The feeling of making something with your own hands is almost indescribable. From doing an oil change to grilling steak, that sense of accomplishment is truly intoxicating. However, in many areas, our society has lost that sense. So many things are automated and electronic that we barely know what it feels like to do something by hand.
The world of coffee is no different. In this day of electronic coffee makers with automatic timers and a vast array of buttons, many coffee lovers long for something simple and effective. Surely there must be a way to make good coffee with your own two hands and almost no tech. Well, fortunately, there is: French Press Coffee.
History of French Press Coffee
French press coffee is coffee that is made in a French press. Seems obvious right? Now, for those who have never heard of the French press, it was a gadget patented in the 1920s by (oddly) a man from Milan named Attilio Calimani. Why it is called the French press when an Italian invented it is a mystery. But that’s beside the point.
After going through some redesigning, the French press first gained popularity in the 1950s under the brand name Melior. Later its popularity spread through companies such as BODUM, who actually ended up buying Melior in the 90s. Today, BODUM is one of the leading companies that produce French press coffee makers.
What is a French Press?
The concept behind the French press coffee maker is extremely simple. It’s actually kind of incredible that it can produce coffee that is on par with the leading drip brew coffee makers. French press coffee makers are part of a class of brewers known as vacuum coffee makers.
The principle behind a vacuum coffee maker is the method of separating the grounds from the coffee after it is done steeping. This ties into how a French press is designed. The basic elements of a French press are a glass beaker, a lid, and a screen with a plunger attached to it.
Basically, the screen and plunger provide a barrier between the grounds and the finished coffee. The act of depressing the plunger forces the grounds down, and the coffee up. The screens are often made with a mesh to ensure that the grounds do not get into the coffee because nobody wants to have their coffee and eat it too.
Many modern French press coffee makers come in other materials and have additional gadgets. Others have multi-leveled filtration, which means there is more than one screen on the plunger. However, the core principle remains the same. And it is remarkable because there is no electricity required whatsoever.
How to Make French Press Coffee
So, you’ve got your French press. Awesome. Now, how do you set about making your batch of coffee? Here is a breakdown of the steps to making your own coffee by hand.
#1 Rinse beaker with Hot Water
This step is important for two reasons: One because it cleans your beaker. The filtration system doesn’t do much good if the beaker is covered in coffee grounds from your last batch. Secondly, rinsing with hot water will heat the beaker, which will aid in maintaining brew quality.
For rinsing, water that is almost boiling works best. Do not, however, use boiling water for making the coffee, as this will burn the grounds and ruin your coffee.
#2 Grind your Coffee into Grounds (Optional)
This step may be optional, but it is highly recommended. Using freshly ground coffee means that you will get a richness of flavor not found in pre-ground coffee.
For making French press coffee, using coarser ground coffee is the most effective. The grounds should have about the same thickness as sea salt as a visual reference.
Getting the ratio of grounds to water right is also very important. For a mild taste, using 3 Tbsp. of grounds per 12 oz. of water. For a stronger flavor, using 4-5 Tbsp. of grounds per 12 oz. is recommended.
#3 Combine the Coffee Grounds & Water in the French Press
After adding the grounds to the French press, add the hot water. Remember, it should not be boiling. One good method of acquiring water at the right temperature is to bring the water to a boil, and then let it sit and cool for one minute.
There are actually two schools of thought on how one should add the water. The first is to pour it all in at once. The second school is to pour the water in gradually. The theory is that the second method will saturate the grounds more thoroughly.
#4 Stir the Bloom
Blooming is the process of carbon dioxide releasing from coffee grounds when they interact with water. The amount of bloom will depend on how fresh the coffee beans are. When you pour the water in, let the coffee bloom for up to 45 seconds, and then stir until the bloom sinks to the bottom of the beaker.
#5 Add Remaining Water and Steep
If you chose the second method of adding water to your French press, fill the rest of the pot and steep for 4 MINUTES. 4 minutes shalt be the time that thou shalt use, no more, no less. Do not count 5 minutes, nor count 3 minutes, unless proceeding directly to 4 minutes (Little Holy Grail reference for you guys).
Humor aside, 4 minutes is the standard brewing time for French press. However, feel free to experiment with longer times. The time frames for brewing are similar to steeping tea. The longer you steep it, the stronger the flavor will be.
#6 Press the Plunger
This is perhaps the most crucial step of making French press coffee. Pressing the plunger will push the grounds down to the bottom of the beaker, and the finished coffee will rise to the upper part.
It is extremely important that you do not press the plunger too quickly. Doing so will crush the coffee grounds and release a bitter flavor. If you like your coffee extremely bitter, then go for it. Otherwise, slow and steady makes the best coffee. Make sure you press the plunger until you encounter a stiff resistance.
#7 Pour and Enjoy
After you have pressed the plunger to the bottom of the pot, you are ready to enjoy your French press coffee. It is important to note that if you leave the coffee in the pot it will continue to brew since it is not a drip brew coffee maker. Keep this in mind when determining how big of a pot you want to make.
Benefits of Making French Press Coffee
Aside from having a taste that rivals even the best drip brew coffee makers, there are several other benefits to using a French press. The first is the ease of use. With drip brew machines you have to pour in the water, set up a filter with grounds, and punch in a nuclear code to get it to work. The French press is nothing like that. You just grind, mix, steep, plunge, enjoy.
Another huge benefit of the French press is its portability. With most drip brew coffee makers you have to lug around a big machine as well as the pot, filters, and so on. With a French press, you just need the press itself, some grounds, and a source of hot water. There are even some versions of French press coffee makers that come as travel mugs, making them perfect for camping trips.
Cleaning Your French Press Coffee Maker
It is unbelievably simple to clean and reuse a French press. With a drip brew, the carafe is easy enough to wash. However, the machine itself is another matter entirely. You have to run two cycles of vinegar and then water. The French press is nothing like that.
With a French press, you can simply throw all the pieces in with your daily dishes. We recommend hand-washing French press coffee makers, especially if your beaker is glass. Some companies do make dishwasher safe French press beakers such as the BODUM Brazil French press. The other components you will definitely want to wash by hand.
Doing things by hand is always a rewarding experience. The French press gives you that ability to experience what it’s like to make your coffee with nothing but a little muscle and chemistry. Also, it just tastes fantastic. So if you’re ever roughing it in the woods but need your caffeine fix, just take a French press with you. You won’t regret it.