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French press brewing results in full-bodied, bold cups of java

Katie Anderson scoops coarse-ground coffee and will place the coffee directly into the French press. FORUM NEWS SERVICE/Dave Wallis

With a large glass beaker and steel screens, a French press might resemble a high school chemistry experiment at first glance.

But with the right ingredients – and a little elbow grease – this nearly century-old coffee brewing method turns out a tasty cup of coffee for customers at Nichole’s Fine Pastry in Fargo.

Assistant Manager Katie Anderson admitted the apparatus looked and sounded “a little complicated” when she first started working at the downtown business about three and a half years ago – especially because at the time, she wasn’t a regular java drinker.

“But once they showed me how, it came easily and quickly,” she said.

Using a French press requires a few different steps than the automatic drip coffee makers that many people rely on at home. But Anderson said the process is easy to learn and worth the effort for an interesting, full-bodied take on the beverage.

A simple process

Step 1: Using freshly roasted coffee beans and grinding the beans fresh provides the best flavor, according to Anderson.

Nichole’s gets its beans from Stumbeano’s Coffee Roasters in Fergus Falls, Minn., and she said workers grind coffee each morning.

“The longer it sits out pre-grounded, the more it loses flavor, so you want it as fresh as possible,” she said.

A good grinder is important, Anderson said, because it will result in more consistent grounds. French press users should coarsely grind the beans, rather than aim for the fine or medium grind that works best in an automatic drip coffee maker.

Step 2: Nichole’s employees next measure the proper amount of grounds to add to a clean, dry French press. The pastry shop uses 12-cup presses that require about three-quarters of a cup of coffee for each use, though Anderson said home brewers will want to experiment with the amount until they find the ratio that best fits their personal tastes.

Step 3: Fill the press up with hot water. The water should be the proper temperature – 200 to 205 degrees is considered ideal – for the best possible coffee.

This step is easy at Nichole’s, where employees fill up the presses at a hot water dispenser that also filters the water first. But at home, a simple kettle or teapot can be used to boil water before adding to the grounds.

Anderson said it works best when she lightly swirls some hot water around and lightly pushes the French press plunger down a bit to start the brewing process.

Step 4: The French press is then left alone for 5 minutes, though precise steeping time is a matter of personal taste. A little longer will result in stronger coffee, and less time will make for lighter coffee.

Step 5: Finally, the step that gives the French press its name.

After the grounds have steeped long enough, Anderson said all that’s left to do is slowly push the plunger all the way to the bottom, which pushes the brewed liquid up through filters but keeps the grounds in the bottom.

A decent French press will trap the majority of grounds, though she said Nichole’s staff also pours the brewed coffee through a second filter to make the drink even smoother.

Step 6: Once the coffee has been pressed through the filter, it’s ready to pour and enjoy, Anderson said.

At Nichole’s, brewed coffee is poured into air pots that keep it warm until customers are ready to fill their cups. But at home, coffee lovers can simply fill up their favorite mug and add sweeteners or cream as desired.

It’s a popular menu item at the pastry shop, which sells French press coffee for $2 for a 12-ounce cup and $2.25 for 16 ounces, refills included.

On a typical weekday, Anderson said Nichole’s could go through 2.5 pounds of coffee beans – and double that amount on busy Saturday mornings, when customers are especially eager for a cup.

“They feel it’s a little bit more of an experience when it’s French press coffee,” she said. “It sounds fancy.”

Ryan Johnson

Ryan Johnson has been a Forum reporter since 2012 and previously wrote for the Grand Forks Herald.

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