Brewing coffee on a French press is highly rewarding and very simple: you pour hot water over coarsely ground coffee, wait a few minutes, and press down. Coffee that comes out of a French press is wonderfully bold and heavy, and you don’t need to know too much about brewing or extraction techniques to get it right.
Almost all French presses have the same design: There’s a brewing chamber with a handle and a plunger with a mesh filter. But the details of a French press brewer can take your brew from just okay to extraordinary. I tested a range of models and tried a variety of brewing recipes to figure out the best French press for most people. Here’s what I found.
The Winners, at a Glance
The Best Overall French Press: The Fellow Clara
The Fellow Clara combines innovative design with excellent heat retention. With its sleek matte finish, double-walled chamber, and weighted handle, the Clara proves that the folks at Fellow understand what makes a French press brewer great.
Best for: Design-minded folks who want a beautiful piece of coffee equipment; people who want to keep their coffee piping hot for extended periods; people who want a brewer that can make an excellent cup of French press coffee without any fuss.
The Best French Press for Folks Who Like to Tinker: The Espro P3
The Espro P3 is probably the most “innovative” of the models I tested. The filter is a two-layer mesh cage meant to filter out fine particles, which means you can play with grind settings more. (What if you ground your coffee at an espresso setting? Wild things are happening!). The resulting coffee is cleaner than any cup I made with the other French presses, but it’s difficult to clean and doesn’t give you the hefty, almost viscous coffee you’d expect from a French press.
Best for: Folks who like to geek out on coffee; who have a burr grinder and can tinker with different grind settings; who want their coffee to taste closer to a pour over with the ease of a French press.
The Best Affordable French Press: The Coffee Gator
The Coffee Gator is made of layered stainless steel that’s both sturdy and keeps coffee hot over long periods of time. The dual filter ensures that grit and coffee sludge don’t end up in the final cup but still produces coffee with the heft you’d expect in a French press. It also comes with a bonus canister to bring your beans on the road.
Best for: Folks looking for a classic cup of French press coffee; travelers and campers; those who are accident-prone and need a brewer that’ll withstand drops.
The Criteria: What We Look for in a Great French Press
A great French press has to make great coffee. It should be easy to use and easy to clean. It also should keep coffee hot and maintain that temperature for long periods of time.
To improve your coffee drinking experience even more, use freshly ground coffee if you can. Buy the best beans available to you and invest in a burr grinder as opposed to a a blade grinder.
What’s the Best Temperature for Coffee Extraction?
Coffee is made by extracting soluble components out of ground coffee. The way coffee releases those components—which is where flavor comes from—is through interaction with water. The National Coffee Association states that the ideal brewing temperature for coffee is between 195°-205°F.
Anything hotter than 205°F will result in over-extraction, which causes bitter, acrid, and unpleasant flavors. Anything cooler than 195°F will result in under-extraction, where the resulting brew is sour and hollow. “Heat typically speeds up chemical reactions, so adding heat to your brewing process will increase the extraction rate of your brewing method,” says Erica Chadé, Specialty Coffee Educator.
A French press is a full immersion brewer, meaning that the coffee and water are hanging out with each other for a long time. Most French press recipes require water and coffee to brew together for at least four minutes before you plunge and separate the grounds from the final brew. That means you want to try to keep your water within that ideal brewing-temperature range for as long as possible.
Let’s be clear—you won’t be able to keep water within that range the entire time you’re brewing, and that’s not even really the point (every brew method will lose heat, even pour-over brewers). In every French press I tested, the water I used lost at least 20 degrees between the initial pour and the final brew. Yet while it’s inevitable that the water will lose heat, the rate it does so depends on how the French press is insulated.
“Temperature stability is a variable that we understand will change throughout the French press brew process, and anything we can do to minimize its loss of heat helps with extraction and consistency from brew to brew,” says Akaash Saini, National Sales Manager for Ground Control Coffee Brewers in New York. “Pre-heating your vessel, and using double-walled french presses (like Fellow and Espro) will help.”
What’s the Right Grind Setting for French Press Coffee?
Almost all French press recipes call for you to grind your coffee on the coarsest setting possible, but that’s not what I recommend. There are two reasons: First, every grinder’s coarsest setting is different; second, you can increase extraction when you grind just a teeny bit finer.
To test my theory, I did a Very Scientific Thing: I asked #coffeetwitter what they thought. 21.7% said you should grind coarse, 19.6% said finer than you’d think, and 58.7% said medium-coarse.
When it comes to determining the right grind setting, your best tool will always be your palate. I think that’s where lots of folks make mistakes—sometimes, coffee recipes are treated as prescriptive, but really, they’re meant to be jumping off points, and coffee is so easy to tinker with as long as you listen to what your palate is telling you. In general, if your coffee tastes sour and thin, try grinding finer. If it tastes bitter and syrupy, try a coarser grind setting.
Why You Should Trust Us
I worked in two different cafes that made all their drip coffee using a French press. One was appropriately called Daily Press, and the other was so busy that we’d sometimes have one barista just continuously brewing and cleaning out French presses during busy rushes.
As baristas, part of our job is to talk with customers about brewing coffee at home, and a good percentage of customers asked me about brewing coffee in a French press. There are certain principles that are true to coffee brewing in general, and one of the earliest and most important skills you learn as a barista is how to brew properly extracted coffee—and how to change variables when the coffee flavor is off.
I also wrote the Serious Eats review of the best espresso machines and the best milk frothers, where I detailed my years of experience making and writing about coffee.
I designed three tests for determining the quality of a French press. First, I evaluated how functional and usable the press was. Second, I measured how well it retained heat over a half-hour period. Lastly, I evaluated the flavor of the coffee at various points and used two different brewing recipes to determine how the flavor was affected by each French press.
Test 1: Usability and Functionality
Cleaning a French press is hassle. However, being able to easily clean a French press is vital: because it’s a full immersion brewer, coffee oils and residue can build up quickly, so taking the brewer apart (so you can clean it) and putting it back together should be straightforward and simple.
I evaluated how easy each French press was to use, clean up, and store. I also took into account any stylistic elements, updates on the classic French press design, and the materials used to make each model. The French press is an iconic brewer, so I also took into account how visually appealing each brewer was and how the handles felt in my hand as I poured.
Test 2: Heat Retention
As I broke down above, heat retention in a brewer is the most consistent predictor of coffee quality. The brewers that were able to retain as much heat as possible always brewed the best coffee, so I tested how hot each brew was at multiple intervals: when the water initially hit the coffee, after each brew cycle (one recipe called for a four-minute brew, another eight), and then five and 20 minutes after brewing.
I preheated each brewer for a full minute with boiling water and used water that was 30 seconds off boil to brew. For each sample of coffee I took, I preheated each mug to ensure no heat was lost to a cold drinking vessel.
A note on time tests: many French press recipes call for you to pour the coffee into a separate carafe once it’s finished brewing. Even though the plunger on a French press is meant to separate the grounds from the final coffee, they’re still interacting with one another and flavors will continue to extract. I didn’t do this for these tests, mostly because I don’t think most people pour off their coffee into a different carafe, and because that wouldn’t tell us anything about the brewer’s ability to retain heat over time. I did note how the flavor changed over time, and was surprised by how well each coffee held up in the brewer.
Test 3: Flavor
There’s no point to these tests if they don’t produce excellent coffee. Heat retention and taste are linked, but I wanted to see if each brewer could handle different French press recipes.
I made coffee with all 10 presses using a standard recipe: 42.5 grams of coffee for 680 grams of water (1:16 ratio). I chose these particular parameters because some brewers were bigger than others, so I wanted a coffee to water ratio that could be made in each one. I pre-heated each brewer for a full minute, added the grounds, added all the water, stirred the grounds after one minute, covered the brewer with the lid, and then pressed down after four minutes total. I used a medium-coarse grind setting on a Baratza Encore and a coffee from Ruby Coffee Roasters called Creamery, a blend they recommend for both espresso and drip coffee. (Full disclosure: my partner works for Ruby).
I then took my top four brewers and tried a totally different recipe from Nick Cho, who recommends cranking your grinder to its coarsest setting and brewing for almost double the time typically recommended by other recipes. I kept the ratio of coffee to water consistent, but stirred the slurry after 45 seconds and plunged after eight minutes.
One thing I kept consistent in each brew recipe was stirring the coffee after the initial pour, or blooming the coffee. My classic recipe calls for stirring the bloom after one minute while Cho’s calls for a stir after 45 seconds. When you initially pour hot water onto coffee, the coffee (depending on how fresh it is) will create a crust with trapped volatile components, and stirring the bloom will release some of those gases. “It is…important to include a bloom pour/stage when constructing a French press recipe since I find that this vital step tends to be excluded for this particular brewing method,” Chadé says of designing recipes. “Blooming is a great technique that enhances extraction for all brewing methods, even batch brew!”
I stirred each bloom three times back and forth in order to break up the crust. “Incorporating agitation into the bloom stage can be helpful for ensuring that all of the coffee in the brew bed is adequately saturated for necessary degassing,” Chadé says. “If a crust forms during your brew, reincorporating those grounds into your brew with a gentle stir is best for promoting an even extraction. The goal of this stir should be reincorporation and not agitation, as agitation at this stage of brewing would most likely result in an uneven extraction.”
Just to make sure I didn’t miss anything, I took my top three brewers to my trusty friend, Phil—he helped test some of the models I recommended in my home espresso machine article—and asked him to brew coffee and talk through what he liked and disliked about each brewer. I gave him no instructions; I simply asked him to brew and record his thoughts.
The Best French Press: The Fellow Clara
The Clara gives you everything you need to brew beautiful coffee. The brewer comes with an agitation stick so you can stir your grounds after the initial bloom. No scale to measure coffee? No problem! There are fill lines etched inside the brewer to indicate how much coffee and water to use (I’d still use a scale if you can because volume and weight can vary). The handle is weighted so when you pour your first cup, you’re not straining to carry a heavy brewer with an uneven weight distribution.
It’s also beautiful. The matte black finish and curved lines sit beautifully on any countertop. The Clara has a heat-lock double-walled vacuum to insulate the brewing chamber, a non-stick coating on the inside to make clean-up easy, and perhaps the most deceptively ingenious design upgrade I’ve seen on any French press: an all-directional pour lid. As a person who has spilled hot coffee on themselves hundreds of times because they’ve forgotten to align the spout with the lid, I very much appreciated this touch.
In my temperature tests, the Clara kept coffee the hottest. From initial pour to the end of the four minute brew, it lost about 19 degrees during the brew cycle. Coffees on the Clara tasted like nougat and chocolate. I’m not 100% convinced that has to do with the brewer directly, but rather indirectly through heat retention. On brewers where heat retention wasn’t as strong, there were noticeable sour notes and weird, lingering finishes that were unpleasant, but the coffee on the Clara drank well no matter when I poured a cup.
It feels weird to say that cleaning a French press is a pleasant experience because they’re notoriously annoying to take apart and clean properly (if you have a traditional French press at home and you haven’t taken the bottom apart, now is a good time to unscrew the mesh screen and give it a soak to remove old coffee oils). The Clara screen is just one piece lined with rubber to create a seal so no coffee grounds slip past the side of the filter when you plunge. All you have to do to clean is unscrew the bottom.
I know $99 is a lot to ask for a French press—the Bodum Brazil starts at $13—but this is a forever piece of equipment, and for the combination of brewing power, temperature consistency, and aesthetic and design choices, the Fellow Clara delivers on all fronts.
The Best French Press for Folks Who Like to Tinker: The Espro P3
In order to avoid sooty, sediment-laden coffee—a common French press complaint—Espro redesigned the entire bottom plunger piece, using two interlocking fine-mesh baskets to prevent any coffee particles from getting into your final cup.
Because the Espro P3 is able to filter out so much of the sediment that ends up in coffee, this French press is actually primed for experimentation. In the section above, I talked about how to grind for a French press, and with the Espro P3, you can push your grind setting finer, which can be fun for folks who like to try new things and push the limits on coffee.
This is also a great press for people who might not love the flavor of French press coffee, or at least don’t crave the characteristic grit produced by the brewing method. You might ask why someone would buy a French press if they didn’t care for French press coffee, and the answer is simple: it’s the easiest way to brew coffee.
One thing I did miss on both Espro models I tested was the heft of a French pressed coffee. I did get some higher notes—think more acids and fruit flavors—from the P3 and P6 versus other brewers, but that’s not what I’m pulling out a French press for. I want some of the weight that comes from the coffee oils, and every cup I had just missed a little bit of that. Another downside: It’s a pain to clean with its micro filters; you can’t just quickly rinse it and set it aside.
But if you want to experiment and try out different brewing recipes (or hate experimenting and just want a nice, clean cup of coffee) this might be the press for you.
The Best Affordable French Press: The Coffee Gator
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this French press. It looks like most classic presses and has the mesh screen I’m used to seeing, but the folks at Coffee Gator seem to know exactly what they’re doing and this press boasted all the right features: their double-walled carafe was one of the top performers in my temperature testing, and the small adjustments they made to the French press’s classic design only enhanced the drinking experience, including the small arrow on top of the plunger to indicate where the lid and the pour spout should align to prevent spills.
This brewer is almost ideal for traveling. It’s virtually indestructible—but it’s also pretty heavy. That being said, it made what I would call the most “classic” cup of French press coffee out of the bunch. Not only did it extract well, but it’s dual mesh filters gave some nice flavor clarity.
Their website says that you can only use coarsely ground coffee for a French press, and while technically that’s not true—you can use whatever you want! Who’s going to stop you?—I likely would keep the grind fairly coarse when using the Gator. It doesn’t have the rubber seal or micro filter that the Clara or the Espro models have, so you will get a significant amount of grit if you go too fine.
- There are only a few coffee brewers as iconic as the Bodum Chambord. While it’s a totally capable brewer, it just didn’t produce as flavorful a cup as some others, and the mesh screens are prickly on the sides.
- The Brazil is a slightly more affordable French press from Bodum. I ordered one to test how well a French press could froth milk, but as a French press, this model fell short and couldn’t retain heat well.
- The only measurable difference between the Espro 6 and the Espro 3 is that the 6 retains heat better, but it’s a big jump in price between models. If you’re thinking of making the leap, I think the Fellow Clara is a better pick.
- I’m a fan of everything OXO, and initially thought their French press model—which features an item called the GroundsLifter, a ladle to scoop out coffee grounds—would help produce a cup of coffee with minimal grit, but its glass build didn’t extract coffee well and produced one of the thinnest cups of coffee I tried.
- The Mueller French press is double-walled and brewed great coffee. It’s just a teeny bit heavy and the mesh filters were a little clumsy.
- I’ve seen the Frieling French press in coffee shops before, and like most of the double-walled brewers, it did a great job. But at around $50, it didn’t hold up to the Gator.
- Every fiber of my being wanted to love the Le Creuset French press because it’s so beautiful, but ceramic sucks heat from water unless thoroughly pre-heated, which takes forever. The coffee wasn’t as bad as I would have expected, but this brewer lost the most heat over time and couldn’t extract as well as other presses.