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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