Learn how to make plunger coffee like a pro

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The coffee plunger has long been a favoured way to make coffee, and it remains a popular brewing method today.

Despite recent technological advancements, not many methods compare with the simplicity, elegance and quality of plunger coffee.

If you’re new to making plunger coffee or you simply want to know the best way to make plunger coffee, you are in the right place.

In this article we show you how to make plunger coffee at home.

French press coffee maker pouring coffee into cup

How does a coffee plunger work?

The coffee plunger is an Australian term for the coffee brewer also known as a French press, coffee press or cafetiere.

So how do you use a coffee plunger? In order to understand how to use a coffee plunger, it is worth covering off a coffee plunger’s components.

The press breaks down into two sections – a top and a bottom – which can each be further separated into several parts.

We explain each of the sections and their function below.

If you would prefer to hop straight to the section on how to make a plunger coffee, click here.

Top section of the press

The top of the French press contains the lid, plunger and filter. These components are as follows:

1. Lid

The lid of a French press sits on top of the press throughout the brewing process.

Depending on the quality (and price point) of a press, the lid may be thin or have a short (~½ inch) wall that extends down. Any wall that extends down will have an opening through which coffee can be poured.

Twisting the lid so that this opening is closed helps reduce heat loss through the beaker’s spout when brewing.

The lid can be twisted so that the opening allows for easy pouring once coffee is brewed.

2. Filter

The filter is comprised of a circular mesh screen that sits directly beneath an identically sized perforated metal disc.

The metal disc holds the filter in place, and it usually has a coil around the outside that helps push the filter’s edges against the beaker’s sides.

This coil helps reduce the amount of coffee sediment in your brew.

3. Plunger

The plunger is a metal rod that connects the lid and the filter, screwing into the filter and sliding through a hole in the lid’s centre.

This keeps the filter in place at the end of the plunger while it slides down through the lid, thus giving the “coffee plunger” its Australian name.

At the top of the plunger is a handle (usually circular) that’s wide enough to press on when pushing down the plunger. At the bottom is a screw that holds the filter in place.

These can both come off on many models, and they should be removed when deep cleaning the press.

This is the only way to remove the filter, and clean between its screen and disc.

Empty glass french press coffee maker with stainless steel filter and plunger.

Bottom section of the press

The bottom of the French press contains the beaker and the base. These components are as follows.

1. Plunger beaker

The beaker holds the coffee grounds, water and (once brewed) coffee. It may be made of plastic, glass or metal.

Some beakers are double-walled to help reduce heat loss during brewing.

This can be helpful but isn’t necessary, and it does change the aesthetic of the press.

2. Plunger base

The base holds the beaker, reducing the likelihood of tipping or breaking. The base also has a handle so the press can be moved and poured.

Some double-walled stainless steel presses don’t have a base and instead attach the handle directly to the outside wall of the press.

These presses don’t need a base because they’re designed to be stable, made of metal and have double-wall insulation that prevents the bottom from becoming too hot.

All coffee plungers brew via the same basic components and method.

While there are a few minor features that high-end presses add on, these have only a minor impact on brew quality.

Any model that’s an appropriate size and you like the look of should serve you well, so long as you know how to use a French press for coffee brewing.

If you are looking to purchase a coffee plunger read our reviews of the best coffee plungers in Australia here.

Glass coffee press brewing coffee on kitchen bench with two coffee mugs

How to make plunger coffee

So now you know how to work a coffee plunger, let’s outline the steps for how to make coffee in a plunger.

The good news is many people who want to know how to make French press coffee are surprised at just how easy the brewing process is to master.

To make coffee press coffee, simply follow the steps below.

  1. Measure out your coffee beans and water (see “Coffee-to-Water Ratio”).
  2. Heat the water to about 96°C (see “Water Temperature”). 
  3. Grind the coffee beans on a coarse setting (see “Plunger Grind”).
  4. Place the coffee grounds in the beaker.
Woman pouring ground coffee into empty coffee press.
  1. Add the hot water to the grounds.
  2. Place the top on the beaker.
  3. Let the coffee steep for 4 to 6 minutes (see “How Long”).
  4. Slowly push down the plunger.
  5. Pour, and enjoy!

Note: There is more detailed information on these steps in the following sections.

Plunger brewing tips

Pushing down the plunger doesn’t require a precise technique, but you don’t want to rush too much at this step.

If the actual plunger is pushed down too quickly, the force can cause coffee to spurt around the sides of the filter – creating a mess as it gushes up and getting grounds into the brewed coffee.

Insulated presses should only be purchased if you want to maintain temperature while brewing.

They shouldn’t be used to keep brewed coffee warm, because coffee will become over-extracted as it sits on top of the pressed grounds.

If you have left over brewed coffee, transferring it to an insulated carafe is a better way to keep coffee warm without any over-extraction.

How to make plunger coffee with milk

If you prefer drinking coffee with milk, you have three options:

  1. Simply top up your coffee with cold milk
  2. Heat the milk in the microwave and add to your coffee
  3. Use a milk frother to froth and/or heat your milk and add to your brew.

Keep in mind that adding cold milk will cool your coffee down slightly, depending on the amount that you add.

Heating the milk solves this problem and is a good way to keep your coffee hot for longer.

If you enjoy the texture of frothed milk in your café bought espresso drinks and would like to replicate it at home, a stand alone milk frother is a great investment.

Click here to read our reviews of the best milk frothers in Australia.

6 steps to making plunger coffee at home

What is the best coffee for a plunger?

Any coffee roast will taste good when made in a plunger, especially if you’re used to pour over or drip coffee that has a different extraction method and removes the coffee beans’ oils.

You should try making whatever coffee you like in a plunger.

Given that any coffee will taste good, however, the plunger is particularly well-suited for medium-dark to dark roasts.

These roasts have more oil on the outside of the coffee bean (which is why dark roasts are shinier than light ones), and those oils will end up in the final brew.

Dark roasts also tend to have larger body, which the immersion extraction of a plunger will enhance even more.

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How do you grind coffee for a plunger?

The best plunger coffee grind is a coarse grind.

The ideal grinds will be individually distinct, about the size of kosher salt that’s used when pickling.

These larger grounds help offset the increased extraction of a plunger’s immersion brewing process, thereby helping prevent over-extraction.

To ensure the right grind size and to maximise freshness, we recommend you freshly grind coffee for the best tasting French press coffee.

If you are interested in buying a grinder, we review the best coffee grinders in Australia here.

What is the best plunger coffee-to-water ratio?

Most brew methods do best with a 1:16 to 1:18 coffee-to-water ratio, and this range also works well as the plunger coffee ratio.

Although immersion brewing is a different extraction method, you should still use 1 gram of coffee per every 16 to 18 millilitres of water.

Coffee Ratio: 55 to 62 grams of ground coffee to 1 litre of water.

Changing other factors (e.g. brew time and grind size) are better ways to account for the differences that immersion brewing presents.

Coffee press on coffee scale brewing coffee

How much coffee do you use per cup?

A common question when brewing coffee in a coffee press is how much coffee to put in a plunger.

Coffee recipes may often call for a certain number of scoops, tablespoons or cups of coffee, but these measures present challenges for anyone wanting to brew consistently great coffee.

The standard coffee-to-water ratio of 1:16 to 1:18 yields about 14 grams of coffee per every 250 millilitres of water. This is the equivalent of 0.5 ounce of coffee for every 8-ounce cup of water.

When measuring coffee out, it’s important to realize that coffee plungers often use 4-ounce cups rather than standard 8-ounce ones.

For example, a 2-cup coffee plunger likely brews two 4-ounce cups of coffee – or 8 ounces. If measuring out 4-ounce cups, the amount of coffee per cup is 0.25 ounces.

Volumetric measurements don’t take into account differences in bean density or grind size, which are two important factors when brewing plunger coffee.

Many dark roast coffees are less dense due to a longer roasting time, and the coarse grind that’s used further reduces grind density.

So for improved accuracy, weighing ground coffee will produce a more consistent brew than measuring it via volume.

A coffee scale is a helpful tool to achieve an accurate weight of grounds needed for your brew. We review the best coffee scales available in Australia here.

What is the best water temperature for plunger coffee?

The best brewing temperature for coffee is generally between 91 and 96°C, as boiling water will actually scald the grounds and destroy some of the flavour.

For plunger coffee, 96°C is the ideal brewing temperature.

This falls within the standard brewing temperature range, but it ensures the water will still be hot after steeping for several minutes as the coffee brews.

If you don’t have a temperature-control kettle like this one, water will cool to the appropriate range approximately 30 seconds after boiling.

How long do you let plunger coffee brew?

Another common question is how long to brew plunger coffee for.

Plunger coffee should be brewed for between 4 and 6 minutes, depending on your personal preference.

The longer you brew it for, the stronger it will be, but don’t leave it too long or it will become bitter and over extracted.

The coarse grind size makes the exact timing less important than it is with some other brew methods, such as espresso that uses a fine grind.

As an alternative, plunger coffee can also be steeped for 8 to 10 minutes with the top off.

Experiment with this unorthodox technique, and see if you like how it changes the taste of your final brew.

Top view of coffee plunger brewing coffee with coffee filter and beans.

Top tips for how to use a coffee plunger

In summary, keep the following tips in mind, and you’ll know how to make perfect plunger coffee each time:

  • Always brew with high-quality arabica coffee beans
  • Weigh 14 grams of coffee grounds for every 1 cup of water
  • Grind your coffee beans each time you brew, using a coarse grind
  • Heat your water to 96°C (~30 seconds cooled from a boil)
  • Brew for 4 to 6 minutes, and plunge.

Don’t forget to decant any remaining coffee to an insulated carafe or travel coffee mug to prevent over extraction of your remaining brew.

Click here to read our insulated coffee mug reviews.

Ready to brew perfect plunger coffee?

There are good reasons why plunger coffee remains so popular after more than a century.

Now you know the best way to make plunger coffee, you can enjoy a delicious cup of coffee every time you plunge.

More French press coffee guides

If you loved our plunger coffee how to guide, you may like to check out these coffee press guides and recipes.

Disclaimer: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

See all our coffee brewing guides here. If you love to make great coffee at home, read more about the best coffee equipment here.

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About Rachel Rodda

Founder of Coffeewise, Rachel is a passionate coffee drinker, Specialty Coffee Association member and former barista who loves to research and share practical tips on brewing great coffee at home.