For a long time I just didn't appreciate French press coffee, since mine often turned out bitter and murky. I really preferred my speedy Aeropress, which gives a clean, robust cup of coffee in a very short amount of time. But lately I've been drinking French press and loving it. Turns out that my method had been missing one key element all those years: The right grinder. Here's how I make French press coffee now, and the elements to watch out for if you want the perfect cup. There aren't many processes in the kitchen that truly depend on one gadget or tool, but good French press coffee is one of them. Good French press is almost totally dependent on a burr grinder. Here's why. A regular blade grinder like this one is perfectly good for grinding coffee beans for a drip machine and other methods, but a French press relies on having very evenly-sized grains of coffee, and they need to be relatively big. Smaller-sized grains will get through the filter, creating a sediment in your cup, and also get over-extracted, making your coffee bitter. It's essential that all the coffee beans are ground to the same consistency and the burr grinder is far superior at making this happen. So, the first step is getting a burr grinder. Here's a great thread on finding an inexpensive burr grinder:
This method is calibrated for a 34-ounce French press, like this one from Bodum:
• Bodum Columbia 8-Cup Stainless-Steel Thermal Press Pot, $59.95 at Amazon
The amounts called for below are calibrated for a full pot, which, after you press the grounds down, yields about 24 ounces (3 cups) or so of actual coffee. My husband and I drink this pretty much every day, which comes out to about 1 1/2 mugs of coffee each. Some days we scale back and do a half pot (with 1/4 cup of beans instead of 1/2 cup) instead.
Overall, this method yields one of the best cups of coffee I've ever had. The flavor of the coffee comes through clearly, without too much sediment in the cup, and it's also full, rich, and robust.
Of course, a lot depends on the quality of your beans. Look for freshly roasted beans from a local supplier and roaster. We often buy African (especially Ethiopian) coffee beans and blends, since we enjoy the winey, fruity flavors you find there.
What You Need
Good, freshly-roasted coffee beans
Electric kettle OR stovetop kettle and a thermometer
1. Heat your water. Water for French press coffee should be heated to 195°F — not boiling (212°F at sea level). If you use a stovetop kettle, take it off just before it reaches a boil and then use a thermometer to check and see when it cools to the right temperature. A lot of newer electric kettles, though, have a setting for this temperature.
2. Measure out 1/2 cup coffee beans.
3. Grind the coffee beans on the coarsest setting in a burr grinder, or in brief, sharp pulses in a blade grinder.
4. Your coffee should look something like this: Evenly-sized grains of ground coffee.
5. Pour the ground coffee into your French press, then pour about 32 ounces of hot water, which will come to about an inch below the top of the press. Stir vigorously, using an up and down motion.
6. Steep for 4 and a half minutes (for a fairly robust pot). When the timer goes off, immediately press the coffee, and pour it into a carafe. You do not want to leave the coffee sitting on top of the grounds, as that will make it bitter. Drink immediately.
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(Images: Faith Durand)