How to Brew Better Press Pot Coffee, According to an expert

I’ve used a press pot to brew my morning coffee for years, mostly due to the fact that it’s affordable and easy, but also due to the reality that I like a rich, viscous brew. When a friend bought me a pourover kit for my birthday a few years ago, I quickly embraced the meditative ritual of repeatedly saturating coffee grounds with hot water from that elegant, gooseneck kettle; plus, I liked the cleaner, brighter cup it yielded. Alas, life got in the way again, as it so often does, and I went back to setting and forgetting it with the ole French push coffee maker.

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Over time, I’ve unriddled a few secrets to a better French press coffee maker brew. I always start with whole-bean coffee, which I coarsely grind. I like utilizing filtered water, and I always steep the grounds for exactly five minutes.

Seeking some more professional tips, I called on Bailey Manson, creation manager at Chicago-based Intelligentsia. I did so sheepishly, knowing that Manson is a pourover-coffee lifer who’s dedicated his career to unearthing impeccably extracted brews. I also knew for those extremely reasons that there might be no one better to ask.

“Three reasons,” Manson replied, when I asked why he’s not big on using a Cafetière. “One is sediment, but you can work around that. Second is that producing it well callsfor way more work than pourover, so it’s not user-friendly. Third, it is inefficient in that it’s an immersion technique.”

At its a lot of fundamental, pourover brewing involves pouring water over and through coffee grounds to extract their aromas. Continuously replenishing the liquid surrounding the grounds with fresh water promotes a faster, more efficient brew. French push coffee maker, on the other hand, is an immersion recipe in which hot water sits with coffee grounds in a cylindrical beaker before the grounds are filtered out by pressing down on a mesh plunger.

 

“With the French press coffee maker, you’re relying on the kinetic energy of the hot water to do all of the work of extraction,” Manson said. “As the little molecules move around and bump into the coffee, the minerals in the water grab solubles from the beans’ cells.”

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In order to get the percentage of coffee dissolved that you get with the manual pourover technique, you’d have to let the grounds and water sit in the Cafetière for 30 or 40 minutes, “by which time the tastes would have completely degraded,” Manson said.

Instead, his optimized French push coffee maker method calls for stirring the coffee grounds almost constantly throughout immersion for better flavor extraction. (It’s worth noting that he recommends this recipe for lighter-bodied, high-density coffees as opposed to darker roasts.)

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Manson begins with a ratio of 1 gram of coffee per 15 grams of water, or 51.5 grams (roughly 9 Tbsp) of coffee grounds for a quart-size French push coffee maker. Whereas a French press typically calls for coarsely ground beans to slow down extraction and minimize fines (tiny particles), Manson implies grinding the beans fine like you would for espresso coffee to increase the surface area exposed to the hot water.

“Imagine the surface area of 100 grams of bowling ball versus 100 grams of golf ball,” he said. “Most of the coffee is trapped inside, and you’re relying on water trying to come in and get to the core.”

He preheats the beaker and plunger with some of the boiling water before adding the grounds and water. After the grounds settle at the top and start off-gassing (aka releasing gas, which helps the water extract flavor), he presses the grounds into the water, then he stirs constantly for four to six minutes. A minute into stirring, he skims off the foam, which creates a thinner mouthfeel and prevents CO2 from dissipating back into the brew, which can add bitterness.


(Photo courtesy of Maggie Hennessy)

You understand it’s done when it smells how you want it to taste. “If it still basically smells citrusy, it probably needs more time,” he said, “but once you’re finally getting those red fruit and berry notes, it’s likely ready.”

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When I tried Manson’s technique the next morning, I was delighted by the thinner, silkier texture and more nuanced coffee tastes in the final brew. It was, without question, the perfect French push coffee maker coffee I’d ever brewed, even if it wasn’t literally French press brew. I was gobsmacked by the quantity of coffee the recipe requires, which drove home Manson’s point about its inefficiency.

I’m likewise fairly certain a lot of French press coffee maker coffee drinkers won’t love the idea of hovering over their brew with one eye on a stopwatch as they stir continuously. As Manson explained, with a deeply subjective ritual like coffee, you have to meet people where they’re at.

“Most people don’t want to try something new when it comes to coffee,” he said. “Or if they do try it, they might get the intended outcome, but it’s different and does not meet their expectations.”

Undoubtedly, a lot of days, I stick to my set it-and-forget-it immersion technique. But about once a week, I’ll head into the kitchen with a determined air. I arrange my fancified French push coffee maker mise en place — a small bowl, wooden spoon and tablespoon — on a single piece of paper towel next to my digital scale and clean Push pot. I preheat the beaker with some of the boiling water, then replace it with a heap of fresh, fine grounds. As the news radio gabs on and the dog snuffles around underfoot, I stir and stir, watching CO2 rise to the top of the beaker in a tawny foam while I breathe in aromas of cherry and milk chocolate.

I press and pour it into my pre-warmed mug. That first luscious sip tastes like the perfect coffee I’ve ever had, and I’m reminded that taking time for small gestures of self-kindness — like brewing a fantastic if totally inefficient cup of coffee — is sometimes enough to make one’s whole day.

How to Brew Intelligentsia’s Optimized French press Coffee

What you’ll need:

  • Coffee mill
  • Digital scale (optional)
  • Quart-sized French press coffee maker
  • Stopwatch (or, you know, the one on your phone)
  • Wooden spoon
  • Tablespoon
  • Small bowl for catching excess foam
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Directions:

1. Using a digital scale, measure 51.5 grams of whole-bean coffee for a quart-size Cafetière. (For those measuring in tablespoons, aim for about 1 Tbsp ground coffee per 3 oz. of water, which equals roughly 9 Tbsp here.) Finely grind the beans as you would for espresso coffee.

2. Bring a kettle of water to a boil. Preheat the Cafetière and plunger by adding about 8 oz. of the boiling water to the cafetière and pressing in the plunger. (Note: You can also pour some of the hot water in your mugs to preheat them at this point.)

3. Dump out the preheated water, and add the coffee grounds to the French push coffee maker. Fill it with the hot water while starting a stopwatch counting up. A crust of coffee will form at the top of the French press; let that sit for one minute. As Manson explained, “This is good as it promotes off-gassing, which assists the brewing water extract the roasted coffee’s tastes.”


(Photo courtesy of Maggie Hennessy)

4. Utilize the back of a wooden spoon to push the crust down into the brew. Spend the next four to six minutes constantly however gently stirring the slurry back and forth to keep the grounds settling at the bottom. Some people like to think of drawing a “#” pattern for the stirring motion.

5. After about a minute of stirring, scoop off the remaining foam on the top of the brew and discard it. “This in truth truly contributes bitterness and carbonic acid to the brew that you don’t need.”


(
Picture courtesy of Maggie Hennessy)

6. Once you’re finally tired of stirring your brew, let it sit for about 30 seconds so the grounds can settle to the bottom.

7. Add the plunger, and carefully press it down.


(Picture courtesy of Maggie Hennessy)

8. Pour out your brew. Love!

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