Instead of reaching for an automatic drip or single-serve coffee machine, some people prefer setting their appliances aside in favor of manual brewing. But mastering this method can take a lot of practice depending on which device you use. For beginners, Jessica Easto, author of “Craft Coffee: A Manual,” suggested starting with a French press.
“I recommend them to anyone who is interested in learning to make manual coffee,” Easto said. “They can be a stepping stone to other devices that require a bit more skill, like pour-over devices.”
French press coffee makers are not appliances. They do not require an external power source, making them convenient to travel with, use outside or take on a camping trip. French presses also take up minimal space in your kitchen while you’re using or storing them compared to most coffee appliances. But experts said the most notable benefit of all is that French press brewers are easy to use.
“French press coffee has the major benefit of being extremely user-friendly,” said Bethany Letoto, a former barista and roaster and head of sales and marketing for Three Keys Coffee, which we featured in our guide to Black-owned coffee companies. “It involves almost no physical strength, so it’s accessible for people who may have physical limitations. It also is almost impossible to mess up, so even if you’re still half asleep while you’re brewing it, you’re likely to end up with a delicious cup of coffee.”
We spoke to experts about how to shop for a French press and how to use the brewer. We also rounded up a handful of highly rated French presses that meet expert guidance.
Highly rated French press coffee makers
Experts told us they prefer French press coffee makers designed with a glass carafe, which allows you to watch the brewing process as it’s happening. Easto also mentioned you should purchase a French press with as few plastic parts as possible — specifically looking for a metal plunger — as she said this is often a sign of good quality.
With this in mind, we rounded up a handful of highly rated French press coffee makers that meet expert guidance. We included options that range across price points and sizes.
Easto said “you can’t go wrong” with French press models from Bodum, which offers a variety of options. The brand’s Chambord French press boasts a stainless steel plunger and the carafe is designed with stain-resistant and heat-resistant borosilicate glass, according to the brand. The frame and lid are made of stainless steel and the handle has a matte finish. You can purchase Bodum’s Chambord French press — which the brand said is dishwasher-safe — in multiple sizes, including 12-ounce, 17-ounce, 34-ounce and 51-ounce options.
OXO designed its French press with the brand’s GroundsLifter, which it said acts like a squeegee to clear out used grounds when you lift the handle after steeping. The French press features a stainless steel plunger and frame, as well as a borosilicate glass carafe and a non-slip handle. To clean the French press, OXO said you must hand wash it.
The ESPRO P5 French press sports the brand’s patented double micro-mesh filters that snap together and trap sediment and coffee grounds at the bottom of the brewer, according to the brand. The brewer features a glass carafe, a stainless steel frame and a stainless steel plunger, as well as a safety lock that secures the glass carafe inside the frame while pouring. While this French press is top-rack dishwasher-safe, the brand recommends hand-washing it to maintain its appearance.
Brim’s 8-Cup French Press is built with a three-part stainless steel plunger and a mesh filter. It has a dishwasher-safe borosilicate glass carafe and the filter lid is dishwasher-safe as well. The French press comes with one replacement filter and you can choose from either a wood finish or black handle.
The Cafe Du Chateau French Press offers a four-level filtration system composed of two stainless steel screens, a spring-loaded base and a lid strainer. The brewer’s frame and plunger are made of stainless steel and the 34-ounce carafe is made of borosilicate glass. This French press is dishwasher-safe.
What is a French press?
According to Easto, a French press is a manual coffee maker that utilizes a full-immersion brewing process, meaning coffee grounds steep in water for the whole brew cycle like tea. (In fact, you can use a French press to make tea, too.) Easto said the full-immersion brewing process gives coffee a richer and heavier feel — it’s different from the drip coffee brewing process, which lets the water drain through the coffee grounds into the cup or coffee pot.
In addition to ease of use, Easto said the French press allows you to brew coffee with more precision compared to automatic drip and single-serve machines, which don’t often allow you to control water temperature or brew time.
“Unless you are getting a very high-end machine, optimal water temperature is not usually reached and the amount of time the water is in contact with the coffee is usually less than ideal,” Easto said. “With a French press, you can easily remedy this by using off-boil water and setting a timer.”
French press coffee makers are almost always built with metal filters, which are not as fine compared to paper filters utilized by some drip brewers. Thus, Easto said oils and some sediment can end up in your brew. This affects the mouthfeel of coffee, adding to that heavier and richer feel. Letoto noted that the oils and sediment in coffee brewed with a French press may also increase caffeine content.
How to shop for a French press
Generally speaking, experts told us all French press coffee makers are very similar and built with the same parts: a carafe and a lid with a plunger that features a mesh filter to separate brewed coffee from grounds. French press coffee makers are simply designed, so Letoto said when it comes to shopping for them, it’s more a matter of personal preference than technical features.However, there are a few factors you should consider to determine which French press is right for you.
Overall, Easto recommended purchasing a French press that’s built with “as few plastic parts as possible,” and specifically recommended a metal plunger. In her experience, this is a sign of good quality.
Additionally, Easto and Letoto both recommended shopping for a French press with a glass carafe. Glass is more delicate compared to other materials, but it allows you to watch the brewing process while you’re making coffee — you can see the coffee grounds steeping, which experts said adds to the user experience.
Although French presses made with insulated carafes can keep coffee hot for a long period of time, Easto does not recommend purchasing them. “I recommend immediately serving or decanting your French press when the brewing is over,” she said. “Otherwise, the coffee continues to steep in the water, making it overly bitter.”
French presses come in a variety of sizes, which dictates how much coffee each model can make. Before you purchase a French press, experts said you should think about how many people it needs to serve and how many cups of coffee each person typically drinks.
The experts we spoke to said the biggest drawback of making coffee in a French press is that it can be difficult to clean.
“Usually filling the French Press with water and pouring out the spent coffee grounds and water into a kitchen sieve will do the trick, but it can take a few repetitions and may be annoying if you’re in a hurry,” Letoto said.
Because of this, experts said to think about how easy the French press you’re looking to buy is to disassemble. For example, some French presses are built with a plunger you can detach from the lid.
Easto also said you can occasionally clean your French press using a solution that’s specifically designed to dissolve coffee oils. She recommended a cleaning product called Cafiza, but if you use it, Easto said to make sure you rinse the French press thoroughly afterward.
How to use a French press
Letoto said using a French press coffee maker requires minimal technique. You add coffee grounds to the carafe, pour hot water over the grounds and steep. Then, you depress the plunger to separate the grounds from the brewed coffee and serve.
To use a French press, you’ll need a kettle to boil water, but Easto said any kettle will do. “You do not need a goose-neck kettle, which is a specially designed one for pour-over methods,” she said.
If you frequently make coffee at home, Easto also recommended investing in a burr grinder, which allows you to adjust the grind size of coffee beans depending on the brewing method you’re using. She said pre-ground coffee from the store does not work well in a French press — Letoto added that you want your grounds to be about as coarse as raw sugar or finishing salt for French press brewing.
Everyone has their own unique process for making coffee with a French press, specifically in regards to how much ground coffee to add, the temperature of hot water to use and how long to steep the grounds for. Experts recommended trying a few methods when you first start using the brewer to find which you like best. Brands often list instructions on the packaging of a French press or on their websites, and you can find guidance about French press brewing online or in coffee-related books.