Of all the different coffee brewing methods, perhaps one of the most enduring is the classic French press, also known as the cafetiere or press pot. It’s the peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich of coffee brewers—dependable, utilitarian and affordable. Now ubiquitous in homes across the world, the French press actually has quite a convoluted past, including its invention—by an Italian, technically.
The history of the French press is shrouded in a good deal of mystery. While a patent for its initial design was made by Frenchmen Mayer and Delforge, the first patent of a French press similar to today’s model was made by the Italians Attilio Calimani and Giulio Moneta in 1929. Over subsequent years, Calimani and Moneta gradually perfected their device, adding, among other refinements, a spring that wrapped around the plunger discs to hold them flush with the cylinder.
This new coffee maker caught on quickly and helped—together with the new percolator—to send more highbrow brewing methods (Chemex, vacuum pot) into a slow decline, but it wasn’t until the Swiss Faliero Bondanini made several adjustments to its design that it achieved iconic status and, in fact, the basic design formula it still employs today. Bondanini used these modifications to patent his own version in 1958, calling it a Chambord, and began manufacturing it in a French clarinet factory (hence the name). Due to Bondanini’s work—and perhaps also due to its inclusion in the 1965 Michael Caine film The Ipcress File—the popularity of the French press grew. Danish tableware and kitchenware company Bodum eventually bought the company and began manufacturing its own version of the product.
The Essence of French Press
Perhaps the most famous quality of French press brewing is what is called “mouth feel” or the presence of “grit” or “sand” in the finished product. The press’ famous metal filter, while straining out the bulk of the coffee grounds, has comparatively larger holes than most other filters, thus admitting a healthy dose of grounds into the final cup. For this reason, many avoid the French press altogether; others, however, embrace the more extreme mouth feel and resulting robust brew. The filter’s larger holes make a coarser grind of coffee ideal for this method of brewing.
How To Brew A Perfect French Press
- Grind the beans. Grind should be quite coarse; if the grind is too fine, the water will extract the coffee too quickly. (While not a problem with other full-immersion brewers, the metal mesh filter of the French press will allow an unpalatable amount of grit into the cup.
- Start with a ratio of 15 grams of ground coffee per every 225 grams of water; adjust on subsequent brewing events by adding more coffee or using less water until you find the perfect match for your tastes.
- Allow the boiled water to rest for 45 seconds after boiling to reach an approximate brew temperature of 195 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Add ground coffee into the carafe. Add the water slowly, ensuring that you saturate all of the grounds. Add twice the amount of water as coffee (ratio of 2:1) to create the bloom or preinfusion. Allow to steep for 30 seconds.
- Stir gently, then add the rest of the water and position the plunger atop the carafe, covering the brewing grounds (do not plunge yet).
- Brewing time ranges from 3 to 5 minutes; start with 4 minutes and adjust in future to taste. Depress plunger slowly and delicately right down to the bottom.
- Pour brew into the cup carefully, so as to avoid agitating the coffee resting at the bottom.