A French Press Moment
May 5, 2011
Who would have imagined five years ago that a coffee wonk who announced proudly “I make coffee in a French Press!” (or perhaps even more so, a “Cafetiere” or “Melior”) would be so unfashionable these days. With SF coffeehouses all switching en masse from French Press brewing to pour-over techniques, who would think the method you use for making a good cup of coffee would be so trendy? Maybe next you will need to consider whether your apparel matches your brewer.
I have always had some reservations about the french press; namely, it can be tough to get the right grind to avoid the gritty “fines” in the cup, and the long steep times generally means you see a steep temperature drop while brewing. The fact that cafes would brew in French Press and then dump into a big commercial Pump Pot (that draws coffee from the bottom, where the sediment accumulates) always seemed ill-conceived.
But the fact is, French Press didn’t suddenly become a bad way to brew coffee, and it’s still the method that guarantees “full immersion,” a complete 4 minutes, or 6 minutes, or whatever, of coffee soaking in water. The problem there is temperature drop; you don’t get full flavor extraction if the brew is too cool. You can pre-heat your press with hot water as a small measure. You can wrap the press in a towel. A few even come with a jacket. Better yet, you can use an insulated French press. These come in both all stainless, which are beautiful and unbreakable, but you can’t see the brew. You can also opt for a glass double-wall French press, more spendy than the single wall, and definitely breakable, but it turns out great results but I wouldn’t count on either of these to keep your coffee hot. If you like coffee hot, I say, drink fast.
I think the best results in a press can be with longer steep times and slightly coarser grinds. It takes some experimentation, but I have achieved the best extraction levels at 6 minutes in an insulated press. To deal with fines and avoid grit in the cup, I plunge slowly, then wait an additional 3 minutes and pour cups slowly and gently. That extra 3 minute wait allows particles suspended in the brew to settle out. The bottom third of the press is going to always be a little nasty. Just make sure the person who creams their coffee gets it.