Can You Make Espresso In A French Press? (How-To Guide)

Immediately after taking my first sip of espresso, I couldn’t get enough of it. As soon as my obsession began, I browsed the internet for an at-home espresso machine, and I quickly realized that espresso machines don’t come cheap.

So I started looking for alternatives to making espresso coffee at home. That got me wondering if a French press could be used for making espresso shots. And if so, how does French press espresso compare to regular espresso?

I’ll cover everything that I found from my research, including how to make espresso-style coffee without a dedicated espresso machine.

Yes, it’s possible to make espresso-like coffee using a French press. In fact, making French press coffee is fast, easy, environmentally friendly, and a much cheaper alternative if you’re OK with brewing espresso without a machine.[1]

Using an expensive espresso machine is definitely the best way to make true espresso, especially in terms of the flavor profile. These machines cost hundreds, even thousands, so buying one isn’t on the agenda of most coffee enthusiasts.

Luckily, making French press espresso is an option, and all you need is ground coffee beans, a French press, espresso cups, and hot water.

Steps On How To Make Espresso With A French Press

If you’ve ever made regular coffee in a French press, you’ll be happy to hear that the same device can be used to brew great espresso. Here’s what to do:

1. Grind Your Coffee Beans

If you’re starting with whole beans, you’ll need a coffee grinder. If you don’t have a coffee grinder, you can use a blender, food processor, or grind your beans for free at select locations. 

The key is to achieve a medium grind size - not quite fine, but not quite coarse.

One of the biggest mistakes is using a coarse grind, which is understandable considering French press coffee is typically brewed with a larger grind size.

There are several issues with using finely ground coffee beans in a French press.

First off, fine grounds might pass through the metal filter of the French press lid, creating a chunky, chewy consistency. I discovered this the hard way as I was chewing on my first batch of French press espresso coffee!

Secondly, more natural oils are extracted from a finer ground, which tends to leave a bitter flavor.

Coffee Beans In A Grinder

2. Heat Water (And French Press)

Next, it’s time to heat your water. Many people use boiling water, but I’ve found that it’s best to stop heating before hitting the boiling point. Ideally, water should be heated to 195-200 degrees Fahrenheit.

While you wait for the water to boil, I suggest that you heat up the glass of the French press before adding the coffee grounds.

Temperature stability is a huge factor in making quality espresso, so simply add some warm water to the glass to heat the device.

You can take the easy way out and use tap water, but filtered water will deliver the best coffee.

Heating Water In French Press Coffee Maker

3. Add Coffee Grounds To French Press

After dumping the water from your French press, insert coffee grounds into the container.

The type of coffee beans you use is completely up to you, although I highly recommend that you use quality espresso beans. An espresso roast will offer the best flavor, but a dark roast will also do just fine.

Regarding the amount of coffee to use, I typically follow a 2:1 rule for the ratio of coffee to water.

For every 2 tablespoons of coffee, use 1 cup of water - it’s that simple! And if you want a double shot, you’ll obviously need a bit more ground coffee and hot water.

Adding Coffee Ground To French Press

4. Add A Small Amount Of Water

For regular coffee brewed in a French press, you’d add the entire portion of water in this step. For espresso, the process is slightly different.

Instead of pouring all of your hot water, start with a small amount of water to “bloom” the coffee.

This allows the coffee beans to release their natural oils, which will give you an even more delicious espresso cup in the end.

Adding Water To French Press

5. Add The Remaining Water After Coffee Has Bloomed

After about 1 minute, your coffee grounds are blooming, and it's time to add the remaining water.

Don’t stir the grounds, as this can alter the flavor of the beans.

Adding Water To French Press After Coffee Blooms

6. Secure French Press Plunger And Wait

Secure the French press lid into place to keep the heat from escaping while brewing coffee. Now, simply wait as you allow the brew to steep.

Start with a steeping time of 4 minutes - it’s best to set a timer! If you find that the coffee is too weak or strong, you can alter the steeping time with your next batch.

Securing French Press Plunger

7. Press Plunger Slowly To Filter, Pour, And Enjoy!

Once you’ve allowed the coffee to steep, slowly press the coffee plunger about halfway down.

Pull up slowly, and then plunge it down entirely. This movement will ideally create a foamy layer that’s similar to the crema in traditional espresso.

Finally, pour your coffee into a cup and enjoy! Espresso is typically served in a small cup so that the drinker can fully enjoy the crema layer on top.

Willing to experiment? Try pouring your espresso through a paper or cloth filter to replicate the smoothness that usually only comes from using espresso machines.

Pouring Coffee From French Press Into Cup

French Press Espresso Vs Traditional Espresso

While it may be possible to make espresso in a French press, it won’t be as authentic as a traditional espresso shot.

There’s one big difference between French press espresso and traditional espresso. A traditional shot of espresso involves forcing pressurized water through finely-ground coffee - nine bars of pressure to be exact. That’s nine times the atmospheric pressure that’s found at sea level.

Unfortunately, a French press plunger can’t replicate this pressure, so it won’t have the same exact flavor or smooth consistency.[2]

Still, if you do it the right way and take your time, you'll get pretty darn close to making true espresso with a French press!


Alternative Coffee Makers For Better Espresso

Making espresso with a French press isn’t the only way to enjoy espresso-based coffee drinks at home.

I’ve tried just about every method there is, and I’ve found that the 2 best alternatives - other than a French press - are to use a Moka Pot or manual espresso maker.

Moka Pot

If you’ve read any coffee blog, you’re probably familiar with the Moka Pot.

This brewing method is easy to figure out, and best of all, it’s another cheap option for making coffee at home.[3]

In addition to the Moka Pot, all you need is finely ground beans, water, and a heating source.

You’ll start by filling the bottom chamber of the Moka with cold water, and the upper chamber with ground coffee.

Place the Moka Pot onto a heat source, and as the water heats, steam forces the coffee into the carafe.

Similar to a tea kettle, the coffee will be ready once the pot starts to make a hissing sound.

One Smaller And One Larger Moka Pot

Manual Espresso Maker

Another great option for those who don’t have an espresso machine is to use a manual espresso maker. This may not be the easiest brewing process for making espresso, but it’s super effective.

A manual machine works by pushing and pulling a lever to move water through the coffee grounds. It does require some elbow grease, but you won’t be disappointed with your amazing coffee!

Best of all, you can find a manual machine (vs an automatic or semi-automatic machine) for less than $50.


Related French Press Espresso Questions

How long does it take to brew espresso in the French press?

The general brewing time for espresso in a French press is about 3-4 minutes. For flavorful, strong coffee, opt for a longer brewing time of 5 minutes.

What is the ratio of espresso to water for the French press?

The ideal ratio of coffee to water is 2 tablespoons of ground coffee beans to 1 cup of water. It’s best to start with this ratio but feel free to make changes based on your preferred coffee flavor and strength.

Is French press coffee as strong as espresso?

Because espresso is more concentrated, it usually has a stronger taste compared to French press coffee. However, the strength of French press coffee will vary based on the steeping time.

Do baristas ever use a French press?

It’s not very often that professional baristas in coffee shops use French presses. Most use a fancy espresso machine or an electronic coffee maker.


Conclusion

Turning to a French press is such a simple way to brew delicious espresso at home. It won’t be quite the same as making a shot of espresso in a high-end espresso machine, but it’s still a great alternative when making espresso recipes.

I quickly learned that the best way to get delicious coffee using a French press is to focus on the grind size.

Go for a finer grind for French press espresso, and to get a flavorful cup of concentrated coffee every time, be weary of your coffee-to-water ratio.

References:

  1. https://www.abouttimemagazine.co.uk/drink/about-time-5-healthy-benefits-of-consuming-espresso/
  2. https://nationalcoffee.blog/2015/11/23/7-fast-facts-about-espresso/
  3. https://www.bialetti.com/it_en/inspiration/post/how-the-moka-works

Caitlin Shaffer

Author

Caitlin Shaffer
Caitlin Shaffer, is a knowledgeable coffee expert and passionate writer. Her articles are a mix of personal experiences, insights gained from her travels, and interviews, offering an extensive view of the global coffee scene. Caitlin enjoys embarking on new travel adventures, often to destinations celebrated for their unique coffee offerings, from Indonesia to Italy and Colombia, adding a worldly flavor to her articles. Her go-to coffee? Cold brew with homemade vanilla syrup – a personal favorite that keeps her love for coffee fresh and exciting.

My favorite drink? I'd go with... cold brew with homemade vanilla syrup.

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