blog from the ceo & superbarista of phoenix coffee, home of the best baristas in cleveland, ohio

Monday, January 02, 2006

Ode to French Press

I know you're all wondering what superbarista has been doing in these two weeks since I last posted. Among other things (such as upholding the Santa Claus myth for an increasingly skeptical 7-year-old and a very observant 9-year-old) I have been drinking French Press coffee. It's perfect for the holidays, when we actually have a little more time than usual, and can allow it to steep to its natural state of perfection. French Press is hard to screw up. Actually, that's not true. You can screw it up. But I have been making great coffee this week, even though I am not being very precise about quantities or times. Maybe that's because I' m actually paying old-fashioned attention? The Blonde Espresso that I have been brewing in my Bodum Travel Press has been turning out perfectly each morning.

Here's my routine...
After I let the dog out to empty her bladder and chase a few early-rising squirrels, I dump out the old water from the tea kettle and fill it about half full with fresh tap water. I think previously boiled water has given up all its bling, so I always use fresh. I put that on stove to heat. Then I take some Blonde Espresso beans and put them in the grinder. I am just using a regular old blade grinder. No fancy burr grinder here. The blade grinder works just fine. I fill the chamber most of the way, put the top on, and shake it up and down while it grinds for 20 seconds or so. I feel like I get a more even particle size when I shake while grinding, but I have no real evidence to support this theory. I stop grinding when the "sound" coming from the grinder is right. Then I look inside to make sure there are no big chunks left.

Now comes the important part. I spoon about three heaping spoons of coffee into the bottom of the travel press. When we first got these presses, Julie (Lakewood Phoenix) complained that there was too much room between the bottom of the cup and the screen, allowing the coffee to oversteep. But after this week's experimenting, I think Julie may not have been using enough coffee. After I approximate the coffee amount in the bottom of the press' cup, I go ahead and put the press in without the water just to see how the level of the coffee grounds compares with the location of the screen. They have to be within about 1/4" of each other, I think. That way, the grounds have enough room to expand when they brew, but not enough room to allow too much turbulence and resulting over-extraction.

When the water boils, I turn off the burner and wait a few seconds to let the water cool to about 200 degrees. Then I pour the water into the grounds. This is my favorite moment, second only to drinking the stuff. When the water hits the grounds, they erupt into a roiling mass of bubbles and movement and aroma. I continue to slowly pour more water in, allowing the bubbles to form, then gradually disperse. This can take a while as there is a very large head of grounds and bubbles that forms on the top, particularly if you are using FRESHLY ROASTED coffee that is still in its "giving-off-carbon-dioxide-phase". If you aren't patient here, you don't end up adding enough water and your coffee will be too strong. I know, the press looks full, but you'll see, as the bubbles burst and the grounds sink, there's not as much water in there as you thought. So keep pouring slowly but do not allow the head of grounds to rise too high, because its easy to let grounds up on the side above where the screen will press them down. Then you end up with grounds in your first sip, which is unfortunate. Add new water at the rate that the bubbles and the grounds sink. This gradual water-adding also substitutes for stirring. It gives the brewing chamber more turbulence. Besides, you're forced to give the whole thing more attention, and its the attention that probably makes the coffee taste good anyway.

The whole pouring and steeping process should take about 4 minutes. When I get the water level right, I put the press on top, without depressing it, just to assist with heat retention. Then, it's time to plunge the screen down through the brew. While I do so, I am thinking with warm anticipation about how full and rich that first sip is going to be. I am thinking about the water gently filtering through the coffee particles that the screen is collecting and pushing towards the bottom of the press. It's a beautiful thing.

After the screen has reached its final resting place, having collected all the grounds neatly in the bottom, the resulting brew is taste-bud-scorching hot. Especially if you are brewing in a nicely insulated travel press. My first innovation of the new year.... is to pour the first few ounces out of the travel press and into another cup (brilliant!!! I know!!!). While this does defeat the purpose of having a "travel" press, (and produces another cup to wash) it does allow my taste buds to stay at their sensitive best and enjoy the first sips at a reasonable temperature, since the brew loses a few degrees when it comes in contact with a cool ceramic surface.

After imbibing the first portion out of a separate cup, and the morning mental haze begins to burn off, I then continue sipping out of the press itself, which does a great job of keeping the rest of the brew hot long enough for me to drink the whole thing. I do tend to drink slowly and savor, so heat retention is important. The chewy body and lingering aftertaste of coffee brewed in French press is second to none. Smooth as custard, dynamic as a complex red wine, zesty as key lime pie.


Blogger Jim Eastman said...


I received a 8-cup Bodum press pot for Christmas and I've been loving it. :-D

3:31 PM, January 02, 2006  
Blogger ladygoat said...

I use the French press every morning and I love it. It's just the right size for two people, it's extra easy to clean, and the coffee comes out delicious. Not enough people use the French press!

10:33 AM, January 05, 2006  
Blogger Stephen said...

Now I know what I'm doing wrong! Thanks!

7:55 AM, June 10, 2006  

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