What is a French Press?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

A French press is a type of coffee pot designed by the French. It is now quite popular in other countries, particularly the US, where one can find them in coffee shops, department stores and household stores. The popularity is based on the strong coffee yielded by the French press process. It significantly differs from the traditional drip method used by most electric and manual coffee makers. As well, it differs from older, percolated methods for making coffee.

A cup of coffee made with a French press.
A cup of coffee made with a French press.

The French press comes in numerous sizes. Its shape is almost always cylindrical, and it is usually made of glass. A handle on the side of the French press makes it convenient for serving freshly made coffee. The cylinder is topped with a lid. Inside the French press, there is a plunger made of mesh. The top of the French press usually has a round ball, which enables one to work the plunger.

When one makes coffee with a French press, first ground coffee is added to the top of the plunger. The next step is to add boiling water to the press. The coffee is now in contact with the boiling water. After a few minutes, one slowly presses the plunger down, which pushes the grounds of coffee to the bottom of the cylinder.

The coffee is now ready, and the plunger usually works well enough to avoid getting coffee grounds in the rest of the coffee. The result is a very rich, frequently strong cup of coffee, or several cups depending upon the size. Since the French press is not on a burner like many coffee makers, it never has the burnt taste that coffee can get from being heated for too long. One can keep the coffee warmer for longer if it is poured into an airtight coffee carafe.

Most feel that the stronger cup of coffee is well worth the additional work of operating the French press. However, some are concerned that residual pesticides from coffee that is not grown organically may be more present when coffee is made with a French Press. As well, though coffee contains some anti-oxidants, it also contains some chemicals that in large amounts could be a health risk. There is no evidence at this time however, that making coffee in a French press poses any more risk than drip or percolated coffee. If one is concerned about pesticides, one can purchase a number of excellent organic coffees at both coffee houses and in most natural foods stores.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


Unlike finer grind settings for drip coffee and espresso machines, French press coffee should be ground coarsely to allow the water to better absorb without the use a burner. The French pressed coffee should sit to allow absorpstion for approximately 8 minutes before pressing down on the plunger and serving.


Believe me, they are so worth it!! I got mine for only $15. I truly enjoy the taste and I like knowing that I am not using a coffee maker full of plastic components.


Great explanation, but I've always been told to bring coffee water just TO a boil, and not actually boil it, to keep a smooth and great coffee taste. I'm a French Press lover, and even have one at my work desk. I grind beans just before I leave the house, then microwave bottled water in the office, and enjoy that great taste, rather than the awful stuff our "coffee club" puts out. If you haven't tried a French Press, rush to your local store!!! They're not expensive (got a Marshalls discount store near you? They often have nice quality ones at a low price in their housewares section). I guarantee you'll love the taste, no matter what coffee beans you use!

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