Oh, hello, do you french press your coffee?
I do, and I’m not alone. Each year, millions of people around the world french press their coffee. And each year, those people get to drink a full-bodied, robust, perfectly extracted brew of caffeinated goodness.
I have been french pressing for years now. I feel that this legitimizes me as a coffee snob, so I always make sure I swirl the contents of my mug and inhale deeply before tasting. Ironically, as in Alanis Morissette ironically, I haven’t always been the french pressing dynamo that I am today. You see, even though I had been a barista in my youth at many local coffee empires, including one whose logo is a mermaid (which is confusing since it’s coffee and not seafood), I was french pressing all wrong. How you ask, for the love of all things brewed, could a former barista be a french press fail?? But I was. I had made two huge mistakes that I knew were mistakes, yet I was too cheap/lazy/I don’t even know what to do anything to change it. Two huge mistakes that I had been trained, AS A BARISTA, to never do. And instead of actually just doing the two things I knew I should do, I blamed my perfectly fine french press instead and returned to the comfort of my drip coffeemaker (I know, makes total sense, right?!?).
But the lure of the french press haunted me. I couldn’t resist its call, and returned, determined to turn my fails into delicious successes. And I changed my methodology. I went into the depths of my mind to recall that lost barista training, and I even did a little research (yes, I required research) and discovered that when the coffee expert said to use good quality freshly ground beans, they weren’t kidding. Ahhh the perils of lazy coffee preparation.
Now, even though I researched it and trialled and errored myself into amazing coffee (if I do say so myself), the truth is, french press is easy. Just as easy as your drip coffeemaker, and if you’re a coffee lover, infinitely better tasting.
The three things that can make or break your french press experience:
Buy the best beans you can afford and ones you actually like the taste of. It seems like a no-brainer, but I think people really do buy coffee based on things like price and marketing (I’m with you. I was there, scouring the shelves for cheap and cheerful. There is no such thing in the coffee world. Sad, but true). Sure, you got your beans for $6.99, but if they taste like $6.99 then you probably won’t like it. I’m not suggesting you take out a small loan to pay for your coffee addiction or buy trendy beans just because they’re expensive. But like finding your favourite Friday night wine, a great coffee bean is a journey. Try different brands, different roasts, and different bean origins. If you can swing it, try to buy fair trade or organic (or both!). Many coffee companies are now being more selective in the way their beans are grown and harvested, and your local grocery store (and even Costco) will carry some decent beans. Speaking of beans, it’s best to buy coffee in bean form. Once ground, staleness starts to happen almost instantly. To get the fullest flavour and that coffee goodness that really will get you moving out of bed and floating to your kitchen, grind the beans as you use them.
A french press requires a coarsely ground coffee. If you have a coffee grinder there will mostly likely be a setting for coarse, or percolator, or french press. What you are looking for in a grind, is beans that are evenly ground, meaning most of the bits are about the same size. While you can certainly use the grocery store grinder, I really do think it tastes a lot better freshly ground. And most grinders are fairly inexpensive. But try to have one that you just use for coffee and not for other things like grinding spices or else your coffee will taste spicy, which may or may not be delicious.
Now, since we’re talking about grinds, let’s discuss the grinder. If you have one, it’s probably a blade grinder. This means it has a blade in the centre of the bowl that whirs around and chops up the beans into little shards. Blade grinders are great. They’re inexpensive, portable, and can grind a bean from a coarse percolator to a fine espresso. But have you heard of a burr grinder? I got a burr grinder a few years ago, and it has, without a doubt, elevated my french press game considerably. Yes, it’s a bit more expensive than a regular blade grinder, but if you love coffee, I highly recommend it.
So, what’s so great about a burr grinder?
Here’s how it works: instead of a blade in the centre of your grinder, the inside of a burr grinder features two abrasive surfaces that spin against each other and grind only a few beans at a time before dispensing the ground beans into a base container. The result is a more uniform grind, especially for coarsely ground coffee. This evenly ground coffee really is necessary for a great french press brew. Ideally, you want all the bean grinds to be extracted at the same rate, so your coffee won’t be too bitter or too weak. Since a blade grinder can have the tendency to create a less uniform grind, there is a risk that the final product won’t be well-balanced. There are many different brands of burr grinders, from manual jobbies to electric ones. They start at about $50, which isn’t too crazy, and are really easy to use. Try it: it’ll revolutionize your morning brew.
You can’t forget about the ratio. One of the first times I had french press coffee, I was babysitting. The lady of the house was an avid coffee drinker who swore by her little one cup french press, and peach flavoured coffee. Seriously. She showed me how to make it: one teaspoon sprinkled at the bottom of the french press, then top off with boiling water. Let sit for no longer than one minute. Then drink. I don’t think I need to tell you how not tasty that was. I probably could’ve just ended the story with “peach flavoured coffee”. The point is, how much coffee you use is extremely important. Too little and it’s like beige coloured water, too much and it’s bitter and sludgy. Now, it’s not an exact science: there is some wiggle room for early morning inaccuracies, but most coffee lovers will tell you a great ratio is 1:10, which is 1 gram of coffee to 10 grams of water. I know, thinking about numbers makes me tired. So, I’ll make it less thinking-like:
8 cup french press= 9 tablespoons
4 cup french press= 4-5 tablespoons
It may seem like a lot of coffee, but I assure you, it doesn’t taste like too much. It tastes juuuuuuussssst right. And if you’re thinking, this girl is crazy, I’m going to only put half that amount of coffee, remember me, and the peach flavoured coffee. Trust the amount.
French pressing isn’t just for hot coffee. Try cold brew: it’ll change your life.