Perfecting French Press Coffee
Author: David Kelley
As you probably know, there are several different ways to make a delicious and enjoyable cup of coffee. However, when it comes to simplicity, the french pressed cup always wins.
French-pressed coffee may seem pretentious, but it’s actually one of the easiest (and cheapest) ways to get your morning started. After all, it only requires coffee, hot water, and a french press (which won’t break the bank). Of course, if you already own a french press you may not realize all of the things you could or should be doing to get that perfect cup of coffee, aromatically awakened and flavorful until the last drop.
Whether you’re new to the french press method or have been at it for a while, this article will cover everything you need to know to make the best morning brew possible.
Let’s dive in.
A Brief History of the French Press
Before we start talking about grinding your beans, weighing them out and using your french press, let’s talk about what exactly a french press is and where it comes from — for appreciation purposes.
First, a french press is a manual and a very underrated way to make coffee. You likely already know what a french press looks like, but what you probably don’t know is that the plunger-like method allows for pressure during brewing.
Traditional coffee filters tend to absorb a lot of the coffee beans’ oils and subsequently their flavor. However, with the pressure provided by the french press’s plunger (say that five times fast) the coffee becomes completely saturated and is able to steep. This allows you to make a more robust cup of coffee.
As for the little machine’s origins, there has been some historical debate between the French and the Italians as to who created the method of using a metal or cloth screen and connecting it to a rod to press down coffee grounds in a pot of super hot water.
Legend has it that way back in the 1850s, a Frenchman was preparing a pot of coffee over an open fire. However, he forgot to actually add the coffee and didn’t realize it until the water had begun boiling. He rushed to add his coffee grounds only for them to continuously rise to the surface of the boiling pot. He wanted to salvage the coffee, and he borrowed a piece of metal screening from an Italian merchant who was passing by.
Don’t forget to stir with a wooden spoon to fully saturate all those tasty solids stuck on top before plunging
He fit the screen over the boiling pot and used a hefty stick to press the screen down along with the coffee grounds. He expected the coffee to come out terrible, but it turned out to be the best coffee he and the Italian man had ever tasted.
Essentially it was an accident that led to an important discovery in the world of coffee. And just for the record, the first french press was patented in 1852 by two Frenchmen while Italy still claims their 1928 patent came first.
We say, let the French have this one.
Eventually, the french press became what it is today, with a somewhat universal design based upon its coffee brewing concept — and is a staple in most kitchens far and wide.
How to French Press Coffee
You can easily take French press coffee with you on camping trips and other adventures!
Here’s the thing — you can french press your coffee or your can french press your coffee. In other words, you can go through the motions of boiling water, pouring it over the ground-up coffee, and pressing it for a certain amount of time.
Or, you can do it the right way, which is how we’re going to teach you to do it.
First thing first, you need to have the right equipment. Here’s what you’ll need:
A French Press Machine
There are actually two main types, a thermal french press, and a traditional glass french press. Thermal french presses are insulated to keep the coffee warmer for longer.
For all intents and purposes, we’ll be walking you through the steps using a traditional glass french press.
Ideally, freshly ground coffee will produce the best french press cup, so be sure to buy whole beans (from Two Bit Rush Coffee Roasters, of course). If you don’t already have a coffee grinder, then add that to your shopping list as well.
Now, this part is very important: French press coffee requires more coarsely ground coffee compared to the traditional crumb-like consistency used for drip machines. If you have the time and money, we suggest playing around with your coffee grind consistency to get a feel for the level of grind that brings out the best in your beans.
Or, you can skip all of that and go for a coarse sea salt type of grind. That works best for most people.
Keep in mind that the more evenly sized your coffee grinds are, the better the overall flavor profile will be once brewed. Gaining consistency is where a quality coffee grinder will prove indispensable.
This is a given, but we’re going to take this opportunity to talk about water temperature. Put simply, you want to use hot water for your french press coffee brewing which is just short of boiling — about 200 degrees Fahrenheit should do the trick.
How you boil your water, stove top or electric kettle is up to you. However, once your water comes to a sufficient boil, you’ll need to remove it from the heat for about a minute to let it settle a few degrees. (it’ll maintain its temperature, but you don’t want to overdo it and burn the grinds).
It’s also recommended that you use purified or filtered water if you can. All of the dissolved solids in regular tap water (especially the heavy metals and chlorine) can greatly affect the taste of your coffee, and not in a good way.
A Coffee Scale
Using a coffee scale is optional, especially if you know the size and volume of your french press, and have a coffee spoon that measures in grams. However, as simple as it is, making the perfect french press coffee is a science. So, if you fancy yourself a perfectionist, you’ll want to use a quality coffee scale.
If you already own a french press, you already own a cold brew coffee maker (and maybe the best cold brew coffee maker). With a few adjustments to your brewing technique, you’ll have rich cold brew coffee in just about twelve hours.
If you can’t be bothered with a coffee scale (we don’t blame you) you’ll need to figure out the amount of coffee you’ll need to make a proper brew. It’s really not that hard, just go by the 1:16 rule of thumb ratio.
In other words, for every 16 grams of water that your french press takes, use 1 gram of ground coffee. (This typically works out to about 11 tablespoons of whole coffee beans for a standard-sized french press).
A Little Bit of Patience
Brewing coffee via french press takes some time. Remember, you need to wait for the water to boil, allow it to sit for a minute, and then steep your grounds for a few minutes or bloom and then steep.
Blooming coffee is when you expel the CO2 from the beans to prepare them for better water absorption. You can technically skip this step, but it really brings out the best in your coffee’s flavor and aromatic profile.
To bloom your coffee, set a timer for about four minutes and pour just enough hot water to wet the grounds evenly. After wetting them, wait until the timer runs down to its last 30 seconds and pour the rest of your hot water into the french press. Give it a light stir to release any bitterness, and then put the lid on. Once the timer goes off, press down on the plunger to finish steeping, and voila! — your coffee is ready to be enjoyed.
The whole affair (blooming included) takes roughly six minutes, but it really depends on how long it takes your water to boil.
Now on to the french press method:
Prep Your French Press
First, make sure your french press is clean. There’s no such thing as “left over coffee essence” enhancing your next cup. After all, it’s a coffee machine, not a cast-iron skillet. So wash and dry it thoroughly.
Now, you can leave it at that or you can utilize handy pro tip #1:
Preheat your (glass) french press by pouring hot water into it and then letting it sit for a few minutes while you prep everything else. Scientifically speaking, pouring a hot liquid into a room-temperature vessel will have a slight but immediate cooling effect on the liquid.
By preheating your french press, you’ll not only avoid this french press faux-pas, but you’ll ensure that your coffee stays warmer for longer after you’ve brewed it (if you plan to have a second cup, that is).
Grind Your Beans
It is best to weigh your coffee and water because a volume measurement will not be as accurate as a weight measurement.
Now it’s time to grind your beans. Remember, you’ll want to use the 16:1 ratio for coffee which equates to 11 tablespoons of whole beans to grind up. (If you want stronger coffee, use a 14:1 ratio).
Grind your beans to look like coarse sea salt. Pro tip #2:
Invest in a good grinder to lessen the chance of too many fine grounds sneaking in as those will muddy up your coffee. Hand precision grinders are among the most recommended. However, it’s more about learning about grind size and how it affects extraction. Once you familiarize yourself with this fun coffee fundamental, you’ll be on top of producing more consistently correct coffee grounds.
Boil Your Water
Again, you want to use filtered water for french press coffee whenever possible, and once your water comes to a nice boil, you’ll need to remove it from the heat for roughly a minute. Remember, this is to avoid burning your grounds right off the bat.
Bloom Your Coffee
You can skip this step, but you shouldn’t — especially after learning about coffee extraction. Pour your grounds into your french press and using your hot (not boiling) water, pour just enough to wet the beans evenly.
Pro tip #3:
You can bloom your coffee grinds for anywhere between 30 seconds and 1-minute. You’ll want to experiment with the timing over time to figure out your sweet spot. Some people recommend a light stir before steeping and others recommend not stirring at all (before adding the rest of your water). Whether or not you give a gentle stir, it’s entirely up to you.
Steep Your Coffee
If you bloom your coffee, you’ll only need to steep it for less than one to two minutes. However, if you decide not to bloom your coffee, you’ll want to steep it for about four minutes. Regardless of whether you’re blooming your coffee or not, you do not want to plunge it right away.
Just cover the french press to let your coffee steep (this traps in steam) and after the four minutes are up, you have the option of removing the lid and stirring the coffee to break the crust that has formed or you can just plunge away.
Pro tip #4:
Be sure to keep all the coffee grounds below the filter when plunging. You want to avoid getting any grind stuck to either side of the filter — hence the reason why you need to wash your french press properly before using it.
Plunge and Pour Your Coffee Out Into a Carafe
The biggest mistake people make when brewing french press coffee is leaving coffee in the french press after pouring themselves a cup. You’ll want to avoid doing this as it leaves the coffee to continue to extract which causes it to become more bitter as the oils and aromas dissolve.
Once your four minutes are up, plunge your coffee grinds towards the bottom of the french press and pour all of it into another carafe (preferably a warm one). Now you can pour yourself a cup and enjoy!
The french press coffee brewing method has been used for well over a hundred years. To this day, it’s often most people’s first-time introduction to “good” coffee, and for good reason. The method is simple and effective and it produces an excellent cup when done right.
Comment below if you have any great french press brewing tips you'd like to share.
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