The French press is probably the most popular way to brew coffee in the world.Cheap, easy to use and damn good at it’s job; It’s no wonder it’s so popular.
Don’t believe me? Search Instagram for any coffee related hashtag and you will be inundated with artistic, moody photographs of them. Steaming. Mid pour. Next to a freshly baked pastry… and a MacBook.
If that sounds a bit too pretentious for you, don’t worry. They work just as well on a Saturday morning with a hangover and a bacon sandwich!
A French press is a glass or stainless steel carafe that holds your coffee, and a plunger with a metal mesh on the end. You pour near boiling water over your coffee grounds, leave to ‘steep’ for 3-4 mins and then press down on the plunger to filter out the grounds from the brew. Simple.
Now, real coffee connoisseurs have a long list of criteria to fulfil for the perfect brew using a French press. These include:
Using filtered water. The National Coffee Association recommends using filtered or bottled water. Certain elements of the water can affect the final taste, especially chlorine. They recommend filtering these out.
Water temperature. If your water is not hot enough, it won't extract all the flavours from the beans resulting in a weak brew. However, too hot and you could scorch the beans and have a burnt bitter brew. It is recommended to brew between 95-97°C.
Coffee bean grind size. A course grind size is recommended. If the grid is too fine, it will brew more quickly, meaning too many compounds will be extracted into your brew which results in a bitter taste. Additionally, there will be a lot more sediment in your final cup as the finer coffee grinds will seep through the mesh filter.
Brew/Steep/Extraction time. The time you allow your coffee grinds to steep (brew) in the water is critical. Too short a time and your brew will be weak. Too long a time and your brew will be bitter. It is also recommended to decant all your coffee after you have full compressed the plunger. This is because if you leave the coffee sitting in the French press, the coffee grinds at the bottom of the jar will keep extracting oils/compounds turning the pot more and more bitter. (Extraction time is closely related to grind size; finer grounds require a much shorter extraction time due to their increased surface area.)
Ratio of coffee grinds to water. An average rule of thumb is 1-2 tablespoons of coffee per cup you are drinking. Those are not heaped tablespoons, just a regular spoonful, not mini mountains. Some people go into finer details e.g. 17g of unground coffee beans for 2 cups. But a lot of this is subjective; it all comes down to personal preference and taste.
That all sounds fantastic, and I am sure following those guidelines could result in some award-winning coffee. However, the French press is so popular due to its simplicity. Those 5 bullet points above do not scream simplicity to me. This is how we at Singl coffee see it:
If you're tap water is perfectly drinkable. That's fine, use it. Got a Brita filter or something similar? Bonus points.
Don't fret over the temperature of the water too much. Boil your kettle, then pop the lid open and let it stand for a couple of minutes. It will drop 3 degrees in no time.
If you don't have your own bean grinder, no problem. You can still buy pre-ground coffee. Just try to avoid the pre-ground coffee specifically for espresso making. These tend to be very fine. Also bear in mind that it won't take anywhere near as long to brew if it is not coarsely ground. Brew for 2-2.5 mins rather than 3-4 mins.
At the end of the day, everybody is different, everybody has different tastes, and some people will be more susceptible to bitter tastes than others.
Brew your French press how you like it, not how the internet tells you how to like it!
Hopefully you are reading this because you already enjoy coffee, and for us at Singl, that's the most important thing! Experiment with your French press and the variables listed above and let us know how you get on.