Is French Press Bad For You? The Surprising Facts.

Newspapers love to kick around the question of whether drinking coffee is good for you or not. It’s something that hits close to home, and the combined complexity of the human body and coffee means that there’s going to be good points in both directions.

Everybody loves a good debate to go with a good cup of joe.

debate on coffee
In 2016, though, an interesting article came across from Harvard Health blog that suggested French press coffee was bad for you, and that article piqued a lot of interest around the internet.
The blog post doesn’t dive too deep, but there are quite a lot of studies out there that can fill in the gaps. Let’s explore the subject a little deeper and try to answer the big question, “Is French press coffee bad for your health?”

How is French Press Coffee Different?

Let’s start at the beginning. Unless you’re drinking Turkish coffee, you don’t want any grounds in your coffee. They taste bad and feel worse.

There are many ways of keeping the grounds out of your coffee. The simplest: letting the grounds settle and pouring very carefully.

Most coffee styles use some sort of filter for the job. Paper filters are the norm for drip and pourover coffee, while other brewing methods like espresso, percolator, Moka pot, and French press use a metal filter. In either case, the filter removes the coffee grounds from your finished drink, but there are small differences.

So, Is Coffee, Or French Press Coffee Bad For Me?

Coffee contains over a thousand chemical compounds, and some of these are trapped by a paper filter, but not by a metal one.

Comparison of the chemical compounds in the coffee bean samples of different processing steps of the Arabica coffee beans wet processing experiments.See more.

The key compounds cited by the Harvard Health article that started this controversy are cafestol and kahweol. Both are diterpenes that are removed much more thoroughly by paper filters than by metal ones.

breakdown of kahweol and cafestrol

Now, stick with me here, a study measured the concentration of cafestol in French press coffee at around 300 times that in paper-filtered drip coffee. The metal filter does remove a bit of cafestol, but not much compared to boiled coffee.

cafestrol in press coffee

So ultimately, French press coffee is not unique here. This health issue is true of any coffee prepared with a metal filter (or no filter at all).

 

French press coffee comes up in searches on this topic because of an influential post by the Harvard Health blog.

You might think that espresso would be the big name that articles cite, but there’s a key difference: we drink big cups of French press coffee and small cups of espresso. The concentration of cafestol is about the same, but the small serving size makes the amount you ingest fairly small.

Bottom-line About Press coffee And Your Health

The effects on consuming cafestol and kahweol are indirect, pushing on your body’s systems in such a way as to increase your LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels. High levels of these are linked with increased risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Here’s where it get’s interesting. The key question is, how big of an increase? Five cups of French press coffee a day increases LDL cholesterol levels by about 7 mg/dL and triglyceride levels by about 11 mg/dL.

french press coffee cholesterol increase
5 CUPS OF PRESS FILTERED COFFEE
These aren’t big numbers – the optimal range for LDL cholesterol is 100-129 mg/dL – but they’re not nothing.

These aren’t big numbers – the optimal range for LDL cholesterol is 100-129 mg/dL – but they’re not nothing. That number is easily enough to push your LDL from good to borderline high or from borderline high to undesirable. The triglyceride increase is less troubling, but still worth noting, especially if you already have problems with your triglyceride levels.

According to Dr. Eric Rimm, epidemiology professor at Harvard School of Public Health, “five to eight cups a day of unfiltered coffee may actually raise your ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol.” French press has not been linked to an increase in cancer risk or other dangerous illnesses. That said, Dr. Rimm suggests you keep an eye on your cholesterol levels, more specifically LDL. He also says you shouldn’t have more than four cups of unfiltered coffee per day, and five filtered cups per day.

Its not all downside though; Dr. Rimm highlights some of the general health benefits of coffee;

Dr. Rimm and his colleagues believe the combination of those ingredients may delay the absorption of blood sugar, help cells draw sugar from the blood, increase metabolic rate, and help blood vessels contract and relax. Those actions, they suspect, account for coffee’s association with lower blood pressure, a slower rate of weight gain with age, and reduced risks for developing type 2 diabetes or dying from cardiovascular disease or neurological diseases.

“Where we clearly see the greatest benefit is in the realm of diabetes and obesity,” says Dr. Rimm. He says the health benefits of filtered coffee are associated with an intake of one to five cups per day, and for many health conditions, it doesn’t matter much if the coffee has caffeine or not.
–Harvard Health Publishing

What Can You Do To Protect Your Health?

If you’re already having problems with your cholesterol, cutting out French press coffee might be a good idea. Make sure you switch to a method with a paper filter – switching to a Moka pot won’t help you. Don’t overdo the espresso either.

If you want to take some small precautions, start by not overdoing things. The figures above are based on consuming five cups (that’s tiny 4 fluid ounce/120 mL cups, not actual 8 fluid ounce cups or that oil drum you call a mug) a day. If you’re drinking a ton of French press coffee, consider mixing it up with paper-filtered preparations like a pourover.

CHEMEX
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The Chemex is a great
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chemex alternative to french press
One other factor worth considering is the roast of your coffee: the darker the roast, the lower the level of cafestrol. A dark roast has about 60% as much cafestrol as a light roast. If you like to mix up your coffee consumption, try making your dark roast in the French press and your light roasts by another method.

Conclusion

I started researching this article assuming that the answer to the question, “Is French press coffee bad for you?” would be no. I was getting there, and about to say that it was fine unless you were drinking it by the gallon, but then the note that the study referred to 4 ounce cups floored me. My answer now is that french press coffee is a bit bad for your heart health.

My answer now is that French press coffee is a bit bad for you.

My French press is 750 mL, or about 6¼ of those mini-cups, and that puts me right in the risk zone. My cholesterol levels are not that bad, but not that good, so I’m going to be changing my routine. I’ll keep drinking French press coffee some days, but I’ll switch to using a pourover-style for others. I’ll also bring up my coffee consumption the next time I talk to my doctor, and I suggest that you do the same.

11 thoughts on “Is French Press Bad For You? The Surprising Facts.”

  1. I appreciate your article- with that said here’s a suggestion for all of us French Press people
    Put a paper filter in with the mesh metal filter – I tried it – no more sludge in the bottom of my cuppa beautiful coffee and the taste is unbelievable
    May you enjoy that cuppa Joe more now
    Blessed Be

    Reply
  2. I will right away snatch your rss as I can not find your email subscription link or e-newsletter service. Do you have any? Kindly let me recognise in order that I could subscribe. Thanks.

    Reply
  3. So if one wanted to make their french press healthier, could they filter their coffee twice? Once with the metal filter of the French press and once with a paper filter before drinking it?

    Reply
    • Yes, this is a reasonable method for cutting down on the amount of cafestol and kahweol levels typically found in traditionally brewed FP coffee.

      Reply
  4. this is very upsetting. i’d been drinking non-paper filter coffee for years, using through an espresso machine (doubles) or using a metal filter…both of which are adding to my cholestrol.

    so i went back to organic unbleached paper filters to run my coffee through. i could tasted the difference…the coffee had a sweeter, much more mild tasted. i liked it better…for a couple of cups. but i’ve been having it for a few months now and hate it. it just doesn’t have the depth and fullness of non-paper filtered coffees. worse, i prefer the very light roasts.
    and, yes, my cholesterol is not good…somewhere around 300.

    but still, i just can’t stomach this mild coffee, castrated coffee no matter how long i let it brew or how many beans i use. i’m going back.

    the only good in all of this is that much of my cholesterol level had been from my massive sweet tooth, so i’ve cut all that way down. also, i have about 1-3 cups of coffee a day, not a lot, but certainly not the mini-4oz cups. we must do what we must…so back i go to unfiltered coffee.

    so i was sad to read this article, which basically bore out what i’d read elsewhere 🙁

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  5. So my question is, can’t I just pour my French press coffee through a filter on its way into the mug? Wouldn’t this help filter out some of the diterpenes?

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  6. Thank you for writing this article. It was very informative and answered my questions. I had done a search asking is “French press coffee bad for me” and your site came up. I’m glad it did, now I know about your site! I have learned a lot already. Again, Thank you!

    Reply
  7. Thank you for this info but this article only tells half the story. What is worse for your health is when hot water and especially hot acidic water (like coffee) comes in contact with plastic, yes including BPA free plastic. During my working years the coffee was prepared in a commercial all stainless Bunn machine. After retirement I bought several drip coffee makers. Drinking black coffee I could taste a plastic taste. Extensive research showed harmful effects of plastic in coffee makers allowing chemicals to leach into your drink. The worst effect is probably endocrine disruption meaning it blocks your bodies natural hormones. Followed by cancer, Herat disease, diabetes and reproductive problems. We switched to a French press while searching for a no plastic drip. The French press left coffee stains on the cup and some fine grounds at the bottom. We now insert a paper filter between the two screen and trim with scissors leaving 1/2 inch overhang but it causes back pressure so you have to press slowly. We also found don’t wait press right away extremely slowly then pour works best for us. The Bunn Vp-17ss is closest to no plastic if you replace filter bracket with SS one however the concern is the water reservoir holds three pots of coffee warm which works in restaurant but at home who wants to drink warm water that’s been sitting 24 hours and what kind of bacteria can form. Amazing no one can come out with all stainless steel internals with removable stainless tank that can be rinsed. Only issue would be time for water to heat up but to avoid all these health problems who would not take five minutes?

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  8. We switched from drip coffee maker to all stainless steel French press after reading coffee makers that allow hot water to come in contact with plastic including BPH free leach chemicals and since coffee is acidic it makes it worse. After reading this article we place a paper filter between the two screens of the French press. It would be nice is manufactures made an all stainless drip coffee maker for home use.

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  9. I have been trying to filter dark roasted coffee in french press (5 minutes) followed by filtering it in paper filter.
    Less amount of acid as well as cafetol etc.
    I think good for heart loving people.

    Reply
  10. Interesting. I wish you had mentioned the (1 cup = 4oz) serving size earlier in the article. People not reading all the way to the end will be deceived by this. I drink my coffee from a mug. I measured it and according to the Harvard study my one mug is 3 cups of coffee! Yikes!

    Reply

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