Tired of Grit but Love Your French Press? This Simple Method Has You Covered.
Whether you're a new coffee lover or a seasoned enthusiast, having grounds in your cup can be less than ideal. While the French press provides a quick and flavorful brewing process, many coffee drinkers complain about sludge spoiling the experience.
Thankfully, there's an easy solution that makes French press coffee even cleaner—adding a paper filter.
If you're tired of sediment getting in the way of fully enjoying your morning cup, or you want to enhance the flavors coming through without sacrificing richness—this might be a solution you’ll want to consider.
We'll walk through everything that happens when you add a paper filter to your press and show you how it improves the brew. By the end, you'll understand that achieving a grit-free cup has never been simpler!
After Reading this Article, You Will . . .
Whether you're tired of sludge taking away from the experience or wanting to bring out subtle flavors even more, this simple paper filter hack has you covered. Let's dive into how it works and how easy it is to adopt.
The Short Answer:
For those of you just looking for a quick solution, here it is:
Cover the metal filter on the bottom of your plunger with an inexpensive basket-style or flat bottom cone-style paper filter before brewing as usual. Plunge gently, and the filter will catch all the fine particles and oils that make it into your cup.
This extra filtration offers a much smoother experience that will slightly alter the beans’ flavor profile, but you’ll still have a full flavored cup—and you might gain some long term health benefits too (as the paper filter blocks up to 90% the LDL-raising cafestol compound).
Now let's go a bit more in depth to understand why it works.
Get Brewing the Right Way: 8 Steps to a Silt-free Press
Itching to ditch the sludge for good? Here's a step-by-step guide to proper paper filter French pressing:
1. Rinse your paper filter with hot water and preheat the press. No need for fancy filters, an inexpensive basket style will do. For our in-house experiments, we used the flat-bottomed cone filters we keep on hand for our Clever Dripper.
2. Grind your beans a touch finer than usual. This combination nicely replaces the lost body from the filter.
3. Add your water off the boil—starting around 200 - 203°F (94 - 95°C). A good starting bean-to-water ratio is 1:15.
4. Steep as you would normally for your preferred roast, around 4 minutes on average.
5. Some people prefer to break the crust and give a quick stir after 1 minute. Others skip this step.
6. As your brew time finishes, place your wetted paper filter over your plunger’s filter.
7. Press the plunger slowly and steadily so the paper filter seals against the sides without tearing or buckling.
8. Pour your French press paper-filtered brew into a separate decanter to fully halt extraction.
Enjoy your grit-free cup and feel the satisfaction of a job well done! We think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results of just covering the mesh filter on your trusty press with a typical paper filter!
To Paper Filter or Not: What Happens to the Coffee?
When you brew coffee in a French press, the coarse grounds separate from the liquid thanks to the metal filter in the plunger. These mesh filters let through some tiny particles though, along with oils from the beans.
Those grounds and oils give French press coffee its distinctive richness. But they can also make the coffee gritty and contribute to sludge at the bottom of your cup.
With a paper filter added to the mix, here's what happens: The oils and fine particles grab onto the filter paper as the coffee drips through.
When you press down the plunger, the paper catches almost everything left behind by the rustic metal screen. The result? A cup of coffee so clean you'd (almost) swear it came from a pour over.
No more sediment spoiling your sips!
The best part is that high-quality paper filters are super inexpensive. And they're easy enough to find—most grocery stores stock basket filters perfect for the job. After brewing, just toss (or compost) the paper like any other coffee filter waste. No mess, no fuss!
So in summary, the paper filter soaks up all the extras left behind by the metal filter. You get the full immersion effect of French press coffee, without any of the particles that make it harsh. Now that you understand the science, let's talk flavor!
How Paper Filters Affect Taste and Texture(And Our Personal Experience with the French Press Paper Filter Method)
For many of you wondering if paper filtering will ruin the flavor, don't worry—it doesn't compromise the “French press” flavor experience as much as some claim.
We’re using the same type of filter you’d usually use for pour-over—so yes, you'll lose a touch of body from the filters catching more oils. And purists will tell you that it's "not real French press coffee!"
But having tried both side by side, we've found the difference to be quite minor. The paper filter method, with the filter placed over the plunger, still gives you that rich, deliciously potent brew.
You get full immersion extraction from steeping the grounds long enough. And the paper catches so much grit that the coffee tastes brighter and smoother overall. Quite a bit of the oil still comes through as well.
While we appreciate full-bodied robustness as much as the next coffee lover, we understand why many would prefer taking cleaner sips over an extra hit of oil. A bit less body is a fine trade in our book if it means nearly zero sludge at the end.
The paper filter French press brew has you covered whether you favor light roasts showcasing fruity notes or dark roasts with caramel sweetness.
Note that grind size also affects richness. Thanks to the addition of the paper filter, you can experiment with grind sizes finer than usual—especially useful if you are using a lighter roast.
You’ll also have to plunge more slowly and carefully with a touch more pressure when you use finer grounds because it’s harder for the water to get through. Play around and it's easy to dial in the perfect balance that suits your tastes. Remember, adapting techniques is part of the fun of this hobby!
A Silt-Free Cup: Alternatives to Brewing with the French Press Paper Filter Method
Expensive Alternatives: Multi-Stage Filtration French Presses
For those who don't mind spending more money, there are French press options that use multiple mesh filters to achieve a near-paper filtered cup without actually using paper filters.
One example is the Espro P7 French press (affiliate link), which utilizes a double-wall, vacuum-insulated stainless steel construction along with a two-stage micro-mesh stainless steel filter. The dual filters are said to catch 9-12 times more fine particles than a standard metal filter.
While expensive at around $100, these multi-filter presses do allow you to enjoy all the benefits of immersion brewing while significantly reducing sediment in your cup.
Other Manual Brewing Methods
If you want “cleaner” coffee but don't want to deal with putting a paper filter on your French press, there are many alternative manual brewing methods for achieving a sediment-free cup.
Some of the more popular include:
The Clever Dripper, which is a hybrid of a French press and pour-over, allows you to fully immerse grounds like a press but then filter the brewed coffee through a paper filter for a clean result.
The Aeropress and traditional pour-over methods like the V60, Chemex, and siphon pots also let you easily filter coffee grounds from the brewed beverage.
Of these options, the Clever Dripper (affiliate link) is likely closest to a French press experience flavor-wise while providing a clean, sediment-free cup.
Comparing French Press Paper Filter Options
First — a warning about that “other” French Press paper filter option…
If you read through coffee forums, you’re bound to come across the occasional post by someone who suggests brewing in a French press the regular way—and then after plunging, pouring the coffee through a paper filter to remove sediment and produce a clean, flavorful cup.
We’re here to tell you from experience—this two-step process does NOT work—and will not give you anywhere near the same result as the French press paper filter method this article describes and recommends.
Because when you try to pour your French press brewed coffee through a paper filter after brewing—several things happen—none of them good.
First, because there is no pressure from the plunger, the sediment and oils will quickly clog the filter as you are pouring the coffee out of your French press and through the paper filter.
Then, because the filter is clogged, it takes much longer for the coffee to filter through—if it is able to at all.
Finally, during this extended secondary filter time, your coffee will cool down and continue to be exposed to any sediment and oils that have clogged the filter, leading to cold, over-extracted coffee with many off-flavors.
This is a useless version of the “French press paper filter” method—one that’s a waste of time, a waste of paper filters, and most importantly, a waste of coffee.
Other options you CAN try:
If you stick with the method described in this article—placing the paper filter over the French press filter—there is still some room for experimentation.For example, you can try different types of filters, normally used for drip or pour over coffee.
Although we recommend starting with an inexpensive basket-type filter or a flat-bottomed cone filter, you can certainly experiment with filters of different qualities, or even try reusable cloth options.
We’ve also come across French press brew bags—which appear to be cold brew coffee bags customized for this method. We haven’t tried them ourselves but they appear much more porous than paper filters and are much more expensive per unit. These are possibly worth experimenting with if you are just looking for easier cleanup though.
We hope you enjoyed learning about the simple magic a paper filter can bring to your French press coffee.
For those seeking a cleaner cup, the secret is covering your metal filter with a paper filter. You'll get a full immersion flavor with almost zero grounds or fines in sight.
French-press purists risk a bit of lost oils, but we think many will find the tradeoff for smooth sipping is worthwhile. And for health nuts—yes—filters do remove cholesterol-raising compounds (like cafestol) while letting you savor the press. (See FAQ).
While some believe this method ruins the “aesthetics” of traditional French press brewing—we think it’s hard to beat the value of adding a disposable paper filter to the process.
This method is an easy and inexpensive upgrade that can noticeably enhance your French press brew if a silt-free cup is what you’re after.
Don't just take our word for it though: give it a try yourself and see why so many coffee geeks can't quit the French press paper filter hack.
Does Adding the Paper Filter Reduce Caffeine Extraction?
Adding a paper filter to a French press brew does not significantly reduce caffeine extraction. Caffeine readily dissolves in hot water and passes through paper filters. Some caffeine will remain in the used coffee grounds after brewing, but research suggests paper filters retain a negligible amount of caffeine compared to the amount that passes through into the brewed coffee.
The paper filter method extracts caffeine in the French press very similarly to using just the metal filter. Drinkers can expect pretty much the same caffeine effects from paper-filtered French press coffee versus the regular French press method.
Does This Method Reduce Cafestol Compared to Not Using the Paper Filter?
Yes, using a paper filter with the French press method significantly reduces levels of the cholesterol-raising compound cafestol found naturally in coffee oils. Several studies have shown paper filters retain over 90% of cafestol compared to using just a metal filter.
This is because paper filters effectively block the passage of oil droplets containing cafestol rather than absorbing the compound. Cafestol raises LDL "bad" cholesterol when consumed, so lowering its intake offers health benefits.
High cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease, so reducing cafestol availability may be advisable, especially for those with high cholesterol or heart concerns. One study found that 5 cups of French press coffee (brewed without a paper filter) per day raised cholesterol by 8% on average over a period of 4 weeks. So, keep in mind the volume and frequency of your coffee intake.
Does a Clever Dripper Pretty Much Produce the Same Result as This Method?
While both the Clever Dripper and French press with paper filter method result in a clean, relatively sediment-free brew through the use of paper filtration, there are some differences:
- Flavor profile: The French press retains slightly more body and oils due to full immersion extraction. The Clever produces a cleaner, more acidic cup closer to a pour-over.
- Brewing process: The French press involves a simple steeping and plunge. The Clever requires an additional extraction phase once the immersion time is complete.
- Cleanup: The Clever dripper’s filter lifts out along with grounds, and is a single-piece device making it slightly faster to clean than disassembling a French press.
Overall, while quality is similar, personal preferences around flavor, ease of use, and cleanup determine which better suits individual tastes. Both remove sediment effectively through paper filtration.
Isn't Using Paper Filters a Waste of Resources?
No, using paper filters for French press coffee brewing is not necessarily a waste of resources when properly disposed of: Paper is a renewable resource as it comes from harvested trees.
And, together, used paper coffee filters and coffee grounds make excellent compost material, providing nutrients for soil and plants as they break down.
Composting returns the carbon and nutrients back into the environment from where they came. Therefore, with proper composting, paper filtration of French press coffee need not contribute to landfill waste and is arguably an environmentally friendly option (affiliate link).
Katan, M. B. (2007, June 15). How Coffee Raises Cholesterol. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 15, 2023, from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/06/070614162223.htm
Olechno, E., Puścion-Jakubik, A., Zujko, M. E., & Socha, K. (2021). Influence of Various Factors on Caffeine Content in Coffee Brews. Foods, 10(6). https://doi.org/10.3390/foods10061208
Rendón, M. Y., Dos Santos Scholz, M. B., & Bragagnolo, N. (2017). Is cafestol retained on the paper filter in the preparation of filter coffee?. Food research international (Ottawa, Ont.), 100(Pt 1), 798–803. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodres.2017.08.013