Hi there, folks. I haven't had much chance lately to exercise my literary skills, but since there seems to be such interest in coffee here, I thought I would scribble down some thoughts about coffee brewing methods.
As a homeroaster, there is nothing more infuriating than roasting up a microlot of exotic coffee to perfection and then having it be ruined by the extraction/brewing process. Alas, this is not that uncommon a problem. I have spent a lot of time over the past few months poking into this problem. Today I'll speak a bit about French Presses. Tomorrow I will cover pour-over (filter cone) brewing, and I'll have some thoughts on the Aeropress and vacuum brewing as a comparison next week.
First a disclaimer of sorts. There are a lot of brewing methods that produce adequate coffee. What I am looking for, however, is the process that brings the best of the bean out: the sweetness, varietal character, and acidity of the coffee. I freely admit to being a bit of a perfectionist, so take my thoughts with that in mind. Also, I am not talking about espresso, an equally weighty and noble topic that I am happy to expound upon in a separate thread.
The French Press
To me, it is hard to get a better cup than by using a French Press, though it is not personally something I want every day. I am sure you are familiar with these devices; they are simplicity itself. Coffee is ground into a glass container, left to steep, and then a plunger with a metal screen is used to push the grounds to the bottom of the container. The coffee is poured from the top. There are many models; I have a classic Chambord style, but there are lots of choices.
With the FP, it is trivial to get the coffee to the proper brewing temperature (~200F). I put the ground coffee into the pre-warmed vessel, and add water just off the boil. After 1 minute I "break the crust" on top and give a quick stir. 3 more minutes of steeping (4 minutes total) and you can plunge and serve. Do not leave the coffee in the press or it will continue to extract and get nasty very quickly.
I find the flavors of this brewing method pristine. There is something about the fairly coarse grind and 4 minute extraction that pulls all of the sweetness of the coffee out, and the varietal character shines through. This method is the benchmark for me to decide whether I like a bean type and roast, and will be the first method I use after a new roast. The drawback? It is hard to get a great cup unless you have a quality burr grinder. Unless your grind is extremely consistent, you will get lots of sludge in your cup, and the coffee will be very muddy and overextracted. I have a Rancilio Rocky for this purpose that works very well. There is nary a bit of crud in the bottom of the cup after I am done. In the past when I had a cheaper grinder, I never enjoyed French Press brewing. With the right grinder, however, it is a revelation. If you like a strong cup and have the equipment to take advantage of it, it is hard to beat.
Tomorrow: Filter cone, pour over brewing. Can such a cheap method produce great coffee?