Make Coffee With a French Press That is Cheaper Than Starbucks and Tastes Better Too

Make Coffee With a French Press That is Cheaper Than Starbucks and Tastes Better Too

Stop blowing all your money on $4 coffee.  With a french press you can make delicious joe at home that tastes better than a coffee shop’s AND it’s a whole lot cheaper.

I’m no coffee connoisseur. I enjoy my one cup in the morning and occasionally splurge on a mocha latte or other similarly sweet coffee shop staple. So what follows will likely offend those who treat their java like vino and frequent sites like CoffeeGeek and Coffee Review. But for the rest of us, get ready to drink some damn good coffee.

What is a French Press?

A French press, also known as a press pot, coffee press, or coffee plunger is just a glass beaker that you put coffee grinds and hot water in, then strain with the plunger / filter that sits on top.

It was invented around the 1850′s and is cheaper, simpler, and makes better coffee than most drip coffee makers.

Trust me when I say making coffee with a french press on some post-date morning for a girl makes you look very sophisticated and sexy, though in reality it’s awfully hard to mess up.  Make her some eggs and you’ve got yourself an impressive $3 breakfast she won’t soon forget.

The Process

I’ve been making coffee with a french press every morning for over a year now, after I received both a Bodum Chambord coffee press and a Krups coffee grinder for Christmas. It’s important to understand it is the process of using a french press that yields good coffee, not just the press itself.

You can’t stick Folgers Crystals into a french press and expect to get smooth, bold, non-acidic coffee.

Ideally, the process of using a french press would go something like this:

  • Boil water.
  • When water is ready, coursely grind quality fresh roasted beans and place into coffee press.
  • Pour the now cooling water slowly and evenly over the beans.
  • Stir a few times.
  • Let sit for 3 or 4 minutes for the flavor to seep.
  • Press down slowly on the plunger.
  • Drink coffee.

All of these steps are as important as just using a french press.  Buying good, fresh coffee beans will obviously give you a higher quality coffee.  It will be smoother, less bitter, and have a much better flavor.

Using a coffee grinder to grind course, fresh roasted beans right when you’re ready to use them ensures you’re getting all of the flavor of the beans.  They say if you can smell the coffee aroma, then you’re losing flavor.

It’s important to grind the beans coarsely, because if the grind is too fine, it will get through the filter, which will be in your drink. It should be noted however, a small amount of “sludge” in the bottom of your coffee cup is common when using a french press.

True aficionados insist on using a burr grinder, but a good one will start at around $100.  I’ve been using a $30 blade grinder and have had a lot of success.

I say the quality difference between Maxwell House and a drip maker and our $50 set up is much greater and more noticable than that between our $50 set up and a $150 set up. Especially if you’re just getting into coffee, it’s best to start out small and move up accordingly.

If you know you’re going to be going through a bag of coffee every few days, you can get away with buying pre-ground coffee (still ground course) instead of buying a grinder. I know a guy whose father tasted coffee for a living who uses pre-ground coffee in his french press.  If you’re going to use it fast, it will likely stay acceptably fresh.

How to Make Delicious Coffee with a French Press

Boil water. Use filtered water if you have a Brita Filter handy.

Grind the beans. Once the water is boiling, turn off the stove.  Using a high quality whole bean, (I personally enjoy Starbucks House Blend for a medium roast, though if you’d like to try something bolder try a french roast), pulsate your grinder until you have a consistently course grind. Make sure you don’t have boulders in there, since that’s just a waste of coffee.

The instructions that came with the press say to use one rounded tablespoon of coffee for every 4 ounces of water. I find that to make VERY strong coffee, and though I enjoy it, normal coffee drinkers like the girl you’re trying to impress probably won’t.  I only use about three scoops for a full press.

Pour the water slowly and evenly over the coffee. Dump the coffee into the french press from the grinder and then pour the water in.  Make sure the water has cooled from boiling, you’re looking for “near-boiling” water, anything hotter can burn the coffee and adversely affect the taste.

Stir with a wooden spoon 3 or 4 times. Don’t use a metal spoon because you might crack the beaker.  I have a flat plastic spatula that I use, but some people use chopsticks, etc.

Place the plunger on the beaker, but don’t press down yet. We need the coffee to sit in the water for 3 minutes to get a full flavor.  Set a timer, start making breakfast, or go brush your teeth or something.

Once the timer has gone off, press down on the plunger. I was taught to just sit your hand on the plunger and use that weight to push the plunger down. It could take 30 seconds. It’s important to go slowly and to not back up; if you go too fast you’re more likely to let some of the grinds in.

Serve, impress, and enjoy.


Tips from the Field

  • Even a large french press will likely only make 3 or 4 normal cups of coffee, so if you know you’re serving more than that, make the coffee much stronger and pour more hot water in the cups.  This is also a good way to satisfy some who like really strong coffee and those who like it weak.
  • Buy an airtight container to keep your beans in. They’re only $5 at stores like Ross, Marshalls, or TJ Maxx.
  • Norman Kelley

    This is all very good advice! It’s what my wife told me, after she examined one month’s coffee receipts! We have 2 FP’s, a small one and a large, in case friends drop by. The only stipulation is that I, not she, has the honor of cleaning the FP!

    Nice article!

  • Norman Kelley

    Oh, and something else that should be obvious: Don’t re-use the grinds!
    I have seen this done–really!–and decline that “second” cup of Joe!

  • http://www.primermagazine.com Andrew

    Norman, that’s really great point about not using the grinds again. Grinds should only be used to make one batch, if you reuse them the coffee will be very bitter.

    Thanks for reading and the kind words.

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  • http://www.xymen.com Patrick H. Ouzts

    I hate to be the guy posting a comment to his own blog, but I wrote a similar post early this year because I love french press coffee. It is more flavorful, smoother, customizable, and cheaper.

    However, the biggest part of getting the French Press right is the type of coffee bean you use. What is the difference between Tanzanian and Brazilian beans? That’s what my post is about it. Find out all about different types of coffee beans and the legend of the dancing goats here: http://www.xymen.com/xy-blog/2009/12/8/7-steps-to-perfect-coffee.html

    My apologies for being that guy. Primer Magazine looks amazing and has great content, but this one just had a little gap.

  • http://www.walnutflooring.org Max

    I love using a French press! I do it every single morning and I yes, it’s true! I have saved soooooooo much money. That starbucks coffee sure was adding up!

  • http://www.maternitytights.net Kim

    I had sorta cut back on coffee for a while, but I started back up when I got a French press for Christmas. The flavor is so rich I don’t think I’ll ever be able to give up coffee or go back to drip ever again.
    .-= Kim´s last blog ..Plus Size Maternity Clothes =-.

  • brad

    Where on earth are you buying $4 cups of retail French press coffee to begin with? You’re getting ripped off right there.

  • http://www.primermagazine.com Andrew

    Hey Brad, It’s not that retail french press coffee costs $4, it’s that most of the coffee drinks people buy at places like Starbucks can easily cost $4. I do believe Starbucks offers french press service (for 3 people, I believe) for around $7 or $8, which isn’t unreasonable but it’s still pushing $3 per person.

  • http://www.drdach.com jeffrey dach

    The very best coffee is made with fresh whole coffee beans, freshly ground and mixed with boiling water in a French Coffee Press. The most important component is the quality of the coffee beans. The first step is to boil water in the kettle. While waiting for the water to boil, get out your French coffee press, and remove the plunger. Also get out your electric coffee bean grinder. Fill the coffee grinder with whole beans, replace the lid, and turn on the grinder. After 30 seconds or so, the beans will be fully ground into small particles. Dump these small particles into the large glass beaker called a French Coffee Press. A whistling kettle is recommended since it will alert you when the water comes to a full boil. Once boiling, the water is now ready to pour into the French coffee press. Be careful as you fill the glass beaker about ¾ full, because the water is scalding hot. Stir once and let the coffee sit for a variable length of time depending on your taste and experience. I usually give it 30-60 seconds and then push down on the plunger which then pushes the coffee grounds down to the bottom of the glass beaker. Others suggest giving it 3-4 minutes before using the plunger.

    For More: http://www.drdach.com/Coffee_Out_of_This_World.html

    jeffrey dach

  • Shaun

    Jeffrey, coffee can burn buddy. DONT pour boiling water onto your freshly ground coffee beans. See the comments above yours.

  • http://www.primermagazine.com Andrew

    Jeffrey, you only let the water sit with the grounds for 30-60 seconds?

  • blah

    I guess to avoid overly strong coffee, I just use a flattened tablespoon of coffee grounds per 4 ounces of water. You say 3 scoops in a full press, but how big is your press? Might be more accurate to just specify how much water you use.

    Also, I’ve heard that it might be best to leave the top off until you are ready to press.

    Jeffrey, 30-60 seconds? That seems like it will make weak coffee. Obviously not a problem if you like it that way. But it seems like a waste to leave so much good coffee unextracted. Have you considered just using less grounds and waiting longer?

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  • Kory

    I do this as well but add a small pinch of either kosher or coarse ground sea salt to the coffee when I add the hot water, not boiling. The salt aids in cutting any bitterness and boosts the flavor of the beans. I got the salt idea from Alton Brown, salt blocks the bitterness receptors in the taste buds.

  • Anon

    Could anyone give me a link to the press in the picture?

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