Neat, portable and stylish, cafetières are a popular and accessible way to make great coffee at home. This handy little gadget (which is also known as the French Press) is a favourite of coffee lovers across the world, and remains firmly in the spotlight of the coffee world as a preferred brewing method even as other innovations come and go.
Boasting the advantages of being more space-saving and budget-friendly than modern coffee machines, as well as simple to use and easy to clean, a cafetière guarantees delicious coffee without any fuss. With nothing but ground coffee, hot water and a few simple instructions, you can make perfect cafetière coffee in the comfort of your own kitchen - and add a few variations besides, should they take your fancy.
What is a Cafetière and How Does it Work?
A cafetière is an uncomplicated machine consisting of a glass/ceramic or metal decanter, and a plunger that also doubles as a lid. In a cafetière, a metal strainer (which sits at the bottom of the plunger) is incorporated into the wider design, removing the need for single-use cloth or paper filters.
Brewing coffee in a cafetière relies on steeping, where coffee grounds are mixed in the decanter with hot water and allowed to stand for around 4 minutes. After this, the plunger is slowly pushed through the liquid to the bottom of the jug to strain out the ground coffee before pouring.
The History Behind the Cafetière
Despite being called the "French" press, the modern cafetière was in fact patented in the USA by an Italian designer called Attilio Calimani in 1929. The French, however, can claim to have a strong hand in its history, with French inventors (Mayer and Delforge) patenting a forerunner of the cafetière in 1852, and the basic design appearing in various formats through the period.
In 1958 Faliero Bondanini created his own modified version of a cafetière and began producing them in a clarinet factory. By the 60s, the French press was gaining in popularity, helped along by its use by Michael Caine's character Harry Palmer in The Ipcress File, and its adoption by fashionable homeware stores.
How to Make Perfect Cafetière Coffee
People’s taste in coffee varies, so it might be that over time you refine your own way of making cafetière coffee that is absolutely perfect for you. Our guide is informed by our own experience, personal taste and expertise at the Coffee Bean Shop .
- Because cafetières are usually made of glass, ceramic or metal, they can lose heat quickly. The first step in making the perfect cafetière coffee is ensuring the container is preheated by filling it with hot water and leaving it to stand with the lid on for one to two minutes.
- If you have a standard size cafetière, weigh out 45-50g of ground coffee per litre of water. "One cup" cafetières (which make three small cups or one full mug of coffee) naturally require less coffee, with about 12-15g according to taste.
- Remove the warming water from the cafetière and add your coffee before pouring in water that's just come off the boil - the ideal temperature being between 92-96 degrees. Stir to distribute the grounds and break up any clumps.
- Your coffee will begin to "bloom" in the water as Co2 and coffee oils escape (well it will with our freshly roasted coffee that’s for sure, old stale coffee will really not bloom). This creates a light bubbling and foaming, and is what forms the crema on the top of an espresso. If your coffee is very fresh and has been roasted in the last two weeks, allow for a minute of blooming, and 30-45 seconds if your coffee was roasted longer than two weeks ago.
- Attach the lid and push the plunger to just below the water line in the cafetière, and allow your coffee to brew for three to four minutes.
- Once brewed, your coffee is ready to serve in your preferred style. Simply push the plunger to the bottom of the cafetière and pour.
While you may be most interested in a traditional black coffee or take it with a splash of milk, these aren't the only kinds of coffee you can serve with a french press.
How to Make Cafe Au Lait With a Cafetière
Cafe au lait - which simply means "coffee with milk" in French - is a serving style which dates back to coffee's first introduction to Europe in the 17th century. Unlike what we think of as a white coffee here in the UK (in the USA "white coffee" refers to coffee that's been made with white coffee beans, rather than coffee with milk) cafe au lait is made using hot milk, but differs from both a latte and a flat white.
A latte is made using a near full-cup of steamed milk with a shot of rich espresso, while a flat white is made from espresso and a smaller amount of steamed milk to ensure coffee is the dominant flavour. A cafe au lait, on the other hand, is made with one part brewed coffee to one part heated or steamed milk, and doesn't have the thin layer of foam present on both a flat white and a latte.
To make a cafe au lait with a French press (which, alongside filter coffee, is the traditional way to do so), simply:
- Brew your coffee according to the instructions above. As milk mellows the taste of coffee, you may wish to make your brew stronger by using a higher ratio of coffee to water.
- As the coffee brews, use a chef's thermometer to heat full fat milk over the stove or in the microwave to around 65- 80°C, taking care to ensure it doesn't scald.
- Pour equal parts of the heated milk and brewed coffee into your favourite cup and enjoy.
How to Froth Milk in a Cafetière
Many people enjoy drinking their coffee with frothed milk, but struggle to achieve the effect they find in the coffee shops with the equipment on hand to them. Luckily, it is more than possible to repurpose your cafetière for an easy and accessible way to froth milk at home.
- Preheat your cafetière using hot water.
- Bearing in mind that the milk will double in volume when it is frothy, measure out as much as you need - making sure this won’t fill more than half of your cafetière.
- Heat your milk (whole is best, as the high fat content contributes to a velvety texture) over the stove or in the microwave to 65- 80°C. If you don’t have a thermometer this may take a little guesswork, but try to avoid letting your milk come to the boil.
- Discard the hot water in your cafetière and pour in the warm milk. Replace the lid and pull the plunger up and down firmly but gently, (anything too vigorous risks a spillage!) using the strainer to froth up the milk and stopping when the milk is twice its original volume.
- Pour your frothy milk into coffee and serve.
How to Make Cold Brew in a Cafetière
Cold brew coffee has soared in popularity in recent years, and refers to the brewing technique of allowing coffee grounds to steep in cold water for several hours. If you want to try it out at home, a cafetière is a perfect vessel in which to make cold brew coffee, with the built-in strainer ensuring that there’s no leftover coffee grounds spoil the brew.
To make cold brew coffee in a cafetière, simply:
- Add your coffee grounds to the cafetière, at a ratio of 80g per litre of water.
- Pour in your cold water and stir gently to ensure the grounds are evenly distributed throughout the liquid.
- Allow to brew in the fridge for 8-12 hours.
- Slowly push the cafetières plunger down and decant into another vessel (such as a glass bottle).
- Serve using your preferred method, or keep for up to a week in the fridge.
If this guide has inspired you to get your own cafetière, our silver and copper cafetières are a high-quality and stylish option, while our team is always here to help if you have any questions about coffee.