Ahh, the French Press coffee extractor. Many people have lately asked me for my recommended brewing steps for this device, so the following are my thoughts...
The French Press. So misunderstood, yet really so simple. There are seemingly countless methods to make your favorite cup of joe, including auto-drip, manual drip pour-over, percolator (I am told these are still in use), siphon, espresso, and the ever-convenient, but lacking in quality automatic pod machines. Even with all these modern improvements to the coffee extraction process, there is still no method as satisfying to the coffee lover as the French Press, or press-pot.
When people first see the French Press, they often have flashbacks of that chemistry class they didn't really care for, or they may not want to consider its use for fear of slipping into the coffee nerd universe. Two other misconceptions are that it takes too long, and the device is too hard to clean. Never fear, in this post we will put you to ease. You will only become a coffee nerd if you want to, and you will see that the whole process is condensed into just a few simple steps. You might even think you deserved an "A" in chemistry, and you will certainly enjoy a most flavorful cup of coffee.
The reason I believe the French Press brews the optimum cup of coffee is that this is the only method in which the coffee and water are intimately contacted during the entire brewing cycle. Some pour-overs can get close, but not completely there. With an auto drip process, you hope all the grounds were contacted and hope you don't see the dreaded dry spot in the grounds in your filter basket.
Brewing coffee is all about extracting various compounds and oils from coffee beans into hot water. In all coffee brewing from French Press to espresso, you are looking to extract about 20% of what is hot-water-soluble from your ground coffee. The best chance you have for the water to impact all of your ground coffee is for the ground beans to be completely surrounded by the heated water, thus the advantage of the French Press device. In basic terms, brewing in a French Press involves adding hot water to ground coffee beans, waiting for a period of time, then pressing the coffee grinds to the bottom of the press-pot prior to drinking the beverage.
That said, there are some variables that should and can be controlled to achieve the optimum brew using a French Press: (1) Equipment (2) Equipment cleanliness, (3) Roasted bean freshness, (4) Grind, (5) Water quality and temperature, and (6) Brewing method.
(1) Buy a good quality French Press with a glass container and a metal-constructed plunger/filter. I have found that the metal plunger units work better, as the plastic plungers tend to leak grounds into your coffee during the plunging step. You don't want floating grounds in your cup. I like the Bodum brand, but there are others that are also good.
(2) Equipment cleanliness: It is important to clean your French Press after each use to remove the oils left behind from the coffee grounds. Remove the coffee grounds (by the way, they make great compost), being careful not to damage
(3) Roasted bean freshness: The fresher the bean, the better the result. Look for a roaster in your area who sells coffee as soon as it is roasted and buy from them. You can gauge the relative freshness of your coffee by the amount of bubbling when water is added to the grounds. Experiment with beans from different countries of origin, as each country and region produces coffee beans with different flavor profiles.
(4) Grind: Use a burr grinder and grind to just coarser than medium for the French Press process. Grind to a consistency of bread crumbs. It's important to grind more coarse than for a drip process to avoid over extraction. Blade grinders will produce a grind with an inconsistent particle size, which is bad for a consistent extraction. (Rule of thumb: The longer the time coffee is in contact with the water during extraction, the coarser the grind.) If your grind is too fine, you will find that the plunging process is difficult due to the filter becoming clogged.
(5) Water quality and temperature: It's always best to use filtered water for coffee that is heated to 195F-205F. Try to catch the water just before it begins to boil. If the water boils, just remove from the heat source for a minute or so to let it come off the boil. Using a thermometer is also an option.
(6) Brewing method: See below:
STEPS TO BREW COFFEE IN A FRENCH PRESS DEVICE:
Assuming you have a good quality, a clean French Press device, and fresh-roasted coffee beans ...
(1) Heat filtered water (enough for your brew size) to the desired temperature just off the boil.
(2) While water is heating, grind the quantity of beans you will need for the brew. A good rule of thumb for French Press brewing is to use between 1 tbsp and 2 tbsp coarse ground coffee per cup, as indicated by the size of your French Press unit. If you are measuring your beans by weight, shoot for 5-10g per cup. Another way to look at it is by water:coffee ratio. The Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) has established a Golden Cup Ratio as 18:1, meaning 18 times as much by weight water to weight of coffee. Weigh your water, divide by 18, use that much ground coffee, and you will brew at the Golden Cup ratio.
As is common for making coffee, adjust these measurements for your taste, but try to avoid making weak coffee. Remember, you are trying to get 20% of your coffee to remain in the water. If you use too little coffee, the coffee extraction to water ratio will be off, taste weak, and result in a sour cup. If you use too much coffee you will over extract the coffee for the amount of water used, resulting in a bitter cup.
(3) Remove the plunger and add the ground coffee to the French Press container.
(4) Pour heated water (195-205F) over the grounds just to cover them and start your timer for 4 minutes. Let the coffee bloom for about 30-45 seconds. This process allows the excess carbon dioxide to exit the coffee (causes bubbling) and will prevent a heavy level of foaming later on in the process. (Note: Stale coffee will not bubble up like fresh coffee.)
(5) After blooming the coffee, add the rest of the water to your desired volume. Let sit for the balance of the 4-minute time. Don't stir yet.
(6) With about 1 minute to go, break the coffee surface by gently stirring the surface, and place the plunger on top of the unit. (Stirring at this point allows the grinds to sink so as not to interfere with the plunging process.)
(7) After the 4 minutes of brew time has ended, gently press the plunger down to trap the grinds on the bottom of the container.
(8) Pour the coffee into your cup or cups and enjoy. It's best to not let the coffee sit too long after plunging because some of the coffee will continue to extract.
(9) Enjoy your cup, but don't forget to clean up your French Press so it is ready for the next use.
Remember: Enjoy life one cup at a time.
Vertere Coffee Roasters
Excellent Coffee ... One Fresh Roast at a Time.