The French press is an excellent method for brewing coffee. That is; if you do it correctly.
It saddens me to say but more often than not, the coffee coming out of this otherwise classic and noble brewing device is atrocious.
The problem is that there are a lot of urban legends regarding the French press. These myths have somehow seeped into the collective unconscious, and most people find it difficult to unlearn them.
The French press was one of the first brewing methods I delved into back in my padawan-barista days. It was a profoundly frustrating experience.
I completely gave up on the brewing method for years before I finally figured out what was wrong and how to fix it.
Let me share these tips with you right here so you can speed up your learning curve.
#1: Don’t grind coarse when using a french press.
The most widespread misunderstanding when it comes to the French press is that you have to grind coarse. This piece of advice will take some severe lobbying to reverse.
There are many problems when it comes to grinding coarse and only a few upsides:
- Grinding coarse makes it very difficult to extract the coffee properly. Water has to penetrate the coffee grounds. The bigger particles, the harder it is.
- It is more difficult to obtain an even grind size when going coarse due to the way most grinders are designed.
You have to fiddle around with different grind settings at home.
Here’s my proposal: Use precisely the same grind setting you use for pour-over coffee.
That way you’ll be able to steep the coffee for a shorter time and be able to use less grounds. It’s simply much more efficient.
One of the typical problems with the French press is that people go to the extreme with the ‘grind coarse’ advice, which results in a thin and underextracted coffee.
The main argument people have for going coarse is that it somehow ‘prevents sediment from getting into the cup,’ but that is just nonsense. You can get a relatively clean cup, even with a finer grind size. Just pour calmly, and everything will be fine.
#2: Understand ‘liquid retained ratio’
Many people think that using 60 grams of coffe per liter of water it the best brew ratio no matter what. However, this simply isn’t the case.
This ratio applies much better to percolation coffee than to immersion brewing.
French press is actually a less efficient brewing method than pour over.
I know that this seems counterintuitive at first, but let me explain.
You have to understand something called ‘liquid retained ratio’. This is a fancy way of saying that every time you brew coffee, the grounds will retain some of the brew water.
With pour over, there will only be a little bit of water retained in the grounds (typical LLR for pour over = grams of coffee x 2,2)
When you brew immersion coffee such as French press and cupping, you don’t have the same filtration mechanism. As a result, you’ll “waste” a bigger percentage of the coffee in the liquid retained.
Since, this slurry will be ‘full strength’ you’ll have to make up for this waste if you want the same strength as in a pour over.
So what brew ratio is suitable for French press? Somewhere around 66-75 grams per liter is a good place to start, but it depends on your personal preference. I like a 1:15 ratio but you might be different.
#3: Use a more generous brew time.
The standard brew time for a French press is usually 4 minutes. However, if you ask me and a bunch of other people, this is too short a time (even more so if you pair this parameter with coarse grounds!)
When coffee professionals do cupping, they will break the crust after four minutes. Copy them and do the same.
Stir lightly at the top of the press, and let the grounds settle. Use a spoon to remove the white foam on the top. In spite of what you might think it’s not crema but rather impurities only attributing to a dry mouthfeel. Put the plunger in. Wait a few more minutes, and then serve gently, to avoid disturbing the grounds.
Of course, the steeping time is closely connected with the grind size, but I’d encourage you to go closer to 6-10 minutes for full and rich extraction if you brew at a 1:15 ratio.