Step 1: Required Tools
- Dedicated Coffee grinder
- 1/2 cup whole bean coffee
- 24 oz (710mL) cold, filtered water
- Container for water - either microwave safe, or cook top capable (more on that in a second)
- Wooden spoon or chopstick
- French Press
- Pinch of salt (optional)
Step 2: Water Is the Elixir of Life. Also Coffee.
If you're going to use a microwave safe container make sure you put something non-reactive (I'd recommend the wooden spoon referenced in the tools step) in the container so that your water doesn't explode in a painful boil over when you jostle it after microwaving. Don't believe me? Check out this video. To get the water to the proper heat you'll want to nuke it on high for about 5-6 minutes. This will vary by microwave, obviously, so you may need to do some experimentation to get it just right.
On a typical morning, I'll heat the water on the stove top. Turning the burner to high will get my pot of water at a high boil in about 10 minutes. This gives me time to measure out my beans, get them ground just right, then sit and stare at the pot until it finally gets to a rolling boil. It is very much like taking a power nap and I highly recommend it. No matter how you do it, the time it takes you to get the water hot will allow you to complete the other steps in preparation without worrying about the water cooling down at all.
Step 3: Spill the Beans!
It is an undeniable fact that a lower quality bean will produce a lower quality cup of coffee. Further, pre-ground beans have considerably less flavor than whole bean coffee you grind at home (sorry, Randy Travis). While I truly believe that this method of preparation will make any coffee taste better than your standard drip maker, without fantastic coffee beans you'll never achieve the level of exquisiteness you're looking for. To that end, I'd recommend finding a higher end specialty shop that sells whole beans by the pound. I live in a very small town in Southern Indiana, so I have to travel a bit to get to the shop, but Sunergoss Coffee is my favorite place. Even if you can't get to a fancy shop, or if you just don't want to spend the money, buy whole beans and grind them just before you prepare your coffee.
My current bean of choice is this El Matazano from Honduras. It has fuller body, a nutty quality, and a nice, rich finish that lasts for a long time. My all time favorite coffee comes from the Kona district of Hawai'i, and is farmed at the Mountain Thunder coffee plantation. It's a bit expensive to buy online, but it is soooooooo good. Totally worth it. In the spirit of fairness, and unbiased reporting, I will say that I have enjoyed coffee that I bought (whole bean, by the pound) from Dunkin' Donuts and it was fairly cheap. The best cup of mass produced coffee I've ever had came from that bastion of Canadian goodness Tim Horton's.
Now! Let's debunk a myth: Keeping coffee in the freezer is the best possible way to store your unused beans. *buzzer sound* WRONG! Coffee is porous so it is very likely going to absorb any odors or flavors coming from your fridge or freezer. Pre-ground coffee will be affected by this even more so because it has more surface area with which to absorb smelly food. Keep your beans in an airtight container in a cool, dark, dry place. Your pantry will do fine, but the spice cabinet isn't a bad idea either. "But wait," you say! "Didn't you just say that coffee would absorb flavors and odors from the stuff around it?" Yes. Yes I did. However, you should keep in mind that most of your spices are also being kept in airtight containers and for much the same reason. Further, if your coffee is going to absorb the aroma and flavor of something would you rather it smell and taste like nutmeg, or frozen shrimp? Your call.
Step 4: To Level Up, You've Got to Grind
Scientifically, here's why: The longer a bean is exposed to air the more carbon dioxide will escape from the bean. The more CO2 that escapes from the bean, the less 'bloom' you'll get. Bloom is that foamy layer on the top of the coffee when you're pressing it. The less bloom you get, the less flavor your coffee will have.
Beyond that though, I just enjoy the process of going through all the steps in the morning. It has become part of my daily life and helps get my day moving forward in the right direction. Yeah, I could save some time, but the coffee would suffer and my routine would get thrown off.
As Alton Brown explains, the French Press method is a "medium-slow" mode of making coffee so you want a medium coarse grind of your beans. I have no scientific knowledge of why this is best, but I can say that if you grind too much the finer grounds can get through the mesh of the press and you wind up with cup of sludge. No one likes that. No one.
Once your beans are ground go ahead and dump them into the press.
Step 5: This Step Is Completely Optional (But You Should Do It)
Step 6: You're in Hot Water Now
- It will dissolve the salt fully before we add the rest of the water and let it work its magic.
- Stirring in a small amount of water will allow the grounds to expand and release much more of their flavor.
Step 7: Take the Plunge
When you press down on the plunger you're forcing the coffee grounds through the water and creating an emulsion. This is what we refer to when we mention the body of a coffee: how it feels in your mouth. If you get a good emulsion formed your coffee will have a creamy texture to it and your mouth will thank you. [INSERT INAPPROPRIATE COMMENT HERE]
Using a slow and steady pressure, press down on your plunger until you get down to the bottom. This should take about 30 seconds, give or take a few. Once this step is complete you're ready to pour your coffee and start your day!