Sunday, September 12, 2010

French Press Coffee

You've probably heard the famous Turkish Coffee proverb at least once in your life:

'Coffee should be black as hell, strong as death, and sweet as love'

Well, I'd like to offer up my own addition of 'rich as Croesus' to that recipe. Too many times I have been served a sour and watery brew that went by the name of coffee but seemed to have more in common with tea. Good coffee should be opaque, it should have a nice mouth feel even without the addition of cream, and it should never ever have a sour aftertaste. The drip machine and the K-Cup may promise efficiency, cleanliness, and speed but I tell you that what they deliver is but a pale caffeinated shadow of true Coffee.

Purists prefer to follow the ancient Turkish technique of boiling coffee in a pot over a heat source but this method requires a watchful eye, often produces as gritty result, and is far from portable. So ladies and gentlemen, I present the solution to your problems- The French Press. As with the Turkish method, ground coffee is steeped directly in hot water for several minutes. This allows all of the wonderful natural oils clinging to the beans to saturate the water, and produces a drink that is more full bodied in terms of both flavor and texture than coffee made by simply passing water through the grounds. The plunger filter eliminates much of the dregs that most westerners find so distasteful, and the small and light glass reservoir is easy to carry. Lastly, this is obviously a low tech mechanism so it can be used while traveling and even while camping. All you need is access to boiling water.

I myself was introduced to the French Press on my first long camping trip. I had drunk ungodly amounts of alcohol the night before and was blearily trying to figure out how I was going to face another day of 'getting back to nature' when one of my friends pulled her Press out of her backpack. I watched in amazement as she boiled water on her camp stove, added it to the pot, seasoned with sugar and creamer, and then suddenly I had a cup of real coffee steaming in my hands. It was like handing water to someone who had been crawling through the dessert for days on end. That coffee- emblem of civilization, of comfort, was here, all the way out in the mountains of New England. I was sold.

After returning home I soon bought my own French Press and I have never looked back. If you aren't convinced yet, visit a restaurant or coffee shop that offers Pressed coffee and you'll soon see what I mean. But I warn you, most coffee will soon seem like water to you and you'll find yourself joining the ranks of coffee snobs before you know it.

For the uninitiated, below are some simple instructions on how to use your own French Press:

Remove the lid and add the ground coffee of your choice directly to the glass reservoir. We have the standard 17oz Chambord by Bodum, and I typically use about 2 full spoon-fulls plus one more 'for the pot' ( as the friend who first introduced me to the French Press used to say). Making coffee this way is more of an art than a science so after some experimentation you may find that you like to use more or less depending on your taste.

If you buy whole beans and grind them at home or at the store, there is a recommended setting for French Press pots but I have found this grind to be a bit too coarse and the coffee does not steep as well. If you use the setting for a drip machine the results are much better, but beware, there is a greater chance of some of the finer grounds making their way through the pot's filter and into your cup.

Pour boiling water into the reservoir, until the water line reaches the bottom of the chrome rim around the pot. Again, these are directions for the Bodum line, so other models may use different measurements. Give the water/coffee slurry a good stir and then replace the lid, making sure that the plunger is in the fully extended position.

Set a timer for 4min and let the pot sit undisturbed. After the time has expired, give the coffee another stir, replace the lid, and gently push down on the plunger. Turn the lid so that the filter is facing the spout and pour out your coffee.

Voila, the perfect cup!

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