Wednesday, November 19, 2008

How to brew coffee using a French Press

After trying out several different kinds of coffee makers over the years, I firmly believe that a French Press makes the best coffee you can possibly make. I think a lot of people get hung up on a few things pertaining to a French Press. One: it is too damn simple. How can a simple process of dumping hot water on coffee grounds possibly make better coffee than a fancy machine? Two: they are so cheap. Again, how can something so inexpensive make the best coffee?

Making coffee is really simple if you break it down logically. Coffee is made by steeping coffee grounds in water at a certain temperature for a period of time. All of those fancy machines with all of the bells and whistles make all of the decisions for you except how much coffee you put in the machine. That is the beauty of a French Press. You get to control all of the variables that go into making coffee.

Items needed

  • French Press
  • Adjustable burr grinder (not the small grinder with blades)
  • Freshly roasted coffee beans
  • Good tasting water (use whatever source that you drink)
  • Something to boil the water in (I use an electric kettle)
  • Spoon
Making the coffee

  1. Water: Get the water to a boil. Water temperature is critical to how good the coffee tastes. I'll come back to that later.
  2. Grinding / Dose: The generally accepted amount of coffee to use is one tablespoon per 4oz of water used. That will make a fairly strong cup of coffee. Vary the amount to get the desired strength. Most burr grinders are adjustable. I set mine so that it makes somewhat coarse grounds. Again, vary the grind to find what suits your taste.
  3. Steeping the coffee: Here is where it all comes together. My process is simple. First I turn on my electric kettle and allow the water to boil. As soon as the water comes to a boil and the kettle shuts off, I turn my grinder on. This serves two important functions. First, the coffee grounds stay fresh. As soon as the beans are ground, the clock is ticking. All of the goodness deteriorates every minute once the coffee is ground. Second, the time to grind the coffee allows the water to cool off slightly. If you were to pour boiling coffee onto the grounds, the coffee would taste burnt. Once the coffee is done grinding, dump it into your clean and dry French press. Then, pour the water over the grounds making sure that all of the grounds are wet.
  4. Wait one minute: A crust of coffee grounds will be covering the water. During the minute of waiting, you should notice the grounds expelling some gas. This is good news. Those little bubbles are the gases being released from the fresh beans. If you just see a crust form without any bubbling, it is a sign that the coffee is stale.
  5. Gently stir the coffee: Using a spoon, gently stir the coffee grounds to disperse the grounds throughout the hot water. As you are doing this, get down next to the French Press and smell the aroma being given off. Like wine, different coffee types have their own nuances.
  6. Cover the Press and Steep: When you are done stirring the coffee, place the plunger / lid on the pot and wait for 3 minutes before depressing the plunger. Depending on the size grind, it may be somewhat difficult to depress the plunger. If it gets stuck, lift it back up slightly and try again until you get it lowered.
  7. Enjoy! As soon as the 3 minutes are up, pour the coffee into cups or an insulated container as soon as possible. Even though the plunger is down, the coffee grounds are still still being steeped in the water. The longer it sits, the more bitter and nasty the coffee gets.
Remember that the key factors into making coffee are freshly roasted & ground beans, the amount of coffee, water temperature, and duration of steeping. This is where experimenting comes into play. The biggest difference to the quality of my coffee was allowing the beans to cool slightly. The coffee was much less bitter.

Don't be fooled by the simplicity of the French Press. It allows you to control all of the steps of the coffee making process which will yield you the best cup of coffee.


DG said...

Where can you buy one of those fancy French Presses?

Anonymous said...

Fred Meyer, fancy shop like Sur la Table, Ikea, S=bucks, many more kitchen shops. Even REI has them in lexan for backpacking.