The French press, also known as the coffee press, is a full-immersion coffee brewing device known for producing a rich, full-bodied brew. It involves pouring hot water over the grounds, waiting the specified extraction time, then pressing down on a plunger to separate the coffee from the grounds. It’s prone to over-extraction but can be delicious if done properly.
History of the Press
The French press was originally designed as a means of separating coffee grounds from the brewed coffee. A person making coffee would toss the grounds into a pot of boiling water, then press a metal screen attached to a rod into the boiling brew to push all of the grounds to the bottom of the pot. The invention of this device is still up for debate. Although it is called a “French” press, the device was first patented by Italian Attilio Calimani in 1929.
In his original design, a fine mesh screen attached to a plunger is pressed into a container so that any sediment in the container is pushed to the bottom, leaving a refined liquid. The design hasn’t changed much in the past century but has taken on beautiful aesthetics by companies like Danish kitchenware company, Bodum.
Nowadays, a typical French press will have a slender glass beaker, metal screen attached to a plunger—perfectly sized for the beaker, and a carrying device for the beaker, with a handle for pouring. The French press has become a chic way to make coffee, and I hope it never goes out of style.
Characteristics of French Press coffee
French press is a very well-known coffee brewing method because of its distinctive full-bodied brew. Since the device uses a metal screen as the filtering mechanism, most of the oils in the coffee make it through to the final brew—something coffee made with paper filters often lacks. The downside is that some of the finer particles of the coffee grounds can also make it through the filter. This can result in a somewhat “silty” cup of coffee. The best way to avoid this silt or sedimentation is to get a higher end grinder that has less variance in grinding. The better the grinder, the less fines you’ll create.
The brewing method is prone to over-extraction. One reason French press can suffer from this affliction is due to the coarseness of the grind. If you don’t grind your coffee coarse, or your grinder generates lots of fines, the increased surface area on each particle of coffee allows the water to extract more flavor. Another reason for over-extraction is that the French press is a full-immersion method, meaning the water and coffee make constant contact with the grounds until you intervene and press the plunger down. In fact, the coffee will continue to extract even after the plunger has been pressed down. This can be mitigated by pouring the brewed coffee directly into a thermal carafe or another serving container right after brewing.
French press coffee tends to be bold and have a dense mouthfeel, so it is an exceptional coffee to add condiments to. If you like creamy coffee, I’d highly recommend adding a splash of heavy cream or half and half to a fresh cup of French press. It’s a delicious way to take your coffee.
AeroPress – The Distant Cousin of French Press?
One coffee brewing method that is often compared to the French press is the AeroPress. While both methods involve the full-immersion of the coffee grounds and a pressing action to get the final brew, that’s largely where the similarities end.
The big difference is the way the coffee is filtered. The AeroPress relies on pressure to force the grounds through a fine paper filter—similar to the paper filters found in the pour over or drip coffee methods—as opposed to the fine metal filter found in a French press. Because of the fine filter and grind, the pressure on an AeroPress is quite high. On the French press, when you press down on the plunger, you’ll feel some resistance, but you shouldn’t have to over-exert yourself to isolate the coffee from the grounds.
We like both methods and have written quite a bit on how to achieve great AeroPress coffee. We recommend you try both out and see which you like better.
As French press has become more popular, there are an increasing number of companies making beautiful coffee presses. The most well-known is definitely Bodum, a Danish kitchenware company. Other big names are Frieling, Bialetti, OXO, and Alessi.
Depending on your price range and style, any number of these companies could make the right press for you. All French presses rely on the same basic brewing principles, so there shouldn’t be too much variance between different brands. Quite a bit of French press ownership comes down to personal style.
Since the brewers are all very similar, you may want to pick up a couple of different types or sizes to showcase your own personal flare while making coffee.