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French Presses: A Deeper Look at a Deeper Coffee

Posted: 06/24/04
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Un Petit Morceau D’histoire (A Little History)French Press
French presses, or press pots, are normally thought of as one of the oldest ways to prepare coffee, however, this is somewhat of a myth. The French press had been conceptualized in the 1800’s, but a fully functional model was not available to the coffee drinking public until the very early 1900’s, well after the vacuum pot was made popular. The largest reason for this delay was the lack of a filter that would eliminate a reasonable amount of coffee grounds from the final product. Melior was one of the first to release a French press with an efficient filter and was so popular, that Bodum eventually purchased the original design.

L’attrait (The Allure)
Many experts in the coffee industry consider French press coffee the best "regular" coffee you can get. What makes it so special? French Press screenIt basically comes down to the leeway the press pot affords you in the brewing process. First off, the use of metal and nylon filters allows larger flavor carrying colloids and lipids to pass through. Paper filters normally block these particles and they never make their way to the water. These additional molecules create a very well-rounded cup of coffee and a unique mouthfeel that is fairly heavy and nearly syrupy. In addition to this, the user has control of the extraction, or steeping time, which gives you endless control over the strength of the final product.

Le Meuler (The Grind)
Some of the most common misconceptions about French press coffee are in relation to the size of the grind it requires. The correct grind for a press pot is visibly coarser in comparison to a drip coffee grind. Grounds meant for drip coffee will pass through the filter in a French press and ultimately produce a rather grainy cup of coffee. As a rule of thumb, your grounds should be nearly flaky and close in size to sea salt. However, you may need to adjust this based upon the material that the filter is made of; metal filters generally need a slightly coarser grind than nylon filters. The sensitivity that these filters have to the coarseness of the grind makes it imperative that the grind be consistent. If there is a variation in the grind, like the range you would normally get from a blade grinder, the smaller sediments will not be removed from the coffee along with the larger particles and produce a muddy cup.

Le Procédé (The Process)
The process of brewing with a French press is relatively simple, however there is a certain amount of technique involved in some portions of the method. Using coffee ground to the coarseness we discussed previously, you want to add roughly 1 tablespoon per 4oz of water. Most coffee mugs have about a 12 oz capacity, so you may want to keep in mind that you’ll only get one mugs’ worth from a 3-cup press. If you drink more than one cup at a time, you’ll definitely want to purchase a larger capacity press. After adding your coffee to the press pot, you will add your hot water, which should be heated between 195° and 205°F, or just under boiling temperature. When pouring the water, you make sure that it falls slowly, steadily, and is dispersed evenly. Moving the point where the water contacts the coffee is one of the keys to ensuring an even extraction. Also, remember to account for the displacement that adding the filter andFrench Press lid will cause, and leave a good inch of space from the level of the water to the bottom of the pour spout. If you would like, you can stir the mixture a few times before placing the lid and the filter on the press. Adding the lid and filter will help retain the heat of the water, but don’t press the plunger just yet; you need to let the coffee steep for a good 3 or 4 minutes. Steeping is the process during which flavors are extracted from the coffee grounds and mix with the water, physically making liquid coffee. It requires that the user do nothing, however, the coffee and water are working hard during this step.

The next stage of French press brewing is where experience and technique are thrown into the mix. There isn’t much to pressing down a plunger, but there are a few things you need to remember when doing so. First, turn the spout away from you when you are ready to take the plunge. Extremely hot coffee could come rushing out of there if you aren’t careful. Better safe than sorry. Secondly, you don’t need to apply much weight to the plunger. It is common to feel some resistance when you’re pressing down, but if it is pushed too quickly and with too much force, the coffee grounds will find their way out through the top of the press. Third, it’s important to apply an even amount of pressure. The filter should remain perfectly flat for the entire plunge; otherwise grounds will end up in the final product. Keeping all of that in mind, hang on to the press’s handle, grab the plunger, take a deep breath, and press down slowly, steadily, and consistently. There are subtle differences in the design of each press pot, so don’t worry if the filter doesn’t seem to reach all the way to the bottom. Any liquid seemingly trapped will make its way through the filter for pouring with no problem.

Quelques-uns Fins Détachées (A Few Loose Ends)
You’ve done it. That perfect pot of rich, delectable French press coffee is ready to enjoy. Go ahead and pour it! If you’ve poured your cup and there’s another serving left in the pot, you should empty the remaining coffee into a separate carafe. Leaving this coffee in the press with the spent grounds will continue to extract the flavors, and your second cup won’t be quite as appetizing as your first. Beyond that, there isn’t much more to say; just dump the grounds in the trash, wash the press, filter, and lid with warm, soapy water, and you’re ready for your next pot.

From the dinner table to the campground, press pots have been providing fabulous coffee for over one hundred years. There are no fancy gadgets and no need to master a mechanical monster; all you need to enjoy exquisite coffee is hot water, a press, and some ground coffee. This simple process provides respite from the fast paced world we live in and lets you slow down with your favorite thing: a luscious cup of coffee.