The French press is one of the most basic yet intimidating methods of brewing coffee. The name alone frightens people into thinking that it is some form of elite French coffee brewing that requires extensive knowledge and an artistic touch. The reality is that the French press is one of the simplest ways to brew a high-quality cup of coffee.
The idea behind it is basic: You immerse the coffee fully in water and then press out the grounds. Before the press was invented, coffee was brewed by fully immersing the coffee beans in water and then using items like an egg, slices of cod, or some other ridiculous additive to create a reaction that would make the grounds sink to the bottom of the container.
The creation of the press allowed mankind to properly brew coffee without making it taste like egg yolks or fish. It opened up the door to nuances and flavors that are part of the natural make up of the bean.
The four key variables to consider are coffee quality, grind, water, and time. You must first select a whole bean coffee. Coffee that is pre-ground is most often ground for drip-style brewing unless it is stated otherwise. Selecting whole bean coffee will allow you to grind it to the desired coarseness for ideal extraction.
The grind for a French press is the coarsest grind of any mainstream brewing device. The grind should not feel powdery in your hand; it should feel crumbly and have a uniform look. A grind that is too fine will result in an over extracted coffee that tastes bitter and astringent. Too coarse a grind will result in an under extracted coffee that tastes weak and thin.
Water is one of the most important aspects of properly brewing in a French press. If the water has a poor taste before brewing, it will be present after brewing. Some coffee shops use filtration systems to create an ideal mineral content for brewing coffee. At home, it is important to trust your palate and experiment with your water. If your water has been softened too much, it can result in a weak and flavorless cup. If you have water with a high mineral content it might taste great, or it might detract from the taste of the coffee. A Brita water filter can be a quick and affordable fix that can greatly improve the quality of your coffee.
The water should be heated to 195-205° F. Simply taking a pot of water off of a boil for a few minutes will allow you to reach the ideal temperature for brewing your coffee.
Coffee should be ground after the water has been heated. The Specialty Coffee Association of America recommends that 8 oz of water be used with 14.5 grams of coffee; this translates into about 2 tbsp of coffee for every 8 oz.
After the water has been added to the coffee it should be stirred. The fresher the coffee, the greater the “bloom” will be. The bloom is when the coffee expands rapidly, forming a crust on the top of the press. If the coffee is old there will be little or no bloom. The coffee should be stirred at the beginning of the brewing process to ensure that all of the grounds can come in contact with the water.
The brew should take about 4 minutes. The brew can be shorter or longer depending on the desired taste. When the coffee is pressed, it should be done slowly and steadily such that the screen seals with the side of the press and all of the grounds are pressed to the bottom. The coffee should then be poured into cups. If coffee is left in the press, it will continue to extract flavor from the coffee grounds, resulting in over extraction.
If done properly, the French press will deliver a cup that is bold and beautiful, preserving the integrity of the terroir and diminishing the acidity of the cup so that the nuances of the coffee can be tasted and enjoyed.