French Press Coffee
by Darcy O'Neil on November 2012
When it comes to drinks, a good cup of coffee is probably at the top of the list for many people, mine included. Like cocktails, there are decent cups of coffee, bad coffee and great coffee. A decent cup of coffee would be from a coffee shop chain like Tim Horton's or Starbucks (suspect coffee quality with me). A bad cup of coffee comes from a gas station at 3:00AM in the morning, somewhere in Ohio, and the clerk refuses to accept money after you fill your travel mug. A great cup of coffee comes from those rare independent coffee shops that roast their own beans and genuinely care about the coffee. These places can be hard to find and expensive, so the last bastion of great coffee is at home. Good beans and a proper coffee brewing apparatus, like a French Press, can elevate your coffee experience to a new level.
I have always enjoyed coffee and like many people, caffeine was the primary reason for starting the coffee habit. When I was in school and needed that extra kick to stay up studying, or get my ass into gear in the morning, caffeine helped a lot and coffee was the delivery vehicle. I don't remember what my original preference was, but I'm thinking it was a large coffee with two teaspoons of sugars and one of cream. Today I drink it black with a single, or even half teaspoon of sugar.
As my taste preferences have changed, so too has my choice of coffee. For many years I consummed Tim Horton's coffee, but then something changed and I found the coffee way too “soft” and I think the chicory flavour they put in it turned me off. So I tried Starbucks and found it had a “burnt” flavour. Now if I'm out looking for a cup of "joe" I try to hit independent coffee shops or places like Williams Coffee Pub. But true joy comes from a freshly brewed, and pressed, pot of coffee made from high quality beans. This is where a French Press makes all the difference.
The French Press is a very simple device for making coffee. It consists of a beaker / carafe and a filtering mechanism that is “pressed” through the coffee to filter out any coffee grounds. So here is how a French Press works:
1. Put water into a kettle and bring it to a boil.
2. While you are waiting for the water to boil, take out your French Press and coffee grinder.
3. Grind some coffee beans (you can use ground coffee from a can, but it isn’t going to be as good).
4. When the water is boiling, unplug the kettle, place 3 tablespoons of ground coffee into the beaker/carafe
5. Pour the hot water (not boiling water) over the coffee grounds
6. Place the “press” onto the carafe to act as a lid and wait 3 to 4 minutes
7. Slowly push the “press” down (like a plunger) to filter the coffee
8. Pour a cup and enjoy.
There are a couple of things to note about French press coffee. First, it is stronger and darker than regular drip coffee, but it is silky smooth and lacks the bitterness produced by other brewing methods (assuming you are using fresh roasted and grounded coffee). Most people like it, but some people like their coffee to look like tea, so this may not be for those people. You will also note that there is a very fine sediment left at the bottom of your cup. This is caused by the type of coffee grinder used. I use one with the whirling blades, so it produces an uneven grinds and this fine sediment. You can spend more money on a burr grinder that doesn't create this sediment, but the sediment doesn’t affect the taste or texture. You can avoid the coffee sediment by just not finishing the last ounce of coffee.
There are a couple of downsides to the French Press method. The first is that it can take ten or more minutes to get a cup of coffee. A good kettle will cut down on the time. You can only brew a couple of cups at a time in a French Press. That's fine, but if you have a 3 plus cup a day habit you might need to make some modifications. The last downside is that the French Press carafe doesn't keep the coffee warm for very long, so if you choose a large French press to meet your coffee addiction get a good thermos, that way you can keep the hot coffee flowing.
Many people who aspire for the perfect cup of coffee will tell you that there are better ways to make coffee, other than a French Press. The Chemex coffee maker is one that shows up frequently and the design is based on laboratory filtration methods. The Chemex coffee makers can be very expensive, plus you have to buy special filter papers for them. It all depends on how good you want your coffee.
And yes, that Ohio coffee incident did happen. It happened when I was in college and returning from spring break in Daytona. We had been on the road for at least 18 hours and it was my turn to drive. We stopped at a gas station, filled the gas tank and my coffee mug. It was a self serve coffee pot, so I filled my trusty travel mug, walked to the counter and was ready to pay when the clerk waived me off, and said it was free. That was nice, but why was the coffee free? Well, when I returned to the car, I took my first sip and realized why. I'm glad I picked up the five or so extra sugar packets because I really, really needed the caffeine.