I get asked about French press a lot in the brewing classes we put on every Sunday, so I figured I’d write a blurb about it for you guys. I love brewing on a French press; I can easily make enough for several friends at once, I don’t need a fussy setup with filters, gooseneck kettles, or anything like that, and on a slightly nerdier level the extraction is pretty even—all the coffee touches all the water all the time. Now in general, if you’re aiming for the same qualities in your cup of coffee every time like strength and extraction(1.25% TDS and around 20% Extraction for those keeping track), then your brew recipe should never change. The French press is the one exception. Here’s why.
Water loses energy (heat) quickly. Like, REALLY quickly. On top of that, Denver’s altitude makes water boil much quicker—around 202 degrees Fahrenheit as opposed to 212 degrees at sea level. Now, with pour-over style coffee brewing you have the opportunity to set the kettle back down on the heat to keep the temp up throughout your brew. But with French press you just pour all the water in at once, throw the top on, and wait. In the twenty seconds it takes to do that, the water is already down to around 170. That’s no bueno for coffee brewing. Without enough heat, the water can’t extract all those good bits of flavor, and you end up with a thin, slightly sour tasting, massively unsatisfying brew. So what do we do, Doug??
The reality of brewing a French press in the mile high city is that you just can’t get the same amount of flavor out of your coffee grounds as you can with other styles of brewing. The solution…Start with more coffee grounds! This may seem obvious, but there’s a good reason to avoid doing this in general: Using more ground coffee to get the strength you want in the cup usually means your coffee ends up slightly sour. The sweet flavors—chocolate, caramel, and things like that—are harder to dissolve, so they get left behind causing the coffee to taste out of balance(classic “under extraction”). But here’s the thing about French press: there’s no paper filter to remove all of that coffee silt that ends up in your cup. Those tiny grounds or “fines” add back in those bittersweet flavors that would normally be left out of a more filtered brew. That’s where we’re going to get the flavor balance we want.
Below is a recipe that achieves the strength(TDS) we’re looking for with the right flavor balance as well. You can scale this up for more coffee, just increase both your ground coffee and water proportionately. Give it a try and let me know what you think!
Mile High French Press Recipe
Dose: 30 grams
Brew Water: 400 grams
Final Beverage: 12 ounces
1. Grind 30 grams coffee on coarse setting.
2. Add 400 grams water(right off the boil!)
3. Start timer and stir vigorously for 30 seconds.
4. Cap and plunge slightly (about an inch).
5. At 4 minutes, slowly plunge rest of the way.
TLDR: Use this recipe when brewing French press at high altitude!
By Doug Stone, Corvus Trainer