The Delicious History of the French Press Coffee Maker

Ah, the French Press coffee maker! A device as rich in history as the bold brew it produces. Its story begins in the mid-19th century, no less.

Just like a perfectly steeped cup of joe, its history is layered, intriguing, and filled with unexpected twists.

Let’s journey through the history of the French press, tracing the roots of this beloved coffee maker and exploring how it became the kitchen staple it is today.

Key Takeaways

  • Inventive Origins: The French Press was first patented in the mid-19th century, evolving from an initial design that lacked an effective seal to keep coffee grounds out of the cup.
  • Design Evolution: Over the years, the French Press has undergone significant design improvements, including the addition of a metal screen and a spring to seal the filter, leading to its modern form.
  • Global Names and Appeal: The French Press is known by various names worldwide, such as “cafetière” in Britain and “coffee plunger” in Australia, reflecting its global popularity.
  • Modern Adaptations and Innovations: Today, the French Press continues to evolve with innovations in design and functionality, catering to modern coffee enthusiasts’ preferences.

History of the French Press

Origins and Early History of the French Press

The story of the French press began in the 19th century. This coffee brewing device, known for its unique use of a plunger and a metal or cloth filter, has an intriguing history that traces back to France.

  • 1852: The earliest known device resembling the modern French press was patented by Jacques-Victor Delforge and Henri-Otto Mayer. Their device didn’t create a complete seal around the filter, making it less effective at keeping coffee grounds out of the cup.
  • 1924: Marcel-Pierre Paquet dit Jolbert, another Frenchman, published a patent for a coffee press with a metal screen attached to a rod. This was an adaptation of a method invented by a fellow Frenchman in the 1800s, who used a cloth screen to filter coffee.
  • 1928: Two Italian designers, Giulio Moneta and Attilio Calimani, made a significant advancement. They created a coffee press with a spring to seal the filter and a lid that could be locked in place. These improvements were patented in the United States in 1929.
  • 1958: Faleiro Bondanini, another Italian, introduced an improved version of the French press. His design offered a superior filter and was more effective at keeping the grounds out of the poured coffee. He later partnered with a Danish company, Bodum, to distribute his invention across Europe.

Today, Bodum is a household name and one of the most trusted brands of French presses worldwide.

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Where Does the Name French Press Come From?

Known by many names across the globe, the name “French press” derives from the device’s origin and the method of pressing down the plunger to brew the coffee.

However, this versatile tool has earned various monikers in different regions and languages, reflecting its worldwide popularity.

  • In Britain and Ireland, it’s called a cafetière, a name borrowed from the brand “La Cafetière.”
  • Down under, in New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa, it’s known as a coffee plunger, and the coffee brewed in it is affectionately called plunger coffee.
  • In Italy, where coffee is almost a religion, it’s called a caffettiera a stantuffo, translating to “coffee maker with a plunger.”
  • Germany has several names, including Pressstempelkanne, Stempelkanne, Stabfilterkanne, Kaffeepresse, or Bistrokanne, all of which mean “coffee press” or “press pot” in some way.
  • Back in its birthplace, France, it’s known as a cafetière à piston or simply a cafetière, which means “coffee maker with a piston” or “coffee maker.”

Interestingly, some people use generic or trademarked names for the device, such as Melior or Bodum.

Cafetiere 1852 (Mayer & Delforge).jpg
By Henri-Otto MAYER/ Jacques-Victor DELFORGE from Wikipedia

Evolution and Design Improvements

Over the years, the French press has undergone several design modifications to enhance its functionality and durability.

Material Changes

The original French presses were made of rudimentary materials such as metal or cheesecloth. These basic models paved the way for more sophisticated versions featuring materials like glass or ceramic.

  • Glass carafes were typically crafted from borosilicate glass, a highly durable, affordable, and reliable material. Unfortunately, they are prone to breaking or cracking if dropped or exposed to extreme temperatures.
  • Stainless steel carafes offer the additional benefit of keeping coffee warmer longer and are resistant to heat and damage. However, they can be more expensive than glass ones, harder to clean, and don’t allow the user to see the coffee level and color.

Design Variations

Different models of French presses boast unique features that cater to diverse preferences.

  • Models with double-wall insulation keep the coffee hot for longer.
  • Some versions feature measurement markings on the carafe to aid in gauging the amount of water and coffee grounds required.
  • Ergonomic handles or grips are present in certain models to facilitate easy holding and pouring.
  • Anti-spill lids or spouts prevent dripping or leaking in some designs.
  • Some models have filters attached to the lid rather than the plunger, simplifying the cleaning and replacement process.
  • Carafes come in various shapes and sizes—cylindrical, conical, or rectangular—and the metal parts may sport different finishes, such as chrome, copper, or gold.
  • The style or theme of the French press can vary from modern to vintage to rustic, allowing users to choose one that best fits their aesthetic.

Comparison between European and American designs

European and American designs of French presses primarily differ in the filter mesh size and the coffee grounds’ coarseness.

  • European designs tend to feature finer filter meshes and use finer coffee grounds, resulting in a stronger, more flavorful brew.
  • American designs usually incorporate coarser filter meshes and coarser coffee grounds, delivering a lighter, smoother brew.

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Cultural Impact and Popularity

The French press has had a significant cultural impact on coffee culture and enjoys immense popularity in various regions and countries around the world. Its simplicity, versatility, and ability to brew a delicious cup of coffee make it a beloved household item.

European Adoption

The French press became a staple in European households in the mid-20th century, especially after Bondanini’s invention and Bodum’s distribution.

  • The French press was seen as a simple, elegant, and affordable way to make quality coffee at home.
  • It allowed users to customize the strength and flavor of their coffee by adjusting the amount of water, coffee grounds, and brewing time.
  • Compatibility with various types of coffee beans and roasts gave users more options and variety.
  • The French press played a substantial role in popularizing coffee culture in Europe. People enjoyed sharing and comparing their brews with friends and family, fostering a sense of community.

Global Spread

The popularity of the French press wasn’t confined to Europe. In the 1960s, Peet’s Coffee & Tea, a specialty coffee roaster and retailer based in California, introduced it to the American market.

  • French press coffee’s rich and full-bodied flavor immediately appealed to coffee enthusiasts.
  • Its convenience and simplicity also resonated with people—it did not require electricity or paper filters.
  • It became widely available in coffee shops, restaurants, hotels, and stores across the country.

Beyond America, the French press spread to other continents, such as Asia, Africa, and South America.

  • In Vietnam, the French press is used to make cà phê sữa đá (iced coffee with condensed milk), a popular drink that combines French colonial influence with local ingredients.
  • In Ethiopia, the French press is used to make buna (coffee), a ceremonial drink served with salt, butter, or milk after roasting and grinding the beans by hand.

The global popularity of the French press showcases its utility and adaptability. No matter where you are, this humble device offers a simple and dependable way to enjoy a delicious cup of coffee.

Best Coffee Grinder for French Press

Innovations and Modern Designs

While holding onto its classic charm, the French press has continued to evolve and innovate in the modern day. With new features and designs, it caters to the needs and preferences of the contemporary coffee drinker, making it a timeless favorite.

Several brands have revolutionized the design of the French press, adding new features or improving existing ones to enhance the experience when brewing coffee:

  • Espro has created a patented double micro-filter that virtually eliminates all of the coffee grounds from the brew. This innovation results in a cleaner, smoother cup of coffee that retains all the flavors without the grit.
  • AeroPress has introduced a hybrid device that ingeniously combines the principles of the French press with those of an espresso machine. The result is a strong, concentrated brew that can be diluted with water or milk to match your preference.
  • Rite Press has developed a smart device with a built-in thermometer, timer, magnetic lock, and removable bottom for easy cleaning and disposal of the grounds.
  • Fellow has designed a sleek device that exudes a modern aesthetic with its matte black finish. It’s a stylish blend of form and function.

These innovations are a testament to the ongoing evolution of the French press, showcasing its constant progress and forward-thinking nature.

Brewing Techniques

Brewing with a French press is an art—it’s about more than just pouring hot water over coffee grounds. The steps you take can significantly affect the quality and taste of your coffee.

Here’s a basic brew guide:

  1. Using a gooseneck kettle, heat water to the optimal temperature of around 195°F (90°C).
  2. Grind fresh coffee beans to a coarse or medium-coarse consistency.
  3. Add the coffee grounds to the French press and pour enough water to saturate them. Stir gently and let them bloom for 45 seconds.
  4. Pour the rest of the water and place the lid on the French press. Do not press the plunger yet.
  5. Let the coffee steep for 3 to 5 minutes, depending on your desired strength and flavor.
  6. Slowly and steadily press the plunger down until it reaches the bottom of the carafe.
  7. Pour the coffee into a cup and enjoy!

Common Mistakes and Best Practices

While brewing with a French press is straightforward, there are common mistakes that can affect the quality and taste of your coffee:

  • Using unfiltered water that is too hot or too cold can scald or under-extract the ground coffee.
  • Grinding the coffee beans too fine or too coarse can result in over-extraction or under-extraction.
  • Using too much or too little coffee can lead to a weak or bitter brew.
  • Not stirring the coffee grounds before steeping can result in uneven extraction and flavor.
  • Steeping the coffee too long or too short can result in a sour or bitter brew.
  • Pressing the plunger too fast or hard can cause the filter to break or the grounds to escape into the cup.
  • Leaving coffee in the French press after brewing can result in over-extraction and bitterness.

With these tips, you’ll be well on your way to brewing the best French press coffee every time.

Final Thoughts

With its user-friendly design and aroma-preserving brewing process, the French press has a fascinating history that contributes to its charm. It’s interesting to note that the first patent for this remarkable contraption was actually filed by an Italian, not a Frenchman!

The coffee brewer has undergone numerous transformations over the years, evolving from basic metal or cheesecloth screens to the intricate mesh filters we encounter today. It is not merely a coffee brewing apparatus but a symbol of the ever-evolving coffee culture.

Happy caffeinating!

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Is It Called French Press?

The French press is believed to have originated in France in the mid-19th century, hence its name. The design was later refined by an Italian inventor, Attilio Calimani, in 1929.

What Is Special About French Press Coffee?

French press coffee is known for its rich, robust flavor. This is because the freshly ground coffee remains in direct contact with the brewing water. A metal mesh is used instead of a paper filter, allowing the coffee’s essential oils and fine particles to make their way into the final cup.

What Grind Is Used For French Press?

A coarse grind is typically recommended for French press brewing. Too fine a grind can result in over-extraction or a muddy brew.

When Was The French Press Invented?

The basic design of the French press dates back to the mid-19th century in France. However, Italian inventor Attilio Calimani patented the first widely recognized design in 1929.

What Size Of French Press Should You Buy?

The size of the French press you should buy depends on your coffee-drinking habits. A small press (12-17 ounces) may be sufficient if you only make coffee for yourself. A larger press (27-34 ounces or more) would be a better choice if you often make coffee for multiple people.

What Are The Best Brands Of Coffee For A French Press?

The best brands for a French press are those that offer single-origin coffee beans sourced responsibly. Choosing a brand that provides a coarse grind or whole beans that you can grind yourself is also essential.

Picture of About the Author Kris Silvey

About the Author Kris Silvey

As a semi-professional at-home barista and full-time software engineer, my love for coffee borders on obsession. By combining my passion for coffee with an engineering mindset, I strive to perfect my brewing process and share that knowledge with each of you.

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