My Favorite French Press…And One I Hated

Updated January 2017

A French press makes the best coffee in the world. With the right equipment, you can have coffee-house coffee at home! Here's everything you need to make great pressed coffee...and a little about what you don't need, too...

Have you ever used a tool or appliance that was so terrible, you couldn't even believe it was on the market? I had an experience like that with a French press. ​

Disclaimer: This is purely my opinion. I am not an expert on French presses and make no claims beyond my own user experience. ​

As happens every couple of years, I dropped my glass press while washing it and the carafe cracked. I had gotten a good amount of use out of it, so I wasn't too upset. Glassware that you use every day is bound to break eventually. At least if you're me, it does.

Being unable to live without my morning coffee, I immediately headed to the nearest kitchen store for a new press. While perusing the selection, a shiny metal object caught my eye: a stainless steel press! This was revolutionary. No more worries about the glass carafes! This thing could last me the rest of my life! And it was pretty, to boot!

I had to have it.

It was more than twice as much as the glass brand I normally bought, but no matter. I had to have it.

Sadly, I noticed what I considered its shortcomings immediately upon first use. It had this thick, oddly-shaped plunger that took up a lot of space that could have been used for coffee. It was a special design with a sort of double screen that was supposed to keep those annoying grounds out of your pressed coffee and also keep coffee from getting bitter by isolating the pressed grounds away from the brewed coffee. ​But because the gigantic plunger took up so much space, it didn't make enough coffee for two large cups--what we were accustomed to having every morning--even though it was the same size as my old glass press. 

Not only that, but it didn't keep the grounds out of my coffee any better than any other, less high-tech, press I'd ever used. I thought maybe it was me, that I was doing something wrong. I mean, how could something cost more than twice as much as competitive products and work not half as well? Whether it was user error or the product itself, I began to resent that press and feel like a fool for having paid so much for it.

I really wanted a stainless press, though, once I knew such a thing existed, so I looked online, and I found a few other options. I decided I'd try another one and, worst case scenario, I'd have a backup. I ordered this one from Amazon, the SterlingPro Double Wall Stainless Steel French Press in the 1-liter size:

sterling pro french press

The Sterling Pro French press.

​This press cost about a third of what I paid for the one from the kitchen store. In fact, it was less than most glass carafe coffeemakers. It was also bigger and, at the time, it had several positive reviews--but so did the one I'd bought at the store, to my astonishment. We'll see, I thought.

(Note: As of this writing, the SterlingPro press has more than 1,000 reviews and is a #1 bestseller on Amazon. Yay!)​

Boy did I see. From the moment I took this press out of the box, I liked it. It was big and shiny. It was simpler than the other one, and maybe not quite as pretty, but it had a utilitarian feel to it that I really liked. It had a sturdy handle and a nice, thick, grabbable knob on the lid. The pour spout was brilliant. The plunger and screen were made entirely of steel parts, impervious to breakdown from acidic coffee. Both the carafe and the lid were double-walled to keep coffee warm, and even though that isn't typically a concern for me, it gave the press a nice solid heft. (If you've read any of my other reviews, you know that heft is important to me.) 

sterling pro french press innards

The plunger is made entirely of steel, including the screens.

More importantly, it made excellent coffee. I loved it. Today, almost 2 years later, it's still going strong. It's one of the most well-made kitchen products I've ever owned. It's easy to use, easy to clean, a real joy to use. I can't say enough good things about this press. 

I rarely do this, but I felt as though I'd been duped. About two weeks after I bought it, I washed up the first press as best I could and headed back to the kitchen store with it. I handed it to the cashier along with my receipt and said, "I don't know if I can return this, but if I can, I want to. I really, really hated this thing."

She looked it over. "Has it been used?" She asked, knowing that it had.

"Yes," I said. "How else would I know that I hated it?"

Then to my surprise, she issued me a full refund. ​I don't know if it's because I was honest, or because she sympathized with me, or because she wasn't in the mood for an argument (which I wouldn't have given her, anyway). But I gotta tell you, that kind of customer services is hard to find these days. I'd love to tell you the name of the store, but I'll just say that it's a well-known purveyor of high-end kitchen products.

As for keeping grounds out of your pressed coffee, if that's an issue for you, I have a simple solution: stir the coffee before you press it. In my experience, no press can completely eliminate grounds in your cup unless you give it a nice stir before pressing.

Just in case you were looking for one, here's my recipe for perfect French press coffee:

  1. Put a kettle of water on to boil.
  2. Meanwhile, get your coffee ready. Most coffee sites recommend using a heaping tablespoon per each 6-ounce cup of coffee. So doing the math for a 1 liter press (about 32 ounces), you need 5-6 heaping tablespoons of ground coffee--about a third of a cup. Adjust to taste (I like my coffee strong, so I use at least this much). 
  3. When the water comes to a boil, turn it off and let it cool down for a little bit. The ideal temp to get the maximum flavor extracted from your coffee is about 200F-205F--just below boiling. (Or, if you live at 7000 feet altitude like me, you can just use the water right out of the whistling kettle, because water boils at about 200F here.) This is important because if the water is too hot, your pressed coffee can turn bitter.
  4. Pour the water over the grounds in the press. Set a timer for 4 minutes. After 30 seconds or so, stir the grounds into the coffee. This will aid in the extraction process.
  5. When 4 minutes is up, give the coffee another quick stir. This causes the grounds to sink to the bottom, eliminating the problem of getting grounds in your cup. Now plunge the coffee, pour, and enjoy.

​Tips:

  • Don't store coffee in the freezer. Freezing causes the beans to sweat, which can cause the flavor to deteriorate. Instead, store them in an airtight container at room temperature.​
  • For the freshest coffee, buy whole beans and invest in a good grinder. The blade grinders can't produce the proper coarseness for a French press, so you should get a burr grinder--a good burr grinder. For some reason, a coarse grind for French press coffee is hard to achieve, so you have to spend some money to get one that can give you the proper grind. This is the one I have:
  • burr grinder for french press coffee

    KitchenAid burr coffee grinder. Excellent grind, but a little messy to use.

It makes an excellent grind all the way from coarse French press to powdery espresso. However, it's messy, so I don't necessarily recommend this particular grinder. But if you want good pressed coffee, you need a grinder like this one, at this price point (about $200), to make it properly. (In fact, if you have a problem with grounds in your pressed coffee, it may be because you're using too fine a grind.)

Once again, I just want to say that this post is one person's opinion. A lot of people really like the press that I hated. You might be one of them. But if you want to save yourself some money and get a French press that is sturdy, easy to use, and produces excellent results, this one has been absolutely great for me.

BUY THE STERLINGPRO STAINLESS FRENCH PRESS ON AMAZON NOW:​

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