Seeing as you’re here, you’ve probably found yourself wondering how do coffee plungers work. Perhaps you’ve never really used one and want to know how to make a coffee with one and maybe the cleaning that’s involved.

When I recently decided that I couldn’t continue drinking instant coffee (or powdered dirt, as my workmates called it) at work for one single day more, a coffee plunger was the first alternative that came to mind.

I definitely didn’t want to be shelling out cash for an average “real coffee” five days a week from the local cafe or use the coffee machine in the lunch room that only takes coffee pods (due to the waste).

If you’re not familiar with the ins and outs and would like to know more, read on.

Disclosure: Some of these links are affiliate links, and at no additional cost, I earn a commission if you buy which helps to maintain this website.

So how do coffee plungers work?

A stainless steel coffee plunger sitting on a table.

Coffee plungers work by using the infusion method of brewing, by first allowing the coffee to brew in hot water while sitting in a canister for a few minutes. Then, by pressing down the plunger / filter attached to the lid, you filter the coffee grounds, pushing them to the bottom of the canister.

Using this method you can make a simple black coffee, or you can make a flat white by adding some milk.

It’s also a flexible method, as you can make it as strong or as weak as you want, by simply adding more or less coffee grounds. This is one advantage that this method has over other methods, such as espresso, which has a set amount of coffee needed to make one cup.

What are the parts of a coffee plunger?

Coffee plungers come in various styles and sizes, but as far as functionality goes, they’re all basically the same.

They most often consist of a glass canister, but can also be found with stainless steel or ceramic canisters, a plunger with a metal and mesh filter and a lid at the top, which is connected with the plunger.

a close-up of a coffee press filter

A coffee plunger's filter

It’s also possible to get a coffee plunger travel mug that filters the coffee inside the same mug that you drink from. There’s many different styles of these available.

Some of them are insulated to keep the coffee hot, such as the Zyliss Travel French Press, and most of them have a different type of filter than the metal and mesh filter found in most coffee plungers, such as the BruTek.

It’s even possible to find some novelty coffee plungers, such as this Star Wars R2-D2 coffee plunger.

I strongly recommend reading the product descriptions and reviews of these different styles, though, as the quality and intended usage varies.

What grind size should I use for plunger coffee?

For plunger coffee, you’re going to want to use a medium to coarse grind. This is because the filtering method used allows for small granules of coffee to pass through the filter.

Having a fine grind, like that used for espresso, will result in more of the coffee grounds passing through to your drink, which I’m certain you do not want.

Having a medium to coarse grind stops most of the coffee grounds getting through the filter. It’s not perfect, but what is?

How to make plunger coffee

The process for making plunger coffee is fairly simple.

  1. Remove the plunger from the canister.
    coffee plunger with lid off sitting on bench
  2. Pour some hot water into the coffee plunger canister, swish it around and then empty it down your kitchen sink . This warms up your canister.
    swishing some hot water around inside a coffee plunger
  3. Add the desired amount of coarse coffee grounds. This will vary based on taste and the size of the canister. For a 1 litre coffee plunger, I usually use about three heaped teaspoons, which results in three cups of coffee. Accordingly, for a one cup coffee plunger, about one heaped teaspoon is enough.
    pouring a heaped teaspoon of ground coffee into a coffee plunger
  4. Add your desired amount of hot water to the canister.
    pouring hot water into the coffee plunger
  5. Give the coffee a stir with a spoon for about 20 seconds.
    stirring the brewing coffee with a teaspoon
  6. Cover the canister with the lid/plunger, but don’t press the plunger yet.
    coffee plunger with hot coffee inside and lid on sitting on bench
  7. Leave the coffee for about 4 minutes to brew.
  8. Gently press down the plunger.
    gently pressing down the plunger of the coffee plunger
  9. Pour the brewed coffee into your coffee cup.
    pouring hot coffee from the coffee plunger into a coffee mug
  10. Top up with hot water if needed, or some milk.
    coffee cup with coffee with milk inside and milk carton
  11. Enjoy that sweet, sweet freshly brewed coffee….Mmmmm….

After you make your plunger coffee, there’s only one thing left to do.

How to clean a French press

After relaxing to enjoy your freshly made plunger coffee, it’s now time to get to the fun stuff… cleaning! It’s definitely worth giving your French press a proper clean after every brew.

Luckily for you, cleaning a French press or coffee plunger is relatively easy. There’s really not a whole lot to it.

  1. With the plunger still pushed all the way down inside the canister, pour any left over coffee liquid down the kitchen sink.
    pouring left over coffee liquid down drain from coffee plunger
  2. Remove the plunger and leave in the sink for now.
    used french press canister and lid with plunger sitting in sink
  3. Grab a spoon and gently scrape the used coffee grounds out from the French press canister. You can put them in the rubbish bin, or if you’re like me, in the compost bin.
    using a teaspoon to empty used coffee grounds into compost bin from french press
  4. Rinse out the French press canister in the sink with warm or hot water
    rinsing used french press with water in kitchen sink
  5. Pour a small amount of washing detergent on your sponge and gently clean the inside of the French press canister.
    cleaning french press with kitchen sponge
  6. Rinse the plunger and filter in the sink with warm or hot water, carefully separating the filter and the metal plate at the bottom while rinsing to remove any coffee grounds that may be stuck in between them.
    cleaning filter of the french press by rinsing under water
    1. This next step is optional and may not be necessary with every clean, but something you should definitely consider doing. It involves completely cleaning the French press filter. If you don’t want to do it, you can simply skip this step and continue on to step 8. You should be able to remove the filter from the plunger rod by unscrewing it from the rod. Exactly how this is done will vary from French press to French press. This one I’m showing here, has a bolt on the bottom that you can undo, but others I’ve used have the rod screw into the filter plate itself.
      unscrewing filter of the french press
    2. If it’s a bit stubborn or hard to grip, try using a kitchen rubber glove or something similar to improve your grip on the rod.
    3. Once the filter is detached from the rod, separate the mesh filter from the metal filter and metal plate.
      separating the filter, mesh filter and metal plate from the french press
    4. Rinse each individual part in the kitchen sink with warm or hot water and use a soapy sponge to gently clean, making sure to remove any coffee grounds.
      rinsing the metal plate from the filter of the french press
    5. Once you’re satisfied that all parts are sparkling clean, place them back in order and re-attach them to the French press rod.
      screwing the filter parts back onto the rod of the french press
  7. Use the sponge to clean the lid and the rod connecting the filter to the lid.
  8. Give all the parts a final rinse and then towel dry or leave to dry on your dish rack.
    rinsing the french press canister once more

See? I told you it was easy!

Coffee plunger or French press?

You may have heard coffee plungers called different names before, especially if you’ve done some travelling. They’re all the same coffee-making device, no matter what they’re called.

Other names for them are:

  • french press,
  • coffee press,
  • press pot or
  • cafetière.

one of my coffee plungers

Coffee plunger or Aeropress?

The Aeropress is another suitable alternative to a coffee plunger, because it’s no bigger than a single-serve coffee plunger, which makes it highly transportable, and it produces a great coffee.

I recently wrote an article here comparing the Aeropress to coffee plungers and also a review on the AeroPress.

Next level plunger coffee

If you are looking to take your plunger coffee to the next level, watch this instructional video by world champion barista James Hoffman.

 

Have you got a hot tip or trick that you use when making plunger coffee? Or perhaps a secret super-quick method for cleaning your coffee plunger? Let me know in the comments below.

Stay caffeinated!

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