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How to Use a Press Pot - a How-to
How to Use a Press Pot
Author: Mark Prince
Posted: November 11, 2003
How-To rating: 8.7
feedback: (115) comments | read | write
A 3 cup press pot

The ubiquitous press pot. It's everywhere. It's seemingly easy to use, right? Well, yes, but a little understanding of the device, how it works, and maybe a bit about the history of the product will get you using yours better. If you want some of the richest coffee you can get, a press pot can deliver. What may surprise most is that you can also get a relatively clean brew from it as well, if you have the right tools and prep everything correctly.

The Press Pot History

First, a bit of my own history. I wrote an article on this site some time back that I called Why I like Bodum. You see, press pots were my initiation into the world of quality coffee, at least in North America. I have a lot of loyalty and fond memories of this brewing method and the coffee (and situations) it delivered me.

But how about the real history of the Press Pot? How about this question - which came first, the vacpot or the press pot? It might surprise you, but the press pot came later. It is, of course, a much simpler design than a vacuum brewer, but there were problems. In the 1840s, when the vac pot and balance brewers were first introduced, the concept of a press, or plunger brewing system was around, but the technology to make a tight enough fitting filter didn't. Even the first models by Mayer and Delforge in France were met with limited success.

By the early 1900s, the press pot, called a "Cafeolette" starting becoming more popular and was showing up on grocery store shelves. In the 1930s, Melior introduced the first model with a stainless steel filter and a metal body, then soon they introduced a model reminiscent of Bodum's current day "Chambord" line. Why is it reminiscent? Because Bodum bought that design!

In fact, Bodum is probably more responsible for the common day occurrence of the press pot than any other company. In the seventies, they started introducing their whacked out colours in their plastic, metal and glass press pots. In the 1980s, fueled by their profits, they bought lines like Chambord and brought out more classical-look press pots. The rest is, as they say, history.

Factors that make a good pot of Press Pot Coffee

If there's one thing that you need to take away from this how to, it's this. Don't skimp on your grinder.

I get really irked at comments I see online, in alt.coffee, even in our consumer reviews section that say things like "it's good enough for a french press"... these are people talking about a blade grinder, or even the cheaper burr grinders like the Pavoni PA or the Braun KM30. I say to that: bull shite.

Let's think about something here. What is it about press pot coffee that makes people think the grind should be more forgiving? The bigger size of the grounds? The steep time? No, none of that. There's nothing in press pot coffee brewing that will allow for a crappy grinder to produce the same results that a good grinder can produce.

Click for larger image
Grounds Size
Enlarge this picture (click it) and look at the bottom of the pot. All the particles are even - no dust. This is a near-perfect press pot grind.

With a press pot, particle size of the grounds is as important as it is for espresso. The difference is, you want uniform large particles, instead of uniform tiny particles. Cheap grinders can't give you either - they will give you a mixed bag of big and small chunks. Dust and boulders. It's what leads to the thing people dislike most about press pot coffee - the sludge.

Personally, as someone who cups coffee, I don't mind a bit o' sludge and grit in my cup. Well, that depends. If I find it in my filter drip coffee, it bothers me. But in a Press Pot brew, I can deal with it. What I can't deal with is a funky (in a bad way) extraction because the grinder used wasn't up to snuff. A good grinder gives an even grind. Bad grinders and products pretending to be grinders (read: blade grinders) give a grind all over the map - dust and chunks.

Also, the type of filter you use plays a huge role in what level of grinding you should have. Nylon filters tend to handle a more finer grind (still coarser than drip coffee), whereas metal filters need a true coarse grind, where the particles of coffee are the same size as you would get from a pepper mill set to its coarsest setting.

The fineness of the grind also determines how easy or hard the plunger is to press - the finer the grind, the harder to press. The difficulty in pressing evenly increased with the size of the pot as well. I once scalded myself pretty badly with a 12 cup press, even though the grind was very coarse. Be wary.

I'll say it once more. Don't skimp on your grinder. A quality conical burr grinder, from the Bodum Antigua, up to the Solis Maestro Plus and beyond will suit. You'll get the best possible extraction from your coffee, and a fairly clean, though deep cup.

Other important factors are the beans used (you're only using fresh beans, roasted within 10 days or less, right?), the quality of water used, and the cleanliness of your equipment when you start. All given points, right?

Maybe not. One thing you may not want to do with a press pot, especially a larger model, is use beans roasted less than 2 or 3 days before. What, am I crazy? Nope. There's a problem with ultra fresh beans and it is called "bloom". When beans are only a day or two off the roast, they contain heaps of Co2. Heaps of it, I tell you. That Co2 will translate into a massive bloom of brown suds on top of your press pot, possibly overflowing, but also making it easier for big particulate matter (your ground coffee) to hop and skip over the top of the filter portion when you first apply it. Bloom looks cool, but can make using a press pot more difficult.

Let's git it on...

Enough talk, how about some pictures! Here's the visual how to.

Click for larger image Click for larger image Click for larger image Click for larger image
Grinder is Important
I can't stress enough how important the grinder is.
Ready to Go
We've got enough coffee to start - 1 rounded tablespoon per "cup" (about 4oz).
Add Quick
It's important to add your coffee quickly after grinding - if you're smelling aromas, it's going stale.
Rounded Tablespoons
I add roughly 8.5 grams of coarse ground coffee per 4oz of water used. This is a 12oz press pot.
Click for larger image Click for larger image Click for larger image Click for larger image
Pre Boiled
Your water should be boiled before you grind; by the time you add it, it should be near perfect temperatures to start.
Steady and Covered
Add the water steadily, saturating all the grounds by changing where the water falls.
Bloom Starts
We've covered most of the grounds, and already, a small bloom is starting.
Know your Level
Know how much water you need to pour in to fill the press pot, and still let the filter do its job.
Click for larger image Click for larger image Click for larger image Click for larger image
Chopsticks!
Use a chopstick to quickly stir the slurry; this is optional, but aids in complete extraction.
It Doesn't Take Much
It doesn't take much to mix things up and make the bloom really come out. This is the result of maybe 6 stirs.
Steeping Time
Add the filter assembly, and start counting. For a small press pot like this one, a two or three minute steep time would suit. For a larger model, stick with the four minute steep.
Ready to Plunge
After our steep time is done, it's time to plunge down the filter. Grasp the handle firmly, get a solid grip on the plunger stick...
Click for larger image Click for larger image Click for larger image Click for larger image
Even Steven
And start pressing down in an even, controlled manner, always keeping the plunger rod absolutely straight. If it goes crooked, grounds will escape into the upper portion.
Ready to Go
Ahh. Looks awesome don't it?
Steady pours
When pouring with a press pot, it's always a good idea to hold on to the lid so things don't slide around or accidently pop out.
Beauty!
Two awesome cups of coffee (Kona was used), ready to go. 3 cup press pots are great for afternoon kaffee klatsches.

See our other Guides and How Tos

How-To rating: 8.7
Author: Mark Prince
Posted: November 11, 2003
feedback: (115) comments | read | write
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