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The Ultimate Cup of Coffee My 10-minute Break

May 9, 2013

If there is one thing I can’t do without it’s coffee.  Over the past two years I have been brewing my coffee using a French Press (a.k.a. Press Pot) and I wanted to share my experience to help you brew a better cup of coffee.

Today everything we do has turned into a science, people go to extremes to brew coffee see the New York Times article, Blue Bottle Coffee in Brooklyn Raises Brewing to a Science.  We have even turned the daily task of making coffee into a competition with the introduction of the World Barista Championship!

Making coffee doesn’t have to be a theatrical science experiment.  With the right equipment, procedures, and ingredients you can create a cup of coffee that rivals your favorite coffee house in less time then it takes to use a coffee maker.

To begin you will need to invest in some equipment, below is a list of recommendations:

  • Filtered Water
  • Fresh Whole Bean Coffee
  • Electric Kettle (recommended), Microwave Oven, or a Tea Kettle
  • Burr Grinder
  • French Press
  • Thermometer (for initially testing your water temperature)
  • Chopstick (for boiling water in the microwave, and mixing the grind during the brewing process)
  • Spoon (for Cupping/Skimming the grind after the brewing process)

Step 1: The Grind

The three keys to grinding are: freshness, consistency, and quantity.

If you are having your local coffee shop grind your beans, then perhaps a French Press isn’t for you.  Coffee begins degrading as soon as twenty (20) minutes after grinding, so always grind right before you are ready to brew.  This means you will have to purchase your own grinder.

There are several types of Coffee Grinders that are available however I recommend that you use a burr grinder, I have found that it is one of the only ways to get a consistent grind.  Many blade grinders will heat up and burn the coffee beans which will affect the flavor of your coffee.  The consistency should be Medium Coarse, most burr grinders will illustrate (either on the machine, or in the user guide) the setting provides the correct consistency for French Press brewing.  I currently use the Bodum Bistro Electric Coffee Grinder which has a setting for French Press brewing.

The quantity is certainly subjective and will vary based on your palate, however it is a general consensus that a cup of coffee is 6 ounces and that you should use 2 tablespoons (or 1 scoop) per cup.  Black Bear Coffee put together an excellent Brewing Ratio Chart that is very helpful in determining the correct amount.  I found that one level tablespoon of coffee weighs between 4.5 and 7 grams based on roast, age, etc. so be careful if you use weight for measuring the quantity.

Measure the correct amount and put it into your French Press.

Step 2: Water Preparation

Seems simple right, boil water and pour it in…..well not so fast.  Since water makes up 99% of your cup of coffee careful preparation is a must.  You must have quality water, in many cases tap water just isn’t gonna do it!  There is a reason that people wait in line at Starbucks for a free cup of water.  There are many ways to purify water, however for me a simple Brita pitcher does the trick!

Once you have a quality source of water, it is time to heat it.  The ideal temperature is between 190-205 degrees Fahrenheit.  I had planned on using a Sunbeam Hot Shot for my hot water needs but was surprised to find that it only heated the water to 170 degrees Fahrenheit.  Use a thermometer to find out if your hot water source is heating the water to the correct temperature, you don’t have to perform this test every time.

The time it takes to heat water varies widely. Seth Stevenson published the article Forget your Stove-top Tea Kettle – Go Electric for that found it took longer to boil water using a Stove-top Kettle, in some cases it was more than twice as long! My Bodum Bistro Electric Water Kettle takes approximately 4 minutes to heat water and shuts-off as soon as it is finished.  As a last resort you can use a Microwave which is decidedly longer.  If you do decide to use a Microwave take a look at how a chopstick can be used to avoid exploding hot water in Alton Brown’s YouTube video Perfect Coffee-Food Network.

Water that is too hot (over 220 degrees Fahrenheit) will burn your coffee and Boiling water (212 degrees Fahrenheit) will force the grind to extract too quickly.  Therefore, wait until your water is just off boil before you move to the next step.  For me its just a matter of seconds before I am ready to pour.

Step 3: Brewing your Coffee

While there are many different techniques for brewing I have found that people will either use a one-stage or two stage steeping method.

In the one-stage method, all of the water is poured into the French Press at once.  The grind is immediately stirred using a chopstick and it is left covered for 3 1/2 to 4 minutes.

In the two-stage method, 1/4 of the water is poured into the French Press and is stirred immediately using a chopstick.  After approximately 1 minute, the remaining water is poured into the French Press and it is left covered for 2 1/2 – 3 minutes.

Step 4: Pouring your Coffee

Once the steeping process has completed, Tim Wendlebow the 2004 WBC “World Barista Champion” suggests cupping before plunging.  Skimming or cupping, before plunging will help cut down on the amount of find grinds left behind in the coffee and results in less residue in the bottom of your cup.  I have found that the YouTube video by CoffeeGeek – Advanced Press Pot Techniques for Coffee does an excellent job of illustrating this process.

After you have skimmed the bloom off the top you are ready to plunge, be sure to SLOWLY plunge as you want to emulsify the oil from the coffee into the water.  It should take approximately 20-30 seconds to plunge the coffee.

Once you are done plunging, you are ready to pour.  Pour ALL of the coffee out of French Press, if you leave any coffee remaining it will continue to brew and become acidic.

Step 5: Clean-up

DO NOT POUR YOUR COFFEE GRINDS DOWN THE SINK!  There is a good chance that you will clog your sink over time, this comes from personal experience.  Instead empty the large portion of your grinds in the trash, or better yet spread them across your lawn or in your compost pile see Linda Chalker-Scott, Ph D.’s Master Gardener online article myths, miracles, or marketing….Coffee grounds – will they perk up plants?

One Comment leave one →
  1. May 9, 2013 9:21 pm

    When I make french press coffee I usually pre-heat the press with hot water first. That way, when you add the coffee and pour the boiling water in, there’s less heat loss through the glass.

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