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Joined: 12 Dec 2013
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Posted Tue Mar 4, 2014, 3:11pm
Subject: French press tips


I've just recently bought a Bodum French Press.  I was wondering, as I am new to this french press technique, if there were any great pointers that anyone may have.  Are there any precautions that I should take?  (i.e. watching temperatures before pouring water into glass canister).  Are there better ways to brew the coffee with the french press (longer times, coarser grinds etc.).  

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Joined: 9 Feb 2014
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Grinder: Breville Smart, Skerton
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Posted Wed Mar 5, 2014, 5:05am
Subject: Re: French press tips


I think your off to a great start with the grinder you have. I have a Breville Smart and have been making some coffee that has been wowing me. There are many techniques to using the FP. This is what works for me (makes about 2 mugs of coffee): Weigh empty container and zero scale. Grind 34g coffee. Preheat FP by pouring some boiling water into it. empty. Put grinds into FP and set on scale to zero. Add enough water to saturate grinds (steep 30 secs). Add water to 580g (total). Give a gentile stir and put the top on so that the plunger screen is just sitting below the water line. Steep for 4 mins

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Posted Wed Mar 5, 2014, 6:01am
Subject: Re: French press tips

Here's a useful video on french press from a former World Barista Champion. I use a presspot everyday at work. I like the rich, full bodied taste that characterizes french press brewing.

James Hoffman video:  
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Posted Wed Mar 5, 2014, 11:33am
Subject: Re: French press tips

There are a lot of inter-dynamic factors which determine your best approach.  

A few of them are equipment dependent, while other are strictly personal.  For instance, I would never go to the trouble of using the "breaking" and "clearing" (as in the video) cupping techniques unless it made a MUCH bigger difference than it does.  

However, there's no reason my choices should be yours.  There are all sorts of press techniques beyond the usual, including the Wendelboe method (per the video) and the French Pull; and I offer mine only by way of example.

The coarser the grind:
  • The cleaner the cup;  
  • The more agitation (fancy word for stirring) you can use without adding too much sludge to the cup; and
  • The more steep time required, everything else being equal.  However, everything else is not equal.  Agitation modifies time by homogenizing the "wetting" process and increasing the rate of extraction.  

Grinding finer than otherwise optimal is a way of solving some press problems.  But grinding too fine can cause a pressure build-up during the press, which can stall the process, drive fines past the sides of the filter, or even cause a glass carafe to burst.  

The Smart is a very good grinder for press.  Its particle size distribution is so tight in the coarse range best for press that you can use an optimal grind size without getting too much crud in the cup.  

When we used a Smart for press, we set the grind size at between at the third mark (on the coarse side), and added a couple of "clicks" finer.  Be aware though that grind-size settings don't translate well from one grinder to another -- even between grinders of the same make and model -- and that Breville has made a lot of changes since we bought our Smart.  So don't read too much into it, the information is useful only in the sense of "fairly coarse."

However, the Breville's volume measurement (actually done with a timer) should be consistent.  For an "8 cup" Bodum, we set ours for 6 cups, +1 click for "stronger."

You're going to have to experiment to find the ideal grind.  Basically, you want it coarse enough for the plunger to glide through the coffee, but no coarser than that.  It sounds simple, but isn't the simplest standard to execute.  Don't worry, it won't take you too long to find a grind size within the acceptable range.  

We use the usual ratio of 60g ground coffee / 1L of water.  Even though it's not an exact translation of 1:16  (or 16% if you prefer), feel free to start with whatever is easiest for you to calculate for your press pot.

Most people recommend 200F water for press.  I suppose that some coffees might respond better to cooler or warmer temperatures.  However, we use 200F water for all coffees and get results.

A PID controlled kettle is a good investment.  We use the Bonavita.

Try these ten commandments:  
  1. Set your kettle's controller to 200F, and start the water.
  2. As the water heats, calculate the right dose of coffee.  Set the Smart's timer for the right dose, the grind setting for the right grind;
  3. When the water is temped, pour a splash into your press pot and "swish it around" to preheat the pot;
  4. Grind the beans, empty the preheating water, and pour the grinds into the carafe.  Pour enough 200F water over the coffee to bloom it, i.e., about 1/3 of the carafe.  Replace the kettle on the pad so it will hold temp.  Stir the coffee until the grounds are evenly wetted;
  5. Pour the remaining water over the coffee (bloom should be enough below the top of the rim that the lid and filter can be placed over it without causing an overflow), and gently stir again;
  6. Place the lid on the pot, with the filter all the way up;
  7. Total steep time, beginning from the first moment water hit grounds should (usually) be no more than 4min.   Assuming it took you a minute to go through the earlier ritual, allow 3min further steep before pressing;
  8. Press slowly but evenly.  The press should take no less than 10sec and no more than 30sec;
  9. Pour, or -- if you're a horrible snob -- you may decant;
  10. Drink, and Enjoy

Hope this helps,
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Senior Member
Joined: 8 Mar 2012
Posts: 48
Location: Holland
Expertise: Pro Barista

Posted Sat Mar 15, 2014, 3:05pm
Subject: Re: French press tips

In response to the post above me...  To compensate for a fine grind, you can actually put the plunger in first,  then put the coffee on top of that, pour in your water and let it steep. Then you pull the whole assembly out.

There are two things like I really like about the French press.
1) there are tons of different variations and tweaks you can do and essentially your imagination is the only limit.
2) in my experience,  it is almost impossible to ruin a brew in the French press,  within reason. I have done lots of experimenting and have almost never pushed a brew past a drinkable point.  It's a very forgiving brew method.
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