A pressing matter: Try a French press for a quick and simple cup of coffee

Steve Peters / Photo

Steve Peters / Photo

Steve Peters

There are numerous ways to brew a cup of coffee. Personally, I prefer the French press.

It sounds sophisticated, but it’s not. A French press is typically made up of a simple glass pot in which fits a plunger with a screen on the end. You add your ground coffee into the bottom of the pot, pour in nearly boiling water, let steep, then press down the plunger and pour. The grounds remain in the pot and the coffee goes into your cup. Easy.

A French press does not require much to operate. You just need access to hot water and coffee grounds, making it an excellent means for brewing coffee while traveling or camping. You don’t need to plug it in and you don’t need any kind of wasteful pod inserts. The press takes up nearly no room in your kitchen either. If, like me, you enjoy having your counter space available for cooking and not housing a dozen small kitchen appliances, the French press is a good choice. Friends of mine who don’t drink coffee keep a press stored away and can quickly pull it out to for visitors.

When boiling water in my electric kettle, the whole process from start to finish is ready in under 10 minutes. Perhaps that’s not as quick as some other devices, but I don’t need another device in my life. I need simple. When the coffee doesn’t taste quite right in the French press, there are a limited number of reasons why. When a Keurig starts coughing and making that rumbling noise, who knows what’s wrong. I used to think simplicity equated inferiority. These days, I think differently.

French presses come in a variety of sizes, ranging from a 3-cup to a 12-cup or more. Some are glass and others are stainless steel or plastic, and they start in most stores at about ten dollars. I once had one that functioned both as a press and a travel mug.

The nice thing about the French press, regardless of what size you own, is that you can brew just as much as you want. For instance, mine holds 34 ounces of coffee. When full, that makes about three of our average-size coffee cups or two of our travel mugs. On the other hand, I could also make just enough for one cup and adjust the amount of coffee grounds accordingly. Your options are not limited.

There are a few protocols worth knowing with the French press.

• Use coarse ground coffee, not finely ground. Fine coffee grounds can make it difficult to press down the plunger. They can also produce bitter-tasting coffee. Most pre-ground bags of coffee are finely ground. Buy whole coffee beans and either grind them yourself using the machine in the store or buy an inexpensive grinder and do so at home.

• Start with 1 tablespoon of coffee for every four ounces of water, then adapt to your liking from there.

• The most commonly suggested brewing time for coffee in a French press is four minutes. But this is an average. If you find the coffee too strong, start by reducing the time by 30 seconds. Too weak, increase by 30 seconds. After a few times, you’ll find the time that works for you.

• After you’ve brewed the coffee, either pour and drink or transfer to a thermos to keep warm. Storing the coffee in the French press with the coffee grounds will quickly ruin the coffee, making it bitter and undrinkable.

I admit that there is a slight learning curve when first starting with a French press. Determining how much coffee you want to use and exactly how long to brew will take a few times to figure out. Start with the amount and time I mentioned, then go from there. If the coffee still doesn’t taste right, you may want to consider a different variety or brand of coffee beans. As we all know, not all coffees are the same.

The one thing I haven’t mentioned is cleaning the French press. This too is not complicated. I just remove the plunger, rinse it until the grounds are removed, then let it dry. I add a little water to the used coffee grounds in the pot then dump those into my compost bin. The pot just needs a quick rinse as well. Considering I only use my French press for making coffee, I don’t tend to use much, if any soap. However, every once in a while, it’s not a bad idea to remove the filter from the plunger (they typically just have one screw holding them together) and give it a more careful washing.

If you’re not into coffee — a concept with which I struggle to relate — a French press can still prove useful. You can use it to brew tea in the exact same method as you would coffee. Some people even use a French press to froth milk, strain off liquid from their pasta or quinoa, and infuse cocktails and broths. I just hope they wash it well in between uses. Me, I’ll stick to the coffee.

Steve Peters

Steve Peters is a cook, gardener and baker living in Rutland.

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