I have been travelling lately for work. I was in Hamburg for a few months and I shared an apartment with a roommate. To my absolute delight, when I first arrived in Hamburg I discovered that my roommate had a decent coffee maker in the kitchen. I am a light traveller and I hadn't even packed light coffee gear such as an Aeropress. I had planned to sort out my coffee situation when I was settled in and so I was over the moon when I realized that I didn't need to.
To my utter dismay, my roommate moved out after a month or two, taking her coffee maker with her.
"Oh", I heard myself say when I saw her packing up the coffee machine, "I forgot you would be taking that with you. Now I have to think of a new way of brewing coffee in the morning!"
"What about that French Press?" she replied.
What? The dusty old appliance I had all but forgotten the name of, it had been so long since I used one, was sitting on a shelf, unnoticed. I had almost completly forgotten that French Press brewing is a totally legitimate way of making coffee. In fact, several coffee shops where I used to work actually used to serve French Press coffee as their only hand brewed coffee option, and it was delicious.
So what was my problem with the French Press?
The main memories I have of the French Press (known as a Cafetière in my neck of the woods) are from my parent's home, where they would brew a pot of French press coffee every morning that was thick as mud and and intensely caffeinated. I also remember a friend of mine telling me knowingly that you are supposed to add an extra spoon of ground coffee for every person who is partaking in said coffee drinking experience. Needless to say, the French Press wasn't associated with artisan, speciality coffee when I was growing up.
In fact, the French Press is an amazing, unique and extremely affordable way of brewing extremely delicious coffee in your home, if you apply the same principles of coffee brewing that are used for other types of coffee preparation such as pourover or espresso brewing.
French Press coffee has wonderful tasting notes that are impossible to extract with other methods of coffee making. Due to the lack of a fine filter and the extended time that the ground coffee has with the water, the French Press yields rich, full and complex flavors. This type of coffee contains compounds from the coffee oils such as cafestol and kawehol that are absent from drip coffee but which totally change the taste and coffee drinking experience. These compounds have also been shown to be anti-inflammatory, anti-tumorigenic and to have many other health benefits.
So why was the French Press coffee I grew up with so variable? Well, the catch is that French Press brewing requires the same care and attention that other coffee brewing methods do, using freshly ground coffee ground to the appropriate course grind for French Press, an appropriate ratio of coffee to water, correct water temperature and a monitored brewing time.
After my roommate left I started using the French Press every day and experimenting with recipes and different beans. I experienced a complete French Press renaissance and still find myself completely obsessed with it, long after I have moved on from Hamburg and regained access to my coffee gear at home.
So here is my coffee challenge for the day: I am willing to bet that most people have a French Press lying around the house somewhere. Dust that bad boy off and rediscover its wonders. If you have never experienced the taste sensations of well brewed and properly extracted French Press coffee, you are in for a treat!