Can You Make Coffee Crema With a French Press? (And How?)

By Chris Smith •  Updated: 14/05/2022 •  8 min read

When high-pressure espresso machines were first invented in the 1940s, the crema was viewed as an undesirable byproduct of the pressurized extraction process. 

Achille Gaggia, the creator of the first machine with enough pressure to produce crema, began referring to the floating foam as ‘coffee crema’ (coffee cream in Italian), and eventually, the bitter-tasting foam became an important part of the espresso experience.

Crema is an unintended consequence of the high-pressure steam used in the espresso brewing process. It is not possible to create crema using a french press or any other non-pressurized brewing method.

In this article, we’ll explore the way crema is created in an espresso machine and learn why it’s not possible with a french coffee press. We’ll also look at some “fake crema” alternatives that you can create using a french press.

What Exactly is Coffee Crema and How is it Created?

Coffee crema is a solid foam found on top of espresso coffee, formed from CO2 bubbles and emulsified oils from the coffee, both of which are created in the high-pressure espresso extraction process.

Espresso makers put coffee under around 8 atmospheres of pressure, which allows more gas to dissolve into the liquid.

Delicious Coffee Crema

When the coffee comes out the other side, the pressure drops, and the liquid can no longer sustain so much dissolved gas, resulting in tiny bubbles forming and mixing with the emulsified oils to create a bitter-tasting stable foam. This is a similar process to opening the lid of a pressurized carbonated drink.

If you love the taste of coffee crema, check out my guide to the best home espresso machines, so you can enjoy fantastic espresso coffee in the comfort of your own home.

How to get Coffee Crema in a French Press

Unfortunately, there is no way to get true coffee crema from french press coffee makers, or from any other common brewing process except espresso brewing.

This is because for crema to form, the water has to be placed under high-pressure (around 8 bar) which is not possible in non-pressurized brewing methods such as the french press.

Crema is only found on espresso, and it’s impossible to produce espresso on a french press. It’s a completely different brewing method that produces a different type of coffee.

Although it’s not possible to make true crema without an espresso maker, you can achieve a more similar taste to espresso by using a pressurized brewing method like a moka pot

Moka pots don’t create crema, but they do make the coffee under pressure which helps to emulsify the oils from the coffee, giving it a more espresso-like taste without having to use a real espresso machine.

Why Can’t You Make Crema in a French Press?

You can’t make crema in a french press because a french press does not put the coffee under any pressure, which is required to create crema. Crema is a by-product of the high-pressure brewing that an espresso machine does. It simply won’t form in non-pressurized brewing methods like French press coffee.

To create crema, it’s necessary to put the coffee under several atmospheres of pressure. Even lower pressure methods of brewing like a moka pot (which uses around 1 – 2 bar of pressure) are not enough to create crema, although some models like the Bialetti Brikka can create a small amount.

An espresso maker puts coffee under between 8 and 10 bar of pressure, which is enough to force the liquid to absorb more carbon dioxide than it could at normal atmospheric pressure, causing the foam to form once the coffee is ready.

It’s a common misconception that french press coffee doesn’t have crema because the filter filters out the ground coffee. This is not the case, the crema is made up of emulsified oils and proteins and CO2 bubbles.

What Brewing Methods Can Create Crema?

Only an espresso machine can create true crema. Lots of methods come close, such as an aeropress or a moka pot, but the pressure isn’t high enough to force the crema to form.

Brewing MethodCreates Crema?Explanation
French Press / CafetièreNoNot Pressurized
Espresso MachineYesThe only brewing method that creates crema
Moka / Stovetop EspressoNoPressurized, but not enough pressure to create crema
AeropressNoCreates froth, but not crema
PercolatorNoNot Pressurized
Turkish Coffee / IbrikNoNot Pressurized
Pour-Over CoffeeNoNot Pressurized
Vacuum / Siphon PotNoNegative pressure removes gas from coffee

Why Would You Want Crema from French Press Coffee Makers? 

Crema is the marmite of the coffee world. Some people love it, others hate it. 

It’s understandable why some people may want crema in their french press coffee.

Crema is caused when the emulsified oils from the coffee meet with rising CO2 bubbles escaping from the de-pressurized coffee after the brewing process.

Bitter tasting foam formed on top of freshly brewed French Press Coffee

The result is a bitter-tasting foam (more bitter than the coffee itself) that some people love. People who prefer a sweeter coffee may scrape the foam off, while people who prefer a more bitter coffee often mix it in.

Though it’s not possible to create crema with french press coffee makers, you can mimic the bitter flavors found in espresso by using finer coffee grounds and a darker bean.

Check out my guide to two of the most popular beans, Arabica vs Robusta beans, where I explain the differences in flavor profile between the two.

Crema Alternative: How To Make Fake Crema with French Press

It’s impossible to get real crema from a french coffee press, but you can create a fake crema by manually creating bubbles in your coffee, which will float to the top and create a fake crema.

This won’t have the same bitter taste as real espresso crema, but it looks the part!

Here’s how to make it.

1. Plunge the coffee to filter out any grounds

Push the plunger to the bottom of your french press to keep any ground coffee out of your coffee.

2. Pour your coffee into a temporary vessel

Pour your coffee from your french press into a temporary vessel such as a pot, mug, or carafe.

3. Throw away the coffee grounds and clean your french press

Throw away any ground coffee and rinse out your french press. We’re going to use it again so it’s important there are no grouds left behind.

4. Pour the coffee back into your french press

Pour the coffee from your temporary vessel back into your french press.

You can probably guess what’s coming next…

5. Use the plunger to infuse air into your coffee

Push the plunger down and pull it up quickly to force air into your coffee. Repeat this over and over, pushing the plunger as fast as possible to create bubbles in your coffee, which will rise to the top creating a great-looking fake crema.

Crema created in this method lacks the bitter taste of real espresso crema, because the bubbles are larger, and the high-pressure espresso process emulsifies the oils in coffee which mix with the CO2 bubbles to create a bitter-tasting crema. In a french coffee press, these oils are often left at the bottom and discarded with the grouds.

Crema Alternative: How To Make Frothed Milk in a French Press

An alternative to crema is frothed milk, similar to what you would find in a latte or cappuccino.

Here’s how to make it.

1. Depress your french press plunger to filter out any grounds

Push the plunger to the bottom of your french press to hold any grounds in place.

2. Decant your coffee to a clean vessel

Pour your coffee from your french press into a clean vessel that you’re going to drink from.

3. Clean out your press

Remove any grounds from your french press and rinse it out.

4. Heat up some milk 

Heat up some milk (Around half of the volume of your press) in the microwave or on the hob.

5. Add the milk to your press and create foam

Add the warm milk to your french coffee press and use the plunger to create foam. Quickly move the plunger up and down until the milk roughly doubles in volume.

6. Spoon out the foam and add it to your coffee

Open your press and use a spoon to spoon out the foam.

Frothed milk doesn’t taste anything like espresso crema, but it looks great and if you take milk in your coffee this is a great way to spice up your drink.

If you love frothed milk on your coffee, consider getting yourself a handheld frother. It creates tiny bubbles in the milk, producing a much finer foam than you can make with a french press.

Do All Espresso Beans Make Crema?

Crema is so closely associated with espresso that it’s a common misconception to think that the beans are responsible and not the brewing process.

The espresso brewing process is responsible for making crema, and it doesn’t matter what type of beans are used. If you use espresso beans in a non-espresso brewing process you won’t end up with any crema.

Conclusion

To sum up, crema is created by the high-pressure espresso brewing process. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to create crema with a french press, since french press coffee doesn’t place the coffee under any pressure.

Although true crema is not possible, you can make some great-looking crema alternatives by using the plunger of your french press to create froth, either directly in your coffee or in some warm milk that you can add afterward.

Author Gravatar
Due to his 9-5 hustle as a Programmer, Chris has developed a keen interest in all aspects of coffee making. In fact, he has become quite the expert home barista for more than a decade now.