French press coffee is beloved for its rich, full-bodied flavor and smooth mouthfeel. The French press allows coffee grounds to steep directly in the brewing water, producing a concentrated, intense cup.
However, not everyone has access to a French press. Some people may not want to invest in the equipment, while others are traveling or find themselves in situations without their usual coffee maker.
Whatever the reason, the good news is—it's possible to mimic the French press experience without the actual press.
By the end of this article, you'll have the knowledge to start enjoying rich, flavorful French press coffee anytime the craving strikes. So read on to make French-press-styled coffee without a French press!
After Reading, You Will . . .
- Understand why people want French press flavor without the specialized equipment
- Learn how to make French-press-style coffee with just hot water and simple tools
- Master the key factors like grind size and steeping time
- Decide if investing in an actual French press is worthwhile
The Short Answer
Yes, it is absolutely possible to make French-press-style coffee without an actual French press.
The two best methods are:
- the simple steeping method using a kitchen sieve or cheesecloth
- or the traditional "cowboy coffee" technique where grounds are boiled then left to settle
Both allow you to replicate that rich, full-bodied French press flavor.
Read on for details on both of these methods…
Why People Want French Press Coffee Without a French Press
There are several reasons why people might want the taste of French press coffee without owning the specialized equipment:
Lack of Equipment
The most obvious reason is not having a French press! Some people may have tried French press coffee at a cafe or friend's house and want to recreate the flavor at home. However, they might not have the budget, kitchen space, or desire to purchase the press itself.
Travel or Mobility
Those who travel frequently or find themselves away from their usual kitchen setup may also be missing their beloved French press. It's not always feasible to bring the glass and metal press on-the-go.
For some, the decision comes down to cost. Some French presses can be quite expensive. And, some people may just want to experiment with the flavor before investing in the equipment.
French presses also require more cleaning than methods like drip machines. The multiple pieces and mesh filter mean more parts to disassemble and wash. Some users may find this tedious.
Ease of Use
While French presses are relatively straightforward, they do require multiple steps of boiling water, measuring coffee, timing the brew, and plunging the filter. Some people may prefer a slightly simpler routine.
Note on Ease of Use:
While a DIY French press method is a great solution for the dilemmas listed above, it may not do much for you if your issue with French press is ease of use, as there’s a comparable amount of user input involved.
But, before you rush out and buy a pod machine or allocate yourself a $7-a-day coffee budget, consider an AeroPress (more on this below). It’s one of our favorite French press alternatives. It won’t get you quite the same flavor profile or mouthfeel as a French press… but it is an easy-to-use alternative.
2 Solutions for French Press Style Coffee Without a French Press
The good news is there are a few easy methods to mimic French press coffee without the actual press. Here are two techniques to try:
1. Steeping Method
The steeping method is the easiest way to recreate French press flavor with tools you likely already have at home.
What You'll Need
- Coarsely ground coffee
- Kettle with hot water
- Large mason jar, glass measuring cup, or thermos for steeping
- Spoon for stirring
- Fine-mesh sieve, flour sifter, cheesecloth, or nut milk bag
1. Boil water in your kettle. You want it to be around 195°F - 200°F / 91 - 94°C, the ideal temperature for French press.
2. Measure out your desired amount of coarsely ground coffee into a glass mason jar or thermos. Use a ratio of about 1 gram of coffee per 15 ml of water (1:15).
3. Pour the hot water over the grounds and give it a gentle stir to ensure all the grounds get saturated.
4. Let the coffee steep for around 4 minutes. This is the same steeping time you would use with a French press.
5. After 4 minutes, place your sieve or cheesecloth over another container. Carefully pour the coffee through the filter to strain out all the grounds.
6. Enjoy your French-press-style coffee! Add milk or cream if desired.
The key here is using coarse grounds and the right water temperature and steeping time. This allows you to extract all the oils and flavors that make French press coffee so tasty.
I personally tested the method described and photographed above. I really didn’t have high expectations, as I didn’t think the mesh sieve I used (a tea-straining sieve purchased at the local dollar store) would do as good a job as the mesh filter in my French press.
I was wrong.
I used a medium roasted arabica bean I had already tried in my French press, so I knew what to expect in terms of flavor and mouthfeel—including the amount of fines or sludginess I should expect.
After brewing in the mason jar and straining per the instructions above—I was very surprised. The coffee had all the same flavor notes as when I brewed these same beans in my French press—and the mouthfeel was almost exactly the same—just the tiniest bit more “gritty”—but not enough to be unpleasant.
The downside, of course, is that this is a bit messier than the French press—especially pouring over through the sieve from one mason jar to the other. In a pinch though—if I was without a French press and wanted the same experience flavor-wise, this works just fine!
P.S. Reminder, you don’t need to toss your coffee grounds in the trash—there are better ways to dispose of them!
2. Cowboy Coffee
Before French presses, people made a similar style of full-immersion coffee by boiling the grounds directly. This traditional method is commonly known as "cowboy coffee."
What You'll Need
- Coarsely ground coffee
- Pot for boiling water
- Heat source (stovetop or campfire)
- Cloth filter or bandana (optional)
- Bring water to a boil in your pot.
- Add the ground coffee directly to the boiling water. Use around 1 gram of coffee per 15 ml of water. Give it a good stir.
- Remove from heat and cover the pot. Allow to steep for around 4 minutes.
- After steeping, return the pot to heat and bring it just to a simmer.
- Remove from heat and add a splash of cold water to help the grounds settle. Let sit for a few minutes.
- Slowly pour the coffee into your cup or an intermediary container, leaving the grounds behind in the pot. Or, for a more traditional approach, pour it through a cloth filter or bandana to catch any grounds.
- Enjoy your cowboy coffee, French press style!
This method requires closer monitoring as the coffee is actually boiled, but it mimics the full flavor extraction of a French press. Letting the grounds settle separates them from the brewed coffee.
Other Immersion Methods
In addition to the steeping and cowboy methods, there are a few other immersion-style coffee makers that can produce a similar French press-like brew:
The Clever Dripper is a simple, affordable plastic device that works like an immersion brewer. Add hot water and coarse grounds, let steep, then place on a cup and drain.
Key Elements for French Press Style Coffee
To truly mimic French press coffee, there are a few key factors to pay attention to:
Coarse Ground Coffee
Always use a coarse coffee grind. The larger grind size allows for full flavor extraction and produces the rich, oily mouthfeel French press is known for. Fine grounds would result in over-extraction and bitterness.
Proper water temperature is critical. 195 - 205°F (90.5 - 96°C) is an ideal starting point. Lower temperatures will under-extract, while too hot will result in bitter coffee.
Letting the coffee steep for around 4 minutes is vital to draw out all the oils and flavors properly. Much less time won't extract enough, while more time risks over-extraction. Mimicking these essential French press brewing elements is crucial to replicating the flavor regardless of the equipment used.
Why a French Press Is Better
While it's convenient to make French-press-style coffee without the press itself, using an actual French press does have some advantages:
A French press gives you greater control over the coffee’s strength. The metal plunger allows you to slowly depress it to filter the brew and stop the extraction when desired.
The carafe shape and plunger fully immerse all the grounds during steeping and filter cleanly through a mesh screen. This can be harder to achieve with makeshift sieves.
The sleek, modern design of a French press simply looks nicer on the kitchen counter than a pot or bowl of steeping coffee.
The metal and glass presses help maintain precise temperature control, allowing for subtle flavor nuances. Open steeping can more easily lose heat. So while it's possible to mimic French press coffee without the specialized equipment, the actual press does provide some advantages for flavor fine-tuning and presentation.
We hope this guide gives you plenty of options for enjoying delicious French-press-style coffee regardless of whether you have an actual press. With just hot water, coarse grounds, and a few simple kitchen tools, that signature flavor is achievable.
The most important factor is taking the time to master the technique and find a method that fits your needs. Preparing a good cup of coffee should be an enjoyable, relaxing process. Savor the aromas, flavors, and ritual that make coffee so beloved.
While the French press itself may be ideal, don't let a lack of equipment stop you from exploring new brewing adventures. The coffee world has so much to offer. Experiment with different methods, keep an open mind, and find the coffee experience that brings you joy.
What type of coffee beans should I use?
For immersion coffee like the methods described in this article, you’ll probably want to use a medium or dark roast coffee bean. You can use lighter roasts, but these methods will often not extract the lighter flavors. Aim for a nice, even medium roast for best flavor.
Can I use pre-ground coffee?
You can use pre-ground coffee, but it should be a medium-coarse grind, like sea salt crystals. If it is ground for automatic drip coffee makers, the methods above will work, but your coffee may be a little on the bitter side.
Avoid pre-ground coffee ground for espresso or for a moka pot, as those are too fine. They will produce very bitter coffee and be hard to filter. The grind size affects extraction and flavor.
How important is water temperature?
Quite important! Water between 195 - 205°F (90.5 - 96°C) is fundamental to properly extract oils and flavors. Too cool under-extracts; too hot causes bitterness. Use a thermometer and kettle if possible.
Can I reuse the coffee grounds?
No, you cannot reuse the wet grounds. The flavors and oils will already be extracted after the first use. Reusing will create weak, bitter coffee.
What about cold brew instead?
Cold brew uses a different technique—finer grind and much longer steep time. It won't replicate French press, but can still be delicious.
Are there any health risks with immersion brewing?
There is some evidence that coffee immersion methods like French press and those described here that do not use a paper filter may have higher levels of certain chemicals that may increase risk factors for certain conditions.
Specialty Coffee Association. (2023). Protocols & best practices. https://sca.coffee/research/protocols-best-practices
Smith, J., & Jones, A. (2023). Effects of grind size, temperature, and brewing ratio on immersion cold brewed and French press hot brewed coffees. Applied Food Research, 3(2), 100334. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.afres.2023.100334