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French Press Coffee Makers

By Cook's Illustrated Published November 2013

How we tested

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. Would we be able to find the best French press coffee maker in our lineup?

Comparing Pot Designs and Performance

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.

Crowning the Winning Coffee Maker

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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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little.

$248.64*
Recommended

Schmidt Brothers Downtown Block

This roomy block completely sheathed our entire winning knife set using just one of its two sides—and quite securely, thanks to long, medium-strength magnet bars. Heavy, with a grippy base, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard made this model extra-safe but also made it a little trickier to insert knives and to clean; the wood block itself showed some minor cosmetic scratching during use.

$141.90*
Best Buy
Recommended

Schmidt Brothers Midtown Block

This smaller version of the Downtown Block secured all our knives nicely, though the blade of the slicing knife stuck out a bit. With a base lined with grippy material, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard afforded extra protection against contact with blades but made it a little harder to insert knives and to clean; the wood itself got a little scratched during use.

$67.99*
Recommended with Reservations

Swissmar Bamboo Magnetic Knife Block

This small, scratch-resistant model had a stable, rubber-lined base and could hold all our knives, though the blade of the 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a bit. But inch-long gaps between its small magnets made coverage uneven and forced us to find the magnetic hot spots in order to secure the knives. Its acrylic guard made it safer to use but harder to insert knives and to clean.

$49.93*
Not Recommended

Messermeister Walnut Magnet Block

This handsome block was done in by its shape—a tippy, top-heavy quarter-circle that wasn’t tall or broad enough to keep the blades of three knives from poking out. It lacked a nonslip base, and its extra-strong magnets made it unnerving to attach or remove our heavy cleaver. Finally, it got a bit scratched after extensive use.

$129.95*

Epicurean Standing Knife Rack 12"

This magnetic block sheathed all our knives completely, though with a bit of crowding. But it was hard to insert each knife without hitting the block’s decorative slats on way down, and because the block was light and narrow, it wobbled when bumped. Worse, we couldn’t take it apart, so splatters that hit the interior were there to stay. Additionally, the outside stained easily, and when we wiped it down, the unit smelled like wet dog.

$99.95*

Kapoosh Rondelle Knife Block

This model stabilized knives with a mass of stiff, spaghetti-like bristles that shed and nicked easily after extensive use, covering our knives with plastic debris. While all our knives fit securely, several of the blades stuck out, making this unit feel less safe overall. Finally, though the bristles could be removed and cleaned in the dishwasher, their nooks and crannies made this block hard to wash by hand.

$24.99*

Kuhn Rikon Vision Knife Block, Clear

This plastic block required us to aim each knife into the folds of an accordion-pleated insert that was removable for easy cleaning but got nicked easily with repeated use. Because we could only insert the knives vertically, longer knife blades stuck out; a cleaver was too wide to fit. The lightest model in our lineup, this block was dangerously top-heavy when loaded with knives.

$35.88*