How to use a French press for more than just coffee
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How to use a French press for more than just coffee

Sep 13, 2023

A barista's advice on everything you need to know about how to use a French press for more than coffee: sangria, oil infusions, and fresh juice

French presses are making a comeback, but not everyone knows how to use one. From hot home coffee, refreshing cold brews, and fruity infusions, there are plenty of ways that you can take your French press coffee maker to a whole new level.

I spoke to coffee roasters, chefs, and cocktail experts to explore exactly what a French press can do. As a barista, I’ve used my French press for cold brew, added some salt to my coffee on occasion, but sangria, juice, and infused oil? News to me.

Starting with the basics of hot coffee, I’ve got tips that will cover all your kitchen needs. It's no wonder that French presses are always en vogue. They can do everything.

Let's cover the basics. Making hot coffee is the most popular way that people use their French presses. The process is relatively simple, but there are a few tips and tricks for what you can do to enhance your coffee experience and flavor.

Before anything, warm up your French press. I like to put a few cups of boiling water inside first and then empty the carafe out. This will help to stop the coffee from cooling too quickly. As your coffee cools, the extraction process slows. The longer you keep it warm, the more strength, depth, and flavor you’ll get from each cup.

Next, add your coffee grounds to the bottom of the carafe. You can buy these from the store, or, if you have a home coffee grinder, you can make these yourself. Always buy quality beans and use a coarse grind. Using grinds with more texture give a deeper, stronger flavor, which is also more acidic. This is because lots of coffee oils get extracted from the coarse grinds when they are immersed in hot water.

As a rule, keep your coffee to water ratio at 1:15. Depending on how many servings you want to make, you’ll use different quantities. I use a coffee scoop - if you can, make sure to keep your hands clean by using a long-handled coffee scoop like this one at Amazon. Allow for three to four tablespoons of coffee to serve two. When I weighed this out, it was about 15 grams. If you keep to the ratios, you can't go wrong.

Once your grounds are in the carafe, add your hot filtered water. Ideally, this should be about 195 degrees Fahrenheit. If it's any hotter you’ll burn your grounds and the coffee will taste really acidic. If it's colder, the extraction process will slow, so your coffee will taste weak.

Pour a small amount water in a spiral motion, starting on the center of your grounds. Once you’ve covered most of the coffee grounds, leave this for thirty seconds. Your grounds will ‘bloom’, releasing aromatic oils. It's also a chance for carbon dioxide to escape, making your coffee taste less acidic. Once thirty seconds have passed, pour the rest of your water in, making sure all of the coffee is saturated.

Leave your coffee to brew and infuse for four minutes. If you want a more delicate flavor, cut down on your brew time. If you want it to taste stronger, leave your brew for longer.

Some experts I spoke with, like Marko Lazarevic from Craft Coffee Spot, recommended leaving the top of the plunger off whilst your coffee is brewing. He told me ‘you actually get a higher extraction and more flavor this way. The cool air from the top of the open French press draws the water underneath and creates a convection that stirs the coffee’. Barista Hustle has done a lot of testing on this too and they swear by it.

Marko is the owner of Craft Coffee Spot. He's tested countless coffee accessories and appliances and owns a dozen espresso machines and burr grinders. He roasts coffee beans himself, so is well-acquainted with all things coffee.

When your time is up, push the plunger down, gently and evenly. This is not a part to rush; if you plunge quickly, you’ll disturb the sediment at the bottom and end up with a grainy coffee. I normally wait for another 30 seconds after plunging, so that all my coffee has settled again.

Pour all of your coffee out in one go. If you leave coffee in your French press, remember that it's still brewing. After half an hour, it will taste really acidic.

I spoke with Lukas Van Vyve, Founder of Emergent Brew, for some flavor tips. He recommends that you always buy whole beans and not grounds. Grind these just before you’ll use them and they’ll deliver the freshest flavors. He recommends ‘using a finer grind, less water, and shorter time for lighter roasts’. For darker roasts, ‘use a coarser grind, more water, and longer time’. This is all down to extraction time. Fine grinds will be extracted much quicker than coarse grinds, but a slower process leads to a deeper, richer result. This is something to explore as you use your French press.

Lukas founded Emergent Brew because of his love of coffee and learning languages. He brings together experts to research home barista beans and brewing techniques.

So far so good - you've got a load of fresh French press coffee. But you can take it much further.

Last year, I saw lots of TikToks telling me to add some salt to my coffee. I was skeptical at first, but it's a real game changer. Adding just a little takes the edge of some of the bitter flavors. Ironically, salt makes the coffee taste a little sweeter and more aromatic. I’ve passed this hack on to lots of skeptical friends and family members, none of them were disappointed.

Norbert Koput from Espresso Bear had some extra tips. He encouraged us to be playful and ‘infuse with flair’. He told me that the best way to ‘elevate your coffee is by adding subtle flavors. Before brewing, get creative with spices like cinnamon or cardamom, a dash of vanilla extract, or a twist of citrus peel’. Vanilla pods would make a great addition too and, Norbert says they ‘transform your cup into a flavor adventure’.

I have written about how to make cold brew coffee in your French press. Cold brew is much milder than hot coffee and it's an easy, affordable alternative to buying a specialist machine. If you don't have a tea pot for loose leaf tea, you can use your French press as a strainer for herbal, loose leaf, and chai blends.

Lifting the plunger up and down transforms your French press into a milk frother. Repeating the lift and plunge motion can froth milk or hot chocolate and whip cream too, although it's nowhere near as fast as a proper appliance like this Smeg milk frother I've recently been putting to the test.

To really move beyond coffee, you can get into cocktails. I was speaking to the Wine Enthusiast experts while on the hunt for the best wine coolers, but when we got onto the topic of coffee their expert team were quick to suggest a ‘home bar hack’. Arielle Weg recommended using your French press to make sangria. She said ‘it's a great way to infuse flavor from a solid to a liquid, plus the built-in filter is great for sifting out particles’. It looks beautiful too.

Their detailed recipe gives more insight. Essentially, you layer your sangria fruit in the bottom of your French press, add alcohol, and pump the French press plunger to infuse the fruit and alcohol. You can then slowly press down on the plunger to filter out any bits of pulp or seeds and pour your smooth sangria into a glass with ice.

Ukrainian chef Alex Bayev had lots of alternative recommendations for more unusual things that you can brew. He says ‘you can use your French press to infuse oils with herbs, garlic, chili, or whatever you fancy. Simply place your ingredients in the press, pour in the oil, and let it infuse. The plunger can then be used to separate the ingredients from the oil when you’re ready to use it’. Just make sure that you clean your French press thoroughly after too.

Alex also uses a French press to extract juice from soft fruits like berries, oranges, or watermelon. Skin the fruit, press down slowly, and you can enjoy fresh juice. It can't touch the performance of the best juicers, but if you don't have hundreds of dollars to spend on a new masticating machine, you can get away with this budget-friendly hack. Alex even recommends using a French press to strain broth and rehydrate dried foods, too.

Alex is a professional chef and food blogger from Ukraine. He's always looking for ways to simplify cooking in the kitchen, which is how he found out so many different ways to use the French press.

After infusing oils, whipping cream, and making sangria, you’ll want a clean carafe before brewing coffee. I have explained in detail how to clean a French press. In short, you’ll want to take the plunger and filter apart, Lift the carafe out of any container and thoroughly scrub each part individually. I use warm, soapy water, since most French presses aren't dishwasher safe. However, if you need to remove tough stains, vinegar and baking soda are good natural and effective alternatives.

Your coffee grounds categorically should not go down the sink. These can cause blockages. Drain your coffee grounds through a fine sieve. Once most of the water has drained away, you can put them in the food waste bin. Coffee grounds also make excellent fertilizer and are a great way to naturally boost plant growth.

We’ve done extensive research to find the best French press on the market. Different models suit different needs. I really like the Bodum Chambord French Press for a quality, contemporary design. However, another popular option is Espro P7 French Press. If you really want to recreate coffee shop flavors, you’ll also want a coffee grinder. It's fine to buy pre-ground coffee with your groceries, but coffee begins to degrade ten minutes after it's been ground. For the best flavor, you will want to grind straight away.

Size: 12 oz. 17 oz. 34 oz. 51 oz.Material: stainless steel and glassFilter: double filterDishwasher safe: yesRRP: $20-$55

Size: 18 oz., 32 oz. Material: Stainless Steel Filter: Metal double filter Dishwasher Safe: Yes RRP: $119.95- $149.95

To serve two people, I would put three tablespoons in per person, when measured, this weighed 15 grams in total. A general coffee to water ratio is 1:15. This is the standard guidance that most French press professionals would offer.

Four minutes. If you want a more delicate flavor, you could plunge after three minutes. If you want a stronger, richer brew, plunge after five to eight minutes.

This is one of my favorite uses for the French press. Place your coffee grounds in the bottom of your carafe. Add room temperature or cold water and put the lid on your carafe. Do not plunge it. Leave your French press for 12 to 24 hours at room temperature or in the refrigerator. We have an article on how to make cold brew at home which gives more detail.

After speaking with chefs, it seems that the possibilities are endless. You can make cold brews, hot chocolates, tea, sangria, oil infusions, fruit juice, and broth. It's worth experimenting with other options. If it uses a filter or strainer, you can give it a go in your French press, within reason.

French presses are a classic making a comeback. These are small, affordable, and really quiet. If you want quality coffee without lots of technology, the French press is perfect. It gives a really rich, deep flavor, which is slightly acidic and bitter. We’ve compared it to the pour over method, because that boasts lots of the same benefits.

As with all coffee, this really comes down to personal preference, I like to use medium to dark roasts. These suit the acidic, slightly bitter flavors that are enhanced in a French press. Make sure to use a coarse grind too.

French press is perhaps my favorite way to make coffee. French presses make exceptional hot coffee, affordable and brilliant cold brews, but can also be your new favorite kitchen assistant. I love the idea of making oil infusions, fresh juice, and hot chocolate in my French press, but I think I’ll be trying the sangria next.

Laura is our eCommerce editor. Before Homes & Gardens she studied English at Oxford University. Alongside her studies, she qualified as a barista and trained as a master perfumer. This makes her our certified expert for all things coffee, candles, and fragrance. Laura has worked for luxury retail brands, reinforcing the importance of quality and style over quantity and fads. She looks for products which have been designed with thoughtful finishes.

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