Introduction to the French Press

Introduction to the French Press

Though we all love coffee, not all of us are as knowledgeable about it as we’d like to. The French press is a very simple, popular way to make coffee at home, but chances are you’re not exploiting its full potential.

In this article, we’re going to teach you the basics for making great coffee in a French press (plus a few neat tips and tricks) so that you can get the most out of your little coffee maker. But first, we need to get to know the French press - coffee history 101.

Origins of the French press

Before the arrival of this invention, the whole ordeal of brewing coffee -particularly at home- used to be much messier. Firstly, you needed a tall decanter or similar. Then a cloth -kind of like a cheesecloth- would be placed over it, coffee grounds over it, then water poured… Like the pour-over coffee of today. It was either that or brewing coffee together in a pot with water, then filtering afterward, which was messier.

It was then no surprise that coffee drinkers were on the search for a better way to make coffee. This was in the last half of the 19th century, which saw not only the birth of our beloved French press but also of the steam-powered espresso machine.

While the first sightings of the French press can be traced back to 1852, these were early models. It wasn’t until the 1920s that this little invention was commercialized and produced massively. From then on, it would climb in popularity quickly, becoming a household item in Europe by the 1960s.

How does the French press work?

So, how does it work? Well, every French Press consists of two separate parts:

  • The Decanter: This is much like any other decanter. It usually has a heat-resistant base at the bottom, as well as a handle. It’s almost always made of glass, since you need to be able to look at your coffee while it’s brewing.
  • The Plunger: The plunger, which doubles as a lid for your decanter, sits on top of your coffee maker. A hole at the center of the lid allows for a metal bar to move freely. At the bottom, it has a metal filter, made to separate coffee grounds from brewed coffee. At the top, it usually has a round part meant to facilitate plunging.

Quite simple. As for the brewing method, the French Press relies completely on steeping - it is one of the coffee brewing methods that takes longer to brew, at an average of 3 minutes.

However, it’s not all bad: the combination of coarse coffee grounds and steeping allows for coffee to brew without using extremely high temperature, which results in a coffee that’s smooth and never too sour or bitter. It’s the perfect coffee maker for drinking black coffee at home.

Now, let’s go over how to make coffee using a French press!

How to brew coffee using a French press 

  1. Boil water in a kettle, turn the heat off and set aside.
  2. Pour 40g of coffee that is course ground in your French press.
  3. Water should be at around 202F now; pour to one-third of the way up.
  4. Wait 30 seconds for the coffee to bloom (foam forms on top of it).
  5. Set a timer to 4 minutes. Start.
  6. Pour the rest of the water, place the lid on the French press with the plunger all the way up.
  7. Once the timer marks 3:50, start pressing down very slowly.
  8. You should be done around the 4:10 mark.
  9. Serve immediately.

All in all, it should take you just a little over 4 minutes.

The usual coffee-to-water ratio for the French press is 1:15, which is why we’re using 40 grams of coffee to 600 ml of water. This should brew for about three or two cups; you can always use half those quantities to brew just one cup.

Pouring Coffee from a french press

Tips & Tricks

Now, let’s explore all the possibilities of our French press. It’s such a good, simple, little invention for coffee that can be used for other things than just the regular way of making coffee. “Like what?”-- Well, for one thing, you can actually make cold brew in a French press.

That’s right! The French press is sort of the perfect container to make cold brew. Just steep the grounds in cold water -inside your fridge- for at least 12 hours, then serve like you normally would. Cold brew coffee with your trusty ol’ French press!

And, if you’re a fan of cappuccino or latte… well, you’re in luck. The French press can effectively froth milk, too.  

To froth and foam milk using your French press, just heat up the milk separately - once it’s hot, pour into the press. Put the lid on and gently push the plunger about halfway in; now, push and pull vigorously for about one minute. You should be using enough strength for it to make a lot of noise, but not so much for it to spill out of the French press.

After a minute or so, you’ll have nice, frothy milk. How cool is that?

And with that, you are ready to start making the most of your French press!

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