These days, the French press gets a poor reputation. So much so that you’d think it’s barely above Dunkin’ Donuts. Sure, America runs on Dunkin’. Though if you’re like me, you probably run from it, so let’s just end it that argument right there.
What the French press is
The French press can be traced to the French but the French cannot be credited with its popularity. Like double-entry bookkeeping and the Renaissance, the French press was popularized by the Italians. Attilio Calimani patented his version of the device, in 1929, followed by Faliero Bondanini’s, patented in 1959. The device has changed little in the past sixty years.
What the French press is not
As any self-respecting coffee connoisseur, I prefer the elaborate, sometimes painful, process of manually-brewed coffee. Though French press brewed coffee is still a labor of manual love, it’s certainly not as exacting as pour over. And though it requires some work of hand, it’s nowhere nearly as theatrical as those siphon concoctions.
French press and the art of time management
As I’ve mentioned before, Caitlin and I are fans of our morning coffee ritual. In the evenings and on weekends, our Chemex is hard at work. However, on weekday mornings, when we’re short on time, the French press is the perfect alternative. The entire process takes about ten minutes. Unlike with other manual brewing methods, it’s difficult to make an error with a French press.
How we brew and serve French press coffee
Place a kettle filled with filtered, cold water, on the stove top. When the kettle makes threatening sounds that indicate it will whistle in a couple of minutes, grind the coffee. The French press requires a coarse grind. There are two reasons for this: it helps keep coffee grinds out of your mug and minimizes chance of over-extraction. Grinding the beans just before the water boils ensures that your pot yields the freshest coffee.
Once the water boils, toss the ground coffee in the carafe and pour hot water to a half-way point. Let the coffee bloom for about thirty seconds, then fill the carafe the rest of the way. Gently stir with a wooden spoon or coffee stirrer. Place the lid with plunger over the carafe, and put four minutes on a timer. Once up, gently push down the grounds with a plunger.
Now, on the subject of extraction. Most recipes suggest – or urgently scream – that you decant your coffee immediately after brewing. It’s not bad or misguided advice. However, we prefer to keep the coffee in the carafe. The first cup will be perfect to drink free of any additives. That’s right, we drink our coffee black. The second – and over-extracted – cup is served with about a tablespoon of whole milk. This neutralizes the added extraction and gives the second serving a touch of dulce de leche flavor.
A few parting suggestions
Be sure to purchase whole bean coffee. Yes, this means you will also need to buy a coffee grinder. That brings me to my second tip: purchase a burr rather than a blade grinder. A burr grinder will yield an even grind size and, in turn, an even, smooth extraction. Finally, ease yourself into drinking black coffee buy eating chocolate cake served with a side of crème fraîche.