Making a Great Cup of French Press Coffee

My uncle Louie, who is recently retired from 40 years as a tech consultant, has acquired a taste for coffee. Just this week he bought a french press, and so he sent me an email asking for advice knowing that I use one every day.

Traditionally, the french press is the finest way to brew a cup of coffee. And despite popular opinion, it can actually be quicker than making coffee with a drip coffee maker. However, the french press is more involved for the person brewing the coffee, as each step is done by hand, but that is something I personally enjoy about it.

Great coffee starts with great ingredients: water and coffee beans. You should use only the best water — filtered, bottled, or (if you’re my dad) reverse osmosisified — whenever possible.

I buy my beans whole and grind them just before brewing them. When coffee beans are ground is when they give out their flavor. To use pre-ground coffee beans is to use them at their worst. To grind them just before you brew them is to use them at their best. Moreover, if you use pre-ground coffee chances are you aren’t using the coarseness for a french press. Pre-ground coffee is almost always too fine for proper brewing in a french press.

To grind your own coffee, I recommend a conical burr grinder. I use this Breville.

What many people do not know is that there is a big difference between a plain burr grinder and a conical burr grinder. In fact, most inexpensive burr grinders do a worse job grinding your coffee than a cheap blade grinder would.

One of the reasons people buy a burr grinder is because it will produce a more consistent grind (the biggest complaint against blade grinders). However, the average burr grinder has flat burrs. And though you will get consistent grind it often comes at the expense of the ground bean.

With conical burr grinders the burrs are shaped like a cone. This means there is a larger grinding area for the same diameter, allowing the conical burrs to spin at a slower speed. And you want your coffee to be ground slowly. Grinding at high speeds (as most regular, flat burr grinders do) heats up the burrs and results in burnt coffee beans and damaged grounds.

For brewing in a press you want an even and coarse grind. I set my Breville to the most coarse setting it has. (Around the holidays I like to add a teaspoon of cinnamon to the grounds before I pour the water in. It gives the coffee a nice spice that goes well with snow and Christmas music.)

French Press Coffee

I use an electric kettle to boil the water. Once the water has reached a boil I let it cool for just a moment to let it stop bubbling, so the water is right around 200°. Then I pour the hot water into a measuring cup to get the right amount of ounces for how much grounds I’m brewing, and then I pour it into the french press over top of the coffee grounds.

Something which is of upmost importance is the ratio of coffee beans to water. Different people have different opinions about this, but I use 2 tablespoons of beans (measured before they’re ground) for every 6 ounces of water. If that ratio results in coffee which is too strong for you then add the hot water to your cup after you’ve already brewed the coffee. If you water down your beans while brewing, then you’ll over extract and end up with bitter coffee.

After I pour the water over the coffee grounds in the french press I let it sit for a few seconds and allow the coffee to bloom. I then give it all a really good stir, place the lid on, and set a timer for 4 minutes.

When it’s time to press the coffee I slowly push down on the filter, and then pour it into a thermos. I like my coffee piping hot and so I drink just a little bit at a time — black — to keep it as hot as possible. This also plays well into my affection for small mugs.

French Press Coffee

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Making a Great Cup of French Press Coffee