A mix of elegance and simplicity, a French press -- also known as a press pot or cafetiere -- lends some Old World charm to the hectic morning ritual, but despite its straightforward design, the device has a reputation for being temperamental. One day it makes you a rich, roasty cup of coffee, and the next, you end up with a bitter, sludgy brew better suited to a subway newsstand than a country cottage or Parisian apartment. But how can you take the mystery out of the French press without losing the mystique?
Here at ChefSteps, we have a handful of tricks that will help you tame the useful but ornery French press. The keys to success? Consistency, consistency -- and did we mention consistency?
Assemble Your Tools
To make perfect French press coffee, you'll need a coffee grinder, a kettle or pot for heating your water, a kitchen scale and, of course, a French press.
If you don't have a press yet, choose carefully. Go with glass if you can, as plastic tends to absorb off odors -- coffee oils, soap from cleaning, or those pungent aromas that enhanced last week's herbal infusion but don't go so well with a cup of joe. French press coffee is best when fresh, so pick a size just large enough for you and any other caffeine fiends in your household.
Prepare the Grounds
Remember those off odors? They can seep into your grounds too, and when it comes to coffee, a bad smell can hang around like, well, a bad smell. For the purest coffee aromas and the cleanest taste, buy whole beans and grind them just before you brew.
If you don't trust your coffee grinder to grind your beans evenly, err on the coarse side -- fine grounds can turn to sludge at the bottom of your cup. If you have access to a reliable grinder, you can get daring with a medium grind. Finding the right grind for you might take a little trial and error. If your coffee comes out too sour for your taste, use a finer grind next time. Too bitter? Try grinding more coarsely.
Consistently good coffee requires a steady ratio of grounds to water. We like to keep our grounds to 7 percent of the weight of the water. That's 70 grams of grounds for every 1000 grams of water or 2.4 ounces of grounds for every 34 ounces of water. Find the ratio you like best, and stick to it by carefully weighing your ingredients.
Now add your measured grounds to the French press. Heat your water just to the point of boiling -- you perfectionists can aim for exactly 205 degrees Fahrenheit -- and pour it over the grounds, saturating them evenly.
Give your coffee a stir, and set a timer for four minutes. Remember: Consistency is key!
Silky, Not Silty
Did you hear your timer ding? Wait! Don't plunge just yet. First, skim off all those fine specks floating at the top of the water. This will give you a cleaner brew.
Take the Plunge
It's time to press down that plunger, pour yourself a cup and enjoy it with your breakfast (or your afternoon pick-me-up). Now that you've mastered the handy, portable French press, you can have perfect coffee anytime.