee beans.

With an automatic drip brew coffeemaker, water is only in contact with the ground coffee for the few seconds it takes to go from the reservoir chamber into the basket, flow through the grounds and drip into the carafe. This isn’t nearly long enough. With a French press, you get to choose exactly how long the coffee steeps. Once again, you’re in total control and can choose how long the coffee will be in contact with hot water. Typical steep time is recommended at 4 minutes but you can adjust based on your preference.

No filter

Drip brew coffeemakers also tend to make inferior coffee because of the usage of filters. Do you remember where all of the flavors are in coffee? They’re in the coffee oils that are extracted when freshly ground coffee comes into contact with hot water just off the boil. These essential oils include lipids and colloids which hold the flavor but get stuck in most paper filters during the drip brew process. They’re physically not small enough to pass through paper filters. That means that the very elements that really make coffee taste great get trapped in the filter and never make it into your cup. Using a French press lets these essential oils make it into the brew you ultimately drink. After the coarse ground coffee is steeped in hot water, the plunger that is slowly pushed down has a metal mesh small enough to catch most of the coarse coffee grounds, yet big enough to allow the coffee oils to easily pass through for you to enjoy.

French press coffee is one of the best ways to taste the subtle differences in coffee from around the world. A drip brew coffeemaker diminishes the ability to taste these differences and often mutes the flavors you would have been able to taste in coffee had it been brewed differently.


This morning, as I made myself a French press of coffee roasted 2 days ago, I thought I would take a picture of the press as it brewed. This was taken about 30 seconds after pouring 205 degree water using a Pino digital kettle over coffee ground just seconds before. I recommend using either a Pino or a Bonavita digital electric gooseneck kettle as these allow you to program the exact water temperature desired. You can see that this mini 3-cup French press has a very tall crust! Admittedly, these beans were not completely finished degassing and were not fully ready to be used. I should have waited another day.

There are 3 layers visible, a bottom layer of mostly liquid, a middle layer of water steeping with coffee grounds and a top layer of foam, bubbling as carbon dioxide is released from mixing with hot water. If you use pre-ground store-bought coffee, coffee that wasn’t properly stored or coffee ground a while before brewing, you’ll only see the bottom and middle layers. When you see the top layer, you’ll know you’re getting the best tasting coffee possible. Carbon dioxide plays a huge role in transporting essential coffee oils (what makes coffee taste good) into your cup. Take a look at that crust. This is what you want to go for when making French press coffee. P.S. This mini 3-cup French press was $2.99 at Ross (yes, Ross).

Make sure you put a plate on top of the French press as it brews. You don’t want to allow for heat loss if you can help it. They also make sleeves for French presses but that may be overdoing it. Just use a plate.

Drawbacks to French press

A few drawbacks to the French press method are the cleanup involved and the sediment that’s left in the bottom of your cup. Is it more work to make French press coffee? Of course. But not that much more work. To taste and enjoy everything a coffee has to offer may mean more work, but it’s worth the inconvenience. Also, some people don’t like the sediment that ends up at the bottom of their cup. For less sediment, I highly recommend using a conical burr grinder on a coarse setting and just don’t drink the last few sips in the cup (as delicious as your coffee may be) as it will have the most sediment.

The hack

French presses can get stained very quickly. It’s not the cleanest way to brew coffee, with spent grounds needing to be scooped out from the bottom of the glass beaker with every batch you brew. Don’t use dishwasher detergent or soap to clean the beaker (this also goes for coffeemaker carafes). The reason is that, although the detergent cleans very well, it also leaves residue behind that can greatly alter the taste of brewed coffee (much like how rancid coffee oils left in coffee grinders alter future grinds). A great way to keep your French press clean is to clean it as follows. Dump any brewed coffee remaining, scoop out the spent coffee grounds and rinse the beaker in the sink. Be careful, they’re very easy to break. Dry the outside of the beaker off and take some salt and pour in enough to completely cover the bottom of the beaker. Add enough ice so that it covers all of the salt. Pour in a small amount of water from the tap and start swirling in a circular motion. You’re letting the salt, with the weight of the ice, do the work of scrubbing away coffee oils and stains. Swirl for about a minute. Then leave the mixture until the ice melts. Swirl again and rinse, then wipe it down with a paper towel or clean rag. I recommend cleaning your French press this way at least once a week. The other days you should be fine just rinsing it out with water and drying. This will keep your coffee tasting good while not altering the taste with dishwasher detergent residue.

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