How to Make the Most of Your French Press

Use it for cocktails, whipped cream, olive oil, or a damn good cup of coffee.

Photo by Ludi Leiva for Couplet Coffee
Photo by Ludi Leiva for Couplet Coffee

When the French press was first patented in the early 1900s, it cemented itself as a ubiquitous (and stylish) symbol of breakfast culture. It’s also a fantastic reminder of the joys of slowing down—whether it’s being used at home to feel fancy and caffeinated or a server is placing it on a cafe table, freshly brewed and ready to press.

The most easily recognizable French press coffee makers might be the glass walls and rounded plunger top of the Bodum or minimalist, matte lines of Fellow’s Clara. But the rise of at-home coffee brewing has also led to more colorful and fun iterations of the iconic tool, from a sleek ceramic press by Yield to the heart-emblazoned “Lover’s” French press by queer-owned Couplet Coffee.

Couplet Coffee founder Gefen Skolnick says that the French press was a natural fit for her brand, which is focused on disrupting the craft coffee industry and delivering a more user-friendly way to order quality beans.

“Everyone’s trying to sell you a $200 kettle and an expensive grinder and telling you that’s the only way to make some good coffee,” Skolnick says. “We’re a coffee brand that’s trying to completely mix it up and be more fun and approachable so that more people can actually try and enjoy specialty coffee at home. You don’t need a scale to make the perfect cup of coffee, just a French press.”

As Skolnick hinted, the French press is a relatively simple tool with a short list of steps for use, and home brewers know it easily produces some of the best coffee without even the need for a filter. What many are unaware of, though, is the multitude of uses the French press has stored within its shiny walls. Indeed—from crafting cocktails to creating flavorful extracts, the French press is an underappreciated jack-of-all-trades.

The Lover's French press
The Lover's French press | Photo by Ludi Leiva for Couplet Coffee

Brew the perfect cup of coffee

Let’s start out with what the French press is best known for: making a damn good cup of coffee. The first step that many home brewers miss is actually preheating your carafe with hot water, which will prevent the brew temperature from fluctuating and keep your coffee hot for longer.

Discard the hot water after a quick swish, then pour around 5 tablespoons of coarsely ground beans in for a smaller carafe, which makes about two mugs full of brew. When you think about it, the goal when using a French press is to ultimately push the grounds down to the bottom—leaving only smooth coffee left to pour. When your grind size is too fine it will create muddy coffee.

Now, slowly pour hot water over your grounds until the carafe is about halfway full, give it a stir, and wait around 30 seconds before you pour in the remaining water and cover with the lid. Wait at least 4 minutes before you slowly press your filter down, and voila!

If cold brew coffee is what you’re after, we don’t blame you. Cold brew coffee is perfect to enjoy on warmer days, and is actually less acidic than hot coffee—meaning drinking it is easier on your stomach. To make cold brew coffee in your French press, skip the initial preheating, then follow the same process but with cold water. Leave the mixture in your fridge overnight before you push to strain, and enjoy.

Once it’s time for clean up, Skolnick says the process is just as simple: “First, compost those coffee grounds, or better yet, make a coffee scrub with those remains. My main tip for cleaning is to keep an eye on that filter so it doesn’t get damaged—it’s fragile and very important to the process of making that perfect cup of joe.”

Make whipped cream and cold foam

Create the perfect dessert topping or iced cold foam latte with just one tool: your French press! Make whipped cream by filling about half of the carafe with heavy cream and whatever other flavorings you might want, like sugar or vanilla extract. Pump the strainer up and down until your cream reaches the desired consistency. Cold foam can also be made in a similar way—just replace your heavy cream with skim milk.

Steep loose leaf tea

Coffee is far from the only beverage that can be made with a French press. Anything that requires steeping would work perfectly, like loose leaf tea. It can sometimes be annoying to use a small steeping filter, which only produces one cup of tea. With the French press, multiple cups of tea can be brewed at once, and all the flavor is easily extracted from the leaves by plunging the filter down after a few minutes of steeping. You can also try mixing up different kinds of your favorite tea to create unique flavor combinations, like a green or white tea with a floral one, or maybe add in some dried fruits.

Photo by Ludi Leiva for Couplet Coffee

Create extracts and oils

There’s an unlimited amount of oils, extracts, homemade alternative milks and more that you can make right in your French press. “The French press is a no-brainer for a rich cup of coffee, but it’s even more fun to make a homemade tonic. Just as with coffee and tea, you can place any solid ingredients you like in the base of the press. Add liquids, allow it to steep, then plunge away,” Skolnick says.

Couplet’s special project director, Eric Grimm, swears by the taste and says, “tonics can include lots of things from fortifying herbs, different types of citrus, tea leaves, and other ingredients of different particle size. By using the French press, you can steep and combine all of these things together and then plunge and use the fine mesh strainer to pour out a liquid rich in flavor and health benefits that’s also clear and drinkable.”

Regular olive oil can even take on a whole new flavor profile in French press when you add in elements like garlic, rosemary or lemon rind. Allow the ingredients to steep for at least half an hour before you need to use them, then simply push down firmly on the strainer to extract the remaining flavor into your oil.

Homemade alternative milks can be made by adding water and raw oats or nuts to a blender, then pouring that mixture into your French press and expelling the solids down to the bottom to separate from the liquid.

Properly rinse rice and grains

Before whipping up your next grain or rice bowl, make sure to remove any excess starches by using your French press. Just add your desired amount of rice or grains into the carafe and then pour fresh water over top. Allow around 20 minutes for the starch to leach out from your grains into the water, then press down and pour out the now-starchy water. You can directly add your cleaned grains into a pot of water on the stove to cook.

Shake up a cocktail

Aspiring home bartenders don’t need a cocktail shaker to get started on their creations, just a French press. Pour ice into your French press followed by the ingredients for your cocktail, then plunge the strainer up and down for around 30 seconds to mix and chill the beverage. Plunge it to the bottom as you would for a finished brew of coffee and pour.

There are actually tons of other ways a French press can help out with the creation of cocktails, too. Need watermelon juice for your margarita? Add chunks to your French press and use the plunger to both crush the fruit into juice, and easily separate the seeds out for clean pouring. If your cocktail calls for muddled fruit or mint, use the plunger to crush and muddle before opening it back up again and adding the remainder of your ingredients.

If you’re not much of a drinker, Skolnick suggests using your French press to create flavor-infused spa water instead. You can’t go wrong with a mix of fresh ingredients like mint, basil, lemon or cucumber.

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Austa Somvichian-Clausen is a freelance food and travel writer, who lives in Brooklyn with her girlfriend and two fur babies.