How to use a French press coffee maker

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I’m a big fan of single cup coffee brewers for home, but what about when you want coffee in a place where you can’t plug anything in? French press coffee makers give you an affordable, easy way to make a few cups of coffee anywhere you can boil water.

They’re great for camping trips, travel and also for making coffee at a workplace that doesn’t provide it (or provides coffee you don’t like). And you might find you love the taste of how they brew coffee. Here’s how to use a French press coffee maker.

French press coffee maker with brewed coffee insideCare and maintenance

French presses are dishwasher safe, and each should come with the best instructions for cleaning that particular model, so be sure to consult your specific manual. For cleaning on the go, without a dishwasher:

  • Put a tiny bit of dishwashing liquid in the carafe
  • Fill the carafe with water and swish the soapy water around
  • Put the plunger on top and slowly depress it and pull it up several times to get the dishwater all through the filter
  • Remove the filter, which will most likely still smell coffee-ish at this point, which means it’s not clean. Take a sponge or stiff brush, dip it in the soapy water, and gently clean the filter. It shouldn’t take much – once it smells like metal or nothing at all, you’re done.
  • Empty and rinse the carafe.
  • Gently dry (or allow to dry) everything so nothing can mildew when you put the plunger apparatus back on.
  • Put the plunger back on.

Some models have glass carafes and some have plastic (polycarbonate). The glass ones obviously can break, so if you want one you can toss in a suitcase or backpack, I would recommend the polycarbonate models. The permanent filter should be the only part you ever need to replace.

Check out How to Make a Cheap Homemade Mocha

How to Use a French Press

It looks like a lot of steps, but once you get the hang of it, it’s really simple. First, you need coarse ground coffee beans for your French press. Finer grinds can make the coffee too strong, and will also slip through the filter and create sediment in the bottom of your cup. (If you like coffee super-strong, use coarse grounds and let it brew longer.)

  1. Remove the whole plunger apparatus from the press.
  2. Spoon the correct amount of grounds for the number of cups you’re making into the bottom of the carafe. Finding the right amount for your taste buds may take some experimentation, but your press should have a suggested amount in the instructions.
  3. Fill the carafe with hot (not quite boiling) water, up to about one inch from the top if you’re using the whole thing (you can use less water to make fewer cups). To get the right water temperature, either boil water and let it cool for about thirty seconds, or you can use one of those hot taps that come on some water coolers and office coffee machines if you have it.
  4. Stir the grounds gently with a non-metal spoon so they’re all submerged (they’ll float at the top, but all the grounds should be wet). Metal spoons can damage the carafe, so use a wooden or plastic one.
  5. The plunger apparatus should be in the “up” position, with the plunger pulled all the way up and the filter and everything else near the top. Put this on top of the carafe to seal in the brew. If you didn’t fill the carafe completely because you’re making fewer cups, gently depress the plunger until it’s just above the water line.
  6. Let it brew for the amount of time the directions specify – four minutes should be plenty. For extra flavor, you can swirl the brew around once more.
  7. Turn the spout away from you. Slowly, gently press the plunger down to the bottom. Now the grounds are trapped under the filter and above them you have a carafe of brewed coffee.
  8. Let it sit for 30 seconds.
  9. Holding the top on the carafe with one hand (just to be sure it doesn’t fall off), pour the coffee out of the spout.
  10. Drink and enjoy.

Once you’ve brewed a carafe, you should pour all the coffee immediately rather than let it sit in contact with the grounds in the carafe. If you’re not drinking it all immediately, transfer it to a thermos or similar container to drink later.

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Last Updated:

December 16, 2023