A simple yet delicious manually brewed coffee
Using a French press is a very popular manual coffee brewing method that most people are at least vaguely familiar with. French press or coffee press brewing is a relatively straight forward method. Like drip brewing, there are lots of variables to tinker with if you are a tinkerer.
While drip brewing is in the pour over brewing category, French press brewing is an immersion brew method. Immersion brewing methods generally utilize a larger grind size and longer brewing times. The result is typically a cup of coffee with a lot more body, but less brightness in the cup flavors.
The French press brewing method, is widely considered to be a little more simple of a brewing method. It is a little easier than most pour over techniques to control your variables and get a consistent cup of coffee. There are also far less variations and techniques associated with brewing with a coffee press.
The French press conundrum (A note on the importance of a consistent grind)
Even though the French press is one of the more simple brewing methods in it’s execution, I personally think that it is less accessible than drip brewing for the beginning manual coffee brewer.
The problem is consistency and particle size in the grind. If you do not own a burr grinder, it will be hard to get consistent, enjoyable, and repeatable results with the French press method.
Unlike with drip brewing where I recommend starting with a coffee you are comfortable with (even if it isn’t a fresh-roasted, fresh ground specialty coffee), I would not recommend using your average store brand, pre-ground coffee for this method. The pre-ground coffee that is sold at the store is simply ground a little too fine for French press brewing. If you use this coffee, you will most likely get a over-extracted cup of coffee unless you dramatically augment your brewing time.
Using a blade type grinder to grind your whole beans at home is not a very promising prospect for the French press either. As discussed in my grinder post, the particle size and consistency is a variable that is very hard to control with a blade grinder. This problem is magnified with immersion brewing methods. Inconsistent particle size yielded by a blade grinder, will result in over extraction, excessive fines in the brewed coffee, as well as problems with repeatability and consistency. I would avoid grinding with a blade grinder for French press if at all possible.
Most coffee shops will be willing to grind coffee for you at a particle size that is optimal for your brewing method, however, coffee begins to stale 15 minutes after it is ground. It would be a shame to purchase a nice fresh-roasted coffee only to have it stale in your pantry over the next days (or weeks?) waiting to be brewed. Still, if you are looking to getting into immersion brewing and don’t want to spring for a burr grinder, this might be your best option.
Supplies you will need
- French press brewer- There is a seemingly endless number of brands and varieties of these brewers out there. They are all basically the same design from a functionality perspective. Choosing a French press boils down to personal preference and the quality of the product. I prefer a French press with a glass carafe (this is pretty standard). I recently received a Bodum Chambord as a gift after I broke my older model Bodum in a freak accident with the plunging apparatus. I like the Chambord and would recommend it.
- Hot Water- You will need water, fresh off the boil around 200 – 205 degrees fahrenheit.
- Ground Coffee- Coffee should be coarsely ground for this brewing method. Start with ground coffee about the size of breadcrumbs and adjust from there based on your brewing results and preferences.
- Timer- Pretty self explanatory. If you don’t have a smart phone with a timer, dust off the old stopwatch or use an actual clock or watch.
I recommend starting with a 1:16 coffee to water weight ratio. If you are measuring by volume, start with two level tablespoons of ground coffee per cup and a half of water.
If you don’t have a scale, seriously consider adding one to your manual coffee brewing arsenal as you sip on your delicious, full bodied French pressed coffee.
As with all brewing methods, the French press has many little nuances and techniques that people champion to improve the brewed cup. If you have a tip or technique that you use for French press brewing, please feel free to share it in the comments below. This is how I brew my coffee in a French press.
Start with a clean brewer
It should go with out saying but I am going to say it anyway. You will get the best results by starting with a clean brewer. The French press has places for old grounds to hide, so take it apart and clean it before you begin.
Preheat the brewer
It is always a good idea to preheat your brewer. To do this with your French press, simply fill it with near boiling water (carefully) and let if sit for 15-20 seconds. Discard the water and you are ready to brew.
Let it bloom
Dump your coffee into the bottom of the brewer. Start a six minute timer. Pour around a third of the water over the grounds. Make sure they are all covered and wet. Wait 30-40 seconds. This is call the bloom. This step helps to off gas some of the carbon dioxide that may still be clinging to the grounds.
Fill ‘er up and wait
Pour the rest of the water (by weight or volume) into the French press. Give the coffee grounds a stir (A few swirls with a spoons is good enough). Place the top of the French press onto the carafe and depress the plunger until it is slightly below the coffee level. Wait for the timer to expire.
At the six minute mark from when you started to wet the grounds for the bloom, your coffee is ready to plunge. Depress the plunger down to the bottom of the carafe slowly so you don’t shoot piping hot coffee out of the brewer. You are now ready to decant and enjoy your coffee.
Tips for enjoying
Coffee brewing via the French press method is best enjoyed fresh and immediately. Do not leave coffee in the carafe much longer than the brew time. It will continue to extract flavors from the grounds and it does not take long for the resulting cup to be over-extracted and unpleasant.
If you are unsatisfied with your first experience brewing with the French press, try tweaking some of the variables. The most obvious starting point is to use better coffee. You can also adjust the grind particle size and extraction time. If your coffee was weak you can either grind your coffee a bit finer or increase your extraction time up from six minutes. Conversely, if your coffee was too strong, bitter, or unpalatable, try grinding you coffee coarser or having an extraction time shorter than six minutes.