Take the plunge

Take just a touch more care with the user-friendly French Press and you can have a satisfying coffee in a matter of moments. Joshua Pattinson takes us through the drill

The French Press, or cafetière, is perhaps the most humble of all brewing devices, with a place in homes across the world. The French and Italians argue over its origins, however. Patent documents from 1852 reveal a design by two Frenchmen, Mayer and Delforge, but their filter flopped at the edges and leaked coffee grounds into the brew. It was not until 1929, in Italy, that Attilio Calimani patented a design with a rubber spring that sealed the filter to keep coffee above and grounds below. An upgraded mesh plunger was patented by the Italian designer Bruno Cassol in 1935, and then the Swiss Italian Faliero Bondanini patented his own version in 1958 and began mass producing it from a clarinet factory in France as the “Chambord”, after which it became a French household staple and started to march across Europe with the vigour of a young Napoleon. Today the ubiquitous French Press is the most-used brewing device in the UK, even though a study by Nespresso in 2012 found that 65% of people surveyed found it too complicated! Yet at its essence, coffee is just hot water, ground beans and a method to take one away from the other. The French Press reflects this simplicity. Choose a coffee like Square Mile’s Bosques De San Francisco, which I recently tried at Salvation Jane in Shoreditch. The creamy texture works wonders with the cafetière – as it cools, the sweetness becomes more and more tingly on the very tip of your tongue. To ensure it’s as good as can be, grind the coffee yourself. The metal filter on the French Press has relatively large holes, especially when compared to a paper filter. But these large holes result in big body, while paper filters can restrict the mouth-feel as less soluble oils are let through. Grind your beans in a good burr grinder, such as the Porlex or Vario (for those with a bigger budget). A grind-size somewhere between brown sugar and rock salt is ideal – this coarse grind-size will be matched with a longer steep time. For brewing one cup, use 15g of ground coffee and 240ml of hot water to reach the fundamental brewing ratio of 1:16. Pre-heat the glass canister and your cup with a swirl of hot water to maintain the brewing temperature, and then discard the water. Now freshly boil filtered or bottled water, and allow it to rest in the kettle for a minute to bring the water temperature down to 94°. Add the ground coffee to the glass vessel and quickly pour the 240ml of water over the coffee, using a spoon to stir the brew twice to ensure that all of the grounds are saturated. Now leave aside to steep for 3½ minutes to allow those complex flavours to develop. During the final thirty seconds, slowly push the plunger down, the slower the better, so no fines are encouraged to slip through the mesh. Once the plunger is fully depressed, quickly pour yourself a cup of coffee to prevent over-brewing, otherwise a harsh and bitter flavour can ensue.
Et voilà, c’est fini!