Can French Press Make Espresso? Maybe And It Depends On This

can french press make espresso

Many coffee lovers crave a shot of espresso to start their day. The problem is that you might not have a fancy espresso machine at home. A French press makes regular coffee, and an espresso machine makes espresso. Can you still make espresso in the French Press sitting on your counter? Here’s why it may be possible and why the brew will taste different.

It’s possible to make a drink that’s like espresso in a French press, but it all comes down to grind, water temperature, and timing. The brew methods will still be different, with the French press’ long, slow, and unfiltered immersion process vs. an espresso machine’s fast, high-pressure system which forces hot water through the coffee puck and portafilter to produce smooth, intense shots topped with crema.

Can you make espresso with a French press? Maybe, and it all comes down to grind, water temperature, and timing.

Can You Make Espresso in a French Press?

Yes, you can make a drink that can resemble the espresso flavor in a French Press instead of an expensive espresso machine. It’s a good alternative to shelling out tons of money on a pricey machine if you only drink espresso sometimes, need it in a pinch, or prefer it as a base for other drinks.

While you won’t be able to reproduce espresso’s smoother, concentrated intensity or signature crema foam topping in a French Press, you can make a dark, rich coffee that makes a decent espresso base for many iced or hot drinks including lattes and cappuccinos.

Because it’s a concentrated shot, espresso has more caffeine per unit volume than French Press coffee. French Press contains a high percentage of caffeine at 107.5mg in an 8-ounce cup.

At 77mg in a 1.5 oz. shot, a comparable 8-oz cup of espresso would contain around 408mg of caffeine which is just over the FDA’s daily recommended caffeine dose for adults. If you want to know more, I’ve detailed this in my article: is French Press coffee stronger than espresso.

To get your desired results, choose a medium to dark roast that brings out the coffee beans’ deeper, chocolatey undertones.

French Press Espresso vs. Traditional Espresso: What’s the Difference?

The big difference that divides French Press coffee from espresso is the type of brewing method.

A French Press immerses and steeps the coffee grounds like tea. This creates an aromatic, robust coffee with all the oils and flavors from the unfiltered beans. In contrast, an espresso machine forces hot water through the coffee bed to produce a fast, strong, concentrated shot of coffee.

How Do You Make Espresso in a French Press?

You’ll want to follow a few basic steps and practices to achieve a brew that’s as similar to espresso as you can get with the French Press immersion-style method.

The good news is that you can make espresso from any type of beans as long as you get the grind right. It’s best to pick a dark roast like Intelligentsia Black Cat, Starbucks, Espresso Roast, or another favorite brand to get started.

While it’s possible to use pre-ground coffee that’s labeled for espresso, this won’t work well in the French Press. It also doesn’t filter the coffee like an espresso machine. If you use a grind that’s too fine in a French Press, you’ll end up with a lot of sludgy sediment at the bottom of each cup.

After you choose your coffee beans, use a burr grinder to get them to a medium-fine grind. If the grind is more like kosher salt, grind again. If it’s more like powder, then you’ve gone too far. Aim for a consistency that feels like sea salt.

Once you heat your water to just under boiling, add the grounds to the press and stir it up. Set your time for 4 minutes, then slowly press the plunger to the bottom and pour. Don’t let the brew sit too long or it can get bitter.

If you want to reduce the French Press’ robust and earthy undertones to achieve a smoother espresso taste, you can use a secondary paper filter as you pour the brew to remove bits of grounds, oils, and strong flavors.

What Kind of Coffee Can a French Press Make?

A French Press makes regular coffee.

It’s not possible to make traditional espresso in a French Press since espresso needs 9-10 bars of atmospheric pressure to force water that’s close to boiling temperature through a finely ground coffee bed.  

While you can’t replicate these conditions in a French Press, it’s possible to produce coffee that has espresso’s same intense strength in a French Press.

How to Make Espresso at Home

You can make espresso-strength coffee in your French Press at home by weighing and grinding a ½ cup of dark roast in a good quality burr grinder. You’ll want to grind the right amount of beans to make 1-2 dark, intense espresso shots.  

You’ll want to add more coffee compared to water to make the brew stronger. Use a secondary filter in the French Press during the brew to prevent the oils from transferring and another filter during the pour to remove sediment and particles of coffee grind.

Is an Espresso Grind the Same as a French Press Grind?

No, there’s a big difference between a normal French Press grind and the kind of grind that’s needed to produce genuine espresso. 

A French Press works well with a coarser grind that extracts slowly in the hot water. In contrast, the espresso grind is super fine. At the same time, using a very fine espresso grind in a French Press will result in bitter, overpowering, or gritty coffee that just tastes bad. 

To avoid this and replicate espresso in a French Press, you’ll want to use a medium grind that doesn’t get over-extracted too fast or cause thick sediment to build up in your cup.

Alternative Coffee Makers for Better Espresso

There are a few ways to produce a better cup of espresso at home than a French Press. 

You might want to consider using an AeroPress or a Moka Pot to get your espresso shots just right.

An AeroPress is like an upgraded French Press that has a paper filter to make your brew smoother like espresso. While it can take a little art and practice to get a perfect cup, a Moka Pot can brew a classic brew that’s similar to espresso in just a few minutes.

Any time that your espresso comes out oilier than usual, just run it through a filter to eliminate oily residue and overpowering flavors.

How to Make Espresso in a French Press with These Basic Steps 

Step 1:  

Grind up a half cup of high-quality coffee to a medium-fine texture. Add more coffee than you think you need, since it won’t produce any froth that mimics espresso like an AeroPress or Moka Pot.

Step 2:

Heat 1 cup of water to no more than 200 degrees. Let it sit while you pour the grounds into the French Press.

Step 3:  

Add one splash of hot water to let your coffee bloom to release flavor from the coffee beans. Wait about 30 seconds to let the water soak into the grounds.  

Step 4:

Add the rest of the water to the French Press. Put on the lid, but don’t depress the plunger. Let the coffee immerse and steep while you set the timer for 4 minutes.  

Step 5:  

When the timer goes off, push down the plunger slowly until it reaches halfway with a steady, downward pressure. Pull it back to the top and then push it to the bottom with even pressure. Pour into a cup if you don’t mind the oils and stronger aromas, or strain through a paper filter to give it a smoother body.  

Final Thoughts

Making espresso at home without a fancy machine can take extra work to get the results that you want, but it’s worth it to get a good cup of coffee. 

While you can’t duplicate the proper espresso process or achieve the same espresso taste with a French press, you can come close.  

If you love your coffee dark, strong, and powerful, the French press immersion method will get you a good cup of coffee that mimics espresso without the crema that’s perfect for making a latte, macchiato, affogato, iced latte, or a cappuccino.

See my write-up about French Press vs. Espresso coffee to get the skinny on how they compare and to see which wins the taste test.

This Is About As Close As You Can Get To Espresso With A French Press
Christopher Mize

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