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Is French Press Better Than Drip?

Written by Phil

A coffee enthusiast and traveler, Phil primarily spends his days thinking and writing about coffee. He also writes for HittingEject.com where he explores ideas of culture, psychology, and travel, and occasionally dabbles in horror.

Word’s starting to get around that I am writing about coffee, so questions about how I make my daily brew have become common. As the title implies, I use a French Press to make my coffee most mornings, and I grind just enough for each cup. So, what’s the best way to make french press coffee? And is it better than drip?

The french press allows for customization and skill while performing consistently. You can add flavors, clean-up easily, go filterless, and make stronger coffee than drip. Whether that is “better” is up for debate.

Let’s look at proper usage and other useful tips.

The Best Way to Use a French Press (according to me)

Given that it is an immersion brewer, you’re going to want to start with slightly coarser coffee. Some people get finicky about how coarse or fine it should be based on the kind of roast. I keep it about 75% as coarse as my burr grinder will go. I recommend against going finer than medium, as you will most likely over-extract, resulting in a more bitter brew.

Steps to follow for optimal coffee:

  1. Measure your coffee by using a food scale (digital is better). 
    • Make sure to tare the container (set it on the scale, then hit “tare” to return the scale to 0g). You’ll want somewhere between 50-80g/L; James Hoffman (Coffee God) recommends 60-70g/L.
  2. Grind the coffee.
  3. Preheat your press’s decanter by swishing hot water around inside it. Dump the water.
  4. Add your coffee grounds.
  5. Pour in enough boiling water (fresh, filtered, soft) to cover the beans. 
    • Yes, straight off the boil. Even with a preheated decanter, it will not be above the desirable brewing range. 
    • Check out this video – TL;DWatch: the act of pouring and the beans pull the temperature down to the desired range (195ºF-205ºF).
  6. Swirl lightly, then set it aside and wait 30-45 seconds. 
    • This is to allow for the “bloom”, which is letting off CO2. This gas will prevent the water from direct contact with the beans, thus making extraction unbalanced. This step is to allow that gas to be let off before the primary extraction.
  7. Add the rest of your boiling-hot water.
  8. Start a timer for 3-4 minutes. The coarser your grind, the longer it will require.
  9. Press the plunger down slowly. 
    • Some have said 30 seconds before it reaches the bottom, but I just push it down slowly and trust in the God of Coffee to deliver. Avoid pressing too hard, as it can pack the beans and make them harder to dump out.
  10. Pour your coffee. 
    • You may leave some of the brewed coffee in the press’s decanter, but it only stays good until it’s cold and may continue to extract (= more bitter). This is why I transfer whatever is left into a thermos. Then I let the beans cool.
  11. Dump the beans into the compost (or garbage, I guess), rinse out the rest of the beans, and wash with soap if you so please. I’m lazy; I don’t use soap every day.
    • Note: the longer you go without soap, the more oils will build up. These oils will certainly be rancid (usually only takes 4h or so) and will taint future brews.

The Best Way According to His Holiness, James Hoffman

He has a number of pointers in this video, where he outlines the following tips and techniques.

Tips

  1. Be patient.
  2. Use delicious coffee – freshly ground.
  3. Use 60-70g/L coffee.
  4. Get a digital scale – it is more precise and allows you to reproduce what you have done right.
  5. Use fresh, filtered, soft water – if it doesn’t taste good on its own, it won’t make good coffee.

Technique

  1. Grind coffee, put in the French press.
    • Use medium roast.
  2. Add all the desired amount of water. Don’t bloom.
  3. Sit for 4 minutes.
  4. Get two spoons. Use one to stir the floating beans on the surface, causing them to sink. 
  5. There will be silt and foam left on top; use both spoons to scoop that off.
  6. Wait 5-8 minutes. Nearly everything should sink to the bottom.
  7. At this point, you can finally put the lid on and lower the plunger to the surface of the liquid.
    • Do not plunge to the bottom. He suggests resting it on top of the coffee and leaving it there. The reasoning is that it will stir up the silt and cause that to be poured out into your coffee. (I don’t see how this will cause any less silt to eventually come out, as the sediment in the bottom will still get disturbed as you empty the press, but who am I to challenge the God of Coffee?)

Again, I’m but a humble coffee enthusiast and not nearly as established as Hoffman, but to me… it seems like you might as well use an Eva Solo coffee maker to do the same thing. I guess if you’ve already got the French press, then this just adds another technique to your belt.

What is the best ratio of beans to water for immersion brewing?

I found out that I’ve been using the higher end of the range for this. You can measure the ratio using either a literal ratio of coffee-to-water in terms of grams, but I don’t get fussy enough to weigh my water. 

However, for the lazy, we can safely know the weight because water weighs 1g = 1ml (or 1kg per liter, if you prefer). This will fluctuate based on temperature, as it affects density, but within the consumable range of water, it is relatively similar (1kg of ~100ºC water is ~1042g).

Back on point: people disagree. 

Some seem to think it should be as low as 18:1 (water:coffee) or as high as 10:1. That means they’re ranging from 55g/L (18:1) all the way up to 100g/L. They recommend not going over 20:1 (45g/L) because it’ll be a bit too light and watery. To figure out how many grams per liter, divide the larger number into 1000 (18:1 = 1000/18 = 55.55), though I find this mental math to be frustrating.

TL;DR: I generally use 60g/L in French presses. People recommend staying above 45g/L, while others go as high as 100g/L. That’s a bit excessive, so I suggest playing around somewhere between 50-75g.

What coffee is best for French Press? 

I’m going to skip past the debate of light vs. dark roasts (and medium, whatever) because that’s a matter of taste. Choose what you like.

What you need, above all else, is:

  • Freshly roasted (within 2 weeks)
  • Freshly ground (for that particular brew)
  • Measured with a food scale (best) or consistent scoop (leveled)

What’s the point of the “press”?

This is referring to the plunger part of the contraption, which forces a filter through the coffee-water slurry, separating the brewed coffee from the beans. (Boy, it sure isn’t confusing that the beans and the resulting beverage are both called “coffee”.)

The benefit to this arrangement is that you can allow the grinds to be fully immersed in the water (immersion brewing), then you can choose the time you want to separate the beans out. This allows you to make it stronger or weaker, as well as a convenient way to clean up and pour the brew.

By doing this, you can keep some of the brewed coffee in the french press without over-extracting from the beans, as extraction will mostly stop when the grinds have been pushed to the bottom of the decanter. This is why the plunger doesn’t reach all the way to the bottom – to leave room for the used-up beans. 

Fussier folk will insist that the beans at the bottom will still continue to extract – this is true but probably negligible. If you are in this camp, then pour all the coffee out into an external thermos for later use (within 4 hours, if I recall correctly).

What level of grind is best?

Because it’s an immersion-style of coffee, you want to avoid going too fine. Aim for medium, medium-coarse, as it will allow it to stay in the water for longer without over-extracting. If you are using a dark roast and want it less bitter, go slightly coarser.

TL;DR: Some recommend the consistency of sea salt; others recommend medium. Somewhere in between is fine.

What sort of flavors can you add?

I’ve personally experimented with cacao, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, vanilla extract, and am looking forward to trying pandan leaves (aka Thai vanilla). 

This post isn’t going to be about flavor recipes, but try adding flavors during the bloom (step 6) or right before you plunge (step 9)

Is French press bad for you?

This is something I kept finding people ask when they searched for French press information. I’m not sure what, exactly, they think would make it bad for them, but the most common reason seems to be surrounding the lack of a filter.

I feel I’ve covered this well enough here, but to reiterate: the oils in coffee seem to be largely beneficial. Fat is not evil, despite what Ancel Keys zealously forced upon North America. Coffee has plenty of health benefits, and its natural fats are likely benign (at worst) or beneficial.

Strengths of Drip Coffee

It’s convenient, generally consistent, and easy to clean up. So long as your beans are good, your water is high-quality, and your machine is clean (run vinegar through it ~1x per month), then it will produce decent coffee. Just be sure to take it off the hot plate, as this will cause the flavors to turn into something you don’t want.

Honestly, the title is just there because people search for it. I mainly wanted to talk about French presses, and this seemed like the only way I could compete with the big boys for some traffic. For some reason, being this blunt feels like I’m breaking a faux pas; fingers crossed, you find it more endearing than unbecoming. #SmallBlogCompromises

TL;DR

I find the jockeying for method superiority to be pointless. They all have strengths; just do what you find most convenient. I, personally, like the French press because of the convenience, flexibility, ease of cleaning, and lack of disposable filters. Eco and wallet-friendly, and it takes up less space.

Use what you can afford (time, space, money) and learn the ins and outs of your method. If you’re satisfied and you’re the one drinking it, stick with it. 

There’s no need for building personal identities out of coffee equipment.

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