Spend $40, Buy a French Press

in Brewing Coffee

Bodum 8-c. Chambord Coffee PressQuestion: “Mark – I really enjoy your web site. You don’t start with the premise that “good coffee requires an investment of $10,000” which makes is really fun to read and relate to!

Question on the French Press, my primary method right now: it seems to me that there’s no real point in “upgrading” a French Press, that they all work pretty much precisely the same. Unlike a drip coffee maker which has so many brands and variations, a french press is a french press – you just press down. Am I missing something? Interested in your perspective. Thanks!!!!

– Monte Mallin

Answer: Monte, I really appreciate the email, and the nice words.

The French Press is my favorite method of brewing coffee, and you hit every reason that I feel that way.  Simple, effective, no need for bells and whistles.  I’ve got good news: you’re not missing anything.  Keep enjoying great coffee!

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the French Press, or Bodum, or press pot method of brewing coffee, click to learn more.  To summarize this brewing method, you steep your coarse-ground coffee in hot water for four minutes, and then “press” the ground coffee to the bottom of the pot so that everything above the filter is nothing but great coffee.

 Bodum 12-c. Chambord Coffee PressOf your choices for brewing coffee that require a little more work than the drip brewer, I find the French Press to be the most simple while still producing amazing results.  A great and consistent cup of coffee every time.  The image at the top of this post is the Bodum 8-cup (roughly 4 servings of “mugs” of coffee).  The best price and service that I know for getting this coffee maker online or retail is from Cooking.com at $39.95. 

If you’re used to making full pots of coffee, the image to the left is the Bodum 12-cup, available from Cooking.com for $59.95.  You can click either image for more information, or either of the links below:

 
 

French Press Tips

in Brewing Coffee

     My favorite way to brew coffee is by press pot, which also goes by proper names like the French Press, or the Bodum – which is actually the name of the company that made the brewing method famous among coffee drinkers.

I was introduced to the French Press by my brother, who explained to me that it was recognized for superior brewing to the drip brewer.  At the time, I didn’t know enough about coffee to appreciate the quality it produced with just a few extra steps over the drip brewer.  I do now!

If you aren’t familiar with the press pot brewing method, click here to learn more.  If you want to learn more about buying a press pot to make great coffee at home, the most competitive price for a Bodum press pot that we know is at Cooking.com.

If you are familiar with the French Press brewing method, here are some little tips that have made big differences in the coffee that I make.  If you already knew all this, congratulations, you are probably making great coffee at home.

1) Boiled coffee is spoiled coffee.  You probably already knew that, but to be on the safe side, let your water sit for 30-60 seconds before pouring it onto the coffee from the boiling point.  I was simply waiting for the boil to stop before pouring.  This is still hot enough to risk spoiling the coffee, especially when I wait ten minutes before taking my first sip of the scalding hot coffee anyway.  Give it time even after the boil stops before pouring.

2) Let the coffee steep in the hot water for FOUR minutes.  The fact that I was setting my timer for three minutes for so long is just proof that when you do something the same way for so long, you forget to question it.  The proper brewing time for the press pot is four minutes.

3) Stir the hot coffee and water after it has been sitting for a minute.  I used to pour the water and immediately put the plunger over the pot, waiting for the timer to go off.  Again, the water is piping hot, so there’s no hurry to cover the pot with the plunger.  What you see after you pour the water is a very light brown foam that forms over the coffee as it settles at the top of the water.  This is called the “bloom” and is the result of outgassing of CO2 from the coffee – a natural product of brewing coffee.  After a minute of steeping, you ensure a more even brew (and complete outgassing) when you stir the contents of the pot, instead of leaving the coffee to float at the top of the water for the full four minutes.  After this stir, I then put the plunger in place and wait for the timer to go off.

4) When the timer goes off, push the plunger SLOWLY.  I’m as anxious as any caffeine addict for my first cup of the day.  But, use some finesse and push the plunger slowly.  It will ensure no ground coffee slips through the plunger and into your cup.

     The final “advanced” step of French Press coffee is one that I haven’t invested in yet.  If you are not immediately drinking all of the coffee from the press pot at once, the remainder should go into a thermal container rather than sit in the press pot.  Sediment, and possibly even ground coffee, will end up in your second cup if you let it sit in the press pot rather than have it sit in a thermal container until you are ready to drink it.  I should know – that’s what will keep happening to me until I invest in one.  That’s next!

The Aeropress Brewing Method

in Brewing Coffee

     I recently met Jeremy Adams, the owner of Cellar Door Coffee, yet another amazing local coffee roaster in Portland, Oregon.  While I was there, Jeremy showed me how the Aeropress coffee maker works.

Read: Profile Cellar Door Coffee

I finally decided to give it a shot at home.  The first picture that you see at the top are of all of its parts.  Right away, you need to make sure you aren’t intimidated my many parts and a few extra steps.  Naturally, nothing is more convenient than the pod coffee makers that are popping up in everybody’s kitchens these days.  But if you want to make great coffee, it usually takes a few extra steps.

Jeremy let me know that there are people who swear by the Aeropress as the only way to properly brew coffee.  Let’s go through how it works.

Step 1: Preparation
Start boiling your water on the stove.  While that’s happening, insert one of the circular paper filters into the filter holder, and twist it into the bottom of the cylinder coffee chamber.

Step 2: Coffee
The Aeropress comes with a coffee scoop.  Grind two scoopfulls of coffee to a fine grind, and put this coffee into the coffee chamber.  Your coffee is now sitting on top of the paper filter.  The bottom of the chamber has a wide base so that it can now rest right on top of your sturdy coffee mug.

Step 3: Brewing
After your water is boiling, remove it from heat.  Let it cool for a few seconds since you don’t want to pour boiling water onto coffee.  Remember, “boiled coffee is spoiled coffee” (by the way, that rule goes for any method of brewing coffee – that’s why we don’t use percolators anymore).  Pour hot water into the chamber so that it mixes with the ground coffee.  Grab the flat stirrer that comes with the Aeropress and stir the water/coffee mixture for around 10 seconds.

Step 4: Plunging
Insert the plunger into the coffee chamber.  You’ll feel immediately that the rubber bottom of the plunger forms an airtight seal in the chamber.  Slowly push the plunger down, and the pressure will force the hot water through the ground coffee and filter.  You’ll hear the brewed coffee dripping from the coffee chamber into your mug.  When you can hear air being pushed out of the chamber instead of brewed coffee, your plunging is done.  This method is ideal for brewing small amounts of espresso, so if you’re making a coffee, fill the rest of the mug with remaining hot water from the kettle.

It takes a little extra work to attain quality in anything, and brewing coffee is no different.  The pod coffee maker and drip brewer are the next most common methods of brewing coffee at home.  These are both very convenient.  However, if you want to experience even more of what makes any coffee unique, it takes extra steps, whether that’s by press pot, by pourover, or by Aeropress

I am excited to have this new coffee maker in my coffee bar, and excited to continue experimenting with it.  It makes a quality of coffee that you cannot get from a pod coffee maker or drip brewer.

Easy Way to Make Cold Brew Coffee at Home

in Brewing Coffee, Coffee and You, Coffee Gear

coldbrewcoffeeI saw that Starbucks recently added cold brew coffee to their menu, to the tune of 4 dollars / cup.  I wasn’t surprised at the price.  But I was surprised that this was on the menu.  What does it mean?  It means that cold brew coffee has moved out of fad territory, into trend territory.  I hate to say it, but when Starbucks adds it to the menu, it is something that is going to be with us for the long run.

I have traditionally drank my coffee hot.  Iced coffee never appealed to me, not even in the summer.  It just seemed weird that something would taste like coffee, but be so cold.  Cold brew coffee, on the other hand, is not iced coffee and shouldn’t be confused.  Cold brew coffee means that it was brewed over an extended period of time with room-temperature or cold water.  In fact, it can be served hot.  “Cold brew” makes reference to how it was brewed, not how it is served.

frenchpressNaturally, there is all kinds of gear available for you to make excellent cold brew coffee for yourself at home.  It would probably be worth it in the long run, rather than to pay 4 dollars per cup.  But, I’ll save you even more money.  I’ll explain to you how you can make cold brew coffee for yourself at home with nothing more than your french press and typical way of using it.

1) Clean your french press (press pot).

2) Grind your coffee coarse, just as though you were going to brew it in the french press as you normally would.  Also grind as much coffee as you normally would, depending on the size of your french press pot.

3) Empty your coarse-ground coffee into the french press.

4) Add filtered room-temperature or cold water to the french press.  Use the same amount of water as you normally would, depending on the size of your french press pot.

5) Without pressing the press down, put the french press (with coffee and water together) in the fridge.  Leave it there 12 hours.

6) After 12 hours, remove the french press from the fridge, and press the ground coffee and sediment to the bottom of the pot.  What you’re left with above the filter is cold-brewed sediment-free coffee.

7) Empty this coffee into another container.  I use a mason jar with a screw-lid.  Keep that other container in the fridge.

8) Voila!  You have a container of cold brew coffee.  Serve it on ice.

There are any variations to what I’ve laid out above.  Here are some that I’ve become familiar with:

You can vary between room-temperature and cold water, for brewing.  I’ve used cold water.  Regardless, I put it in the fridge so it’s going to get cold eventually.  That brings me to the next variation – some people do not brew it in the fridge for 12 hours, rather they leave it on the counter to brew at room temperature.

Try different coffees.  The point of cold brew coffee is to mute a lot of the coffee’s acidity, so that its other characteristics can emerge in the cup.  The ideal cold brew coffee would be one rich in flavor “hidden” behind a wall of acidity that not everybody likes.  The cold brew process mutes that acidity.

– The 12-hour brew time is very subjective.  I’ve heard of it brewed as long as 18-24 hours.  Experiment with us to decide what you like best.  I’ve observed that the longer the brew time, the lighter the color of the coffee.

 

What is the proper grind setting to make coffee?

in Uncategorized

grindsettingsAccording to the Lumosity “brain games” app on my phone, my memory isn’t great.  Combine that with the fact that I brew by more than one method at home, and that my burr grinder has 18 different settings, it’s a wonder I can make good coffee at all.  Many coffee lovers struggle with what grind setting to use.  If you only brew your coffee one way, I have good news.  You’ll only need to remember one of the settings below.  Set your burr grinder to that setting, and never change it.

If you brew by more than one method and have a memory like mine, I’ll give you a quick explanation of the science of grind settings that hopefully helps you remember the right setting for your brewing method intuitively.

If you have a propeller grinder rather than a burr grinder, I strongly suggest making the small investment in a burr grinder.  Check back in a few days, where I’ll have a separate post written that I hope helps you realize the great benefits that proper grinding has on the flavor in your cup.

An Easy Guide
– Espresso maker or Aeropress: Use the Fine grind.  I don’t suggest messing with degrees of Fine.  Move the dial all the way to fine.
– Drip brewer or pourover (Melitta or Chemex): Use the middle grind.  When you buy pre-ground coffee at the grocery store, this is usually the default way in which it was ground for you.
– Press pot (French Press or Bodum): Use the Coarse grind.  Same advice as with Fine – just move the dial all the way to coarse.

cuisinartgrinder     Since I have every brewing method mentioned above available to me, it can get confusing.  To help you understand why settings differ by brewing method, here’s a primer.  The longer the brewing method, or longer the water is going to be in contact with coffee, the coarser a grind you need.  If you used a fine grine in your French Press, you would “overextract”, or draw too many solids from the coffee and have a drink more like sludge.

Conversely, if you used a coarse ground coffee in your espresso maker, the water is not in contact with the coffee long enough to draw enough solids from the coffee, making you a weak coffee.  Imagine in this example, the coffee at a microscopic level.  It is ground coarse, so each piece is bigger.  The water extracts solids from the surface area of the piece, but isn’t exposed to it long enough to get at the solids deeper than the surface.

Drip brewed and pourover coffee falls in the middle, and calls for a medium grind.

Mind your grind!  It’s important to the flavor in your cup.

How to make good coffee when you’re camping

in Brewing Coffee

Originally published on July 15, 2011

Webmaster note: Last Memorial Day long weekend, I attended my first outdoor music festival in years, the Sasquatch Music Festival in The Gorge, Washington.  As you might imagine, I was responsible for making sure that everybody drank good coffee in the morning.  It reminded me of the post that you’ll read below.  I used to think that one had to sacrifice quality with coffee while camping, but thanks to the press pot and however you boil water while you camp, you can make good coffee.  I thought you might enjoy this post as the camping season is upon us!

If you like camping, I don’t need to tell you that we settle on many things.  Sure, we may grill meat over charcoal instead of gas and talk about how awesome it is, and yes, breakfast somehow tastes better when you’re roughing it than when you make it in a kitchen.

But, one thing we definitely settle on is our coffee.  At least, I used to.  Because the addict in me would rather drink awful coffee than no coffee, and energy drinks have only recently popped up everywhere, it was standard to bring instant coffee, sugar packets, and powdered whitener on camping trips.  It’s a terrible combination and I was sure to drink less coffee but it was something instead of nothing.

One year, one of the big grocery store coffee brands had introduced “coffee packets” which looked like tea bags and sat at the bottom of the cup.  You’d pour hot water on it, let it sit, and then remove the packet.  I thought this was the answer to coffee on camping trips but learned soon enough that it was really just more instant coffee in a perforated packet.

This year after everything was packed and I stared at my coffee bar waiting for the answer to hit me…it did!

French Press coffee brewing (sometimes called the Bodum from the brand name) is for many, the best way to brew coffee.  Click here to learn more about the French Press brewing method.  The short explanation is that you pour hot water over coarse-ground coffee that sits at the bottom of a container like the one you see above.  After a few minutes of exposure between the coffee and water, you press a filter downward to hold all the ground coffee at the bottom so that everything above the filter is great brewed coffee.

I thought, how ironic could it be that one of the best ways to brew coffee in your kitchen might also be the best way to brew it while camping.  As long as I bring coarse-ground coffee that I’d grind before leaving the house (and which would keep fresh well enough in an airtight container over the couple days that I’m camping), and the French Press itself, all I need after that is water heated over the fire or gas stove, and a cup to pour it in.

The setup is to the left.  Coarse-ground coffee measured out of my ceramic airtight container and deposited into the press.  Water brought to a near-boil (don’t pour boiling water on coffee!) and poured into the press.  Wait a few minutes, press the ground coffee down with the filter, pour into your cup.

It’s worth repeating…how ironic when we settle on things while camping that one of the best ways to make coffee is the same in the campground as it is in the kitchen!

CoffeeCON: Planning My Day

in Buying Coffee, Coffee News

badge_officialblogger_250I’ve never been so excited for a coffee show!  Just three days away.

This May 4th, I will be attending the 2013 CoffeeCON in Chicago, IL, both as a coffee lover and as an official blogger.  I’m excited to share everything I learn with fellow coffee lovers.

My day’s schedule and workshops are shaping up as follows:

9:10 – 11:40 AM: For the Love of Coffee
George Howell, founder of the famous Coffee Connection in Cambridge, MA, and owner of Terroir Coffee, leads an intensive 2.5 hour coffee tasting workshop.  This is a huge hole in my coffee game, being able to pick up and describe flavor accents.

12:15 – 12:45 PM: Chemex Lab
I have two different size Chemex pitchers at home.  I have the official instructions on how to use them, but it’s no comparison to a professional display of do’s and don’t’s.  I will come home a Chemex master (right now, I’m more of a Chemex journeyman).

christythorns1:00 – 1:50 PM: Coffee Sustainability
Christy Thorns, Director of Sourcing and Quality Control for Colorado based Allegro Coffee Company, a subsidiary of Whole Foods Markets, leads a discussion on coffee quality and sustainability.  Christy presents an overview of the variables and conditions that lead to great coffee, and the importance of supporting long-term economic and environmental sustainability in coffee growing.  I am very pumped for this presentation.

2:00 – 2:30 PM: French Press Lab
Just like the prior Chemex Lab, I get a professional presentation of the do’s and don’t’s of my personal favorite brewing method, the press pot.

3:00 – 3:40 PM: Coffee on the Road
Oh heck yeah!  A presentation on how to enjoy great coffee when you’re on the road away from home.  I am away from home much of the time.  As I type this, I’m staring at a cup of hotel room no-brand decaf coffee.  I can’t wait to share with you, the lessons I learn on how to enjoy great coffee while traveling.

4:00 – 4:40 PM: Olfactory Development
As if the prior For the Love of Coffee segment won’t already be a quantum leap for my coffee tasting skills, this workshop will focus on using the sense of smell to identify and appreciate flavor characteristics in coffee.

I’m pumped!  A day of coffee education and being surrounded by coffee professionals from each step in the supply chain.  Just three days away!

The Coffee Survey Results Are In!

in New Content

I truly can’t say enough to thank you for the support.  I received so much more participation than I was expecting in the recent survey.

For literally months, the survey was written but I was hung up on what incentive to give people to encourage them to participate.  That incentive led to questions of contest rules and laws, and use of trademarks if I was going to offer prizes.  And then, it hit me…make the survey short and ask that you simply help me make the site better by telling me about your coffee.  If you find the site informative and beneficial, help me make it more of both of those things. 

And you did, with overwhelming support.  Thanks again!  I thought it would be fun to give an overview of the survey results, and compare them to my own personal answers.  This website and blog have long been a reflection of where I’m at in my coffee life – let’s see where we’re all at together.

1. Where do you buy the coffee that you make at home?
An overwhelming majority indicated the grocery store.  Less than half of you indicated that you buy coffee from an independent local roaster, which is where I buy 100% of my bulk coffee.

2. When you buy coffee, how long will it last you?
This one was a mixed bag.  There was almost a perfect split between those buying a month’s worth of coffee or more at a time, and those buying coffee for 2-3 weeks at a time.  I fall into the latter category – I always aim to have a pound from each of two different roasters at any given time, and a pound will last me a week.

3. What kind of coffee do you buy?
Here again, an almost even split between ground coffee and whole bean coffee.  A very small number of you indicated that you buy pod coffee – in fact, more of you drink instant coffee than pod coffee.  The only times I’ve ever had ground coffee was as a gift.  For maximum freshness, I buy my coffee in whole bean form and grind only as much as I’m about to brew.

4. How many cups of coffee do you drink in a day?
A big majority of you drink between 2-3 cups a day, with few of you in the same category as myself of 4-5 cups a day.

5. How do you grind your coffee?
When you add how many of you are buying your coffee pre-ground, or instant, or in pods, the majority of your coffee is already ground when you buy it.  There was an even split between those of you using a propeller grinder, and those using a burr grinder.  My coffee bar consists of a burr grinder, but I always have a couple old propeller grinders on hand as spares.

6. How do you make your coffee?
The responses here were very well spread out, which was very interesting.  Many more of you use an espresso machine or stovetop espresso maker than I was expecting.  I wasn’t surprised to see the drip brewer as the top method – it really is the most convenient way to make good coffee.  My personal favorite, the press pot, came in second in your responses.

7. What do you add to your coffee?
A big majority of you add dairy to your coffee (cream or milk), but not necessarily sugar.  Much fewer of you add nothing to your coffee than those who add sugar.  It took me many years, but I’m finally a purist – straight black coffee for me.

Thanks again to everybody who participated!  I intend to use the survey results to better tailor the site and blog to this feedback, so that it is as beneficial and worth your time as I can make it.  Please don’t hesitate to send me your thoughts and ideas by email.  I always enjoy hearing from you with your questions and comments.

Better Ways to Brew Coffee

in Brewing Coffee

Many years ago, my brother introduced me to the French Press.  He explained that for many, this was the best way to brew coffee.  At the time, I didn’t have a sophisticated enough taste for coffee for it to make much difference.  I also remember staring at the press pot and thinking about how primitive it looked compared to some of the tricked-out drip brewers that were on the market. 

It would be many years before I would use a French Press again.  I had made plenty of upgrades in my other coffee gear and certainly, the coffee itself that I was buying.  I had finished some reading on making great coffee, and the press pot came up again and again.  I decided to buy one, and alternated between using it and the drip brewer.  As time has gone on, I’ve used the drip brewer predominantly to make a large amount of coffee to be poured into my Thermos, but for smaller amounts, some of the fancier brewing methods.

Read: Buy a Thermos…Make Good Coffee

Last year, two different guests to the website asked me which I thought was the better brewing method between the press pot and the pourover method (the latter also known as the Chemex or Melitta).  Similarly, many people still refer to the press pot as the Bodum, named after the company that made the design popular.  Pourover was new to me, so I actually had to research it.  When I did, it just seemed like a LOT of work compared to the very turnkey way of making coffee by press pot.  With nothing else to go on, I ruled in favor of the press pot.

Read: Melitta vs. French Press…fight!
Read: Pour-over Brewing Method – the Chemex (greatly expanded description of pourover)

I now have a drip brewer, a press pot, and a pourover coffee maker in my coffee bar.  I will say that both the press pot and pourover make a noticeably better coffee than the drip brewer, but then again, both are intended to be improvements on the design of the drip brewer, itself an improvement on the percolator. 

Here is some loose logic for how and when I decide to use each:

Drip Brewer: For making a lot of coffee at once.  Generally to load into my Thermos for a day of being on the road, or if I am making coffee for a lot of guests.

Press Pot: Takes the longest to cool down, so for when I have time to sit back by myself, and enjoy it (ie. Sunday afternoon, no hurries).

Pourover: For some novelty in preparing it – it is definitely the most interesting to watch being prepared.  I do enjoy talking through the process as I prepare it.  Also, the paper filter removes any sediment from the coffee, which I like to provide for coffee drinking guests in my home who may not know to swish their cup before the last swallow, or care to.

So, the drip brewer remains my method for brewing a volume of coffee.  Between the press pot and pourover, I cannot pick a “winner”.  I like them both.  The pourover leaves no sediment in the cup but the coffee cools off quicker.  The press pot leaves sediment in the cup, but it doesn’t bother me as I’m expecting the sediment.  I love having them all in the coffee bar at my disposal.

Coffees of Ecuador

in Buying Coffee, Coffees of the World

I have friends that just returned from Ecuador.  Like any good friends, they brought me back coffee fresh from the source.  I was excited to get it home and try it, as I’ve never tried coffee from Ecuador.  Coffee is very much like wine, in that it takes a sample of the world’s offering to fully appreciate every flavor and variety.

Coffees of Ecuador

Ecuador is one of the top 20 producers of coffee in the world.  Although the country itself is small, its varied ecology makes it possible to cultivate all of the varieties of coffee within its borders, including premium Arabica beans and less-expensive Robusta beans.

Coffee cultivation and export is a significant portion of the country’s economy.  While they presently export to the US as well as all over the world, it is not very prevalent in the US.  As a result, very little is written about its unique qualities, and to the best of my knowledge, this would be my first cup of coffee from Ecuador.

El Tostador

The packaging of my friends’ coffee is entirely in Spanish and I am definitely not smarter than a fifth grader yet in Spanish.  But, I know key words so I gave “reading” about the coffee my best shot.  Naturally, I could see that it was produced by El Tostador, Cafe Tostado y Molido, where my friends bought it in Ecuador.

The first thing I noticed is that the words Arabica or Robusta were not printed anywhere on the package.  My rule of thumb when I see this is that it is probably cheaper Robusta beans.  After all, you would promote that you are selling Arabica beans, so if nothing is said, I assume it’s Robusta.  However, I was able to identify from the packaging, the region where the coffee was grown…the province of Loja.  The variety of coffee grown in Loja is Arabica – great news. 

The frest-roasted coffee was ground to order for my friends who brought back a pound for themselves, and brought back a pound for me.  It was ground fine, so I’ve been preparing it by pourover moreso than by press pot, since you would generally use a coarse ground coffee in the press pot to avoid overextraction (sludge).

Read: Pour-Over Brewing Method
Read: Fresh Press Brewing Method

In the end, I couldn’t help but take some of the Spanish from the packaging to a translation website, which told me:
“From the quality coffee plantations of the highlands of the province of Loja, a tradition of flavor and natural fragrance is born.”

Challenges

Ecuador has a couple challenges in order to have its coffee included in the list of Specialty Coffee origins.  First, it hasn’t actively promoted itself as a source of fine coffee to the US market, and promotes itself in the European market mainly on price.  The climate of Ecuador is similar in characteristics to other countries who produce well-recognized coffee.  This leads to the second challenge, that the country’s harvesting and processing standards are not as tightly regulated by the state since other exports, such as bananas, have increased in importance.

I was happy for the opportunity to try a new coffee I hadn’t tried before.  The only way to truly appreciate the world of coffee is to try coffees from around the world.

 

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