If you love gourmet coffee, but are trying to kick an expensive cafe habit, or if you simply don’t have the time (or money) to make the most of a home espresso machine, never fear – the solution is easier than you think. For people who need good coffee and fast, a french press brings the best of both worlds: it produces strong, full-bodied coffee that’s thicker and more flavorful than anything you could nurse out of an ordinary coffee maker, but tend to cost less than your typical drip, and much less than even a budget espresso machine. So what’s the catch?
Working with a french press is, admittedly, a little more hands-on than most other kinds of coffee (though has a much smaller learning curve than espresso, as you don’t have to learn how to use a complicated machine). A good french press like this Bodum 8 Cup Chambord is made up of two basic parts: a carafe, and a lid with a wire or mesh plunger that fits snugly inside it.
To make french press coffee, you put one heaping tablespoon (about 8.5 grams) of coarse ground coffee (more on this later) into the bottom of your press for every 4 oz of coffee you plan to brew. Most presses come in 4 oz increments, starting around 12 or 16 and going well over 50 oz, but make sure you know the capacity of your press before you buy. This LaCafetiere 3 Cup ostensibly holds three “cups”, but a cup of french press coffee can be considered 4, 6, or 8 oz – so make sure you’re buying a press that’s the right size for the amount of coffee you’ll be making.
Once you’ve measured your coffee into the carafe, you want to pour the appropriate amount of boiling water slowly on top of it, evenly moistening the grounds. The fastest way to boil and pour water – to get yourself out the door a little faster – is to use an electric kettle while you grind your coffee. The water will just be coming off a boil (and down to an ideal temp) by the time you’re ready to get started. A double-walled french press, whether glass like the Chambord or metal like this Bodum Arabica will not only keep your coffee hot for hours, but also keep the carafe from getting too hot to touch.
Fill your carafe only to about an inch from the top – any higher and you run the risk of the hot water spilling over or squirting out when you insert the plunger. For a stronger coffee, give the mixture a few (gentle!) stirs with a chopstick, which will cause some foam to rise to the top. Then, pop the lid on and wait. It might be tempting to fiddle with the plunger – especially with an opaque press like this Frieling Stainless Steel Press – but leave it alone for 2-4 minutes (it will depend on your coffee, practice makes perfect!) before pushing the plunger STRAIGHT down very, very SLOWLY. If the plunger goes in at an angle, or too fast, you can wind up with grounds in your coffee, or, worse, coffee all over your shirt.
Then, pour! If you’ve done it right, and keep your finger pressed down on the plunger while you serve, almost all the grounds should stay beneath the mesh. That said, if you were on board with the idea of french press until I said hands off for 4 minutes, consider an insulated travel press/mug like this GSI Outdoors Java Press. Just fill it with grounds and water, pop on the lid, hop in the car, and plunge it on your way to work. The fine mesh will keep the grounds down so the coffee won’t over brew, and the insulation keeps the coffee hot and the mug cool enough to handle. A slightly frazzled friend of mine swears by it both for camping and for mad dashes out the door.
The very most important part of making good french press coffee – like any coffee – is the beans. Whether you’re looking for a leisurely coffee date on your patio or a quick morning jolt from your Travel Press on your way out the door, you cant make good coffee without good beans – or a good coffee grinder. Ideally, your beans will have been roasted 3-10 days prior (less and you’ll get funky bubbles, more and you’ll miss your peak flavor), and ground immediately before brewing.
French press coffee should be ground very coarse – so it can’t get through the mesh plunger – but the inconsistent grind of a blade grinder can can clog your cup and ruin your brew. It’s really worth it to put out a little extra cash to get the best coffee grinder you can – a burr grinder – to make sure you get a consistent, coarse ground every time – your taste buds will thank you! If you DO need to skimp somewhere, as big a fan as I am of great electric kettles, if you won’t use it otherwise, think about a combination press like this Chef’s Choice Electric Press which is basically a combination press/kettle.
To sum up: Grind it, scoop it, fill it, plunge it, drink it. Easy as that, and no designer coffee machine needed. If you’re on a budget, a french press is the way to go – though as any coffee lover will tell you, a little splurge on a good grinder will go a long way, even (especially!) if you’re only spending $15 on the press! Just follow these simple instructions, and just about any press will give you strong, delicious coffee without breaking the bank. Bonus: most french presses work great with loose leaf tea, too! Have you developed a fine coffee palate? Do you drink coffee leisurely, or just for the caffeine? Do you have a favorite way to drink it? Let me know in the comments!