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What Is a French Press?
A French press is a coffee maker, also known as a cafetière, that features an elegant all-in-one approach. Composed of a single cylindrical carafe and lid with an attached plunger and fine-mesh fitted strainer, the freshly ground coffee sits in boiling water for just a few minutes before being plunged down to the bottom of the carafe, neatly separating from the ready-to-drink coffee.
The French press was patented by an Italian designer named Attilio Calimani in 1929. Another Italian, Faliero Bondanini, improved upon the design and began manufacturing in a French factory under the name Melior in the late 1950s.
Benefits of Using a French Press
Unlike other coffee brewing methods that utilize a paper filter (like pour-overs or drip coffee), the French press allows for deeper extraction of the flavor compounds within the beans with a hands-off approach.
Coffee brewed in a French press has a more substantial, creamy mouthfeel compared to drip coffee, which comes across as thin in comparison. While espresso is made from a similar process in which hot water passes through finely-ground beans, a cup of French press coffee contains far more caffeine than a single shot of espresso. Depending on the size of the carafe, a single French press can yield anywhere from two to eight cups of coffee.
How to Use a French Press
Using a French press to make coffee is a multistep process:
- Grind the beans. The French press technique requires coarse coffee grounds rather than fine ones. (Ultimately, this is a matter of personal preference, and a high-quality filter should manage to keep finer grounds from escaping and turning coffee gritty.) For the best results, buy fresh whole beans whenever possible and use a burr grinder to achieve the ideal texture: Aim for a coarse grind, like breadcrumbs. Next, transfer the grounds into the carafe. The generally advised coffee-to-water ratio is 3 tablespoons of coffee grounds to every 1 cup of water, so measure accordingly.
- Add hot water. When boiling water for your French press coffee, make sure that the water is not too hot or you’ll scorch the coffee grounds, locking in that burnt flavor. The best water temperature for French press coffee is 200°F, or just below boiling. Pour water over the grounds for the number of cups you’d like to brew or fill it to the top line.
- Stir to incorporate. Give the grounds a quick stir with a long-handled spoon to break up the crust at the top and encourage even exposure to the hot water. Place the lid over the carafe, with the plunger fully retracted.
- Steep. Next, allow the coffee to steep. The perfect French press coffee has about a four-minute brew time; steeping longer than that leads to over-extraction and bitter-tasting coffee.
- Plunge. Slowly press the plunger down, ensuring all the grounds are trapped by the filter as it moves down the walls of the carafe. When you’ve reached the bottom, make sure the pour spout is turned to open and serve immediately.
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