Can I Use Pre-Ground Coffee In A French Press? Why (Not)


Did you just buy a new French press or dug up and old one and are wondering if you can use the bag of ground coffee you bought from the supermarket and get good results? Let’s find out.

It’s possible to use pre-ground supermarket coffee in a French press but it won’t yield the best results and might cause some problems. Getting coffee ground to order at a coffee shop or grinding your own coffee at home will improve your French press coffee a lot.

If you are wondering what problems using pre-ground coffee can cause in your French press and other pros and cons, keep reading.

Can I Use Pre-Ground Coffee In A French Press?

Of course it is possible to use pre-ground coffee in a French Press. You’ll even get a cup of coffee. However, there are a few things that could go wrong.

The biggest problem with a lot of pre-ground coffee is that the coffee beans are ground too fine. This can cause some problems. They aren’t the end of the world and you’ll still get a cup of coffee but it probably won’t be the best.

If you go through the trouble of brewing coffee in a French press instead of flicking a switch on a coffee maker, you probably care about the quality and taste of the coffee that ends up in your cup so knowing the potential problems and solutions is probably worthwhile for your.

Grind size

The main problem with using pre-ground coffee is that it’s usually ground to the wrong size for a French press. Pre-ground coffee is ground to work with the most popular brewing method which is the drip coffee maker.

Suggested: What’s the best grind size for a French press?

For a drip coffee maker with paper filter, you want the grounds to be quite a bit finer than is ideal for a French press. So if you put this in a French press, two things will happen;

  • The coffee steeps much faster
  • The grounds can clog up the filter

Grinding a coffee bean up in smaller particles gives the water more surface area to contact the grounds. That means you get what you want from those grounds much quicker. Part of that can be compensated for by just steeping the coffee for shorter. Just a shorter steep time will still yield a different taste though. It’s likely you’ll have more bitterness. Taste is personal though so if that’s what you like, there is no problem. There is another potential problem with a smaller grind size that’s less taste dependent though.

Suggested: Why is my French press coffee bitter?

The filter of a French press is coarser than a paper filter. Some pre ground coffee is just the right size to clog up the holes in the filter. Or at least clog it up enough to make pushing down the plunger quite tough. If you push down but the water can’t move through the filter, it’ll look for another way. That way is past the filter. However, if the water can get past the filter so can the grounds. That means you end up with much more sediment in your cup than there should be.

Suggested: Why is my French press plunger hard to press?

Some bags are made for espresso machines. This is not any better for a French press since coffee is ground even finer for an espresso machine. While drip coffee grounds will work to some degree and just doesn’t brew the best coffee as long as it doesn’t clog the filter, espresso grounds will not work in a French press at all.

Pros and cons of using pre-ground coffee in a French press

Let’s quickly go over the pros and cons of using pre-ground coffee in a French press.

Suggested: How much coffee grounds in a French press?

Pros

  • Easy: Pre ground coffee is super easy. You just open the bag, scoop as much as you want and you’re done. No other tools or effort required.
  • Cheap: Ground coffee is usually pretty cheap. It’s cheaper per cup than k-cups for example but sometimes even cheaper than whole beans.
  • Quick: No grinding required. With a hand grinder that saves a few minutes and some elbow grease.
  • It’s what you’re used to: For most people pre ground coffee is exactly the taste they want and expect from a cup of coffee.

Cons

  • Grind size: By far the biggest problem with using pre-ground coffee in a French press and that is the Grind size (Size of the coffee particles). Most bags of pre-ground coffee are ground too fine for a French press. This has as a result that the coffee can become very bitter and it can clog the filter in the French press making it hard to press the plunger.
  • Freshness: Coffee beans are best about 4 days after roasting. After roasting, aromas and other volatile compounds slowly escape. That’s the case for any coffee. If you grind it, this dramatically accelerates that process. In a supermarket, it’s very unlikely you’ll get a bag that is only 4 days post roasting. It’s likely to be weeks by the time you grab it. Taste will have deteriorated by then.
  • Quality: Most pre-ground coffee is not the highest quality you can get. Once the beans are ground up you won’t notice there are some beans in there that shouldn’t be in there. Of course mass produced coffee isn’t going to be a specialty coffee but be aware that you’re not getting the best. However, this coffee is priced accordingly so if you’re happy with it, no need to spend more. If you care to brew with a French press, you probably want to get a good cup of coffee. So paying some attention to the quality of coffee you’re buying will yield the best results.
  • Sourcing: Coffee is a very labor intensive crop to grow and harvest and most of it happens in poorer countries. Things have improved with fair trade trademarks and similar but it should be clear that if you’re paying a low price there are probably sacrifices being made in treatment somewhere. That’s not to say more expensive coffee necessarily does a better job at that.

Now we should make a distinction between the bags of coffee you get from a large brand in the supermarket and ground coffee you get from a coffee shop.

Supermarket

Pre-ground bags of coffee from a supermarket are made to sell. That means a taste most people are used to and ground for a brewing method the majority of the people uses. Most people use a drip brewer with paper filter of some sort.

For a drip method, you grind the coffee quite a bit finer than is ideal for a French Press. In a drip filter, that smaller size is preferred since the paper filters are very good at filtering out all the tiny particles and the water doesn’t have a long contact time with the grounds so you need a lot of surface area to brew the coffee fast enough.

If you can find a bag of ground coffee in the supermarket that says on it it will work for a French press, it’ll probably work well since they’ll have ground the coffee larger.

Coffee roaster

Your local coffee roaster is a much better option if you want to use pre-ground coffee. Often these shops can roast to order so it’s fresh. All coffee roasters I know will offer the option to not only roast your coffee to order but also grind it. And since they’re probably doing small batches, they can also grind it exactly to your needs. That will solve most of the problems with other pre-ground coffee.

If you can find a coffee roaster nearby, make sure to let them know what kind of taste you like and that you’ll be using it in a French press. By grinding it to

Conclusion

So can you use pre-ground coffee in a French press? It’s absolutely possible to use pre-ground coffee in a French press but depending on where you get it and what it’s ground for, you might not get the best results. The biggest potential problem besides suboptimal taste is that you can clog up the filter in your French press and it becomes very hard to brew a good cup of coffee.

Besides getting your own grinder and whole beans (which isn’t as expensive or difficult to use as you might think), the best thing to do is to find a local coffee shop or coffee roaster and buy your coffee there. Since they have the ability to grind it perfectly for a French press you won’t have any of the drawbacks of pre-ground coffee you can find in a supermarket.

And besides being able to brew a good cup without incident, buying freshly roasted and ground coffee locally is going to get you all the benefits of pre-ground coffee,  a much better tasting cup and you support a local business on top of that.

Favorite French Press Brewing Tools

Here are some things that help you brew better coffee:

  • French press: This beautiful stainless steel Meuller French press (Amazon) is high quality yet affordable and the double filtration system means less sediment in your cup.
  • Grinder: Fresh beans have to be ground. A hand grinder like the Hario Slim (Amazon) is affordable yet effective hand grinder that will improve your cold brew.
  • Scale: The amount of grounds you use makes a big impact on what your cold brew tastes like. A simple set of scales will makes your brews more consistent. I’ve been using this one (Amazon) for over a year with great success. Not the most aesthetic but effective.

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