How to Make Espresso in a French Press: A Step-by-Step Guide

Joshua Allerton
February 21, 2024

I've always been a firm believer that a great day starts with a great cup of coffee. But let's face it, not everyone has an espresso machine at home. That's where the trusty French press comes in. It's not just for your regular brew; with a bit of know-how, you can whip up an espresso that rivals your local coffee shop's.

Making espresso in a French press is simpler than you might think. It's all about the right technique and a few insider tips I've picked up along the way. So, if you're craving that espresso but don't want to leave the comfort of your home, you're in the right place. Let's dive in and transform your coffee game.

Choosing the Right Coffee Beans

Selecting the perfect coffee beans for making espresso with a French press is crucial. I've learned over time that not just any bean will do if you're aiming for that rich, potent espresso flavour we all love. Here’s a breakdown of what to look for:

  • Freshness: Always opt for the freshest beans. The ideal window for espresso beans is within two weeks of their roast date. This ensures the beans retain their aroma and flavour, giving you a more vibrant cup.
  • Roast Level: Aim for a dark roast. This isn't just a matter of personal preference; dark roasts typically have the bold, intense flavour profile associated with traditional espresso. The darker roast also produces oilier beans, which is key to achieving the right extraction.
  • Origin: Single-origin beans are my go-to for French press espresso. They offer unique flavour profiles that blend and complement the intensity you want in an espresso shot. Whether it's fruity notes from African beans or the nutty undertones of South American coffee, choose based on the flavours you enjoy.
  • Grind Size: Here's where things get a bit technical. For a French press, you’ll need a coarser grind than what is traditionally used for espresso. However, go slightly finer than the normal French press grind to get closer to that desired espresso quality. It's a delicate balance, but with practice, you'll find the perfect grind size for your taste.

With these considerations in mind, you'll be well on your way to selecting the best coffee beans for your home espresso experience. Remember, the key to a great cup of coffee lies not just in the process but in the quality of your ingredients. So, invest a bit of time in choosing your beans, and you'll taste the difference in every sip.

Grinding Your Coffee to the Perfect Consistency

When it comes to making espresso in a French press, getting the grind right is crucial. I've found that a grind size that's somewhere between the coarseness used for a French press and the fine grind needed for traditional espresso machines works best. This ensures maximum flavour extraction without overdoing it. Let me break it down for you.

Firstly, you'll need a good quality burr grinder. Blade grinders can create uneven grind sizes, which isn't ideal for our purpose. With a burr grinder, you can achieve a consistent grind size, which is key for a perfect cup.

Here's a simple guide to follow:

  1. Measure Your Beans: Start with about 18-20 grams of coffee beans for a standard French press size (about 1 litre). This should yield a strong, rich espresso.
  2. Select the Grind Size: Adjust your grinder to a setting that's between a typical espresso and a coarse French press grind. If your grinder has settings, aim for a medium-fine grind.
  3. Grinding: Pour your measured beans into the grinder and begin grinding. Shake the grinder slightly as it grinds to help achieve a more uniform grind size.

Keep in mind, the grind should look like coarse sand, not too fine but not as chunky as what you'd use for a regular French press brew. A little experimentation might be necessary to find the sweet spot with your specific grinder and beans.

By focusing on achieving the perfect grind consistency, you're laying the foundation for a superb espresso shot from your French press. The grind not only affects the brew time but also how well the flavours and oils are extracted from the beans, which in turn influences the overall taste and aroma of your espresso. Getting this step right significantly enhances your home espresso experience, bringing you closer to that ideal coffee shop quality we all love.

Preheating Your French Press

Before I dive into the brewing details, let's talk about why preheating your French press is a step you shouldn't skip. Think of it as warming up your car on a chilly morning. It ensures everything runs smoothly, or in this case, ensures your coffee extracts perfectly without losing heat.

Here's the simple step-by-step guide I follow to preheat my French press:

  1. Boil water – Make sure you have more boiling water than you'll need for the espresso. You'll use the extra to preheat the French press.
  2. Pour hot water into the French press – Fill it up to the level you'd typically fill with coffee water.
  3. Let it sit for about 30 seconds to a minute. This allows the glass or metal of your French press to warm up evenly.
  4. Swirl the hot water around – I like to give it a good swirl to ensure every inch gets warmed up.
  5. Discard the water – Carefully pour out the water. Now your French press is preheated and ready for brewing.

Preheating your French press is a game changer. It not only keeps your espresso hot for longer but also helps in extracting all the rich flavours and aromas from your coffee beans. This step is particularly crucial if you're brewing on a colder day, as it prevents a drastic temperature drop that could affect the brewing process.

Remember, every detail counts when striving for that perfect cup of espresso in a French press. From the grind of your coffee beans to the temperature you brew at, ensuring you've got a preheated French press kicks off the brewing process on the right note.

Mastering the Coffee-to-Water Ratio

After ensuring your French press is nicely preheated, the next pivotal step in crafting that impeccable espresso is getting your coffee-to-water ratio just right. I've found that this balance is crucial for extracting the full, rich flavours espresso lovers crave. Too much water and your coffee will taste weak; too little, and it might be overly strong and bitter.

The ideal ratio I swear by is about 1:15. That's 1 part coffee to 15 parts water. For those who don't want to get bogged down by the math, here's a simple recipe to follow:

  • Coffee: 30g (about 2 tablespoons)
  • Water: 450ml (just under 2 cups)

This ratio is a great starting point. However, feel free to tweak it based on your personal preference and the particular beans you're using. Some beans might require slight adjustments for the perfect extraction.

  1. Measure Your Coffee: Using a kitchen scale, measure out 30g of freshly ground coffee. For espresso in a French press, you'll want a fine to medium grind; too coarse, and you'll miss out on those rich espresso flavours.
  2. Heat Your Water: Boil your water and let it cool for about 30 seconds to reach the optimal brewing temperature of 90 to 96 degrees Celsius. This temperature range is key for proper extraction without burning the coffee.
  3. Combine and Brew: Add your ground coffee to the preheated French press. Pour in the 450ml of hot water, ensuring all the grounds are fully saturated. Stir gently.
  4. Steep: Secure the lid to keep the heat in, but don't press down yet. Let your coffee steep for about 4 minutes.
  5. Plunge: After 4 minutes, press the plunger down slowly and steadily.
  6. Serve: Pour and savour your espresso.

Remember, the path to the perfect cup of espresso in a French press is a combination of art and science. Adjusting the coffee-to-water ratio might seem like a small tweak, but it can dramatically alter your espresso's flavour profile. Start with the recommended ratios and adjust to taste. Whether you prefer your espresso strong and bold or a bit milder, a little experimentation will go a long way.

Steeping Your Coffee for the Ideal Time

Once you've combined your coffee grounds and hot water in the French press, you're at a critical juncture that'll significantly impact your espresso's taste and strength: the steeping process. I've learned through experimentation and advice from baristas that steeping time is vital to extracting the flavours you desire from your coffee grounds.

Here's how I do it, and you might find it works wonders for your espresso as well:

  1. Start the Timer: As soon as you pour the hot water over the coffee grounds, start a timer. I can't stress enough how important timing is here.
  2. Stir Gently: After about one minute, give the mix a gentle stir with a wooden spoon or a similar non-metal object to avoid damaging your French press.
  3. Let it Steep: Allow the coffee to steep for 3-4 minutes. This duration is optimal for a balanced flavour profile that’s not too weak but not excessively strong either.
  4. Slight Variation for Taste: If you like your espresso on the bolder side, aim for the full 4 minutes. Prefer it a bit lighter? Stick to 3 minutes.
Taste PreferenceSteeping Time
Lighter3 minutes
Balanced3.5 minutes
Bolder4 minutes

Remember, making espresso in a French press isn't just about following instructions; it’s about calibrating the process to suit your taste. So, don't be afraid to tweak the steeping time within this range to find your perfect match. Whether you opt for a lighter touch or a stronger infusion, what matters is creating a cup that delights your senses and suits your preferences.

After steeping, the next stage is all about plunging with precision to ensure that your espresso remains clear and seductive, free of any unwanted bitterness or over-extraction. This step is where your attention to detail and patience are truly rewarded.

Pressing and Pouring Your Espresso

After you've allowed your espresso to steep properly in the French press, it's finally time for what I consider the most satisfying part of the process: pressing and pouring. This stage is crucial, not just for the theatrics, but for ensuring your espresso's texture and intensity hit the mark perfectly. Let me guide you through this process with some straightforward steps.

First off, you'll need to gather your French press, a preheated cup (or cups if you’re generous enough to share), and a steady hand. Here are the steps I follow to achieve the perfect pour:

  1. Prepare Your Cup: I always heat my cup with hot water before making espresso. It helps maintain the espresso's temperature, ensuring that first sip is as heartwarming as the last.
  2. Position the Plunger: After your espresso has steeped for the recommended time, gently place the plunger at the top of your French press. You don't need to plunge just yet, but get it ready.
  3. Plunge Slowly and Steadily: This is where the magic happens. Apply a steady pressure on the plunger, pushing it down slowly. The goal here is to avoid agitating the grounds too much. A hasty plunge can lead to a bitter espresso, and nobody wants that.
  4. Pour Immediately: Once the plunger is down, pour your espresso into your preheated cup immediately. Letting it sit could lead to over-extraction, making the espresso bitter.
  5. Customize: Now's the time to add anything you like in your espresso - sugar, milk, or maybe nothing at all. I prefer mine black to savour the rich flavours.

Remember, achieving the perfect espresso in a French press is as much about the journey as the destination. Each stage, from selecting your beans to the pressing and pouring, adds a unique layer to the final cup. So, take your time and enjoy the process.

Conclusion

Crafting the perfect espresso with a French press is an art that's both rewarding and enjoyable. I've shared the nuances of each step to help you master this process. Remember, the journey to a great espresso is as delightful as the drink itself. So, experiment with the pressing, the pouring, and the customisation to find what delights your palate the most. Trust me, once you've tasted espresso made with such care and precision, you'll appreciate every sip even more. Here's to many wonderful mornings or afternoons filled with your own perfectly crafted espressos. Cheers!

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