How do you start your day? What’s the first thing you reach for? The newspaper? Toast? Or coffee? I’m a coffee person. I’m a zombie without it. I usually have two cups before my brain starts working right. Brewed coffee, the French press way, is just perfect.
As I’ve said so often in the past, I’m not exactly a breakfast person. I take my coffee, I let an hour or so pass and then I eat something. Today, I had Alex’s cookies with my second cup of coffee after I had taken most of the photos featured in this post.
What is a French press?
A French press is a device for brewing coffee without subjecting the ground coffee to direct heat. Why it is called “French” is not clear. There’s an amusing story in an archived article about how a French guy who wanted to escape his nagging wife everyday was actually the one who invented the device. However, the first person to patent the “modern” press back in 1929 was an Italian named Attilio Calimani.
The French press is known by different names throughout the world. Depending on where you are in the world, it may be called a cafetière, a coffee plunger or a coffee press. For brevity, I will refer to it as a French press because that’s what we call it at home. If you’re looking to buy one, however, don’t go by what it’s called. Rather, know what it is and what its essential parts are to make sure you’re getting the correct device.
Parts of a French press
A French press has two parts.
The French press beaker
The first is the beaker where you put in the ground coffee and hot water. The beaker of our French press is made of glass. Some are made of plastic while others are made of metal.
Is a French press with a glass beaker preferable over ones with beakers made of plastic or metal? In my opinion, yes. Although glass is the most breakable of the three, it is also the least likely to warp. Moreover, bad quality plastic can be a health hazard while metal may have a reaction to the acidity of coffee.
The second part of the French press is the plunger which consists of three sub-parts.
The French press plunger
Underneath is a disc fitted with a mesh to filter the ground coffee to make sure it doesn’t get mixed into the brew.
From the top, there is a cover which is attached to the disc by a rod which you push down to press the disc into the ground coffee.
How to use the French press
According to some, to get the most out of a French press, it is best to use coarsely ground coffee. Meaning, not the find grind you’d put in an electric coffee maker. If you buy your coffee beans whole, you can have it ground (or you can do it yourself with the coffee grinder attachment that goes with a blender) to the coarseness that’s best for a French press.
To use a French press, measure ground coffee and dump it into the beaker. How much depends on how strong you want your brew. Two tablespoons of ground coffee per one cup of water is the ratio I live by.
Once the ground coffee is in the beaker, you pour hot water over it. Not boiling water but hot water. As a guide, after the water boils, leave it for 45 seconds to a minute (the actual time depends on the room temperature), which should bring the temperature down to around 200F, before pouring into the beaker. 195F to 205F is the water temperature recommended by the US National Coffee Association for optimal flavor extraction.
So, just pour in the water and steep? Not exactly. Initially, you pour in just half of the water and place the cover of the French press to allow to coffee to “bloom” for half a minute. Then, you stir the coffee lightly before pouring in the rest of the hot water. Cover the beaker again and leave the coffee to steep for two to four minutes depending on how dark you like your brew. Don’t let the coffee sit for too long in hot water to prevent it from turning bitter.
After the coffee has steeped in hot water sufficiently, push down the rod of the French press to fully extract the flavor from the coffee.
Pour the brewed coffee into a cup and enjoy.
Can the French press be used for brewing tea?
Oh, yes, we’ve done that. Use the French press to make fantastic brewed tea especially when using loose tea leaves. If you use tea bags, I recommend that you drop in the whole tea bag into the beaker (you can cut off the string and the tag) to double filter the tea so that no tiny bits of leaves get past the mesh of the French press.
Buying a French press
French press comes in a variety of sizes and prices. Some are downright inexpensive while others are ridiculously expensive. As with most anything in life, it is a good philosophy to buy the best quality within your budget. You don’t really need to overcharge your card just so you can brag about your expensive French press. Ours cost a little over 800 pesos (about 16 dollars at today’s exchange rate) and we’re quite happy with it.
Note that some models are portable and you can bring it for travel. If traffic in your part of the world is anything like the crap in Metro Manila, you might want to consider a portable French press.