French Press Coffee Makers

Published November 1, 2013. From Cook's Illustrated.

French press coffee makers are not only elegant, but they also can potentially deliver a thicker, more full-bodied cup of coffee.

Overview:

The French press (or cafetière à piston, as the French call it) uses a piston-like mechanism to force ground coffee through hot water, sending the spent grounds to the bottom of the pot and leaving a full-bodied brew on top. Oily and thick from minute particles of the grind suspended in the brew, French press coffee is impossible to confuse with drip coffee.

But there are potential drawbacks: The mass of steeped coffee grounds creates pressure, making it hard to push down the filter, sometimes shattering glass pots or spewing coffee out of the pot’s spout. Also, heat escapes glass pots quickly. Some people dislike suspended coffee particles in their brew. And spent grounds are messy, wet, and hard to dislodge from the bottom of the pot when it’s time to clean up.

Recently, we’ve seen a number of French presses that promise to address these issues, so we rounded up six 8-cup models priced from $26.43 to $119.95, including our favorite traditional glass pot. We brewed and tasted pots of coffee, compared the coffees’ temperature… read more

The French press (or cafetière à piston, as the French call it) uses a piston-like mechanism to force ground coffee through hot water, sending the spent grounds to the bottom of the pot and leaving a full-bodied brew on top. Oily and thick from minute particles of the grind suspended in the brew, French press coffee is impossible to confuse with drip coffee.

But there are potential drawbacks: The mass of steeped coffee grounds creates pressure, making it hard to push down the filter, sometimes shattering glass pots or spewing coffee out of the pot’s spout. Also, heat escapes glass pots quickly. Some people dislike suspended coffee particles in their brew. And spent grounds are messy, wet, and hard to dislodge from the bottom of the pot when it’s time to clean up.

Recently, we’ve seen a number of French presses that promise to address these issues, so we rounded up six 8-cup models priced from $26.43 to $119.95, including our favorite traditional glass pot. We brewed and tasted pots of coffee, compared the coffees’ temperature after brewing, and cleaned the pots by hand.

All the pots operated similarly. One model uses a two-layer fine-mesh filter in the shape of a basket, surrounded by a two-layer silicone gasket—modifications that kept fine sediment out of the coffee. Many tasters enjoyed its “smoother” cup, but others bemoaned its “thin” texture, complaining that the result was not much like French press coffee. Compared with other models that we tested, this model's big, basketlike filter was also a bit harder to press down—and fussier to clean. Two different pots received slightly lower overall ratings for coffee quality than others (with some complaints about bitterness, despite high marks for good body). (Presses that produced lesser-quality coffee were slightly downgraded.) Both of these pots use a mesh filter with a coiled spring around its perimeter to keep out grounds during pressing, rather than a silicone strip like newer models. But a third pot got high marks with the same traditional spring-style filter. The difference turned out to be the amount of “play” in the stem as you press: With more lateral movement, those two lesser pots let the filter tip slightly, allowing more grounds into the brew. Unlike other pots, these two also lacked a grille over the spout to capture larger particles as you pour.

Insulated pots kept the coffee hotter. The all-steel models in our lineup use double-walled insulation to retain heat, which also eliminated the risk of shattering. While purists say that flavor is best preserved if you decant the coffee into a thermal pot (separating the coffee from the pressed grounds so that it won’t overextract and become bitter), that’s not always possible. After brewing fresh pots with 205-degree water, we poured off 8 ounces of coffee and let the pots sit. After 30 minutes, coffee in the glass pots had cooled to temperatures just hot enough to enjoy drinking (140 to 148 degrees), but the three insulated steel pots stayed much hotter (162 to 165 degrees). At the end of an hour, the insulated pots were still warm at 148 to 150 degrees, while glass pots had dipped to a lukewarm 119 to 126 degrees.

As for getting the wet, messy grounds out of the pot, one model is designed to simplify that, with a disk that rests on the bottom of the pot and a handle to lift out grounds. But it didn’t work quite as well as we had hoped: If the grounds weren’t nearly dry, they sloshed over the sides just as the disk emerged from the pot. And a metal sleeve over most of that model's glass pot trapped water and grounds, so we had to remove it each time to get the pot clean and dry. (Traditional glass presses have minimal metal cages that rinse clean without removal.) Pots with smooth, pared-down pieces simplified cleanup; the best was a severely simple stainless pot. A bonus: Many were dishwasher-safe. In the end, our top pick is the sturdy, insulated stainless steel maker, which gets the whole equation just right. It’s simple to use, brews great coffee that stays piping hot, and is a snap to clean up. It’s even completely dishwasher-safe.

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  • Product Tested

    Results Key:

    Good ★ ★ ★ Fair ★ ★ Poor
  • Prices are subject to change.
  • Highly Recommended - Winner

    Bodum Columbia French Press Coffee Maker, Double Wall, 8 Cup

    This thick, insulated pot was as simple to use as a traditional glass press, but it kept coffee hotter much longer. It’s also sturdier, with a round, comfortable handle. It took top honors in our tasting, producing coffee that tasters called “rich,” “rounded,” “nutty,” and “full-bodied.” Note: This model might temporarily become harder to find. The manufacturer has confirmed it is not discontinued, but it unfortunately will not be back in stock until early 2015.

    • Heat Retention ★★★
    • Quality of Coffee ★★★
    • Ease of Use/Cleanup ★★★

    $79.95

    BUY NOW Amazon
  • Recommended

    Espro Press Coffee Maker, Large

    Some tasters found the texture of this coffee “a little thin” for French-press coffee: “Seems lighter, less full-bodied, less viscous.” That’s a result of its unique double filter, which prevents sediment from passing into the coffee, producing a “clean cup [with] no grit.” The big basketlike double filter, ringed by a grippy silicone gasket, was harder and slower than usual to press, and it was a bit more time-consuming to clean up around its nooks and crannies. But the solidly built, insulated steel pot kept coffee piping hot.

    • Heat Retention ★★★
    • Quality of Coffee ★★★
    • Ease of Use/Cleanup ★★

    $119.95

    BUY NOW Amazon
  • Recommended

    Bodum Chambord French Press, 8-Cup

    Tasters praised the coffee from this classic pot: “good flavor, lots of sediment,” with a “pleasant” taste and a “slightly richer,” “not-too-thin texture.” It’s easy and straightforward to set up and clean. But the thin glass walls of this traditional press lost heat faster than insulated pots did. It does a great job if you’re drinking the coffee right away, but it cools off quickly.

    • Heat Retention
    • Quality of Coffee ★★★
    • Ease of Use/Cleanup ★★★

    $39.95

    BUY NOW Amazon
  • Recommended

    Frieling French Press Brushed Stainless Steel, 8 Cup

    This handsome, sturdy, insulated pot kept coffee hot and was easy to use. Nevertheless, tasters rated the coffee as slightly more bitter than that of other top-rated pots, though still “very smooth” and “balanced,” with “a decent thickness.” Its filter was able to tip slightly as we pressed, letting more grounds into the brew; it also lacked a grille over the spout to hold back larger particles. The pot was especially easy to clean, due to its smooth, simple surfaces, which didn’t trap grounds or water.

    • Heat Retention ★★★
    • Quality of Coffee ★★
    • Ease of Use/Cleanup ★★★

    $94.95

    BUY NOW Amazon
  • Recommended with Reservations

    OXO Good Grips French Press 8-Cup with GroundsKeeper

    While we liked the coffee made from this pot, its claim to fame is the innovative GroundsKeeper, which helps you pull spent grounds from the bottom of the carafe. However, this can still make a mess when the grounds are wet and slushy (tip: pull out the GroundsKeeper over the trash can). A steel sleeve over the glass pot does little to insulate; the temperature of the coffee dropped as quickly as that of other thin glass pots. The sleeve also trapped stray grounds and water, necessitating removal from the fragile glass pot for washing.

    • Heat Retention
    • Quality of Coffee ★★★
    • Ease of Use/Cleanup ★★

    $39.99

  • Recommended with Reservations

    La Cafetière Classic Chrome 8-Cup Cafetière

    This traditional-style press works fine but feels a little cheap compared with others in the lineup. The glass pot is very tightly fitted into the stainless-steel cage, making it hard to remove, although this usually isn’t necessary for routine cleaning. Its filter was able to wiggle and tip slightly as we pressed, letting more grounds through into the brew and making the coffee slightly bitter; it also lacked a grille over the spout to hold back larger particles. The thin glass pot cooled off fastest of the lineup; its lid has no deep collar or spout cover to help trap heat.

    • Heat Retention
    • Quality of Coffee ★★
    • Ease of Use/Cleanup ★★

    $26.43

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