The humble French press – known to the pretentious as a cafetière and salt of the earth types as a coffee plunger – is a kitchen cupboard staple and a great no-fuss method for making tasty coffee.
A good French press will give you a lifetime’s service for a very modest outlay. There is definitely a knack of getting the best out of a French press coffee, and you can read our handy brew guide for them here.
This article will delve into what to consider before you buy a French press / cafetière, and provide a handy rundown of what we think are the best machines out there and why. If you’re just after a list of our faves click here to jump to the list.
I thought all French Press style coffee machines were the same?
Not at all! There are a number of variables you need to consider before parting with your hard-earned cash: materials, filter type, size, price…
Ahhh, the sordid issue of coin! So how much should I be looking to spend?
A basic cafetière will set you back around £10, but it won’t be very good. In our experience, there is a big jump in quality above the £20 mark. Consider spending around £30-40 for a good machine safe in the knowledge that it will last you decades.
Should I get a cafetière?
They provide a very simple way of making tasty coffee, can be used on the go and do not require any heavy maintenance or a mains power connection. The French Press method is not as popular as it used to be, and there has been a big trend towards drip filter in recent years.
That’s not to say you can’t make delicious coffee out of a cafetière! One important thing to consider is that to get the best out your French Press you are going to want to use freshly ground coffee that has been ground quite coarsely. Making French press coffee is a full immersion brew method, so using too finely ground coffee will lead to a brew that is over-extracted and bitter. Finer stuff will also probably pass through the filter of the press and into your cup.
If you want coarsely ground coffee without any fine dust in it, you either need to buy beans from a coffee shop which will grind them for you or do it yourself using a burr grinder. Are you able to do this? This is literally the ‘not so secret’ secret to getting the best from your machine.
What are the options with materials?
Nearly all coffee plungers are made in two materials, stainless steel or borosilicate glass. The borosilicate ones are pretty cool because you get to watch the coffee brewing which is both fun and relaxing. There is definitely a visual element to our taste and actually looking at the coffee does make you want it more.
If you are less romantic and more practical you probably want something made from stainless steel. First off – it can’t smash if you have an accident while staggering around the kitchen bleary-eyed at 7 AM. Secondly, it is easier to transport if you want to take it on holiday or camping and finally, several of the steel machines are double-walled which insulates your coffee.
A few manufacturers make ones with stoneware or ceramic. Hardier than glass it may be – but these are woeful at keeping the heat in.
What about the filter?
The filter design of French presses is largely universal. There is a fine mesh filter, a steel disk filter and a coil that attaches the two bits together. The filter is key – you need something well-engineered that can withstand the daily pressure of the plunge without letting through any grit.
You will also want something you can replace if needed and dismantle and wash easily, as a dirty filter is only ever going to make ‘minging’ coffee.
There are a couple of units on the market that use slightly different filter designs. These are generally finer filters that give you a coffee with a smoother mouthfeel. Here are some of the best machines on the market in our opinion.
Danish kitchenware outfit Bodum pioneered the design of this cafetière in the 1950’s and it has been a best seller ever since. You have probably already drunk coffee made in one of these pots, it’s a true original.
The Chambord is made from heat resistant borosilicate glass, with a stainless steel frame and plunger. The handle is elegant, comfy and non-slip. There are a few nice options on the design – you can get it in plain steel, painted steel or even with a cork top (pictured).
All parts are dishwasher safe and the filter comes apart easily for cleaning. It’s European built and comes from Portugal. With Bodum being a leading and reputable brand you can order spare parts directly from the manufacturer with delivery guaranteed in 5-7 days. It also comes with a one year warranty.
They are not the cheapest units, but they are excellent quality – I know a few elderly relatives of mine who have had theirs for years and would wager that you do too.Check price at Amazon »
Bodum may have the ‘true original’ kudos, but boutique coffee design outfit Soulhand has come to market with a fantastic design for the cafetiere which we love. If you are a glass fan, look away now because this is a stainless steel affair, which is double-walled to insulate your joe and keep it warm. The Soulhand Press looks great thanks to its cool black matte finish.
But it’s not just easy on the eye: there’s a lovely bit of design going on here too. The top of the plunger is also a thermometer so you can check you are brewing with water at the right temperature and quickly check if what is left in the pot is still warm. The thermometer gauge also highlights what Soulhand thinks is the perfect temperature range for drinking coffee so you can sip it when you are in that fabled Goldilocks zone.
It has a four-layered filter made from stainless steel which is extra fine and really stops sediment from ending up in your cup. If that was not enough, they even throw in a stainless-steel coffee scoop and kitchen timer so you can set a bleeper to count you down to plunge time. It’s a lovely package which reeks of quality for what is a very modest price tag.Check price at Amazon »
The Coffee Snob’s Choice
The Espro P3 looks like a standard French Press but features a redesigned filter which aims at removing as many fine grinds and sediment from press coffee as possible.
Given that ‘gritty’ tends to be the go-to way people knock French press coffee, the redesigned filter makes a lot of sense and will do a lot to win round people who are not really fans of cafetière coffee.
It uses a basket-shaped gauze mesh filter, which the company claims to be several times tighter than your standard press filter. The shape of the filter is also designed to seal off the grounds at the bottom of the pot once the plunger has been pushed down. The idea behind the seal is to stop the coffee from continuously extracting in the pot and becoming bitter.
The result is press coffee but not as you know it. The coffee is very clear and bright with a smooth mouthfeel and good acidity. It still has the body of French press but without any of the silt.
The P3 is made from glass, which the company claims is around 40% thicker than that used by other brands on the market – and that is reflected in the good job the carafe does in keeping your coffee warm. If you are interested in a steel, double-walled one it does exist – and is sold as the P7.
The biggest drawback here is the price. The P3 retails at around £60 with them P7 selling for north of £100. The P3 is a great machine, but for the price, looks a little cheap and plasticky – which is disappointing given the obvious quality of the machine.
Espro also does a lovely low cost travel French press which looks great, is thermally insulated and doubles as a flask. It holds 350ml – so good for one or two cups.Check price at Amazon »
The Best Looking Machine
French outfit Le Creuset has a reputation for quality kitchenware that lasts forever and really brightens up your kitchen countertop, thanks to its beautiful design and unique glazing. This coffee pot is no exception – it looks brilliant. It is made from quality non-porous stoneware that is stain and odour resistant and is also dishwasher safe, which is handy.
Undeniably, this is one for people who love Le Creuset products. Otherwise, it is a fairly bog-standard cafetière, sold with quite a mark-up. While the exterior pot is hefty and oozes quality the actual plunger is no different to anything you would get in a much cheaper model. The gauge compared to some of the other filters on this list is quite large, so you still get a good whack of sediment at the bottom of your cup.
The heavy lid can come a bit loose too, meaning it requires a two-handed pour. Another downside is the stoneware vessel sheds heat very, very quickly. Essentially you need to brew and drink or wrap it in a tea towel to keep it warm.
Sure it’s pretty, but it is not really the most practical press on the market.Check price at Amazon »
Best Budget Option
This one from Italian company Bialetti is a great choice for anybody looking to get a cheap item that is well built and looks good too.
It’s a glass and plastic affair, but the red plastic cladding and triangular handle look great. It’s lightweight and dishwasher safe.
The humble 8-cup features the classic steel disk filter, which is well made and fits well to filter coffee effectively. It’s bog-standard, but looks good and comes from a hugely respected brand in the world of coffee.
The price tag of circa £25 for a one-litre machine make it a great choice for anybody shopping on a budget.Check price at John Lewis »
Do you have a favourite French press type? Are there any products you love that we should add to this review? Let us know in the comments below!