How to brew a French Press
French Presses are probably one of the most common and easiest to use coffee making utensils on the market.
The design and functionality hasn’t changed in over a century and many companies offer beautiful carafes to make medium to large amounts of coffee at home.
With some tips and tricks you can really push the quality of your french press coffee and you might be surprised by the technique I am about to explain to you.
French Press is an immersion brew, but what does that mean?
Immersion means that the ground coffee soaks in the water without applying any pressure or filtering technique. During the contact time of water and coffee, you are creating a solution that will take as much flavour as it can until it is saturated. That has many benefits. Firstly, your coffee can not be over extracted and secondly, given you maintain the same recipe all the time, you have a very reproducible and consistent brew.
Unfortunately the French press is known to taste quite grippy and muddy, but there are ways around it that leave you only with the benefits of an immersion brew. All you have to do is stick to the following aspects:
Take your time.
This technique will offer you a great round and full bodied coffee experience without any grippy solubles, but it does require some time. If you are in a hurry, maybe try using a filter coffee machine for easy use and consistent results.
If you are ready to celebrate your coffee ritual, let's start!
Use high quality coffee.
Many people ask me, which method or machine makes the best coffee and the answer is always the same: you can not get a great cup of coffee, if you do not use quality beans.
But what are quality beans?
A great indicator is smell and colour, as well as information on the coffee bag. A good quality coffee shouldn’t be roasted longer than 2 months ago, should not be oily and dark on the outside, shouldn’t smell dark or as I like to say “ like black rubber”. A fresh coffee should smell light, slightly sweet and aromatic and depending on the origin you should smell characteristics from terroir and fermentation.
If the beans are sourced well, the company will most likely provide many of those information on their coffee packaging.
French Press is the perfect way to easily try out different coffees and get to know their true potential.
Grind your Beans fresh and preferably yourself.
Coffee reacts very aggressively with oxygen and can lose a lot of its volatile aromas within the first 3 minutes (!!!) after grinding.
Investing in a hand grinder or even a medium price range electric grinder (over 50€) will improve your coffee quality drastically. The grind size for a French Press can be quite coarse so you will not need a grinder that can grind espresso fine.
Why do we need a coarse grind setting?
The grind setting for an individual coffee extraction method orientates itself depending on the used force or pressure.
When extracting Espresso, we have a lot of pressure. 9 bar pressure will force the water to press as many solubles out of the coffee as possible. If the grind setting would be coarse, the water would just splash through the coffee and the extraction would be way too short, resulting in a watery and sour coffee. That is why espresso is ground very fine, to give a resistance to the provided water pressure.
When using a filtration technique like a hand filter or filter coffee machine, gravity is our force, pulling the water through the coffee bed, extracting our desired filter coffee.
For a hand filter the grind size should be coarse but not too coarse, otherwise the water will run too fast and we once again have a too watery and sour coffee.
When making a French Press, we have no force, we are making a solution. Immersion brews will extract to their point of total given flavour and that's it.
That is why we should use a quite coarse grind setting. That doesn’t mean super coarse, just a tiny little bit coarser than filter setting.
To reduce the amount of small floating particles that will make the coffee “muddy” or “grippy”
To not oversaturate the solution
A coarse grind setting will provide a large amount of bigger particles that will evenly soak and give a mix of lighter flavours like florality and acidity but also body and sweetness.
Use fresh and filtered water.
Water makes 98% of our drink so it is quite important. I would always recommend using filtered water.
If you want to know more about water for coffee brewing, read my article about how I made my own water : https://www.nicolebattefeld.com/post/how-i-made-my-own-brewing-water
Find a recipe that you like.
I would recommend a ratio of 60g of ground coffee on 1 l of filtered water.
That means 30g on 500 ml and so on…. If you like your brew to be lighter or stronger, feel free to adjust your recipe, depending on your own taste.
To find your perfect recipe please invest in some digital scales and a timer, preferably a scale that has an included timer. They will help you achieve more consistent results and to be more accurate.
How to brew.
Remove the plunger from the French Press and lay it by the side.
Weigh your coffee and grind it on a quite coarse, not too coarse grind setting and place it in your french press.
I will use the following example recipe now:
30gr ground coffee on 500ml freshly filtered water with 95 degrees.
You can fill the water all into the cylinder of the French Press in one go with a fast flow kettle and start your timer.
Once the water is added, please stir the water coffee mix firmly for about 6 times to make sure, all the coffee is in contact with the water.
After 4 minutes you will see a visible crust at the top of your brew. That is the CO2 escaping the coffee, carrying some of the lighter particles to the top.
Please take 2 tablespoons. With one spoon you can swirl the crust back into the brew so the coffee grounds sink to the bottom of the brew, some bits will remain at the top and now you can scoop this thin foam off with the 2 spoons. You can just throw this foam in the sink or maybe in a plant pot as it is a great fertiliser.
Even if the coffee looks clean now, it is not ready to soak, so wait another 5-.6 minutes.
During this time the floaty coffee grinds will sink to the bottom of the French Press and the brew will also cool down a little bit, as it is way too hot at the start.
You might have noticed that we STILL didn’t add the plunger to the French Press. That is correct and now it gets really wild.
After 10 minutes, we are ready to serve the coffee. Place the plunger on top of the brew and DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT press the plunger down! We still use the plunger as a coarse filter but we don’t want to agitate the water with the grounds again!
Once placed only at the surface of the brew, gently pour the coffee into a cup.
You have now just made a super balanced coffee without any muddyness or floating particles.
Here is a short overview:
-fast flow kettle
-2 table spoons
-cup to serve
Coarse grind setting
500ml 95 degrees water
Soak for 4 minutes
Break and clean crust with spoons
Pour into cup at 10 minutes without pushing plunger down
Do not push the plunger down, only use it as a filter.
I love this recipe as it shows the full potential of a coffee and is very similar to a professional cupping!
It usually reveals a very silky coffee experience that is easy to brew and that can not over extract as the water, once fully saturated, will not take any more flavour.
You do however have to calculate a designated amount of time to celebrate this ritual.
When do I brew this recipe?
Usually every time I travel. It is so easy and most hotels or apartments have a French Press in their kitchen. It is a very simple way to convince non coffee professionals of how great specialty coffee can taste and how a great coffee experience mostly depends on great beans and not the most fancy equipment.
I hope this motivates you to try a new technique when it comes to making French Press coffee!
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