According to Merriam Webster, a French press is defined as follows: “A coffeepot in which ground beans are infused and then pressed to the bottom by means of a plunger.” I just love a simple explanation don’t you? It clears up the mystery. And yet the French Press deserves a bit of mystery and romanticism. Other names for French Press include press pot, coffee press, coffee plunger or cafetičre, which is French for coffee machine.
There are a number of brands and styles when it comes to the French press. I purchased the Bodum brand which has become synonymous with the French Press, much like the Frigidaire brand is synonymous with refrigerator.
From the pictures I saw online and the fact that the description says it is a 3-cup coffee maker, I was shocked to see that it was so small. In my mind, I was thinking 3 cups meant 24 ounces--silly me. I had envisioned dazzling friends with one pot but this size is more of a personal one, maybe sharing two small cups. They do come in larger sizes though.
Once I got over the size and my own avoidance of anything that looks complicated, I found the French Press to be very easy to use. There are two simple parts to the French Press: the plunger and the pot. You will need coarsely ground coffee to use for the French Press. Fine grounds will get past the plunger and also clog it up. This will not make for a great drinking experience. While I do have a rudimentary bean grinder, I decided to get a professional help with the proper equipment to do my grinding.
I headed out to Trader Joe’s, a specialty supermarket chain found across the country that caters to gourmet, organic, vegetarian and other specialty categories with quality foods that are reasonably priced. I found a Trader Joe’s brand Sumatra Arabica which is labeled Organic Fair Trade whole bean coffee of a medium dark roast which smelled heavenly, and had it coarsely ground. According to the label, “It features hints of caramel and chocolate finish.” You didn’t need to say more to convince me to try it.
Making the coffee was simple. I heated up some water (if you have a hot water dispenser, this would be perfect) and removed the plunger. After adding two tablespoons of coffee into what reminds me of a science lab beaker with a lovely holder, I poured 8 ounces of hot water over the grounds. I then placed the plunger on top taking care to close off the pour spout (the plunger top has a side marked with the name Bodum to make it easy to find which is not vented). I left it to sit for exactly four minutes. At that point, I turned the spout away from myself in order to avoid any burns in case I plunged too quickly and caused the contents to spurt out. I then slowly plunged until the plunger reached its destination.
I poured two very small cups for sampling. My husband likes his coffee black and sweet (when he occasionally imbibes) and mine with my signature milkiness. I hit my cup for a few seconds in the microwave since my milk tends to cool down even a boiling cup of coffee. This was my only other complaint about the French Press instructions. You need to use hot, not boiling water. In my world, I need to know how hot is hot before the beaker is in danger.
We were both surprised by the texture. I expected grounds and sediment, but there were none to be found. The best word I can use to describe it is ‘clean’. It had less body than your average cup and as a result the flavor of the coffee was truly there. You didn’t have to search for it. While it is simple in its idea and construction, it produces a fresh, crisp cup of coffee that is delicious in and of itself or just wonderful with the very best in pastry or bread.
There are many styles of the French Press pot. Some very traditional and there are also some very modern versions that come in funky colors like those by Planetary Design recently featured in the Coffee and Tea Newsletter sent out by Starfish Junction, producer of the annual Coffee and Tea Festival.
Overall, I was very happy with the design, coffee flavor and the reasonable price of my Bodum Kenya Style French Press Pot ($14.99 plus shipping and handling from Target.com). I highly recommend it if you, like me, are curious to see what the French Press is all about.