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The plunger on a French press should be pretty easy to push down. So what’s going on if you’re pushing and it doesn’t want to go down? Here are the biggest reasons.
By far the most common reason the plunger on a French press is hard to push down is because the used grounds are too fine. This will plug the holes in the filter medium in such a way that it also blocks the liquid from getting through. Using a medium coarse grind is best to prevent this.
Grinding your own coffee means you can set the grind size exactly how you want and get better tasting coffee as well. The TimeMore C2 (Amazon link) is a great value for money hand grinder that will improve the taste of your coffee.
There are a few other reasons that could block your French press plunger from moving as it should. You can find them and how to fix them below. As well as the best way to save a batch of French press coffee if it’s gone wrong.
- 1 Top Reasons French press plunger is hard to press
- 2 How to save your French press coffee if the plunger gets stuck
- 3 Favorite French Press Brewing Tools
Top Reasons French press plunger is hard to press
Let’s go over the most common reason why your French press plunger is hard to press.
- Coffee is ground too fine
- Plunger rod is bent
- You’ve reached the bottom
- Something got into the grounds
- Carafe is damaged
Below you can find the exact reasons explained in more depth and what you can do to prevent/fix them.
1. Coffee is ground too fine
By far the most common reason the plunger doesn’t want to go down is because the coffee grounds that were used are too fine for a French press.
Not sure how to exactly make good coffee in a French press? Click here for my step-by-step guide.
Pre-ground bags of coffee are usually too fine for a French press. Those bags are made for drip coffee which requires a medium to medium-fine grind. A French press work best with a medium-coarse grind.
Besides not producing the best tasting coffee, it can also clog up the filter in the French press. When you push down the plunger, you move the filter through the brew. Everything under the filter is a mix of brew and grounds while above the filter is just coffee.
So the filter catches all the grounds while letting the liquid through. When the coffee is ground too fine, those grounds can actually get stuck in the holes of the filter and block it. So they are just coarse enough to exactly plug a hole in the filter which means that liquid is blocked as well. A coarser particle doesn’t perfectly plug up the holes so water can still get past.
The coarser the grind, the bigger the holes in between them that let through liquid so the plunger will move easier.
If the grind is too fine and blocks the filter, it’s possible to push harder and you will get some movement. That’s not a good idea however because what you’re likely doing is forcing the coffee past the sides of the filter. This means a lot of the grounds will also get through and you will have a very muddy cup.
Getting your coffee ground to order or even buying your own grinder is the best solution here. You will have a massive improvement in taste over pre-ground supermarket coffee as well. Look for a grind size where most particles are about the size of normal table salt and you’ll be in the ball park.
2. Plunger rod is bent
Another possibility is that the plunger rod is bent. It should be perfectly straight otherwise you could get into trouble. The rod has to slide through the hole in the top lid and go up and down in the carafe straight. While the rod will probably slide through the top, the filter will start pushing into the walls of the carafe and lock it up.
Try to get the filter all the way up and see if you can see a bend in the rod. If it’s bent enough to get the filter stuck, you should be able to see it with your eyes.
If you don’t see anything wrong check one of the other possible causes. However, if they don’t seem to be the problem, try to move the plunger up and down without anything in the press. If you still can’t move it all the way up and down in an empty press, it’s likely that the rod is bent, just not enough to see it.
You could try to bend the rod straight but this is going to be difficult to get right. It is worth a try however since the only other solution is to buy a new French press. So since you otherwise have to buy a new one, why not try to fix the old one? Not much to lose there.
Maybe it just can’t go further down? When a French press is filled with grounds, at some point you should hit a point of resistance. The plunger is able to go as far down as the bottom of the carafe when it is empty. But when you put grounds in there, they will end up at the bottom of the carafe and form a layer between the bottom and the bottom of the filter. You’re never going to be able to push the plunger all the way down with the grounds in between.
In fact, you shouldn’t even push all that hard. Trying to compress the grounds and extracting all the liquid will push a lot of sediment through the filter and into your cup. This isn’t only unpleasant to drink but can also give the coffee a very harsh bitter taste.
This is one of the benefits of a glass press over stainless steel. With a glass one, you can easily see what’s going on inside.
4. Something got into the grounds
Did something hard make its way into the grounds? Especially if you have children, you never know what can end up where. A little rock or marble makes its way into your bag of coffee and you don’t see it while you’re still sleepy in the morning.
It’s pretty unlikely that you don’t catch it while scooping the grounds into the press but it’s a possibility.
Take the lid off the press and get the filter out. With a fork, see if you can fish anything out of the grounds. Or if you drank your coffee anyways, check the grounds when cleaning the press.
This is a pretty unlikely thing to happen but it’s not impossible.
5. Carafe is damaged
It’s rare that you don’t notice this before using it but the carafe of the French press could be damaged in a way that blocks the filter going down. Maybe a piece of glass is sticking out but you would almost certainly notice this. With a stainless French press, it could be dented or deformed in a way that doesn’t actually break it.
Just like above, if things are going smooth up until a certain point and then suddenly it doesn’t want to go any further, this is one of the options.
Of course most stainless steel French presses are double walled so you would have to dent it pretty severely for something like this to happen. Again, this is a rare occurrence but if you’ve exhausted all other possibilities it’s worth a look.
A stainless steel French press is much less likely to break or crack than a glass one. Click here to find some good ones. They have some other benefits besides durability.
How to save your French press coffee if the plunger gets stuck
What can you do if the plunger gets stuck? Above you can see the most common causes and some solutions already.
Most of the time it will require some fiddling and maybe throwing out the batch. Nobody likes to waste good coffee so is there a way you can still drink that batch of coffee?
Well you could just take out the filter and pour the whole mixture in your cup but that won’t give you a very good experience though.
If you’ve got paper coffee filters available, that’s the best way to go. Get the paper filter in a filter basket and have a container under it, just like you would prepare a drip brew. Now just pour the whole coffee mixture from the French press into the filter (wash the filter first if you like) and let it drain into the container. This way you’ll save that batch of coffee and don’t waste the grounds.
Paper filters are cheap. Most people already have them at home but if you don’t, you can get them easily and cheaply on Amazon. These are good (amazon link)
This will change the taste of the coffee a little compared to straight from a French press because the paper filter will filter out all the sediment and most of the oils.
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.