French Press

The History of the French Press: From its Origins to Modern Day

By Coffeenated Stories | 10 min read

Updated On: JAN 30 2024

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Imagine a morning in Paris in the middle of the 1800s, where the first iteration of what we now know as the French press is about to brew its inaugural cup. This iconic coffee maker, known for its elegance and simplicity, has since woven its way through the tapestry of coffee culture, emerging as a beloved staple in kitchens around the world. But how did this unassuming brewer etch its name in the chronics of coffee history?

Pouring Coffee from a French Press
Pouring Coffee from a French Press
Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash - URL: https://unsplash.com/photos/person-pouring-tea-on-white-teacup-wEjtwvjpjxg

In this journey through time, we uncover the fascinating evolution of the French press. From its disputed origins to the global phenomenon, it is today, we delve into a story that's as rich and layered as the coffee it brews. This tale is not just about glass and metal, plunger and filter, but about innovation, cultural shifts, and the timeless quest for the perfect cup of coffee.

Join us as we trace the French press's storied past, exploring how a simple idea revolutionized coffee brewing and continues captivating coffee aficionados centuries later. Whether you're cradling a morning brew in the comfort of your home or admiring the elegance of a French press on a café shelf, the legacy of this remarkable invention is as enduring as the beverage it so gracefully prepares.

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BAYKA French Press
  • Durability and quality: Crafted from high-quality borosilicate glass, this brewer is resistant to thermal shock and can withstand high temperatures.
  • 4-level filtration: This system includes a metal mesh filter, spring disk, metal cross plate, and a final mesh screen. Together, these components work harmoniously to deliver a sediment-free brew.
  • Easy cleaning: The glass carafe can be easily disassembled, allowing for thorough cleaning. Both the plunger and filter are dishwasher safe.

Early Origins and Invention of the French Press

The origin story of the French press, a beloved mainstay in the world of coffee, begins in the mid-19th century. The first patented design, credited to Frenchmen Henri-Otto Mayer and Jacques-Victor Delforge in 1852, marked the inception of what would become a revolutionary coffee brewing method.

Patent drawing of Mayer & Delforge's French Press
Patent drawing of Mayer & Delforge's French Press
Henri-Otto MAYER/ Jacques-Victor DELFORGE (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cafetiere_1852_(Mayer_&_Delforge).jpg), „Cafetiere 1852 (Mayer & Delforge)“, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Template:PD-old

However, this initial model had its limitations. It lacked an effective seal inside the carafe, resulting in a coffee maker that did not resemble the refined version we see today.

Due to this imperfection, the filter didn't fit compactly within the pot, leading to limited success. This early flaw, however, opened doors for further innovation and development by other designers.

The first improvements to the earlier design came from Marcel-Pierre Paquet, known as JOLBERT, which he patented in 1924 in Paris.

Illustration of a Couple Enjoying French Press Coffee in 1920's Paris
Illustration of a Couple Enjoying French Press Coffee in 1920's Paris
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Italian Refinements

The next transformative phase for the French press continued five years later, thanks to the ingenuity of Italian designers Attilio Calimani and Giulio Moneta. In 1929, they filed a patent that would significantly adapt and enhance the original design.

Their contributions were crucial - they introduced a metal pot equipped with a plunger-operated mesh strainer. This design incorporated a rubber seal around the edge, which enabled a tighter scrape against the pot's interior.

Additionally, they added a flexible spring wrapped around the plunger discs, ensuring that they remained flush with the cylinder, addressing the issue of loose coffee grounds in the brew.

Bondanini's Contribution

The journey of refinement didn't end there. In the mid-1950s, a Swiss inventor, Faliero Bondanini, stepped into the picture. Bondanini reimagined the French press and filed his own patent in 1958.

His version brought forth significant improvements, including a design that made the coffee maker easier to clean, a better-fitting filter that efficiently trapped coffee sediment, and a more effective sieve to prevent ground coffee beans from escaping into the cup.

Illustration of a French Press Technical Drawings
Illustration of a French Press Technical Drawings
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The Spread to France and Global Recognition

After Bondanini patented his design, a French clarinet factory, Martin SA, manufactured its device under the brand name Melior. That popularized the French press in France and subsequently across the globe. His simple yet effective design resonated with coffee lovers, marking the beginning of the French press's journey to becoming an icon in the world of coffee brewing.

The early origins and invention of the French press highlight a journey marked by creativity, problem-solving, and international collaboration. From Mayer and Delforge's initial concept to Calimani and Moneta's enhancements and, finally, Bondanini's successful rendition, the French press evolved from a rudimentary idea into the elegant and efficient brewer cherished in kitchens and cafes worldwide.

French Press Evolution Over Time

The journey of the French press from its initial invention to the modern day is marked by continuous refinement and innovation. As it passed through different hands and crossed borders, each era brought its unique touch to the French press, shaping it into the beloved brewer we know today.

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Mueller French Press
  • Triple-layered filter structure: This innovative design ensures that no sediment enters your cup while allowing the delicious coffee oils to pass through.
  • Matching travel canister: This convenient addition allows you to carry enough coffee beans or grounds for two whole batches, ensuring that you can enjoy your favorite brew even on the go.
  • Double-layered stainless steel: This coffee maker not only does it retain heat exceptionally well, keeping your coffee hot for a remarkable 60 minutes longer than thinner steel and glass models, but it is also drop-proof and rust-proof.
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French Press Material Innovations

The evolution of the French press is as much about material innovation as it is about mechanical refinement. Over time, the construction of the French press has seen significant changes, moving away from the original metal and cheesecloth design to embrace a variety of materials that enhanced both its functionality and aesthetic appeal.

A Shift from Traditional to Modern Materials

Initially characterized by its simple metal frame and cheesecloth, the French press underwent a transformation in material use, particularly from the mid-20th century onwards.

Stainless Steel French Press
Stainless Steel French Press
Photo by cafeconcetto on Unsplash - URL: https://unsplash.com/photos/a-metal-object-with-a-handle-zUzjhBY9tGM

Designers began to explore using stainless steel, valued for its strength and durability. This shift not only improved the longevity of the French press but also its safety, as stainless steel is resistant to rust and corrosion.

Ceramic French Press
Ceramic French Press
Glass French Press
Glass French Press
Photo by roam in color on Unsplash - URL: https://unsplash.com/photos/kitchen-house-area-z3QZ6gjGRt4
Photo by Daffa Z on Unsplash - URL: https://unsplash.com/photos/clear-glass-mug-on-black-and-silver-laptop-computer-nzM56R666Ms

Ceramic and heat-resistant glass soon followed, offering a new dimension of elegance and style. These materials not only enhanced the visual appeal of the French press but also contributed to the quality of the brew.

Glass, in particular, became a popular choice due to its neutrality – it does not impart any flavors to the coffee, ensuring a pure and untainted brew. Ceramic French press (Affiliate Link to Amazon), known for its heat-retaining properties, helped maintain the coffee's temperature during the brewing process.

Introducing plastics, especially high-quality, food-safe plastics, opened up new possibilities for French press design. Lightweight and shatter-resistant, plastic French presses (Affiliate Link to Amazon) became a practical option for travel or outdoor use.

Read Also: French Press Face-Off: Glass vs. Stainless Steel vs. Ceramic (and the Unexpected Contender!)

Diverse Material Choices for Diverse Preferences

Diversifying materials has allowed for a broader range of price points and styles, making the French press accessible to a wider audience.

From the luxurious feel of a stainless steel press to the classic elegance of glass and the practicality of plastic, there's a French press to suit every preference and need.

The story of the French press's material innovations reflects the coffee community's drive to enhance the brewing experience. These developments in materials have not only improved the durability and design of the French press but have also played a crucial role in the quality and enjoyment of the coffee it brews.

French Press Design Diversification

As the French press gained popularity, it began to see a diversification in design. Different manufacturers introduced various models, ranging from the classic and elegant to the modern and minimalistic.

Some designs focused on enhancing practical aspects, like improved filtration systems and insulation for heat retention. In contrast, others emphasized style and form, turning the French press into a statement piece as much as a coffee maker.

Alongside these aesthetic developments, one of the most notable aspects of the evolution of the French press was the diversification in size. Manufacturers began offering a variety of capacities, from single-serving presses to larger models designed for group gatherings.

This size variation meant that whether one was enjoying a solitary morning cup or brewing for a brunch crowd, there was a French press to suit the occasion. The flexibility in size ensured that the French press could adapt to different lifestyles and coffee-drinking habits.

Read Also: Choosing the Right French Press Size: A Guide for Coffee Lovers

Global Adoption and Adaptation

Throughout the latter half of the 20th century, the French press began to make its mark globally. It was no longer just a European favorite but had found its way into kitchens and cafes around the world.

French Press Coffee brewer in a kitchen (Illustration)
French Press Coffee Brewer in a Kitchen (Illustration)
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Different cultures adopted and adapted it, sometimes even contributing their variations to its brewing technique or design, reflecting the local coffee culture and preferences.

Did You Know? - The French press is known by various names around the world, which can be quite a surprise to many coffee lovers. In Italy, it's often called a "caffettiera a stantuffo". At the same time, in the United Kingdom and the Nederlands, it's commonly referred to as a "cafetière" — a term derived from the French "cafetière à piston" and after the brand, La Cafetière. In New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa, it's known as a "coffee plunger." The diversity in names reflects its global popularity and the unique coffee cultures that have embraced this brewing method.

Cultural Significance

As the French press traversed its developmental path, it also wove its way into the cultural fabric of coffee consumption worldwide, becoming more than just a brewing method — a symbol of a particular approach to life and coffee.

Woman Enjoying French Press Coffee on the Terrace of a Paris Cafe
Woman Enjoying French Press Coffee on the Terrace of a Paris Cafe (Illustration)
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A European Staple

In Europe, the French press became synonymous with a leisurely and thoughtful approach to coffee. It's not just about the beverage; it's about the ritual — the deliberate brewing process, the anticipation during steeping, and the communal aspect of sharing a freshly pressed pot.

This approach to coffee drinking aligns with the European emphasis on savoring life's simple pleasures.

Friends enjoying French press coffee (Illustration)
Friends Enjoying French Press Coffee (Illustration)
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The French Press in the American Kitchen

Across the Atlantic, the French press gained a different kind of significance. In the United States, where convenience often ruled, the French press offered an accessible foray into gourmet coffee. It became a symbol of sophistication and a rejection of the instant coffee culture, a tool for those who wanted to step up their home coffee game without the complexities of more elaborate brewing methods.

Globally, the French press found its way into diverse cultures, each adopting and adapting it to fit their coffee rituals. In some places, it's a household staple; in others, it's a niche product for coffee connoisseurs. Its simplicity made it versatile and adaptable, allowing different cultures to make it their own.

The French Press in Specialty Coffee

In the specialty coffee scene, the French press is more than a brewing device; it's a symbol of a commitment to quality, a tool for exploration, and a means to connect with the coffee on a deeper level. Its ongoing popularity in specialty coffee circles reaffirms its status as a timeless and essential part of the coffee brewing repertoire.

Alignment with Specialty Coffee Values

The values that define the specialty coffee movement – a focus on bean quality, ethical sourcing, and the skillful art of brewing – resonate deeply with the French press method. This brewing technique requires attention to detail, precision in measurement, and patience in execution, aligning perfectly with the artisanal approach to coffee preparation championed by specialty coffee culture.

A Tool for Flavor Exploration

Specialty coffee enthusiasts often seek to experience the full spectrum of flavors that high-quality beans can offer, and the French press is ideally suited for this purpose.

French Press Among Other Coffee Brewers
French Press Among Other Coffee Brewers
Photo by René Porter on Unsplash - URL: https://unsplash.com/photos/person-brewing-coffee-pLPZjZL8cII

Its brewing process allows for a more thorough extraction of oils and aromatic compounds, which can reveal hidden notes and undertones in the coffee. That is particularly true for single-origin beans, where the distinct characteristics of the bean's origin are celebrated.

Looking Forward

As we look to the future, the French press stands as a symbol of our ongoing love affair with coffee. It's a reminder that in our quest for convenience and speed, there's still a place for the slow, the thoughtful, and the traditional. Much like a good cup of coffee, the French press is something to be savored, cherished, and shared.

In celebrating the French press, we celebrate not just a method of brewing coffee but a way of life that values quality, mindfulness, and the joy of the simple things. So here's to the French press – a humble yet profound icon in the world of coffee, bridging past and present, one cup at a time.