Best Way to Use a Coffee Plunger Like a Pro (Step By Step Guide with Pictures)

Haven’t heard of a coffee plunger before? It’s also called a press pot, coffee press, or caffettiera a stantuffo if you want to sound flashy.

On this side of the world, it’s called a French Press.

To know more about the time-honored and classic device, let’s plunge into the deep end.

A coffee plunger is a manual coffee maker that can vary in price from $10 to $150 or more. Materials, coffee capacity, and other features determine the out-the-door cost to the consumer. One thing that remains consistent is the full-bodied and rich taste of French Press brews.

How do you get that kind of taste? Like all coffee, it starts with the bean.

How do you make plunger coffee? It starts with the right equipment.

This is the 101 Guide on coffee plungers and the best way to use them.

What is the Best Way to Use a Coffee Plunger?

While there are various types of coffee plungers from travel options to large capacity stainless steel presses, the basic concept of steeping and pressing remains consistent between models.

As a first timer to using a French Press, you may be surprised at how easy it is. I outline step-by-step instructions to using a coffee plunger with correct practices that will soon become habit.

Equipment You Will Need
French press
Hot water (just off boil)
Coffee grounds
Stirring spoon
Measuring spoon
Measuring cup
Thermometer (optional)
Kettle (optional)
Time to Brew
Preparation: 10 minutes
Brew: 4 minutes

1. Measure and Grind the Beans

Step 1 - Measure and Grind the Beans

You can grind whole beans or save yourself the trouble with pre-ground grinds. You will sacrifice the ideal benefits of maximizing oxidation and retaining moisture for immediate use, but for those in a crunch, pre-ground grinds will work. Medium to coarse grind is essential. 

How much you grind and measure out will depend on the size of your French Press. The general rule of thumb is to use 2-4 tablespoons of coffee for every 1 cup of water.

Note: My 3-cup press will hold 24 ounces of water, so I would add 4-6 tablespoons of coffee to achieve my desired strength. For more specifics on water to coffee ratios, check out our article on how much coffee to use per cup.

2. Boil the Water

Step 2 - Boil the water

Boil water via any method of your choosing. Using a stovetop kettle is an excellent choice. Ideal temperature for boiling water for a coffee plunger French Press is 195-205 degrees Fahrenheit.

3. Preheat the French Press

Step 3 - Preheat the French Press

To keep temperatures from fluctuating between the brewing equipment and hot water, it’s always recommended to preheat your press.

Once water has been boiled, pour some into the press to heat it up warm to the touch. This should take approximately 30 seconds to a minute. Discard water.

Add coffee grounds to the press.

4. Bloom the Grinds!

Step 4 - Bloom the Grinds

By this point, the water should be “just off boil” and ready to add to the press. Do not pour to fill just yet as you want to allow the grinds to bloom.

Fill press to almost half-way with hot water in a circular motion. This is to encourage the extraction and infusion process. Use your stirring spoon to gently push grounds down from the side and stir to ensure all are saturated by the hot water.

You will notice there will be a blooming or foaming effect at the top layer. Wait 30 seconds and then fill to top according to correct cup ratio.

Attach lid but do not press down on the plunger yet.

5. Let it Steep!

Step 5 - Let it Steep

Set your timer for 4 minutes. Essentially, this is the set-it-and-forget-it phase.

You can experiment with the time based on the different types of coffee you use. Some may taste better with slightly different steeping times.

Plunging the coffee too soon can result in weak and bitter brews. Plunging the coffee after sitting too long can result in over-extracted and sour brews.

6. Plunge the Coffee

Step 6 - Plunge the Coffee

It’s time! Plunge the coffee with pressing action by pushing the plunger down slowly towards the very bottom.

If it’s difficult to plunge, the grinds may be too fine. If it’s exceptionally easy to plunge, the grind may be too course. You may need to experiment with burr adjustments to find the right grind size.

7. Optional: Decant the Coffee

Step 7 - Decant the Coffee

Decanting the coffee is always a great recommendation, but not everyone has the time or patience to do it.

Much like decanting wine, decanting coffee can provide a different flavor profile via oxygenation. But it can also provide for a cleaner cup of coffee when moving it between cups by leaving the last ounce of “mud” in the press. Consider a second filter system if you’re serious about removing left-over sediments and sludge.

8. Mandatory: Serve the Coffee and Enjoy!

Step 8 - Serve the Coffee and Enjoy

The last step of the process is to pour into your coffee mug and enjoy!

What is the Best Plunger Coffee?

As a general rule, the best coffee for plunger and French Press starts with the beans. A medium to dark roast is a popular choice as it gives an authentic and romantic mien through the glass. Furthermore, a coarse grind can reduce the silt or mud that would otherwise end up in your cup.

5 Top Coffee for Plunger Coffee: Beans & Grinds

  1. Peet’s Coffee Major Dickason’s Blend
  2. Lifeboost Coffee Medium Roast Whole Bean
  3. Coffee Bros. Medium Roast Whole Bean
  4. Starbucks Sumatra Dark Roast
  5. Puroast Half Caff French Roast Low Acid

What is a Coffee Plunger?

Coffee plungers are known by several other names, but the most common term in Northern America is the French Press. While it has seen many design modifications over its long-patented history, this simple coffee maker still uses the same principles as its original design – pot, rod, and press action. 

4 Different Types of Coffee Plungers

Types of Coffee Plungers

The modern design of a narrow beaker, stainless steel plunger, and mesh filter is beautifully simple in configuration and results in beautifully tasting coffee. Even so, there are various types of coffee plungers available for occasion, portability, or a slightly different brewing method.

  • Contemporary French Press
  • Travel French Press and Travel French Press Mugs
  • Stainless steel insulated French Press or Thermal French Press
  • Reverse French Press

1. Contemporary French Press

This would be the conventional standard of what a modern French Press is as we know it today. It has simple but essential components that include a cylindrical glass beaker, stainless steel rod, stainless steel lid, and a fine mesh filter.

2. Travel French Press/Travel French Press Mugs

Made for ultimate portability and on-the-go convenience, Travel French Presses can come in various sizes from 12-ounce mugs to 20-ounce cups. Usually made of plastic or stainless steel, they’re designed to be self-insulating, dishwasher-safe, and have spill-proof lids.   

3. Thermal & Insulated French Press

Made from stainless steel, thermal and insulated French Press carafes can hold large quantities of coffee over travel versions. With at least double-wall insulation, these simple coffee makers can stabilize brewing temperatures and filter coffee grounds for better tasting brews and easy clean-up.

4. Reverse French Press

The pull versus press action has long been done before Reverse French Presses became available as a commercial product. Variations from machinated engines to all-in-one brewing systems in a travel mug exist, although they are not as popular as their traditional counterparts.

What is the Purpose of a Coffee Plunger?

The coffee plunger, or French Press, is a unique and classic coffee maker because it has very few steps to acquire full-flavored, rich taste. Its core purpose is to provide a non-pressurized and non-boiled brewing method for extracting maximum flavor in an incredibly simple process.

You can go all the way to the early 1920s if you’d like to see why Italian Ugo Paulini thought a tomato juice separator would be a great patent idea for making coffee. You could revisit the 19th century in France when cheesecloths and rods were used to press coffee grounds.

Either way, once you’ve tasted plunger coffee, you won’t need to question why this simple coffee maker and method exists. The answer is found in its aromatic, extremely rich flavor.

French Press VS Aeropress: Which is Better?

While very similar in manual application with a plunger assembly, the Aeropress and French Press have differing brewing methods and brewing times. The Aeropress works on the principle of pressurization, plastic construction, and can be convenient for travel.

French Press VS Aeropress

French PressAeropress
$10+COST$20-$50
Set and forgetEASE OF OPERATIONLess forgiving for beginners
SteepBREW METHODPressure
4-5 minutesBREW TIME1-3 minutes
Rich, full-flavor, sedimentsTASTEStrong, mellow, clean
Multiple SizesBREW QUANTITY1 size (6-8 oz)
Medium to CoarseCOFFEE GRINDFine to Coarse
Stainless Steel, Glass, PlasticMATERIALSPlastic
Stainless Steel MeshFILTER TYPEPaper

Plunge Into the Deep End of the French Press!

The coffee plunger is an incredibly easy coffee maker to use for those who enjoy rich and full-bodied brews. Its manual, non-electric design provides a satisfying and professional experience to even the most amateur coffee enthusiast.

With this crash course on French Press coffee maker types and how to use one, you should be feeling very confident in trying your first plunger brew.

Don’t be afraid to plunge into the deep end. Your taste buds will thank you for it.

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