While there are a lot of brew methods out there, I believe that everyone would benefit from owning a French Press. If I were forced to choose one style of coffee brewing to live with for the rest of my coffee-drinking existence, there is a very good chance that I would say, “French Press.” It is more versatile than it gets credit for by most people, and as its die-hard fans know: it’s hard to settle for anything else once you’ve become accustomed to the press as your primary cup of coffee.
One of the perks of using a French Press is the amount of control that the user has over normal brew variables.
Dwell time, grind particle size, brew temperature, and rate of extraction. Yes, you CAN alter the rate of extraction beyond the three fundamental variables.
(for more information, read Coffee Brewing Basics.)
I tend to like longer extractions at a medium grind setting, in the higher end of the brew temperature range for our coffee. Our coffees tend to be very dense beans, in general, and work extremely well with these fuller extractions. More of the sugars are extracted, and it can take awhile for the bitters to take over when brewing with our roasts. (I’ve once tasted our Fazenda Rodomunho Natural after 8 minutes before pressing, brewed with water just off the boil, ground with a Bodum blade grinder. It was absolutely delicious.)
Of course, if you like a lower temperature, less time, coarser grind, or any other change to fit your style, do it! It’s your press, and your cup of coffee.
I get the impression that a lot of people see the French Press as a brewer used in only one way. That way is usually something like this: coarse grind, add water just off the boil, put the top on, wait 4 minutes, then press. While this is a reliable starting point, it is just that: a starting point.
A French Press can be used for so much more.
If you want to mimic the taste of the long-lost Clover brewer at home, just follow the same brew parameters. Use a heavier dose, shorter dwell time, more agitation, and press hard and fast.
If you want to mimic the taste profile of a vac-pot, use a normal dose, normal temperature, minimal agitation, and cover the top with a plate to retain the heat during the dwell time. At the end of the dwell time, “break” the crust (as in Cupping), allowing the grounds to settle. Scrape the “bloom” and any floating grounds off of the top, and discard. Last, place the plunger assembly on top, and gently press.
If you want to make a cold brew or cold brew concentrate, reach for your French Press. For normal cold brew, use a normal brew ratio, add room temperature or cold filtered or spring water (do not use distilled. More on this later.), and leave on your counter top or in your refrigerator for 8 to 24 hours (depending on your taste preferences, steeping environment, chosen coffee, and grind particle size). Don’t worry, cold brewing is more forgiving than you might think.
For a cold brew concentrate, do the same thing, but use more coffee grounds, and make a note of the new brew ratio so that you can properly dilute the concentrate later.
Need to strain something for a recipe, but don’t have a strainer? Use your French Press! (just be sure to clean it thoroughly immediately afterwards)
Want to put a little frothed milk on your iced latte made from your cold brew concentrate? Add a little milk to your press, and pump up the jam (er.. pump up the foam.. you know what I meant). Once again, be sure you clean it very thoroughly immediately afterwards.
It’s Thanksgiving, the pies are cool and ready to serve, but you forgot to whip the cream? French Press to the rescue. Just like frothing milk, whipping cream is possible.
I’ve even seen a french press used to juice fresh blueberries during a barista competition. The point is, don’t let the fact that it’s “just a coffee brewer” stop you from being resourceful with your new favorite tool in the kitchen: your French Press.
Which Press to Buy?
The truth is, that for most brands, a press is a press is a press. They all work the same way, though some are bigger, some are smaller, some are insulated steel, some are plastic, but most are glass.
If you want the industry standard, go with Bodum. They are easy to find in big box stores, or online. For a more refined looking press, you might like Frieling. If you’re on a budget, you can get plastic presses pretty readily, or you can go to a discount department store or Ikea (I’m a fan of Ikea’s stainless insulated press for the price).
The bottom line is that you can (and should) get a new French Press almost anywhere, on any budget. Every kitchen should have one.