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26 Mar 2021

Five cafetiere and French press mistakes that could spoil your coffee

How long you leave it brewing, how you plunge it and how you wash it could all leave you with bitter-tasting coffee
Woman pouring coffee

Brewing coffee in a cafetiere or French press should be a straightforward way to get cafe-quality coffee at home. But could you be brewing it better?

Although simpler to use than coffee machines, there are some common pitfalls cafetiere users fall into - often unknowingly - that can leave you with a disappointing brew or a clogged sink.

I'll confess to making every one of these mistakes before, but once you're in the know it's easy to steer clear of them and get the best-tasting coffee from your cafetiere.

Or see the best cafetieres and French presses that stood head and shoulders above the rest in our recent tests

Kettle boiling in the kitchen

1) Don't use boiling water

If you've been pouring water into your cafetiere as soon as the kettle clicks, your coffee is probably far less tasty than it could be.

When you pour the water into your cafetiere and leave it to brew, the hot water extracts the rich, complex flavours from the grounds. But if that water is boiling, this can lead to 'over-extraction'.

This means unwanted oils are also released from the coffee grounds, which gives it an overpowering bitterness.

The widely accepted optimal brewing temperature for coffee is between 90°C and 96°C, so you don't have to wait long after boiling the kettle for your water to be ready.

Waiting between 30 seconds and one minute after boiling should get your water to just the right temperature for extracting the best flavours from the grounds.

Use one of our Best Buy kettles to fill your cafetiere or French press.

Cafetiere, cups of coffee and a muffin

2) Don't leave it to brew for too long

Just like 'how long should I leave the tea bag in for?', how long to let your coffee brew is an age-old question with a different answer depending on who you ask.

But there's a universally accepted truth; if you leave your coffee to brew for too long it will turn bitter.

In our recent cafetiere tests, we let each one brew for four minutes before pouring. This is a commonly accepted amount of time people leave their cafetieres to brew for.

However, once past the four-minute mark the risk of over-extracting the coffee becomes greater.

Some people like to leave their coffee a little longer for a stronger flavour and slight bitterness, while others prefer a milder coffee that should be brewed for less than four minutes.

Ultimately, you'll need to experiment to find a strength that works best for you, but if your coffee is often bitter, you're likely leaving it to brew for too long.

Pressing cafetiere filter

3) Don't press it too hard

You might be short on time or patience when preparing your morning coffee, but plunging your cafetiere's press down too hard has consequences.

In our tests we rate how easy each cafetiere is to press by pressing each one as gently as possible. This helps us spot which ones need an unreasonable amount of effort to press, but is also the best way to prevent unwanted grounds from getting in your coffee.

As you push down on the press, pressure builds as the liquid squeezes through the filter screen and separates the grounds from the drink.

Pushing too hard can cause the bitter-tasting granules to burst through the sides of the press into the top part of the cafetiere, and excessive force can even make them burst out of the cafetiere.

Slowly and gently pushing the press downwards before pouring will give you the best chance of keeping the grounds out of your coffee.

Maintain the freshness and flavour of your coffee grounds with our picks of the best coffee grinders.

Coffee grounds in the sink

4) Don't pour your grounds down the sink

If you say you've never done this before, I don't believe you. Pouring your grounds down the sink is something every cafetiere owner can fess up to doing at least once.

It may be lot of effort to scoop out your coffee grounds and put them in the food waste bin, but it's a lot less effort than unblocking your drain.

On their own, coffee granules are unlikely to cause blockages, but when you combine them with the oils, fats and other food bits that end up in the sink, they help to form clogs.

Water does nothing to break down coffee granules, so if you keep pouring them down the sink, blockages will soon occur. And nothing is better at ruining that relaxing sit back with a coffee than knowing you've got a sink full of grounds and dirty water to unclog.

They're best off going in the bin or even better, the compost heap. Coffee grounds are rich in nitrogen, which is effective at fertilising plants and helping them grow.

Empty cafetiere with press

5) Don't wash the cafetiere without taking it apart

Cleaning a cafetiere is another area most owners will admit to cutting corners on, but taking the time to separate the components has its benefits.

Coffee grounds are experts at getting into whatever nooks and crannies they can, and if you clean the cafetiere without taking it apart old coffee grounds will get stuck.

Most cafetieres are made up of three components; the spiral plate at the top, the filter screen in the middle and the cross plate at the bottom.

Detaching these parts and cleaning them individually will ensure no old coffee grounds mix with the fresh ones and make your coffee bitter.

Take care, though, as our tests found several filter screens with prickly edges. Make sure to wear washing-up gloves to avoid nicking your fingers.

It may be an effort to do this after every use, but if you want to maximise the freshness and flavour of your coffee it's a step worth taking.

Compare our washing-up liquid reviews to see which is best for keeping your cafetiere sparkling clean.