There is nothing worse than putting all that hard work into making a steaming cup of delicious coffee early in the morning, enjoying the aroma as it travels to your nostrils and slowly starts to wake up your brain, taking that first sip of liquid happiness, and then, feeling every single molecule in your body squirm because the coffee is just too bitter to bear.
Yes, it doesn’t happen very often because let’s face it, coffee is inherently is bitter. But there is a very fine line between a deliciously bitter and a taste of complete heartbreak.
And you are bound to know that horrid taste extremely well if you are a French Press Coffee drinker – for some reason (and I’ll get to all these reasons) the bitterness incident seems to happen with this type of coffee the most.
Curious to know why? Read on to find out exactly why your French Press Coffee sometimes turns out too bitter to bear and absolutely ruins your morning.
Why is your French Press Coffee Bitter and burnt
There are several reasons for the taste of your French Press Coffee turning absolutely horrid and unbearable. We will get into the details of each one. But, don’t be disappointed, the good news is that almost all of these can be fixed by simply becoming a bit more precise and loving with the way you make your coffee.
And as always, we will get to that as well. First, let’s try to understand exactly what’s been going wrong.
1- Over-Extraction Due to Prolonged Steeping
One of the biggest culprits is over-extraction, which literally means that the water is pulling out too much of the flavor from the coffee grounds.
The most common way you end up with really bitter coffee is when you push the plunger of your French Press down but downpour the coffee in your cup right away.
Instead, you let it sit there for a while whether to let it cool down or wait till your breakfast is ready to eat as well. Leaving the hot water still in contact with the coffee grounds means it will continue to extract flavor for as long as it can.
And we all know what happens when coffee is filled with too much flavor, cue: squirmy face, and shivers down the spine!
2- Over-Extraction Due to Wrong Grind Size
Another way over-extraction can occur in your French Press is if you are using the wrong type of coffee grounds. The size of the coffee grounds determines every aspect of your coffee, from the amount of flavor extracted to the texture of your drink.
The ideal grind for French Press Coffee is medium-sized or coarsely ground particles. So, if you are using anything finer than that, chances are the hot water will be able to extract a lot more flavor and make your hard-earned beverage undrinkable.
On the other hand, if you use a grind that’s larger than coarsely ground coffee, under-extraction can occur and you will end with a weak or worse flat, sour cup of coffee.
3- Water Too Hot
Other than over-extraction and under-extraction, there are several other reasons your French Press coffee can get ruined. One of them is the temperature of the water you are using to brew the coffee grounds.
If the water is too hot or over boiled, it will readily extract the bitterness from the grounds (that is usually in the oils present in coffee) and completely destroy your mood in just one sip.
4- Wrong Type of Water
In addition to the temperature and amount of water, the amount of mineral it contains can also impact the quality of your coffee.
Unfiltered water can have a high amount of minerals that may affect its taste and even impact the taste of the coffee compounds, and on the other hand, distilled water lacks the required mineral content that gives water its favorable qualities.
Bottled spring water or filtered water is the best type of water to use when making a French Press Coffee.
5- Quality of Coffee Beans
This one is pretty obvious to most coffee lovers, but it is still definitely worth a mention. The quality of coffee beans can make or break your beverage.
You don’t always have to go for the top-shelf stuff, but a trusted tried, and tested brand is always a good idea. Here are some of the top choices recommended by industry experts.
Organic Medium Roast (Lifeboost Coffee)
The best coffee beans to use for a French Press is this medium roast by Lifeboost. Coming from Nicaragua, these beans are well-balanced with a good amount of flavor. They are also completely chemical-free.
Kenya AA Nyeri Ichamara Coffee Beans
If you generally lean more towards bolder tastes, LuckyBelly recommends these blended Kenyan (Arabica) beans that are on the darker side of a medium roast (or medium-dark). Do be careful when buying these and make sure that you get a pack that’s been recently processed and packaged – it can be a hit or miss sometimes, only due to logistical issues.
I would generally also always pick Arabica beans over Robusta for a French Press because the latter tend to be more bitter than the former.
Additionally, using very old or stale beans can also make your coffee too harsh. This is because old coffee beans start to secrete oil, which is the main source of bitter compounds. Hence, when you combine oily beans with hot water… well, only disaster can ensue.
6- Not the right Roast
Sometimes, the reason for bitter French Press Coffee can also be the type of roast of the coffee beans. It is a known fact that dark roasts taste more bitter than lighter roasts.
So, when using a French Press, go for medium or lighter roasts to avoid risking too much bitterness. A great tip I read is to “go for lighter roasts labelled Cinnamon or Half City; or medium roasts that are often called American or Breakfast”. (Source)
7- Dirty or Impure Equipment
A French Press is made up of several different parts – the plunger, the main pot and the lid – and all of these need to be taken care of separately.
By taking care of, I mean cleaned and properly dried, because believe it or not, dirty or impure equipment can also turn your coffee bitter.
Let me explain it.
Say you are getting ready to make yourself a cup. You measure the number of coffee grounds you need for the perfect cup, boil your water, and start to feel the excitement coming on.
But what you don’t realize is that you didn’t clean your machine properly after the last time you used it, and there is some coffee ground residue stuck in the difficult corners.
So, now your carefully measured coffee has become much more than you intended it to be. And more coffee means more flavor, and more flavor means the excitement completely drained.
8- Coffee to Water Ratio
Speaking of measuring your coffee, one of the most important parts of getting a French Press Coffee right, or any type of coffee beverage for that matter, is the coffee to water ratio.
Now, I am sure I don’t need to explain this to you but here it is anyway: more coffee is equal to more chances of bitterness.
It may take a few trials and errors to get to exactly the correct amount of coffee that works for you and your French Press, but trust me if you get this formula right, you will never go wrong.
How to Make French Press Coffee Less Bitter
So, now that you know the who or what the culprit is, let’s talk about how to get rid of them for good. Making coffee is a form of art, the more love and care you put into it, the better it will taste. And to help you along the way, here are all the tips and formulas from the experts.
French Press Coffee to Water Ratio
First things first, and I just mentioned this, the coffee to water ratio is always the most important thing when it comes to understanding the art of making a perfect cup of coffee.
For a French Press, the recommended coffee to water ratio is 1:12 (that is twelve parts of water for every one part of coarse coffee grounds).
However, while the golden formula works for most people, the coffee to water ratio should really be dependent on your personal preferences.
You may actually like some bitter undertones in your French Press and for that, you would then use a little more coffee, whereas if you prefer less bitterness or take your coffee with sugar, you may want to decrease the number of coffee grounds you use.
As I said, it will take some experimentation, but once you find that golden formula, it’s only perfect cups of coffee from then on.
How Long to Steep Coffee for a French Press
Once you pour in the hot water into the French Press, you have to give the coffee grounds some time to release all their flavor – and by some time, I mean exactly 4 minutes, not a second less and not a second more.
Always remember that the steeping or soaking process happens after you stirred in the coffee grounds if you need to and before you push down the plunger.
Again, the 4-minute rule is the one recommended by the majority of experts across the globe, but there are several variations. Some think that 3 minutes are more than enough, while others recommend 6-8 minutes.
But, what it really boils down to is your personal preference.
Just remember that time equals bitterness, meaning the more time you steep the coffee grounds for, the more chances the bitter compounds have of escaping into your drink.
Best Roast for French Press
Theoretically, any kind of roast can work in a French Press, but obviously, they would produce different flavor profiles and levels of bitterness in the beverage. Most experts recommend light to medium roasts if you are trying to avoid the bitter taste completely.
The roast of the coffee beans is determined by the length of time the beans are cooked or roasted, with dark roast indicating the maximum time and therefore maximum flavor made ready to be extracted, and light roast only exuding hints of that bold taste.
So, naturally, the lighter or medium roasts extract less of the bitterness into the hot water than the dark ones. However, this does not mean that dark roasts cannot be used.
If you prefer a bolder taste in your French Press Coffee, you can absolutely go ahead.
In fact, most of the professional baristas in cafes all around the world prefer to use the medium to dark roasts, rather than lighter ones. Ultimately, it really depends on your personal preference and the kind of coffee you like.
What type of coffee beans for the french press?
Arabica coffee beans tend to work the best with a French Press, and I mentioned this earlier in the article. Let me explain why.
Broadly, there are three most popular categories of coffee beans available in the market: Arabica, Robusta, and blends of both of those in different ratios.
Arabica beans, that are grown at very high altitudes and widely known as the premium beans, tend to have a sweeter, subdued taste, with fruity and sweet, chocolaty hints.
Robusta beans, on the other hand-grown on easier altitudes and more easily. The taste of Robusta is bolder, harsher with a nuttier aftertaste.
Therefore, if sweetness is what you are after, Arabica is your best friend. If you want some of the boldness, you can also try a blend that has more Arabica than Robusta (usually 80:20 is the recommended ratio).
Again, I am in no way saying that Robusta beans cannot be used in a French Press. Like all the other things, it really depends on what you like.
Additionally, if you are using pre-ground coffee, essentially the same rules apply – Arabica is sweeter, Robusta is bolder. But, what’s really important is the type of grind, and I’ll get to that in just a minute.
My suggestion would always be to experiment a little and explore all the options out there, so you can find that perfect type, roast, steeping time, and coffee to water ratio that works for you best.
But, if that’s too much of a commitment from you, you are welcome to use the tried and tested methods, and I promise that you will not be disappointed.
How to Grind Coffee for a French Press
Now, I briefly mentioned this already, but this definitely needs to be emphasized here. You can experiment with all the other components of a French Press Coffee, from choosing between Arabica and Robusta to playing roulette with measuring cups, but you absolutely cannot compromise on the grind size.
French Press Grind Size
A good French Press Coffee can only be made with coarsely ground coffee beans. Put simply, the finer the grind is, the more easily it will divulge its flavors, including all the bitter compounds held within.
Therefore, you want to avoid any type of grind that is meant for an espresso.
On your grinder, go for the coarsest setting. If you have an expert burr grinder with lots of options, you can experiment a little bit with the coarser types, but anything below the coarse grind will make your coffee completely undrinkable.
If you have a blade grinder, the coarse setting is always your best bet. The same goes for pre-ground coffee beans as well. Pick the coarsely ground ones, and nothing will go wrong.
Invest in a Better Burr Grinder for Your French Press
If you are as big a coffee aficionado and more importantly a fam of experimenting and arriving at your own perfect formula, I would recommend investing in a burr grinder.
Burr grinders (specifically conical burr grinders) are much more advanced and offer lots of grind settings within the coarse grind category – so you still have the option of trying different types and choosing the one that works for you best.
Burr grinders are also much more accurate in the grind, meaning they produce even-sized coffee particles, so the taste of your coffee is consistent every single time.
If you’re on the market for a better burr grinder, check out our list of the 9 Best Burr Coffee Bean Grinders.
Making the Perfect French Press Coffee – The Golden Recipe
For all those that are a fan of precision, here is the golden recipe for making exactly the cup of French Press Coffee that you need every single morning.
Step 1: Grind size rules
Grind your coffee on the coarse setting or prepare you pre-ground coarse coffee grounds.
Step 2: Water temperature
Boil the water to the optimum temperature. If you over boil it accidentally, let it sit in the pot for a short while.
Step 3: Measure your grounds!
Measure your coffee grounds (as per your preference) and pour them into the French Press.
Step 4: Adding water
Slowly pour twice the amount of water than you have coffee onto your grounds. You may gently stir the mixture with a wooden spoon. Let the coffee bloom for about 30 seconds.
Step 5: Seeping process
Pour the remaining hot water and let the coffee steep for exactly four minutes. I would recommend using a timer, even if you have great guesswork skills.
Step 6: Plunger action!
Gently press the plunger down and feel the aroma rise up to your nostrils.
Step 7: Fast recovery
Immediately pour the coffee out into your cup.
Step 8: Enjoy!
Taste the perfect amount of bitterness, energy, and flavor-packed into a cup of delicious French Press Coffee.
I hope that this article was able to solve your bitter dilemma, and helped you master the art of making a French Press Coffee.
When you think about it though, it’s really not that complicated or taxing. You just need to have your heart in it every time, and that’s not so hard, is it?
Go on and enjoy lots of cups of French Press Coffee on me that’s just the right amount of bitter.
And don’t forget to share any tips for the perfect cuppa that I may have missed or any stories about your French Press adventures!