You’ve been wondering—how long should you really let that French press brew sit before plunging? While there is a “standard” answer, I'm here to let you in on a little secret: brew time may actually be the least of your worries when it comes to nailing down that perfect cup.
Sure, a French press seems simple enough—add grounds, pour water, wait, and press. But believe me when I say there's more than meets the eye to getting French press coffee completely customized to your tastes.
The problem most newcomers run into is they obsess over timing while neglecting other variables that have a much bigger impact on flavor.
To be straightforward with you—if you're just worried about brew time and you’re not adjusting variables like grind size and water temp based on your beans, you may never experience French press coffee's full complexity.
Fortunately, with a little more knowledge, you'll be equipped to troubleshoot issues like bitterness, over-extraction, and under-extraction.
I know just missing that perfect cup day after day can be frustrating when you're not sure what's affecting the flavor. Stick with me, though, and by the end of this discussion, you’ll have the tools you need to find the answer.
After Reading this Article, You Will . . .
- Understand the standard recommended French press steeping time and when and why it may need adjusting
- Know the one “variable” you shouldn’t play with yet
- Realize grind size impacts extraction and when and why it should be adjusted
- Recognize that water temperature has a big influence on flavor and when to adjust it
- Discover the results of our experiments comparing different steeping times
- Learn about the interplay between other variables and how to fine-tune your French press method to achieve your perfect cup.
The Short Answer
If you're in a hurry, most experts recommend letting your French press coffee steep—or sit—for about 4 minutes before plunging.
This standard time frame—designed for medium or darker roasted coffee at a medium-coarse grind size—usually allows the coffee grounds to adequately extract flavor compounds from the hot water without becoming overly bitter.
If this isn’t doing the trick and you just want to adjust for brew time—the basic rules are:
Darker roasts can brew for a bit longer—add 1-2 minutes before the plunge, to really develop those bittersweet, nutty aromas.
Lighter roasts often improve with a shortened brew time—start at 3 minutes before plunging, to preserve the more brilliant floral and fruity notes.
Coarse grinds (of any roast), due to lower surface area, can handle somewhat extended brew times.
Fine grinds (of any roast) are complimented by slightly shorter brew times, which help mitigate the effect of the increased surface area.
However, keep reading because other more important variables can influence the ideal brewing length too.
First Things First: Check Your Coffee-to-Water Ratio
One variable that can significantly impact your brew is the ratio of coffee to water used.
It’s also the one that shouldn’t be messed with when starting out.
Most baristas recommend a standard ratio of about 1 gram of ground coffee for every 15 ml of water. This “1:15” ratio forms the backbone of a balanced cup—and a solid starting ratio for everyone (Easto & Willhoff, 2017).
If you weren’t using a 1:15 ratio before you started worrying about your brew time—start there. You may find you were just using too much or too little coffee.
Yes, ratios outside this range can be worthwhile too, depending on your tastes and how a particular coffee behaves—-but this variable is something you shouldn’t adjust until later on— after you’ve mastered the basics.
It’s best to start with the standard 1:15 ratio. Keep this as a control while adjusting the other variables below. Otherwise, you’ll just be going down an endless rabbit hole unable to keep track of which adjustments cause which changes.
Grind Size of Coffee Beans & How It Affects the Brew Time
The grind size of your coffee beans is actually a more important factor than brew time when it comes to flavor. Coarser grinds result in less surface area exposed to the hot water, slowing extraction and flavor development. Finer grinds speed things up (Liu et al., 2020).
So what does this mean for French press brew times?
Well, if you're using something coarser than the standard medium-coarse grind for French press—something that feels like coarse salt between your fingers—you may want to let it sit a bit longer, starting from 5 minutes, to fully extract flavors.
Don’t use anything much coarser than that though, or you will prevent extraction almost completely and end up with a hot cup of watery brown liquid with no coffee flavor at all.
A common mistake made by home brewers is using cheap blade grinders, whose idea of “coarse” is something that looks more like confetti—far too coarse for French press brewing. A decent electric or manual burr grinder (affiliate link) will solve this issue quickly.
With a slightly finer grind—something that feels closer to rough sand between your fingers—for example, beans pre-ground for a drip machine, 3 minutes should do the trick before it starts tasting harsh.
Warning: If you purchase pre-ground coffee and it is ground for anything finer than a drip coffee machine, you may be out of luck.
For example, coffee pre-ground for a moka pot or espresso will be far too fine for French Press brewing—no amount of adjusting brew time will help.
You probably won’t even be able to plunge your filter—and even if you do manage, your coffee will be sludgy and likely very over-extracted and bitter.
Roast Level Considerations
You may have heard the advice “Darker bean? Shorten your brew time to reduce bitterness” (in fact, we’ve said so ourselves). But, we want to point out that a lot comes down to individual palette.
Darker roasted beans, we’ve found sometimes actually benefit from a slightly longer steep no matter the grind size—those stronger flavors can require a tad more time in the hot water to come out with the flavors you’re looking for—and many dark roast coffee fans are actually looking for more of that pleasant bitterness in their cup.
A minute extra won’t run the risk of over-extraction, and it might just give those perfect toasty notes you love from a quality dark roast bean.
Same goes for lighter roasts: if want to get more body out of a lighter roast, you can extend your brew time a bit.
That said, lighter roasts—especially of fresh-roasted specialty coffee can often come out with brighter acids that aren’t over-extracted by a shorter than usual steep time—starting from around 3 minutes.
Ultimately, it comes down to your preferences. The more you understand about extraction, the more you can tweak your ideal brew.
So, if you’re trying to “reign in” the flavors—sure—extract those lighter roasts a bit longer to mellow out the acids, and nip a minute off your dark roasts to soften the bitterness.
But, if the fruity and floral notes of light roasts are precisely what you love about them or the deep, smoky tones that only a dark roast can offer are your jam—give a shorter time for lights and a longer time for darks a try.
How Does Water Temperature Impact the Brew Time?
The temperature of the water you use has a bigger impact on your brew than how long it sits as well. (Wang and Lim,2021)
For lighter roasts, the recommended starting water temp is right around 200°F (94°C) to gently coax out bright, nuanced flavors without extracting too much bitterness.
Darker roasts, on the other hand, respond better when starting your brew with water temperatures closer to boiling, around 205 - 210°F, (96 - 99°C) which helps tame their stronger profiles.
So if your coffee ever ends up tasting weak or bitter when using the standard brew time of 4 minutes and the standard 1:15 ratio, double check the water temp before adjusting other variables. A cheap thermometer can go a long way here!
James’s Brew Time Experiments
A French Press Test — The Results of Different Brew Times
To really get to the bottom of how brew time and grind size impact flavor, I decided to conduct some side-by-side experiments changing only one variable at a time.
Also, to ensure a controlled test, I chose to use only one bean—a medium-roasted wash-processed arabica from northern Thailand that I knew had potential for pleasant acidity and well-balanced bitterness when brewed properly.
For each experiment, I kept all other factors consistent—using a 1 g of coffee to 15 ml of water brewing ratio, and brewing with water precisely heated to 94° Celsius (201°F).
Water was poured directly over the grounds once the temperature was reached and plunged once at the end of the brewing time. There was no breaking of the crust or stirring.
I used three different grind sizes on my Timemore Chestnut C series manual grinder:
- coarse like coarse salt (24 clicks from start)
- medium-coarse like rough sand (20 clicks from start)—and, by feel, my usual “go-to” coarseness for French press
- and a medium grind closer to pre-ground store drip coffee (16 clicks from start).
For each grind, I brewed samples at three different steeping times—2.5 minutes, 4 minutes, and 6 minutes.
Then after plunging and decanting in a separate carafe, I tasted each cup and took detailed notes on the body, flavors, and overall drinking experience. Here are the results:
|Brew Time vs
|Unpleasant, watery sourness. Not much coffee flavor or aroma at all. Very bad.
|Some body, but no thick mouthfeel, pleasant sourness highlighted, no darker or bitter notes coming through. Drinkable, good.
|No particular flavors pleasant or otherwise, flat, thin, bad.
|Unpleasant bitterness and light sourness—bad.
|Good body and mouthfeel, sweet, balanced with enjoyable bitterness and pleasant acids, very good.
|Nice strong aroma, unpleasant bitterness, no sourness, ok.
|Not much body, a little thin, no strong flavor notes, drinkable but nothing special. ok.
|Far too bitter, no sourness or pleasant acid notes, mouth-puckering, a bit ashy, bad.
|Strong unpleasant bitterness, burnt flavors, long ashy aftertaste, very bad.
My results reveal that grind size had a much larger influence on achieving what I consider a balanced cup than brew time alone.
Coarse and fine grinds resulted in unpleasantly weak or overly bitter flavors no matter how long they sat. Only the medium-coarse grind produced a "very good" cup, and it was the result of the standard recommended brew time, with 4 minutes hitting the sweet spot.
For a more in-depth explanation of grind size for your French press—dive in here.
Regarding Conflicting Advice on French Press Technique
We recognize that some of our suggestions around ideal water temperature and steeping time may conflict with recommendations made elsewhere.
The fact is, even the scientific research is mixed when it comes to identifying which factors—grind size, water temperature, brew time, etc.—have the greatest impact on extraction rates of flavor compounds.
Ultimately, there is a key subjective element that these studies fail to capture: personal flavor preference. The compounds that create a "good" cup of coffee come down to individual taste.
For example, dark roast drinkers often enjoy bitter, roasted flavors rather than the nuanced acids of light roasts.
If their French press coffee comes out "bad,"— especially if they are using a bean roasted on the lighter side, it usually means under-extracted and not bitter enough for them. Increasing brew time, temperature, or using a finer grind (factors that encourage extraction) may improve the flavor for them.
On the flip side, pour over drinkers accustomed to light roasts may find standard French press recipes too intense. For them, a coarser grind or shorter steep time (factors that slow down extraction) moves their cup away from over-extraction, even though by standard metrics it is shifting towards under extraction.
The science may present objective ideals, but subjective preferences play a major role. My aim is to provide technique suggestions based on both the (sometimes conflicting) research and my personal experience of how different changes impact flavor for different palates.
With that said, these remain starting points and guidelines rather than hard rules. The more you understand how extraction works, the more you’re in control. Finding your perfect French press ultimately requires experimentation and tuning methods to your personal tastes.
When it comes to French press brewing, other variables—like dialing in the proper grind size through some trial and error—will have a greater influence on extraction and great flavor development than obsessing over small adjustments to brew time.
Stick with the 4-minute brew time until you hit something decent with grind size and temperature adjustments—only then experiment with extending or reducing the brew time to fine-tune flavor.
This approach will put you on a path to a complex French press coffee, showcasing all the best your beans have to offer.
When comparing and experimenting, make sure to only change one variable at a time so you can keep track of which change caused which result. This will help you to consistently replicate your favorite recipe in the future!
What Kind of Coffee Beans Are Best for a French Press?
In my experience, medium to dark roasts really shine in French press brewing, which allows the hot water to gently unwind even the most complex roasted flavors.
Darker roasts tend to benefit from a bit of rest after roasting before brewing. The degassing process lets smoother notes develop as oils migrate to the surface. So don't worry as much about freshness with very dark beans—they can taste great even a couple of weeks post-roast if stored airtight.
Lighter roasts are best enjoyed fresher though, within a couple of weeks of roasting for the brightest sweetness and acids. Just be mindful that their more delicate profiles may extract better with a slightly decreased water temperature.
Unique drying processes like honey or natural can yield really interesting expressions in French press too. I also love blend experiments—something like a hearty dark-roasted Brazil paired with a lighter-roasted Ethiopian's subtler notes balances beautifully.
The bottom line is don't be afraid to experiment beyond regular dark roasts. French press highlights different bean qualities, so find what profiles you enjoy most and get brewing! With some practice, you're sure to find your new favorite.
What Are Your Favorite French Press Models?
We love a good stainless steel French press. You’ll find a comparison of our favorite stainless steel models here: tried and tested.
What Equipment Do I Need to Make French Press Coffee?
You only need a few basic items—a French press, a burr grinder to freshly grind your coffee beans, a kettle to boil water, and a scale to weigh your coffee beans.
Having a burr grinder (affiliate link) is essential to grind the beans to the right coarseness for French press. Pre-ground coffee is usually too fine and can clog the mesh filter (not to mention over-extract).
Does French Press Coffee Taste Better than Drip Coffee?
French press coffee often tastes richer, fuller-bodied, and more intense compared to drip coffee.
The metal filter allows more oils and flavors to be extracted from the beans and pass into the brewed coffee. Many coffee enthusiasts prefer French press for this reason.
Will There Be Coffee Grounds in My Cup?
It's common to get some fine grounds in your French press coffee. Even with a coarse grind, tiny grounds can make it through the metal filter.
While not ideal, a small amount of sediment is harmless to consume. Let the last sip sit if you want to avoid drinking the fines—better yet, try the French Press Paper Filter method.
Do I Have to Pour Out All the Coffee After Brewing?
Yes, you should decant all the brewed coffee from the French press after plunging. Leaving the coffee in contact with the grounds can lead to over-extraction and a more bitter taste.
Pour into a separate carafe or mug to stop the brewing process.
How Do I Clean a French Press?
Disassemble all parts and rinse thoroughly after each use. Use dish soap and a bottle brush to scrub any residual oils.
Soak in a diluted vinegar solution occasionally to descale. Avoid harsh abrasives that can scratch the glass or metal parts. Air dry fully before reassembling.
Easto, J., & Willhoff, A. (2017). Craft coffee: A manual. Agate Publishing.
Liu, Y., Zhang, Y., Wang, Y., Wang, Y., Zhang, L., & Liu, J. (2020). Effect of roasting degree of coffee beans on sensory evaluation: Research from the perspective of major chemical ingredients. Food Chemistry, 331, 127329. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodchem.2020.127329
Wang, X., & Lim, L. (2021). Modeling study of coffee extraction at different temperature and grind size conditions to better understand the cold and hot brewing process. Journal of Food Process Engineering, 44(8). https://doi.org/10.1111/jfpe.13748