How to Make Espresso in a French Press

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Are you looking for one more reason to love your French press? Or maybe you need a bit more encouragement to go out and get your first French press. Either way, I’m very excited to introduce you to French press espresso.

By the time we’re done, you’ll know how to make espresso in a french press, and I’ll even toss in a few other ways of making espresso without an espresso machine. Before we get into the recipe, though, we’ll need to cover a few basics — including the question that was probably on your mind the second you saw this article.

Can You Make Espresso in a French Press?

Okay, so let’s start with a moment of honesty: A French press can’t make real espresso. Espresso machines use high pressure to make a concentrated form of coffee. Even mediocre espresso machines use at least 9 bars of pressure, and the best espresso machines rely on pressures higher than 15 bars.

I don’t care how strong you are, you aren’t generating anywhere near 15 bars of pressure when using a French press. And that’s a good thing because you’d almost certainly break the machine if you did.

So What Is French Press Espresso?

It’s an imitation of classic espresso. Espresso is an amplified, high-intensity shot of coffee. The flavor and caffeine are both more heavily concentrated, and there is a rich crema (that thick layer of foam) that further enhances the flavor and prolongs the aftertaste.

An espresso shot being pulled, possibly to be used as the base for a latte or other espresso drink

We can’t recreate those characteristics perfectly in a French press, but we can take steps to make a richer, stronger brew that will mimic espresso as well as is possible. Pressure is pivotal in making espresso, but it’s not the only way to enrich coffee. We can rely on the coffee-to-water ratio, water temperature, coffee grind size, brew time, and other characteristics that we do have control over.

What Do I Need to Make for French Press Espresso?

In a minute, we’ll get to the step-by-step instructions you’ll need to use for your French press for espresso. Before that, you need to understand how to select and prepare your coffee beans.

What coffee beans to use

You can use any coffee beans to make espresso, so don’t feel like you need to run out and trade a cow for magic beans. In general, though, we are looking for very flavorful coffee, which means we’ll want to start with beans that aren’t mild or bland. The best espresso beans tend to share a few key characteristics:

  • Dark roasts are preferred — I love light roasts for their sweet, complex flavors, but they just don’t pack the punch we need for French Press espresso. The toastier, richer flavors of a dark roast offer a more intense punch. There’s a time and place for every tool, and this job needs a sledgehammer.
Several coffee roast levels, including the Starbucks blonde roast
  • Don’t fear the Robusta — The two main types of coffee beans, Arabica and Robusta, serve very different purposes. Arabica is the favored child for typical coffee drinks because of its complexity, bright acidity, and sweetness. Because of its cheaper price, Robusta is often used in low-quality blends or instant coffee. However, its bitterness and smooth body also make it ideal for espresso blends. 100% Robusta is probably too much for the average drinker, but a blend with 30–60% Robusta will increase the overall flavor of our French press espresso and provide a richer crema.
A side-by-side look at Arabica and Robusta coffee beans
  • Freshness matters above all — You can break either of the previous rules and still make great French press espresso. If your coffee beans aren’t fresh, though, you’ll be left with brown liquid that has lost all flavors except bitterness. Coffee beans go stale very quickly after they are roasted, and this process is even faster for ground coffee. If you buy your coffee from a grocery store, it’s almost certainly not fresh. Many online brands ship their beans within a day after roasting, compared to grocers that often store their beans for days or even weeks. For the freshest beans, Buy your coffee from a reputable online source or local roaster and learn how to grind coffee beans instead of buying pre-ground coffee.

What grind size to use

Types of coffee grinds, laid out from coarse extra coarse grind to extra fine grind

Your French press coffee grinder is typically set to a coarse grind. For every other French press coffee recipe, that’s the grind size you’re going to want. But to get espresso from a French press, you need to squeeze every bit of that caffeinated goodness out of the grounds, and that can best be done with the same fine grind used in an espresso machine. 

For your first time making this recipe, use the fine or espresso setting on your coffee grinder. It should break the beans down to the texture of table salt or granulated sugar. If you are buying pre-ground coffee, just be sure to buy an espresso grind as most ground coffee is a medium or drip grind (but I still recommend buying whole beans for freshness). 

Fine grind coffee, with a dime for size comparison

From there, you can adjust the grind size to your liking. If the brew is too bitter, try a slightly coarser setting. If it’s too sour, try something even finer. If you find yourself dipping into the medium or extra-fine settings on your grinder, you may need to try adjusting the amount of coffee grounds or water temperature instead of the grind size.

How to Make Espresso With a French Press

That’s right, it’s time for the French press espresso recipe you came here to see. Let’s make some delicious imitation espresso!

Pouring a french press, hopefully made with the right coffee to water ratio.

What you’ll need

  • 23.7 grams of coffee beans (or 4 and 2/3 tablespoons of ground coffee)
  • 1 cup filtered water
  • A French press (If you don’t have one, I recommend the Freiling USA double-walled French press)
  • A coffee grinder (if not using pre-ground coffee)
  • An electric kettle (or some other way to heat water)

Step-by-step instructions

  1. Grind the coffee on a fine grind setting (or espresso grind). Skip this step if you are using pre-ground coffee.
  2. Heat the water to near-boiling in the kettle. If your kettle has temperature control, set it to 195 degrees Fahrenheit. If not, heat to a boil and set it aside for about 30 seconds.
  3. Add the grounds to your French press.
  4. Pour a splash of water from the kettle into the grounds. Use just enough to fully wet the grounds. This will cause the grounds to bloom — a bubbling process that releases excess carbon dioxide from the beans.
  5. Pour the rest of the water into the French press. Don’t stir the grounds, as that will cause them to fall out of suspension before they’ve been fully extracted.
  6. Close the French press lid but don’t plunge yet. Instead, let the coffee steep for four minutes. You can adjust this brew time depending on your preferred coffee strength, with longer times resulting in more extraction and a stronger brew. Don’t go past about six minutes though, as you’ll get over-extracted, bitter coffee.
  7. Slowly and steadily press down the plunger of your French press. When the plunger is halfway down, raise it all the way to the top before plunging it the rest of the way.
  8. Immediately pour the coffee into a mug or a separate serving container. If you leave it in the French press it will impact the flavor of the coffee.
  9. Enjoy! You’ve earned it.

Other Alternative Ways to Make Espresso 

AeroPress espresso

At first glance, the AeroPress shares a lot of features in common with a French press. Both immerse the grounds in water. Both use manual plungers. But that’s about where the similarities end.

The AeroPress is a rapid brewing process that keeps the water in contact with the grounds for only about 1–2 minutes. Most AeroPress recipes use either medium-fine or fine grinds, making it a natural option for imitation espresso.

The plunger in an AeroPress also serves a different (but related) purpose than in a French press: It applies pressure that pushes the water away from the grounds and through a paper filter into a separate container.  This added pressure is nowhere near as much as in an espresso machine uses, but it’s one of the better espresso limitations, especially if you use an AeroPress espresso recipe that utilities the inverted AeroPress method.

Moka pot stovetop espresso

The Moka pot is a stovetop coffee maker that’s basically a cross between a stovetop percolator and an espresso machine. Instead of manual pressure, it relies on pressure from a buildup of steam. The pressure pushes steam through a filter basket filled with finely ground coffee.

Moka Pots produce one of the best mock espressos, much better than you’ll get from a French press. The real battle for the best fake espresso is between AeroPress vs Moka pot, with the French press taking a distant 3rd place. Then again, if you already have a French press, that gives it a pretty significant advantage.

Ninja specialty coffee maker

Espresso is essentially just strong, concentrated coffee, so it makes sense to turn to any brewing method that can produce a coffee concentrate. Some drip coffee makers have started including a strong coffee setting, but Ninja is at the leading edge of this trend.

Most of the latest and best Ninja coffee makers have 5 brew-style settings. The specialty coffee setting is made to create an extra-rich coffee that can serve as the base for lattes and cappuccinos. Does that sound familiar? It’s actually less like espresso than what you’ll get from an AeroPress or Moka pot, but it works fine for making several types of espresso drinks.

Putting the Press Back in Espresso

French presses have a very devoted fanbase in the world of coffee lovers — and for good reason. If you like a full-bodied brew that delivers every last bit of flavor from the beans, the French press delivers that better than any other coffee brewing method.  If you’re already a French press fanatic, learning how to make espresso in a French press is a natural extension of your skillset.

For those of you that haven’t jumped on the French press bandwagon, maybe this will be the recipe that convinces you. Okay, it probably won’t do that. The truth is, if you don’t have a French press, Moka pots and AeroPresses provide much better imitation espresso options. And you can get either of those coffee makers for under $100.

Whichever way you go, just dive in and enjoy it with your favorite espresso beans. Don’t have a favorite yet? Almost anything by Illy or Lavazza makes a great intro espresso bean. You could also try one of the highest caffeine coffees if you are really looking for an imitation espresso that will get you up and running in the morning.

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