You are right, I am talking about the famous French Press!
The first time I saw one of them was at my girlfriend’s house in Monterrey in 2008. This was the first time I talked to her dad and he offered me a cup of coffee. He prepared the coffee on one of these coffee makers and I was intrigued by the little glass and metal artifact in front of me.
Since I just met him I wanted to leave a good first impression and I did not ask anything about the coffee maker. However, months later, back in the bay area, I went for brunch with some friends and when I ordered my coffee they brought me one of this little, shiny things. But I was prepared to deal with it since I knew what I needed to do...
It is also known as Coffee Plunger and it is a relatively recent design (around1929) and because of the name I assume it was invented in France (cafetière à piston). It is basically a glass or clear plastic cylinder with a lid and plunger that has a fine mesh filter which is normally made of metal. The plunger fits tightly in the cylinder, similar to a syringe, and as one presses down the plunger, the ground coffee is pushed down, leaving only the brewed coffee on top.
These are the step by step directions to prepare a cup of coffee using a French Press:
1) Add about one rounded spoon of coffee for every 6 oz cup you want to make
a. You need your grind to be more coarse than the one you use on a drip coffee maker and a lot more coarse than the one you would use for an espresso shot. The following figure shows the difference between the one used for a drip coffee maker and the one used for a French press (Pictures taken from http://www.ineedcoffee.com). Remember that the plunger has a fine mesh filter, and it could get clogged if it is too fine. In addition to this, if you grind it too fine, the more sediment you will find in your coffee when you pour it.
2) Add water that is about to boil. It is important here that your water is not boiling when you pour it because it could degrade the taste of coffee
a. It is recommended that the water is between 195 to 200 F degrees, but if you don’t have a thermometer, just monitor your water and remove from the stove before it starts boiling.
b. Another recommendation is to avoid filling it to the top since water could spill when you start pressing the plunger.
3) Slowly stir the coffee with a wooden spoon (to prevent any damage to the glass) and place the lid once you are done stirring.
4) Let it rest (brew). For how long? This will depend on how strong you want it and on the size of your French Press
a. Some people recommend 4 minutes for larger presses (12-16 oz or more), for smaller ones you could get a good result in just 2 minutes. What works for me is normally between 2 to 3 minutes for small batches (2 cups)
5) With one hand hold the lid and with the other one start pressing the plunger at a steady pace.
6) Pour and enjoy
As you can see it is an easy way to prepare great coffee. If you are very demanding on your coffee it might take you some time to find the combination of grinding, water temperature and brewing time that works for you, but it is worth it.
Some people do not like the French Press since it leaves some sediments and also because the longer you leave the coffee in the press, the more it will brew and it will become bitter (there might be people that like this!). However, I personally think that it is a great coffee maker. I would say it is a nice to have in your kitchen; it is a perfect item for a dinner or coffee session at home where you want to have a simple and at the same time elegant way to pour the coffee. Due to its simplicity, you can use it to prepare small and large batches in a very easy way.
I have seen them going from $9.99 all the way to $49.99 USD depending on the store, size and brand. Considering the price of other types of coffee makers I believe this is one of the cheapest you could find and there are many aesthetic designs out there. I would not spent more than 20 USD for a 16 oz one.
It is funny how after you become familiar with something, you start seeing it everywhere. Next time you go to a department store look around and you will see that there are all classes of French Presses: made of metal and glass with cool designs, plastic ones in all different colors, there are even some of them that have a dual purpose: French Press and travelling mug