Tackling the Frustrating Problem of a Hard-to-Push French Press

Hard to push French Press

A French press is one of my favorite ways to brew coffee. It’s a simple device that makes good coffee – and lots of it too!

So, while I love French press coffee, I’ll admit that I don’t always love the contraption itself! I’ve had many French press coffee makers over the years; some have fared better than others.

These coffee-brewing devices have existed since the 1920s and can be found in stores worldwide.

Yet sometimes, they’re a little frustrating! One of the most frequent complaints is the French press plunger being hard to push down.

Why Is a French Press Hard to Push Down Sometimes?

You might encounter resistance with your French press plunger for many reasons.

Here are the main ones:

Your Grind Size Is Wrong

A French press relies on you being able to push a plunger through liquid and coffee grounds. The mesh screen is fine so as not to allow ground coffee into your cup. For French press brewing, a medium coarse grind will produce the best drink.

Using fine-ground coffee is the most common reason for feeling too much resistance as you try to lower the plunger. When the coffee grounds are too fine, they block the mesh screen and won’t allow the liquid to pass through.

If you find the plunger challenging to push, alter your grind to be less fine and see if that makes a difference! Be mindful, however, that the opposite can also be true: if there is no difficulty whatsoever, the grind might be too coarse, and you won’t get the best brew.

You can experiment with grinding coffee beans if you’re fortunate enough to have your own coffee grinder.

Medium grind coffee, perfect for your French Press
Medium grind coffee, perfect for your French Press

Your Screen Surface Needs a Proper Clean

Another common reason you might find your French press hard to push down is a clogged mesh screen. Even if you’ve always used the perfect grind for a cafetière, your plunger screen can become clogged, making it hard to press down after the brew has finished.

Roasted coffee grounds are rich in oils, which combine with water minerals that build up over time. So if you’re rinsing your French press plunger under running water without taking it apart to clean it, you might find that this is the cause of your plunging problem.

There are two methods of cleaning for a French press: a daily quick clean and a thorough deep clean.

Each day when you make your morning coffee, be sure to immediately pour leftover coffee away (or into a thermos for later) to make cleaning easier.

The coffee grounds can be thrown away (or put in the compost bin) and the vessel cleaned. Be sure to use a wooden spatula to loosen the grounds to make them come away more easily.

Related: Used coffee grounds can be very useful in your garden. Check our guide, Do coffee grounds keep squirrels away, for more information.

After emptying most of the coffee grounds, you can use leftover boiling water to rinse the components and the vessel. Next, fill the container halfway with warm water and dish soap.

Then, place the plunger into the container as if to make coffee, and plunge it up and down a few times to loosen and leftover coffee grounds and oils within the plunger and mesh screen. Rinse everything thoroughly.

For a deeper clean once a week (or more frequently if you wish), disassemble the plunger and thoroughly clean each component.

The best solution is a mixture of white vinegar and hot water. Remember to rinse all the parts well before making your next cup!

You Need to Give It a Little More Time.

If you want great coffee, you need a little patience. The perfect cup of French press coffee takes time and is done in stages:

  • The first pour – after heating your water to between 195 °F and 205 °F, pour a small amount over your ground coffee, stir, and then wait a few minutes. This process allows the coffee to bloom and release carbon dioxide to create complex flavors and aromatics.
  • The second pour – after 3 minutes or so, fill the vessel to the top and stir with a chopstick, then cover with the plunger to keep the heat in. Leave for up to four minutes. If you prefer stronger coffee, leave it a little longer. Too long, however, will result in bitter coffee.
  • Most people prefer to turn on the kettle again to bring the water to a boil just before pouring it for a second time to make the coffee hot rather than warm.
  • Lower the plunger and serve.

If you’re struggling to lower the plunger in the carafe, it could be that you haven’t waited long enough for the coffee maker to do its job.

Your Coffee-To-Water Ratio Is Wrong.

Brewing French press coffee is an art form, and getting the coffee-to-water ratio correct is essential. Many people guess by pouring coffee into their coffee maker and looking through the glass to see where it comes up to.

Though luck might be on your side sometimes with this haphazard method, you might find it doesn’t work well, and you don’t get the best brew. So if you want to truly enjoy your drink, invest in some coffee scales, fresh coffee beans, and your own grinder – and measure the water too!

Generally speaking, the rule is to use a ratio of 1:10 with 1 gram of coffee for every 10 g of water. So, if you want to get it right, weigh your coffee as you put it into the carafe, switch your scales from g to ml (1 gram = 1 ml of water), multiply by 10, and you’ll get the perfect cup.

Final Thoughts

It doesn’t matter if you’ve got a metal French press or a glass one. You don’t need paper filters, so you’ll never miss a cup of coffee due to running out.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you won’t occasionally run into issues with your French press coffee maker, but most of the time, these are easily remedied.

Provided you use the right grind, the correct coffee-to-water ratio, and the appropriate brewing method, you should find your brewing experience problem-free.

However, if you’re having difficulty lowering the plunger, clean the mesh screen thoroughly to resolve the issue.


Does the Grind Matter for Use in A French Press?

Yes. If the grind is too fine, the plunger will be difficult to lower. If it’s too coarse, you’ll be able to lower it quickly, but the coffee will not taste as nice.

Can You Clean a French Press in A Dishwasher?

This depends entirely on the make and model. You should always follow the instructions supplied with your French press.

How Does a French Press Work?

The French press has a fine mesh that works like a paper filter. It prevents the grounds from seeping into the brew, leaving you with a great cup of coffee or a batch, depending on the size of your carafe.

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