How's the mastering coming?
Thought I would weigh in to provide a little extra help. I'm a barista and head of customer education at Handground. We are working on a French Press brew guide right now but since it's not done, I'll share a quick tutorial.
The goal with brewing coffee on any device is to maximize the extraction of good-tasting flavors and minimize the bitter ones. I suggest starting with the following recipe and then adjusting it to find the right balance of flavor.
- Heat water to 205F
Depending on your kettle, this might mean taking your water off the heat for about one minute after boil. Use a thermometer if possible!
- Weigh out coffee to 57g
There's an easy ratio to follow when deciding how much coffee to use. It's called the water-to-coffee ratio, and it will help you methodically experiment with different brew recipes. To find the water-to-coffee ratio, take the total mL of water (around 800-850mL for a normal-sized French Press) and then divide by the number of grams of coffee (mL and grams are conveniently equal in weight). In this case, 800/57 is about 14. That means our ratio is 14:1. From now on you can use the inverse of this ratio to adjust your recipe. For example, if you want to try a 15:1 ratio (a weaker coffee), take 800ml and divide by 15 to find the amount of coffee to use.
If you don't have a scale, 57g is roughly a half cup of coffee, but remember that lighter roasts are more dense than dark roasts, so it will require less volume of coffee to reach your desired weight.
- Grind your coffee course
Here's an example of what your grind should look like:
It's really important to have a consistent grind. If you don't the different-sized grounds will extract at different rates, meaning some of them will turn bitter and others will stay weak. This is a bad mix of flavors. For the most consistent grind, use a burr coffee grinder
- Pour water over coffee and let bloom
Dump the grounds into the French Press and then pour just enough water over the grounds so they are all saturated. If you have a scale, shoot for about as much water as you have grounds, so 57mL. The coffee will begin to bubble up and "bloom" if it is fresh. Let this happen for about 30 seconds
- Pour 800mL water total, set for 4 minutes
Pour 800mL of hot water into the French Press to achieve our desired water-to-coffee ratio. For most a normal 32-ounce French Press, this is about an 1 1/2 inches from the top. Start timer for 4 minutes and let the coffee steep. Place the lid on top of the grounds to capture the heat but DO NOT PLUNGE YET!
- Plunge after 4 minutes
Press the plunger down through the coffee. This action will tell you something important about your coffee. If pressing the plunger is really difficult, the grind might have been too fine. There should be slight resistance but nothing that makes you struggle. This is one indication that you might need to adjust the grind, but tasting the coffee will be the ultimate test.
- Remove all coffee from French Press
Leaving the coffee (the drink, not the grounds) in the French Press will allow for the coffee to continue extracting, turning it bitter. If you don't drink it all at once, remove it and place in a thermos or carafe.
Adjusting your brew recipe
This recipe is just a starting point. Now you should adjust your recipe to improve the coffee. The best cups of coffee have extracted all the sweet, desirable flavors from the cup and none of the bitter, negative flavors. Naturally then, the best cup of coffee sits right at the tipping point of sweet and bitter.
You should adjust your recipe by changing just one thing at a time. Here's a simple formula to follow:
- Assess your latest cup of coffee
Was your coffee strong and sweet? Weak and bitter? Somewhere in the middle? Understanding this will be the starting point for adjusting your recipe.
- Adjust for coffee strength
You adjust the strength of your coffee by changing the amount of coffee you use. We can use the water-to-coffee ratio that we talked about to do this. If your coffee is weak, or watery and tea-like, use a lower water-to-coffee ratio like 13:1 or 12:1. If your coffee is overwhelmingly strong, raise the ratio to 15:1 or 16:1. Divide the amount of water used (800ml) by desired ratio number (14, 15, 16, etc.) to find the number of grams of coffee to use.
Brew another batch of coffee with the adjusted water-to-coffee ratio and repeat until you're happy with the strength.
- Adjust for sweetness/extraction
Strength and extraction are not the same thing. Strength is the amount of coffee dissolved in the coffee solution while extraction is the percentage of ground coffee that was dissolved. Extraction controls how sweet or bitter a coffee is, but not its strength.
If you notice your coffee is bitter, you should reduce the extraction rate. You can do this in two ways: Make the grind more course or shorten the brew time. Both will allow for less extraction, meaning less negative flavors.
If your coffee is sweet, I suggest finding its peak sweetness before being satisfied. Increase the extraction rate by using a finer grind or extending the brew time. Do this until you brew a batch of coffee that comes out bitter, and then dial your extraction rate back to the last degree where it was sweet. This is as delicious as you will be able to brew your coffee.
To summarize what I just wrote, here are a few key things to remember about brewing with the French Press and dialing in the optimal recipe:
- Consistent grind is key
- If your coffee is weak, increase the strength by adding more coffee. If it is too strong, use less coffee.
- If your coffee is still sweet and not bitter, increase the extraction by using a finer grind or longer brew time. Do this until you find the tipping point between bitter and sweet.
- If your coffee is bitter, dial back the extraction. Again, try to find the tipping point.
Manipulating the different variables that change your coffee will become second nature the more you do it. Start sharpening your coffee skills by being methodical with the way you experiment. Adjust only one variable at a time so you can see a clear cause and effect. Most importantly, don't let the pursuit of the perfect cup spoil the fun. Any cup of coffee is better than no cup at all, so enjoy the journey.