French Press Coffee Troubleshooting? [Moved from San Francisco board]
I'm hoping there are a few coffee experts here who can help me. I've been using a bodum french press for a while now, and this week I've been trying to get my Peet's coffee to taste the same as when I buy it from them in the store. I'd say I have everything in the process down:
I keep my beans fresh and ziplocked, and grind them only before I use them
I use a Kyocera burr grinder
My grind is not too coarse, not too fine
I use filtered water at the right temperature (short of boiling)
I use a 21 ml of water : 1 g of ground coffee ratio (in between the prescribed 24:1 by Bodum--too weak for me--and the 17:1 ratio places like Ritual suggest)
I observe proper steep time and procedure (1 min to sit, stir, then 3 min covered)
The end result is excellent, but it lacks some of the flavors as when I buy my coffee in the store. Furthermore, different types of beans end up coming out tasting roughly the same for me. For example, this week, I bought their house blend and italian roast, which smell very different from one another, but taste similar in the end.
Any ideas on what I can do to improve? Or will coffee I make at home always be inferior to what I can buy in the store?
FWIW, storing beans in the freezer is frowned upon by geeks.
I was a French press user for about 20 years and IME it's going to give you a completely different cup of coffee vs. anything else, but this is true of ANY type of brewing system compared to another. Now I use a Technivorm, and while it makes a top notch cup of brewed coffee, it's not at all the same as French press. If I brewed a pot in both the French press and the Technivorm, I doubt I'd be able to identify them as having come from the same beans.
Can you say more about what you don't like about what you're getting?
It's not so much a dislike, as something is missing. When I order the house blend from Peet's, I can taste all the warm flavors in the coffee, it's almost chocolate-y. It tastes unique, and it tastes reminiscent of the aroma from the raw beans themselves. However, when I take those same beans home, grind them, and prepare them myself, I can't replicate those same flavors in my own cup. What I end up with is a good cup of coffee with a bold, great body, but it ends up tasting relatively flavorless in comparison, and generic. In a blind taste test, I would not be able to tell it comes from the same beans.
If I prepare coffee using a different blend, I can smell the difference in aromas from the beans, and I'd expect there to be a difference in taste too. However, using the italian roast from Peet's in my french press, I end up with a similar good tasting, bold-but-flavorless cup as the house blend. I'm not sure I would be able to tell the two blends from my own press apart either, which makes me think there is something I'm not doing quite right. In theory, even if my coffee doesn't taste the same as from the store, I would expect the french press to deliver different results from different beans.
Your comment about the chocolate-y flavors made me think of toddy brew. An e-friend sent me some coffee from Ecuador recently, and it was already (espresso) ground so I couldn't use it my Technivorm or with the French press. I brewed it toddy-style instead, and since I don't have a toddy brewer I mixed about 1/2 pound of it with a gallon of room temp water, covered, and let it stand for 15 hours or so. Then I filtered the whole mess into a carafe. Drinking it iced, I was amazed at the flavors--chocolate being predominant. I think typically you'd use some of the toddy "concentrate" + water to make an Americano, but I like my coffee thick (and cold in the summer) so I just poured it over ice. Perfection.
Thank you guys for your knowledgeable answers. I always thought that french press was a superior method to drip machines (at least most of them). I'm now discovering that there is a flip side and that there are advantages to the drip process as well--it should make sense thinking about it, as I believe many/most coffee joints use drip processes to serve their customers.
Are there other advantages to drip, besides being able to achieve optimum grind size (vs. needing coarse grind in a press)?
Considering the french press filter, does anyone know how long its expected lifetime is? Could it be that if I've used the same press pot and filter for over a year with frequent use it would change the taste of the coffee produced? I wash it in the dishwasher about every week, but the screen is definitely not "like new".
the filter pad for bodum press pots can be replaced pretty easily and reasonably. detergent residue is very persistent -- if you soak your press pot parts in plain hot water after they've been run through your dishwasher, you're almost certain to find soapy traces in the water. if those residues are still on them when you're brewing, of course they affect the taste of the brew.
related to this, another advantage to drip is the clean up. another difference, you will probably use less coffee for a given volume of brew, making drip rather than press, and the cost difference will off set the cost of the paper filters (which are a penny or two each). another advantage, either a no.2 or no.4 filter fit fine inside my no.2 filter holder, giving me a choice according to the quantity needed with no other change in the brewing equipment required ; it's hard to get consistent results from a press pot if you make less than about .75 of their full capacity, which is why they like selling multiple sizes of press pots.
I doubt that you'll get much errant flavor adhering to the glass, metal and even plastic parts. If the filter is letting grinds through, then it's no longer working. You can buy a new one if needed.
As you've probably noticed, you need a larger grind to enable the filter to separate the coffee from the grinds; that's the only job of the filter in a french press (i.e. after brewing, removing the coffee grinds).
I'd suspect that the grind size, length of extraction and coffee to water ratio are the primary variables (but that's just my guess, not something I've studied).
Regarding the difference between new style and old style drip cones, the difference is that the newer Hario ones (now popular) have larger openings, so the water moves through even faster. Most of the coffee shops now use comparably more coffee and less time (faster flow) to make their drip coffee.
I like Moka pots too, but the coffee flavor is quite different as compared to drip. I think that it's more robust with less subtle flavors. Still, that's sometimes what I want.
Given the choice, I almost always prefer a well made espresso, but that's a big commitment for home (I'll settle for a nearby coffee bar).
You can read coffeegeek.com and get all kinds of suggestions.
If your coffee all tastes the same, you might want to put the glass cylinder in a dishwasher, or soak it in borax. Although perhaps the issue is your grinder has absorbed some of the stronger coffee flavors.
I'll recommend the AeroPress, designed by a local company that also makes the Aerobie. It's essentially a flipped French press, with none of the bitterness resulting from liquid sitting on the grounds. Or just get a Bialetti stovetop espresso maker; it's better than what you'll get at most coffee bars.
I don't think that they use a french press in the store. They use a drip process. I suggest that you try a drip. Lately, the drip cones and filters made by Hario glass are quite popular. Try a glass one and matching filter.
I've given up on french press for coffee (seems OK for tea). For inexpensive home coffee preparation, I recommend either drip or moka pot.
Perhaps the water stays in contact with the beans too long when doing french press (extracting unwanted flavors).
unless Peet's has started doing their standard brew in press pots, your home brew won't taste the same as their drip coffee. there are significant differences in the size of grind, which of course determines the surface exposure of the coffee to the water, and the duration of time the grinds are exposed to the water. peets uses much more coffee for a given volume of brewed liquid than most people do at home. you will get results closer to their brew if you use a mesh or paper cone filter (wet the paper filter before dripping) and pour the water manually, slowly and evenly over the grinds. you will of course be using a medium fine grind that your grinder will allow you to adjust ; fine enough so the drip is medium slow and steady. start with a rounded coffee measure (like the one bodum provides, which is one tablespoon) of ground coffee per 5 oz. of water and adjust to personal taste.
(meant in reply to the o.p., kpaik) in my former life, brewed lots of coffee for peets both in their big urn drip machines and by press pots for customer sampling/tastings. the limitation with the press pot is the grind size -- if it's not coarse enough, the brew can't be separated efficiently with the mesh pad when you press down the plunger. flavor isn't going to be extracted as thoroughly with the coarser grind -- that's another reason one needs to stir the matrix up after putting the water into the pot with the coffee, but the size of the particles will still define the flavours extracted.