A French press is a simple and classic brewing method that has both its fans and detractors. Even though the method only involves coffee, hot water, and a carafe with a screened plunger, it still requires a certain amount of technique to obtain the best flavor. The following examines the science behind the French press as well as how to experience the joys of this unfiltered brewing method.
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History of the French Press
The origin of the French press is somewhat murky. One version of its creation credits the device’s invention to a rather absent-minded Frenchman in the 19th century. According to the story, the gentleman was attempting to make coffee when he realized that he had forgotten to add the coffee grounds before boiling the water. Instead of starting over, he placed the grounds in a jar, added the hot water, and then used a bit of screen to push the grounds down to the bottom of the jar.
The first patent for a French press was issued in 1929 to an Italian inventor by the name of Attilio Callimani. His press pot was designed to extract flavor from the coffee beans through gentle steeping. Although today’s French presses come in a variety of materials and colors, the design has changed very little from the press pot created by Callimani.
The Science Behind Brewing Coffee
The process of brewing coffee involves three basic phases that are often referred to as extraction.
- The first stage involves saturating the grounds with water. This process blooms the coffee by releasing the carbon dioxide gas that is trapped in the cells of the grounds.
- The second step involves allowing the water to dissolve the solids that will eventually turn the water into coffee.
- In the final phase, this concentration of coffee and water diffuses into the surrounding water.
How to Make French Press Coffee
To make a proper cup of French press coffee, you will need to have the right equipment. In addition to your French press and favorite coffee beans, you will need
- a kettle,
- burr grinder, and
- a plastic or wooden spoon.
Before making your coffee, make sure that your French press is clean and free of any leftover grounds or residue. For the best aroma and flavor, use whole bean coffee and grind the beans yourself with a burr grinder immediately before brewing. I also recommend using a scale to ensure that you get a consistent water to coffee ratio with each brewing.
Bring your water to a boil and then let it sit for approximately 30 seconds until it is 205°F. You should then preheat your French press by filling the carafe about one-quarter of the way with the hot water. Depress the plunger all the way, and gently swirl the water for about 10 seconds before removing the plunger and discarding the water.
Unless you are using pre-ground coffee, weigh out the desired amount of beans, and grind them on a course setting. Add the grounds to the French press, and give it a quick shake to settle the grounds at the bottom.
Pour about half of your water over the grounds to allow them to bloom. You will notice that a thick crust of grounds will form on top of the water. Once you finish pouring, start your timer. After 30 seconds, give the grounds a stir for 5 seconds to redistribute.
Add your remaining water, and put the lid on your French press. Allow the coffee to steep for 4 minutes before slowly pushing the plunger all the way down to force the grounds to the bottom of the carafe. For best results, the coffee should be served immediately to keep it from becoming too bitter.
[Video]How to Make Perfect French Press Coffee
How Much Coffee for French Press Brewing?
Although the amounts can be tweaked according to your personal preference, I recommend the following French press coffee ratios.
• 12-Ounce/3-Cup French Press
Use 2 to 3 tablespoons or 17 grams of grounds to yield approximately one 9-ounce cup of coffee.
• 17-Ounce/4-Cup French Press
Use 4 to 5 tablespoons or 27 grams of grounds to yield approximately 14 ounces or two short mugs of coffee.
• 34-Ounce/8-Cup French Press
Use 8 to 10 tablespoons or 54 grams of grounds to yield approximately 30 ounces or three mugs of coffee.
How to Use a French Press: Mistakes to Avoid
Despite the simplicity of the brewing method, it is possible to make mistakes when brewing coffee using a French press. The most common mistake is failing to use the proper grind. If you have a hard time depressing the plunger, your grounds are too fine. If you do not feel any resistance when pushing the plunger, the grounds are too coarse.
Imprecise water to coffee ratios can lead to inconsistent results, which is why I recommend using a scale. Start by using the ratios recommended above. Once you have the ratio set to your personal preference, the scale will allow you to produce the same results every time.
Finally, do not leave your coffee in the French press after plunging. The extraction process will continue, and the coffee will turn bitter. If you will not be drinking the coffee right away, you can put it in an insulated thermos or carafe to keep it warm.