Use the French Press, Luke!

If you’re getting started with brewing your own coffee, use the French Press. We will see why in this post. And we will also see a recommended setup towards the end.

So you decided to make your own coffee. Wonderful! 🤗 I am willing to bet that the decision to start brewing your own coffee came after consuming content related to coffee. Maybe you’ve been watching James Hoffmann’s videos. Perhaps you’ve been looking at Blue Bottle’s exceedingly rare collections. Or maybe you have friends who tweet about coffee, sharing their pictures, setups, recipes. But you’re in. By the grace of the mighty civet’s tail, you’re sold.

Distracted boyfriend meme: distracted by reading about coffee when he should be making coffee

So what next?

AeroPressâ„¢? French Press? Pour-overs? Moka pots? Espresso? Wouldn’t you love to make some latte art? Which coffee to buy? Intelligentsia? Blue Bottle? Blue Tokai? Kaapi Kotai? So many options, and all good ones. The age of third-wave coffee is kind. We have great choices all around.

But it pays rich dividends to set your goal on learning better as you make your daily cup. Nobody makes a perfect cup on their first few attempts. Sure, you can make a good one, but don’t fool yourself. Consistency is the key. It takes umpteen iterations to settle on to a taste and brewing level you like and is actually good.

Never buy a Steinway Concert Grand if you’re just beginning to learn how to play the piano. Buy a Yamaha semi-weighted digital piano instead. You will know when to buy the Steinway.

Start with a French Press.

Why, though?

French Press is simple

Unlike its cousins AeroPressâ„¢ or Pour-over, which have specific techniques, the Press pot is simple. Grind coffee, mix a proportionate amount of hot water, start the timer, pour when it rings. The tiny details and intricacies can come later. They will come later. The important thing is that this simple recipe reduces your barrier to brewing. You need to start brewing and tasting.

French Press allows a wide range of experiments

There are many factors that go into the taste and extraction of the coffee. Not all are equally important. Some are foundational, some are marginal, some others are downright refined. Using a good baseline and then playing with these factors will quickly help you find your way.

All brewing methods allow experimenting, some more than others. With Espresso, there’s little room for grind size and water temperature. With Pour-Over, there’s a small room for the coffee-water ratio. With AeroPressâ„¢, there’s a small room for air pressure. With the Press, you can experiment quite easily with the following:

  • Coffee to water ratio
  • Grind size
  • Brew time
  • Water temperature

It’s not that other methods prevent experimentation; the point is that French Press allows a lot of experimentation. It’s a plus for this technique, not a minus for others. Experimenting will let you refine factors that work for you. It took me 1 year with 10 different coffees and 300+ cups to settle on something I like, and now it’s been 5 more years since then. I can brew a cup I like with precision, but I still keep trying things out. Most coffee lovers do.

Some outcomes from my early experiments:

  • I found that dark roasts need precise timing; otherwise, they over-extract quickly.
  • I typically prefer a 1:13 coffee to water ratio, but this changes with different coffees. Some of the lighter roasts I buy work better with 1:12
  • I discovered that I like Central American coffees over other coffees.
  • Brewing longer than suggested times doesn’t necessarily make a more potent brew, but it does make a bitter brew.
  • Under-extracted coffee has a distinctly sour taste
  • Boiling water works just as well with French Press, as the recommended 195ºF

With French Press, it’s easier to brew coffee that isn’t bitter

Bitterness is a downer for a large majority. You grow out of it. You learn to embrace some bitter and accept it as a part of the coffee taste. But in the beginning, when you can’t brew consistently, it is a significant impediment to learning. Both Pour-over and AeroPressâ„¢ take precise techniques to make a smooth, low bitterness extraction. Not French Press. Get a good light roast or medium roast coffee.

That ease of experimenting we discussed earlier helps with this too. Too bitter? Increase the grind size. Change the ration—lower the temperature, etc.

Your First Setup

Settled on French Press as the method of brewing. Now what? You need to buy the equipment. You need only need the following to start with:

  1. Good coffee. Of course!
  2. A press pot
  3. A coffee grinder
  4. A weighing scale, preferably with tare

What follows is my recommended setup. Some qualities of this setup:

  1. Not expensive
  2. It will serve you at least a couple of years
  3. It will not compromise your taste

Onward, then.

1. Good Coffee:

The BIG question! This is going to differ based on geographies, but these are my stock “first” recommendations:

  1. MS Estate Organic Arabica. Many sellers, but BlueTokai has been roasting and selling this for the longest time.
  2. Riverdale Estate. Again, many sellers, so go with your favorite. I personally like BlueTokai and CorridorSeven for Riverdale.
  3. Blue Bottle’s Three Africas Blend.
  4. Square Mile’s Filter Blend. Many newcomers look down upon blends and tend to prefer Single Origin. A mistake! It’s foolish to ignore the coffee masters. Good blends are well worth it.
  5. Parama by Maverick and Farmer
  6. Attikan Estate by BlueTokai

Try one, try all. But don’t forget to buy whole beans. Freshly ground coffee makes all the difference. If you are unwilling to get a grinder and buy whole beans, you might as well give up.

2. Your Coffee Maker a.k.a Press Pot

Buy the smallest Kona press pot you can find. No more than 4 cup capacity. If you can’t get a Kona, get Cafe Jei or Mueller. All 3 of these have superior filters that leave the sediments and grounds out of your coffee. They also prevent extended brewing. This is important.

3. Grinder

You must buy a precision grinder. This is perhaps the most essential part of the setup. Freshly ground coffee makes all the difference and uniform grinding is an absolute must for brewing. Precision usually means buying a conical burr grinder.

The choice between manual and electric is simple. Start at manual. There’s something cathartic about the process of grinding the beans.

I recommend the Timemore C series. They’re precise and extremely smooth to operate. You can upgrade to a Comandante — the best manual grinder money can buy for those with higher budgets.

If you want to jump straight to electric, the Baratza Encore is an unequivocal choice. Sturdy, reliable, precise.

4. Weighing Scale

Give up on volumetric measurements. No one tablespoon this and one cup that 🚫. Start with mass measurements. Grams for coffee. Grams for water. And for that, you will need a weighing scale. Any off-the-shelf scale from Amazon works. Here are the things you need:

  • 0.5gm precision
  • Tare functionality
  • Good reviews

Let your budget be a guide.

That is it. These are all the things you need to buy. I assumed you have a phone you can use as a timer, and you can get hot water as needed.

The recipe

There is no shortage of excellent brewing guides out there. All popular third-wave coffee roasters and sellers have their own.

Before you read those brewing guides, read this grind size guide first. And then this excellent brewing guide. That’s all you’ll need. You can refer to other handbooks as you figure things out.

That’s all, folks! You have everything you need: Motivation to make good coffee, necessary equipment, some knowledge, and coffee beans. Start making your coffee and experimenting and finding your taste!

Happy brewing! ☕

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