So You Want A Better Brew With French Press, Eh?
As with every brew method, brewing with French Press offers unique characteristics: the coffee is generally oilier, richer, and thicker (due to prolonged contact with the grounds). French Press is a classic brewing method, which has stood the test of time; though steps to extract a better brew with French Press have evolved over that time. Compared to other brew methods, French Press is lower maintenance; but low maintenance does not mean low quality. If you’ve yet to have luck with your French Press, follow these six simple steps to a better brew with French Press.
1. Use Quality Coffee
There is no “correct” coffee choice with which to have a better brew with French Press. If you would like some aid in navigating coffees, we encourage you to reference our post Coffee 101 – Understanding Coffee Origins. In that post, we pair regions with their most common flavor experiences; if one of the flavor profiles strikes a chord with you, that might be a good place to start. No matter the roast or region of your coffee, the most defining characteristic that will affect your brew is the quality. In other words, you get out what you put in. Consider the 1/3 rule: The quality of coffee will be that of a cup which would cost 1/3 the price of the bag, at a café ($6 bag of coffee = $2 cup at a café. $15 bag = $5 cup.)
Coffee beans are not collectors’ items; it is ideal to consume them within a 6-14 day window to ensure peak flavor and freshness. Cool temperatures will tamper with the flavor; be sure to keep your beans away from any overly-chilled areas (such as your freezer. Please do not put your beans in the freezer. We beg of you. Please). As beans age, the flavor notes settle and calm; there are some particularly boastful coffees for which you’d want calming, but those are the exception. Using coffees at peak freshness will greatly improve your chances of a better brew with French Press.
This third wave of coffee encourages attentiveness in brewing; this includes weighing the coffee and using a particular coffee-to-water ratio. Establishing a constant variable (such as the amount of coffee you brew) will allow you to experiment with water levels until you find your ideal brew ratio. If you are more “by-the-book” than “experimenter extraordinaire,” you can follow our recommendation to achieve a better brew with French Press: 1-to-12 parts coffee-to-water (e.g. 20 grams of coffee to 240 grams of water).
Note: With coffee, more is not always better. Rather, the proper proportion is always best.
The ideal grounds for French Press are evenly coarse and freshly ground. If you’re serious about coffee, we recommend that you invest in a burr grinder; they allow you to adjust the grind setting and they grind coffee evenly. If the beans are freshly ground at the proper grind (coarsely ground for French Press), the flavors will be properly extracted from the beans, and your coffee will taste closest to what is intended by the roaster.
Your water supply will affect your coffee more than you think; rule of thumb is the cleaner, the better. If you’re living in a multi-million dollar 21st century home, your tap water might be sufficient. However, if your pipes are old or the city’s water quality is unverifiable, we recommend you filter not only the water with which you brew, but all of your consumed water. The reason for using clean water is that microscopic organisms or hints of flavor in your water can greatly affect, or even eclipse, the flavor of your coffee. If you want to get a better brew with French Press, start with better water.
It is possible to over-extract the coffee (if your coffee has ever tasted ultra-bitter, most likely it brewed for too long). For this reason, timing the brew will help you exact that moment after extracting the appropriate flavor notes but before your coffee turns bitter. We recommend that you brew for 4 minutes. Once the time is up, do not slam down the filter and disrupt the grounds. If you push the filter to right above that layer of crusty sludge that has been formed with the grounds, fewer grounds should pour into your cup. If you don’t have particular taste preferences, there is no need to buy a timer, but keeping an eye on the clock and letting the coffee brew for around 4 minutes will have a undeniable affect on whether you get a better brew from French Press.