How To Make French Press Coffee Stronger? Why Is It Watery?


How To Make French Press Coffee Stronger header image

You want that strong, punchy cup of coffee in the morning but your French press just isn’t delivering it to your liking. What can you do to make it stronger? Here’s everything you can try.

To get stronger coffee from a French press, the first things to change are the brew time (up to 6 minutes) and to change small things in the process like stirring, grind size and the water temperature. If this doesn’t help, try a dark roasted coffee and use more grounds.

How to change all the different factors exactly and in which order? Find out below.

Why your French press coffee is watery

If you want to make stronger coffee in your French press, we should first look into why it’s weak in the first place. You can’t fix something if you don’t know what’s going wrong.

There are a few common and some less common causes that can cause you to have weak, watery coffee from your French press;

  • Not enough grounds: The first reason is the most obvious and simplest problem is that you simply put too little grounds in the French press. I personally like my coffee quite mild and I use about 12 grams of grounds for 200 grams of water. However, if you want something with a bit more of a kick, you can try going up to 15 or even 20 grams of coffee grounds per 200 grams of water. Build up slowly to be able to really dial in what you like.
  • Steep time too short: Maybe you didn’t give the coffee enough time to steep before pushing down the plunger. When you push the plunger, the brewing process stops. Wait at least 4 minutes before pushing down but up to even 6 minutes is OK. Just like tea, the longer you steep the coffee, the stronger it gets.
  • Agitation: In a French press, the coffee grounds go in before the water. However, after steeping for a few minutes, the coffee tends to form a crust on top of the water. After about 3 minutes, stir the coffee to break up the crust and give the grounds more contact with the water by swirling the whole mixture. There’s no need to stir vigorously, just two or three stirs in both directions is enough. Wait a little longer before pushing the plunger after stirring. I personally like the results after this process: Pour water -> Wait 3 minutes without touching -> Stir -> Wait 3 minutes ->Push plunger
  • Wrong grind size: A French press does require a relatively coarse grind size. If you grind your own coffee, try a slightly smaller setting. Smaller particles have more surface area and therefore extract faster. Pre ground coffee is usually a bit smaller than ideal for a French press so if you buy pre ground coffee, this is probably not the problem. If you don’t have a grinder at home, you can find a local coffee shop that roasts their own coffee. They’ll gladly sell you a bag of coffee that’s ground to the right size. Make sure to tell them what you like and a good coffee shop will be able to help you.
  • Old Beans: If you grind your own beans, how old are they? Beans are best from 4 days up to about six weeks after roasting at the most. At the end of those six weeks and after that, the taste of the coffee becomes noticeably flatter and the aromas start disappearing. Get a fresh bag of coffee or beans that has been roasted in the last week.
  • Roast: Lighter roasts tend to be a bit more floral and are better for people that like more subtle notes without the heavy punch. The darker the roast, the less subtle flavors and the more bold, bitter flavors. Check what kind of roast you’ve got now and if a darker roast could be more your style. On supermarket coffee, they usually don’t indicate the roast level. There might be a strength indicator though. Usually a higher strength corresponds with a darker roast in those coffees.
  • Water temperature: The temperature of the water has an impact on how much the water extracts from the grounds. The more you extract the stronger the taste. In general, the ideal temperature for a French press is 94 degrees Celsius. This is roughly the temperature 30 seconds to one minute after the water comes off the boil. However, you don’t want to extract too much from the grounds because it’ll cause the coffee to taste bitter and hollow.
  • Used to other coffee: Maybe you need some time to adjust to your new coffee brewing method. If you’re used to drinking espresso all the time, anything else is going to taste weak in comparison.

These are the biggest reasons why your French press brew is not up to what you expect. So what can you do to make it better? Well from the problems above you can likely already figure out what you can try but let’s go over it in a bit more depth below.

How to make your French press coffee stronger

Here are the things you should try to get a stronger brew out of your French press;

1.    Tune your process

The brewing process from start to finish has a ton of variables that can impact the final result. Even without changing the beans or upgrading your grinder, you can change the taste of brew by changing a few variables.

We already went over the variables above but lets put them together for clarity here;

  • Steep time
  • Stirring
  • Water temperature

Yes, there are other parts to the process but they’re handles separately below. Try changing the factors above first.

 The first thing to try is to increase the steep time. To be clear, the steep time is the amount of time from pouring in the water until pushing down the plunger. At the same time, don’t forget to stir the coffee during this time.

Also, next time you use your French press, preheat the carafe so the water you pour in stays hotter. Boil some water and pour some in the press before putting in any grounds. Swirl it around to heat up as much of the glass as you can. Don’t swirl so hard it spills out because that would be quite painful.

Suggested: can you pour boiling water into a French press?

For me this process for brewing a French press works well. It yields slightly stronger coffee than pour over;

  • Pour hot water into the press to pre heat it. Throw out the water
  • Scoop in enough grounds (Start with 15 grams of grounds per 200 grams of water but more on ratio below)
  • Pour in water that’s about 30 seconds off the boil
  • Wait 3 minutes
  • Stir. Two or three stirs both ways
  • Put on the lid/plunger but don’t press down yet.
  • Wait another 3 minutes
  • Push the plunger
  • Pour

Suggested: Should you push a French press plunger all the way down?

I wouldn’t extend the brew time much more than 6 minutes. You can try using slightly hotter water if that isn’t enough. Don’t stir more than mentioned above, it might make the coffee a bit stronger but won’t do the taste any favors.

Besides going for pure strength, the taste is important as well. We want to increase the strength without ruining the tasting experience so that’s why it’s important to get a good, constant process before changing other factors. If you change too much at once, it’s hard to figure out which change did what. The process above is a good starting point.

Pouring water into a French press

2.    Change the grind size

If the process and changes above don’t have the desired result, the next thing to try is to change the grind size. This is only a viable change if you have your own adjustable grinder at home. If you don’t have a grinder at home and use pre ground coffee, skip to the next step.

A hand grinder for home use doesn’t have to be very expensive to grind good coffee for a French press. Click here to find a good hand grinder for a good price.

Sometimes, when people hear a French press needs a coarse grind, they go a bit crazy and go for really coarse grounds. It’s possible you went a bit too coarse and the particles are too big. This means less surface area on the grounds and the water has less surface to extract from. Adjust your grinder a touch finer. Go in small increments and take not of the change.

For a decent French press grind, aim for the majority of the coffee grounds particles to be about the size of normal table salt.

3.    Change the ratio

If that still doesn’t do it or you don’t have a grinder, it’s time to change the amount of coffee grounds you put into your press.

I personally use about 12 grams of grounds per 200 grams of water. I do like milder coffee though. For a stronger cup, start off with 15 grams of grounds per 200 grams of water. Change the amount of grounds and not the amount of water. You still want a full cup. Work your way up to as much as 20 grams

A spoon is not a good way to measure coffee grounds. Use the kitchen scale if it’s accurate to the gram (preferably accurate to 0.1 gram). Spoons and coffee grounds can both vary quite a bit so you can actually vary the amount of grounds you put in even if you use the same amount of scoops.

A simple coffee scale doesn’t have to be expensive but most kitchen scales will work as well. Check out the scale below. I’ve been using it for the last year and still works well. No it’s not the highest quality or looks the best but, it does the same things scales 3x -5x the price do. I’ve tested it next to another, much more expensive coffee scale and the scales showed exactly the same weight.

4.    Get a batch of fresh, dark roasted coffee

If you want to try this step first of change the ratio first is up to you. I don’t like to waste any beans so it’s better to polish your process first and see what gains you can have there.

Sometimes it’s just the coffee you’re using that is not to your taste though. Or maybe it was when it was fresh but it’s just too old now.

If nothing above got you the results you like, it’s a good idea to try a darker roast. The roast level has a huge impact on the taste you’re getting. Darker roasts tend to give a more bitter and thicker feeling cup of coffee.

The best way is to go to a local coffee shop that roasts their own coffee. Explain to them you want a strong, full bodied coffee for a French press and you would like to try a dark roast.

If you don’t have your own grinder, going to a local coffee shop is also a good idea because they will grind it to order to the size you need. Ask for a medium-coarse grind for a French press and you should have the right bag of coffee for your needs.

Don’t know where to get good, freshly roasted beans and not sure what you like? Try the YesPLZ coffee subscription. You can choose how much coffee you want to receive and how often and you’ll get a different bag in the mail. This way you can explore what kind of coffee you like and you’ll always have fresh beans. Click here to check YesPLZ out.

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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