While there are certainly more glamorous and high-tech ways of making coffee, the humble French press or cafetière is an under-utilized method that can yield stunning results.
Honing your French press skills is well worthwhile as the brewing method has several advantages over others. Firstly, it allows you to make a large volume of coffee in one go – so is a great choice when you are entertaining guests. Secondly, it offers you the chance to enjoy excellent fresh coffee at the lowest possible cost. A cafetière once brought will probably last you a lifetime. Thirdly, your French press is portable and requires no electricity to run, meaning you will never need to reduce yourself to hotel-room instant coffee ever again.
But pulling off a good French press ain’t easy. In fact, get it wrong and you are almost guaranteed a mucky cup of dishwater joe. Follow these guidelines to drink quality every time.
Keep it clean
A dirty cafetière – one with months of old and stale coffee sediment clogging up the filter and lining the jug is simply not going to be able to make a cup of coffee that tastes fresh. Before you begin, make sure both filter and jug are clean. If you haven’t used/cleaned your press in a while this will mean unscrewing the three components that make up the filter and washing them separately. Don’t wash them in soap as residue will likely remain in the filter. Try hot water and baking soda for best results. Rinse well.
Warm it up
Pour some hot water into the jug and give it a bit of a rinse. This will prevent the water cooling down too much during brewing because it is transferring heat to the pot.
Grind out a result
The French press is a relatively slow brewing method so a courser ground is preferred. This will stop too many coffee solubles dissolving in the water, which will make your brew too bitter and acidic. Finer grinds will also be a nightmare when plunging time comes because you will need arms like Popeye to press the filter down.
For maximum freshness and best results, grind your own beans to a grain size slightly coarser than polenta (If you don’t yet own a grinder, then you are missing out on an essential bit of kit! Check out some great grinders here or read a review of one of our favourites). If you are using pre-ground, don’t use a fine espresso grind. Yes, it may say ‘for all coffee makers’ on the packet, but that is bumf.
Use around 6-8 grams of ground coffee per cup. This equates to about two rounded dessert spoons of coffee per cup. Obviously, this is a very rough figure as different blends and roasts will have different strengths so experiment and find what works best for you.
Water is key
Water is the solvent that is going to be used to dissolve the coffee. Obviously, the chlorine and fluoride in tap water affect flavour – but they will also impact how the coffee interacts with the water on a molecular level. Tap water also frequently contains high levels of calcium, as well as small particles of rust/dust from your pipes, which are also going to tarnish the taste of your brew.
In addition, calcium will, over a long enough time horizon, cause limescale to form inside the pot and filter potentially shortening the machine’s lifespan. The easiest and cheapest way of ensuring you always have the right water quality to hand is to make sure you are using filtered water. Water filters are relatively cheap and can make the world of difference in both your coffee and your regular drinking water. Take a look at some of the best water filter jugs here.
Don’t boil it
The French press should be made with water that is just off the boil. Between 90 and 96 degrees works well. Boiling water will cause high levels of extraction at the beginning of the brewing process and will leave you with a bitter cup. Either use a thermometer or flick the kettle off about 30 seconds before it boils.
Perfect the plunge
Once you have filled your pot,– push the plunger down onto the top of the grounds and submerge them around 2 cm into the water before pulling the filter back up around 1.5 centimetres.
This will create a turbulence in the pot that will allow more of the coffee to sink as it brews, making it easier to plunge and helping to keep your coffee free from any stray grounds that might otherwise make it through the filter. It is also, a cool effect to watch in action if you have a glass cafetiere.
Let it stand for around four minutes and pour it out. Add milk, warm milk, sugar to taste – enjoy!