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April 16, 2019

Ode to the Humble French Press

While it may not be the sexy new brew toy on the block, the humble French Press is capable of making a killer cup of joe.  Dense, chewy, and big-bodied are a few of the descriptors that come to mind, due primarily to the fact that the brewing method leaves a lot more solids in the finished coffee than methods using a filter.  Texture is a key element of the technique here, if you like your coffee sleek and refined this is probably not your go-to preparation.

When Ohm first launched we used 1.5L French Presses instead of a traditional batch brewer.  I loved them, until our first BottleRock music festival when we tried to serve 40,000 people using French presses and a 2-group espresso machine.  The trauma from that learning experience lives on, but the coffee sure was good. Today, with a rise in popularity of double-walled stainless steel models in various sizes you can now safely (without the risk of hot liquid and broken glass shards if you press too hard) make enough coffee for a cup or two, without having to drink it fast before what’s left gets cold.  There are sizes as small as an individual cup, or as large as a liter and a half for larger gatherings. Just not recommended for 40,000.

Below is our French Press method, give it a try and let us know what you think. 

  1. Select and measure your beans

I like fuller-bodied roasts in my French Press.  While lighter roasts can work too, I find the method tends to overshadow some of their nuance and more delicate flavors.  Fresh beans are critically important for any quality cup of coffee. For this method I’d try for beans at least a couple of days off-roast, up to a couple of weeks past.  Of Ohm’s blends I prefer Full Stack and Black Magick in the press.

At Ohm we have to weigh our beans because there’s too much margin of error measuring volume—the same bean roasted slightly differently will have a different volume.  Let alone a peaberry vs. an AA-grade vs a decaf bean.  If you don’t want to sweat using a scale you can get away with ~3 level tablespoons of whole beans per 12oz of finished coffee. 

Geek zone: If you have even the slightest coffee geek inclination, a 0.1 gram scale should be near the top of your gear wish list.  You can pick one up for $15 or $20 (like this one  click here) that will do the trick, or check out a Hario ( click here) or Acaia ( click here) that will set you back a few times that but impress your barista friends.  With a scale, you can dial in your preferred “brew ratio” for this or any other brew method.  The brew ratio is the amount of beans (in grams) to the amount of water (in grams.)  Thanks to the beautiful simplicity of the metric system, 1g=1ml of water.  The classic brew ratio for coffee is 1:15, or about 23g of beans for 350ml (12oz) of liquid.  Some say French Press should be a little stronger, 1:12 maybe, since the grounds are coarser and don’t extract as efficiently, but that’s entirely personal preference. 

  1. Grind

French Press is among the coarsest of the brew methods.  Without a set of laboratory screens it’s hard to describe an exact grind size, but when it comes time to press you want to be able to do so with “moderate” resistance in about 10sec.  Sooner than that and your grind is too coarse, longer than that and it’s too fine.

Geek zone: Try pressing down on your bathroom scale to feel what 15-20lb of pressure feels like.  That’s about the pressure you want to be pushing down with when you plunge for 10sec. 

  1. Water

Bring 2x the water you need to a boil.  Pour freshly boiled water into your FP to preheat it.  Wait a few minutes (2-4) before dumping the preheat and making your coffee.

Geek zone: The ideal brew temp for coffee is 195°-205° F.  There are kettles on the market that have built-in thermostats to hold water at specific temperatures (like this one  click here), and countless temperature probes out there.

  1. Brew

Here’s a step most people miss that will add depth and complexity to your French Press—the bloom.  After you empty your preheated pot and dump your grinds in, pour just enough water in to evenly saturate the grounds.  For 30g of beans that’s about 60g of water.  Wait 30 seconds.

Geek zone: A gooseneck kettle (like in the link above) will make it easier to evenly saturate the grounds with less water.  Goosenecks work well for pour overs too.

After your bloom, fill the French Press the rest of the way with water, pouring evenly over the grounds.  Put the lid on, but don’t plunge yet--leave the plunger resting on top of the grounds.  After 3.5-4min, plunge and enjoy!

Geek zone: While an insulated press will keep coffee hot much longer than traditional glass, the grounds at the bottom will continue to brew so long as they are contacting hot water, eventually turning bitter and unpleasant.  If you brewed more coffee than you can consume in 15-20min, you’ll enjoy the remaining coffee more if you pour it off the grounds into a preheated, insulated decanter or urn.


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