Tips on brewing a full flavored French press

-1 It’s the perfect day. You just made a cup of French press coffee, you have the newspaper in hand, and you’re sitting down in your favorite chair with a warm slice of delicious seeded whole wheat bread you made overnight. You bite into the bread – it is soft and delicious. You take a sip of your coffee and you suddenly cough, nearly spitting it across the room. You swallow it down and take another quick bite of bread, wondering what went wrong.

Why does your coffee always taste so bitter? You’ve read all the directions.Why does it seem to stand up on its own?

Don’t worry; I’m here to help. Read on for some tips and tricks for brewing a better French press. Once you’ve made your way through these tips, head on over here to review step-by-step instructions on how to brew your perfect French press. First, though, those brewing tips:

Buy Fresh Beans (Preferably African)

There’s nothing worse than taking the time to brew a French press only to discover that your coffee tastes flat, or worse, like tofu. The key to a quality cup is in the beans. Buy your beans whole and grind them yourself (more on that later). Ideally, you’ll find those beans at a local roaster. In reality, there will be times when you buy your beans at the grocery store. If you do, always choose vacuum packed beans over the big bins of coffee. Those beans may have been sitting out for weeks, which means that their oils have been releasing and their flavors have been fading, too.

-3If you’re going to the trouble of buying fresh, whole beans, I’d also suggest you try an African coffee, like Ethiopian or Kenyan. Coffees from these regions have bold, deep, and delicious berry flavors. These flavors are like a fine wine and are particularly noticeable in a French press; they will make your extra effort worth the time. If you’re in Portland, like me, head over to Case Study Coffee for a bag of their Ethiopian Yergacheffe Konga. You won’t regret it.

Once you have your vacuum packed (or locally roasted) Ethiopian beans, bring them home and get brewing. Remember, after you make your first press, put the remaining beans in a sealed container. No need to put them in the fridge or the freezer. They might take on some funky flavors in there (and no one wants Teriyaki coffee).

Grind the beans yourself

You have the beans, now you have to grind them. You should grind your beans fresh each time you make a French press. Then, you’ll get the full flavor out of each bean. If you have the money to spend, a burr grinder is the best way to go. It grinds your coffee more consistently. A blade grinder chops it up into little uneven bits, which can make for a bitter cup that’s full of grinds. A little sediment is fine at the bottom of your cup, but sludge is not. Go for the burr grinder. If you’re having trouble finding the right one, see this post:

Good Question: Best Burr Grinders Under $100

Whichever grinder you choose, you should aim for grounds that have the consistency of rough sand. If you want to get really detailed, take out a dime. Look at the E in LIBERTY. One of your coffee chunks should be about that size. Finding the right grind is an important step. If you grind is too coarse, your coffee will be too weak. If it is too fine, your coffee will be too bitter. If it tastes like teriyaki, well, don’t put your coffee in the freezer.

The coffee ratio is definitely up for debate due to the depth of the roast or the quality of the bean. But 8 tablespoons of coffee for an 8 cup French press is a good starting point. You’ll have to experiment from there to see what works for you.

Use the right water temperature

The ideal coffee brewing temperature is 30 seconds off the boil (about 205 degrees F). That 30 seconds gives you just enough time to pour water into your French press to warm it up. This is an important step – your water will lose several degrees and your coffee will extract unevenly if you pour it into a cold French press. While you’re at it, warm up your mug, too. Your coffee will stay hot longer and you will be happier in your Saturday chair when you finally have your cup full of goodness.


Let your coffee bloom

One of the most important steps in the brewing of a French press is to let the coffee bloom. The bloom is that wonderful moment when the hot water first hits your coffee grounds and the oils and flavors bloom out of the coffee, like a bud opening in the spring. Don’t underestimate this moment. Here’s the best way to achieve a full bloom: pour hot water over your grounds, about halfway to the top, and start a 4-minute timer. After one minute, you will see the top layer of your coffee has started to pull in a lighter brown color. Swirl that top layer gently and take a deep whiff of your coffee. Then, fill your French press up the rest of the way with water, and put your lid on. In three more minutes, you can plunge for the perfect cup.

Use a thermos

One last tip – don’t let your coffee sit in that French press; it will continue to extract and turn bitter. Pour your coffee into your cup, and if you have any leftover, put it in a thermos or travel mug. Then, the flavor you worked for will last.

You’ve finally made the perfect French press! Now, sit back in your chair, relax, and enjoy that full flavored cup of coffee and your slice of warm bread. Cheers to a perfect day.