January 15 2017

French Press: a Lesson in Ritual

Here's how to make home-brewed french press a little less daunting (and more tasty).
Javas

My father, a man who does not mess around with his morning caffeine fix, used to grind, press and brew his own espresso every morning before heading off for a busy day at the office. As a wild-haired child of two or three, I'd sit on the counter from time to time and act as his assistant, my young nose already keen on the rich, nutty aroma of freshly ground coffee, my grubby hands reaching for the occasional wayward bean to pop in my mouth.

Through this formative morning ritual, it's safe to say that I developed a taste (and preference) for a good cup of coffee in the morning -- you know, the kind you have to work for a little. 

But like smoking a cigarette or attending a religious ceremony, coffee is addictive for not just its buzz-inducing caffeine contents, but for the ritual involved. 

For those of you who brew at home, you know what I'm talking about: the jarring sound of the metal splicing bean first thing in the morning, the smell of the grounds before and after the steam of the water hits, the feel of the spoon breaking through the slurry, and, of course, the gratification of that first cup of coffee of the morning.

 Really though, there's nothing more gratifying to me than making a quality cup of coffee. It's probably why I spent my college years working as a barista and eventually lived above the very coffee shop I worked at. 

But making a good french press isn't a slapdash operation. While winging it works for some people, what you usually end up with is incredibly weak (or inversely way too strong)  brew. 

Last week, by chance, I stuck my nose in a thread where someone asked how to make a good french press. After giving some tips and insight on my methods, I was ultimately met with overwhelmingly positive feedback. Over the years, I've picked up some pressing habits that have made my daily cup (or four) all the more tasty, and I feel inclined to share them now. 

Coffee Ingredients

My Perfect French Press


The Equipment

Of the many ways to make coffee, french presses require a more hands-on approach. Though a debatably French invention, the press has surfaced in a number of cultural coffee rituals, from Italy to Turkey. The method, an artful combination of time and temperature, involves slowly and steadily pressing the pump, which in turn ever-so-slightly agitates the beans, releasing the aroma and flavor. Meanwhile, the grit and texture is caught by the fine-mesh filter. 

French presses are everywhere. They range in price from single digit dollars to hundreds if you're looking to make a pointless, flashy purchase. Just get a French press somewhere. You'll be glad you did. 


The Ratio

I like my coffee strong, but not bitter. While there's many schools of thought and many widely accepted ratios, Alton Brown suggests using two heaping tablespoons of ground coffee per every six ounces of water*. For me, the real hero for this (and most) recipe is using a digital scale. If you don't have one, get one. It'll change your l i f e. 

*A dear ratio-stickler friend of mine argued that it's silly to to use a tbs. to oz. ratio, so if you're a sucker for math (nope not me) it's roughly 1:18.


The Grind 

With French pressed coffee, grind is pretty important. You want your beans medium-coarse, like breadcrumbs, without too much gritty sediment. When grinding your beans, it's preferable to do so in short pulses rather than long grinds. The finer the sediment, the bitter notes that will likely get released in the pressing/agitation process.


The Extras

  • Cinnamon

This doesn't do anything functional if we're being honest -- it's more of a fancy hat for your coffee to wear to feel a lil snazzy when it's all said and done. Cinnamon in coffee is like the hug. If you want your coffee to taste like a hug, add a pinch of cinnamon. 

  • Salt

A pinch of salt will do wonders to a french pressed coffee, working to cancel out any bitter notes that should result from too-quick agitation or fine sediment. Yeah, taste buds are NEAT.


The Method

Add your grounds, a pinch of salt and a pinch of cinnamon to the bottom of your press. Once the water has boiled, pour over. Stir contents until it creates a slurry. Set a timer let it sit for 4-6 minutes. It's okay if it goes a little bit over.

When the timer is up, don't just push the press down all willy nilly. Instead, plunge slowly and gently, letting the grounds diffuse through the water at a steady pace. According to Serious Eats, going ham will result in releasing some of the more bitter and astringent notes of the coffee bean. 

And there it is. Enjoy black with a pinch more cinnamon, add a little grass fed butter/coconut oil or your favorite dairy creamer. Whatever you do, enjoy the minutes you spend in process and savoring your cup of coffee. I think there's something very magic about rituals, and how significant it can be to carve a few sacred moments of your day out for yourself.

French Press

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