Brewing Coffee 101: Press Pot / French Press
If you prefer strong coffee, then the press pot (more commonly called a French Press) is the right choice for you. Corby Kummer, well respected food writer and coffee guru, claims that “a press pot offers the richest coffee this side of espresso” (Kummer, 85). You may also hear this brewing method called ‘plunger pot coffee’ because you essentially ‘plunge’ a perforated screen through the liquid to separate grounds from the brewed coffee. The perforated screen can be plastic, nylon or metal, and the fineness of the screen will determine the amount of sediment that passes through to your cup (Kummer, 85).
This method of brewing falls under the ‘steeping/infusion’ category. How does this method differ from others? The main difference is that the hot water and ground coffee remain completely still in the receptacle. It’s not known whether the fact that the water remains still causes different oils to be extracted, but it’s clear that the French Press produces a uniquely strong brew (Sinnott, 105). The steeping process releases the most coffee colloids (a combination of fatty acids, bean fibers and proteins) from the ground coffee into the water, which consequently gives your cup of coffee more body than other brewing methods (Kummer, 70).
Although the steeping method of brewing coffee has been used for centuries in one way or another, the press pot usage grew in popularity rapidly in the 1990s and early aughts, coinciding with the new Second Wave of coffee, with its emphasis on specialty coffees. Press pots work best with dark roasts because “as with espresso, plunger-pot coffee highlights acidity to a degree that can be distracting with a medium-light roast” (Kummer, 85).
Pros & Cons of Press Pot / French Press Coffee
As far as I can tell, the one and only advantage of press pot coffee is the richness and full body of the brew. “This is, after all, how cuppers, the world’s most discerning coffee connoisseurs, evaluate coffee” (Kummer, 85). The rich coffee flavor and body is achieved due to three things;
- Coarsely ground, medium-dark to dark roast coffee
- The steeping time in still water (time varies depending on how much you are brewing)
- The use of slight pressure during the plunging part
It also doesn’t cost much to purchase a press pot. Lower-end plunger pots can cost around $10.00 while the best, heat-resistant press pots can cost upwards of $200. Realistically you can get a good one for $20-$30 dollars.
There are only two drawbacks when considering this brewing method. Actually, three drawbacks if you consider some sediment in your cup of coffee, but I won’t call that a drawback because some people prefer a small amount of sediment in their cup. In fact, Sinnott believes that you should expect some grounds in your cup, calling it “part of the press experience” (Sinnott, 105). The first drawback is the trouble (if you don’t have a dishwasher) of cleaning out the press pot after each use (Pendergrast, 388). You’ll want to make sure you wash out all the spent grounds out of the metal filter, or else coffee oils will go rancid. The second and biggest drawback is that by the time the coffee has finished steeping, the drink will have cooled, much more so than any other brewing method. There are some remedies. More expensive press pots include heat-proof glass or insulated metal models, while cheaper solutions can be found with “quilted plunger-pot cozies that specialty-coffee shops sell or by wrapping a terry-cloth towel around the pot” (Kummer, 85).
Tips & Tricks for Brewing A Better Cup
- Grind Coarsely for Best Results (Pendergrast, 388)
- Little known fact: You can experiment with finer grinds. “Press pot coffee with a finer grind and longer extraction time will taste significantly different than one with a coarser grind and shorter extraction time (Sinnott, 91).
- Use More Ground Coffee Than Usual - 10-12 grams per 6 ounce cup (Kummer, 85)
- Pre-Heat the Press Pot with Hot Water (Pendergrast, 388)
- Wrap Kitchen Towel around Press Pot During Steeping (Kummer, 96)
- Each Minute, Agitate Grounds to Prevent Clumping (Swirl the Pot) (Sinnott, 106)
- After 5 to 6 Minutes of Steeping, Plunge Slowly and Evenly to the Bottom (Kimmer, 87)
- Rinse Mug, Cup or Carafe in Very Hot Water Prior to Pouring Coffee (Kummer, 80)
- Pour Coffee Slowly to Prevent Sediment In Your Coffee Mug (Sinnott, 106)
Written by Coffee Mike
I like to include the following disclaimer below each of my blogs. I try to make references wherever applicable, but I’ve read many books, dozens of articles, watched documentaries and taken courses on these subjects over the years. I mention this because sometimes I may forget the exact source of my information, so I ask the authors to forgive me if I have not cited some information where I should have.
Kummer, Corby. The Joy of Coffee: The Essential Guide to Buying, Brewing and Enjoying. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1995. Pages 70, 80, 85, 87, 96.
Pendergrast, Mark. Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World. New York: Basic Books, 1999. Page 388.
Sinnott, Kevin. The Art and Craft of Coffee: An Enthusiast’s Guide to Selecting, Roasting, and Brewing Exquisite Coffee. Beverly: Quarry Books, 2010. Pages 105-106.