How To Tweak Your Coffee Cup with French Press
French press is one of the most versatile coffee brewing methods. And I am not talking here about the versatility outside coffee making. I am talking about the ability to tweak your cup of joe to please any coffee lover, from espresso lover to drip coffee drinkers. It is probably the second most versatile coffee maker after AeroPress. You can make a strong cup that resembles espresso, and you can make a cup almost as clear as a drip coffee, (if you have the knowledge).
How come a cheap device like the French press coffee maker can be so versatile? Well, it’s not the device itself, it’s the knowledge. In fact manual coffee brewing in general has the advantage of allowing you to tweak your coffee. How can you change a drink that’s made of two ingredients? Exactly those two ingredients can be modified. I will show you how small changes to water and coffee beans can radically change your cup. This article is a dive into finer details, but if you need a more comprehensive guide, check this French press brewing tutorial here.
What Variables Can We Tweak when Brewing Coffee?
I mentioned that small changes to brewing variables can result in drastic differences, but what are these variables, and how do they influence the taste? These variables are:
- Steeping temperature
- Water quantity
- Coffee beans quantity
- Grind size
- Steeping time
- Roast level
In reality there are a few more variables that can affect the taste of your coffee, but they don’t apply to the press pot. And to be honest, they are too geeky to be included here. Let’s take each of these factors and see how they affect your cup.
Water is the solvent, and various coffee compounds are the solute. Some of these compounds are more soluble than others. With hotter water we can dissolve more compounds from the beans and faster. This is not necessarily a good thing. Some of the bitter compounds extract easier at higher temperature. If you like the bite in your coffee, off the boil water is for you. If you want a smooth tasting coffee, 194-202 °F is the best temperature when brewing with a French Press coffee maker. Adjust this up, if coffee is way too smooth for you.
This is an important variable, and is in direct relationship with the water temperature. That means that if you increase your water temperature, you should lower the steeping time. If you decrease the temperature, you should steep longer. For instance, the lower temperature range, (around 196 °F), call for for a 5 minutes total extraction time.
One thing to remember though, higher temperatures no matter how short the steeping time, are always to be avoided, unless over-extracted coffee is your “cup of tea”.
Water quantity/Coffee beans quantity
Water quantity and the coffee beans quantity are in a direct relationship. The more water you use, the more grounds you need to add. You can certainly tweak this to your liking, and make your cup stronger or lighter. People like to use a very small quantity of water, and get a strong cup similar to espresso. This can be the base of a latte, or cappuccino.
The grind size is one of the most misunderstood variables, and the general consensus is to “grind coarsely”. I know I am going to step on some barista toes here, but this approach lacks any finesse. The concept behind the coarse grind for French press is that the fines will pass through the screen making for a silty coffee. This is true if you are using a bad grinder, however, with a good grinder you won’t get much fines. A great approach is to use a screen to separate the fines.
Why do we need finer grind size? Finer grounds allow a higher TDS, (which means a stronger coffee, by the way). When you grind finer, you also need less coffee per cup. The caffeine content will be only slightly higher than coarse grind, but coffee will be thicker.
In conclusion: grind finer for an espresso-like cup, and grind coarser for a drip-like beverage.
The roast degree is one of the fine tuning tweaks for your coffee. There is a common misconception that the roast degree will affect the caffeine level in the beans. This is not true, however, with darker roasts you can get a stronger cup. That means your coffee will contain more soluble solids. The reason is that darker roasts are easier to extract. The amount of caffeine is the same in both a dark roast and a light roasts.
Conclusion: The difference from a brewing perspective is that we need to increase the brewing temperature, and grind finer for lighter roasts.
Fine tweaks: For a coffee that preserves the bean’s origin, use lighter roasts, (widely used with single origin coffees). For a coffee that underlines caramel tones use a darker roast.
The origin of the beans will determine fine variations in the final cup. In order to preserve these delicate origin flavors, coffee needs to be roasted lighter. There is a myriad of options when choosing an origin. You can get a mild and sweet coffee, if you use a Brazilian bean. Very much like an espresso. You can get strong chocolate notes with a Yemeni mocha coffee, or wine tasting notes with Kenyan coffee. The list is too long to mention all the origins, but with a little bit of research, you can find the origin that matches your taste.
- Igor Dernov
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