The Best Coffee at Home: Using a French Press

November 29, 2009
By

french_press_coffee_1

We’ve confirmed the (admittedly “no duh”) principle that it’s more cost-effective to make your coffee — quality coffee — at home than going out all the time.

While of course we fully support visiting your local specialty-coffee provider for a treat, coffee emergency, or even as part of a daily routine (time and resources allowing), we feel that part of our mission is to make you happy with the coffee you make at home.

And it doesn’t have to take much time. While many drip pots, vac pots, moka pots (a.k.a. stovetop espresso makers), and such are a little more time intensive, one of the best ways of making gourmet coffee at home is through an old standby: the French Press.

Because if you can spare less than ten minutes, owing to the mere four-minute steeping process in your French Press, then you can make some damned good coffee at home. Here’s how.

First Things First: Beans, Grinding, Water

We always support purchasing your coffee as whole beans from a local specialty roaster. Make sure they’ve been roasted recently, as your best coffee will come from the freshest beans.

We also recommend grinding right before you make the coffee, i.e. “grind to use.” The coffee will begin losing its flavor the minute its ground; from grinder to steep is ideal. A burr grinder is the way to go; the unfortunately ubiquitous “propeller” blade grinders do not create a consistent grind; your coffee granules will be of different sizes and will lead to a less enjoyable experience.

Case in point: today we’re making coffee from a French press, which calls for an even, coarse grind, to ensure that the plunger captures as much of the coffee as possible on its way down.

french_press_coffee_3

Using a propeller grinder will create particulates of varying smaller sizes that the plunger can’t catch; accordingly, your coffee will be gritty.

A bit of coffee particulates in your French Press is okay; it actually contributes to the mouth feel. But there’s a difference between “mouth feel” and “drinking dirt.”

Finally, water: coffee is mostly water, and you shouldn’t use anything you wouldn’t drink by the glass as the key ingredient in your coffee. Filtered water, ideally by reverse osmosis (hey, look at us working there), will help yield excellent coffee.

Keep in mind that we’re sharing best practices here — generally accepted principles agreed on by coffee aficionados. If you can create coffee you enjoy by skimping on a step, by all means, do what makes you happy. We know people that are perfectly happy with pre-ground coffee supermarket and propeller-ground coffee. However you adapt this for your own use is fine with me. We aren’t judging, just hoping you’ll share in our experiences.

(But if you don’t want to invest in a good grinder, we’d highly recommend at least buying the beans whole and having them grind it for you at the store, then using it ASAP!).

Press it!

Behold the mighty French press, press pot, or whatever you feel like calling it. A glass carafe, some sort of handle/holder, and a lid complete with a wire-mesh equipped plunger.

Being pretty busy here at O.O., we’ll assume that doing this quickly is a concern for everyone. Accordingly, the first step is to get your water boiling.

french_press_coffee_5

Then to the grinder — grind the amount of coffee appropriate to your taste and the amount of water used. A common starting point is two tablespoons per cup of water; here at Osmosis HQ, we prefer it a little stronger.

french_press_coffee_2

After grinding the coffee, place it at the bottom of the carafe. After the water boils — and try to stop it right after it boils — wait a minute for it to cool off a touch. Then pour the hot water into the carafe, over your coffee, in a nice, even, steady pour. Try to saturate the coffee evenly. Fill the carafe — remember, not too full, you need to leave space at the top for the lid and plunger mechanism to be inserted.

french_press_coffee_7

Bonus variant: If you’re one of those lucky cusses with a “hot shot” unit that gives you instant near-boiling water — particularly if you’ve hooked it up to your reverse osmosis filtration system — then you may get comparable results just from filling it straight from there.

Once the water is poured, stir the coffee, which should for the most part be floating at the top. The long reach of a chopstick makes it an ideal stirring tool; some caution that using a metal spoon may contribute to micro-cracks in your glass carafe.

french_press_coffee_8

Put the lid on. DO NOT PLUNGE YET. Wait for the coffee to steep; the general best practice is to aim for 4 minutes. Some advise leaving it in longer for a darker coffee — we do not. We believe stronger coffee should be achieved through using more ground beans; trying to extract more flavor with a longer steeping causes bitterness or other imperfections.

After 4 minutes, push down the plunger — nice, slowly, and evenly. You want to ensure that you’re capturing as much of the coffee as possible on the bottom, rather than have it end up in your mouth. Also, no need for dramatic, frantic motions when dealing with still-hot coffee. Stay safe.

french_press_coffee_9

Now you’re ready to pour your coffee. Many French press pots have a mesh filter that lines up at the spout to help further filter missed particulates.

french_press_coffee_11

Again, safety first; a nice, even pour into a porcelain mug (for home use) or an insulated, covered mug (for commuters) should yield some fantastic coffee. If you’re typically a cream and sugar/sweetener user, you might want to try it black, just to experience the clean, deep flavor and nice mouth feel of a properly prepared French press pot.

french_press_coffee_10

If you’re typically a cream and sugar/sweetener user, you might want to try it black, just to experience the clean, deep flavor and nice mouth feel of a properly prepared French press pot. Some pots are big enough to make several cups . . .

french_press_coffee_13

. . .but you’ll find press pots of many sizes. Now go for it!

french_press_coffee_14

Next time on the “Best Coffee” series, we’ll tackle another of our favorite prep methods: the moka pot. Stay tuned.

Tags: , , , , ,

7 Responses to The Best Coffee at Home: Using a French Press

  1. Julie on November 30, 2009 at 5:03 pm

    Hey Jeremy,

    Loving witnessing the fruits of your coffee obsession shared with the world.

    A note to add to your assessment of the perfect press pot technique:

    When I was in Costa Rica on my honeymoon (you know, before the economy tanked and all that) we drank a lot of coffee. Nearly everywhere we went, it was press-pot coffee. Occasionally it was prepared right at our table. The technique, which I recognized to be different from the usual method, was as follows:

    “Soak the grounds first in one inch of water for 4 minutes, then add the rest of the water, brew one more minute, then plunge twice and pour.”

    Just in case you want to test this method against yours.

    Also, wondering if you’ve seen Alton Brown’s Good Eats episode on coffee, and if so, your thoughts?

  2. Jeremy Nisen on November 30, 2009 at 5:06 pm

    Never heard that one, Julie! I’ll have to try it.

    Alton is a wizard at most everything, but the coffee episode and remember having a few problems with it, though, forgive me, I watched it years ago and can’t remember specifics. I guess those obsessed with one product or food item sometimes acquire differing knowledge than culinary masters/scientists like Mr. Brown.

  3. Julie on December 1, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    Let me know what you think of the Costa Rican method! I haven’t seen the GE episode in a while either. I think he decided filter brew was best, which may be why you didn’t like it. Alton is totally watchable and interesting but not always the ultimate authority, of course.

    I prefer French Press but I wish those little wire discs could clean themselves.

  4. […] been going to the same hole-in-the-wall Mexican joint since the Clinton administration, and fixing our coffee the same way since […]

  5. […] chamber with the best drinking water you have. I’ll reiterate what I advised in the “French Press” best practices piece: “coffee is mostly water, and you shouldn’t use anything you wouldn’t drink by […]

  6. […] 11. Making coffee in a French Press / Press pot is easy, quick, and awesome. […]

  7. […] or bold or syrupy or whatever. A clear disadvantage in my book is the lack of volume versus, say, a press pot. Sometimes you want a large, hot cup of coffee, and Aeropress needs to be a double shot, or mixed […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

We Suggest

Archives