The Café au Lait
In this article, we’ll walk you through a timeless classic in the coffee world, café au lait. Transport yourself to a Parisian cafe without ever leaving the house.
There’s coffee, which is what you brew first thing in the morning or grab from your favorite coffee joint, and then there’s coffee, which takes time and special equipment to prepare one outstanding cup that will make your entire day!
Here at Good Fika, we value every kind of brew and every way of making it. Today we highlight the French press, an elegant device, sometimes intimidating for beginners but loved by coffee connoisseurs the world over.
A French press is simply a coffee brewing device, and it goes by many names: cafetière, coffee plunger, coffee press, or press pot. The French press is a manual coffee maker that steeps the coffee grounds in hot water for a few minutes and then presses down the grounds through a sieve, leaving behind a strong, full-bodied brew. This device offers a much gentler method of extracting your coffee through immersion or steeping, unlike boiling in a pot, percolating, or using an auto-drip coffee maker.
This is the tall, narrow jar into which you place your coffee grounds and hot water. There are different models made out of stainless steel, glass, or clear plastic and come in various capacities, from 4 cups to 8 cups or more.
Attached to the beaker is the French press handle, made from durable heat proof material and easy to grip. You need a solid hold when pressing down the plunger and pouring your hot coffee into your mug.
These make up the top of your coffee press which fits tightly onto the beaker to maintain the best brewing temperature. Once the coffee is sufficiently extracted, press down the plunger to run the filter through the liquid.
A French press filter is a fine mesh stainless steel product that traps the coffee grounds when you push down using the plunger. Some French presses come with additional microfilters to catch the finer grounds.
Since French press coffee brewing is a hands-on process, you need the device to be as stable as possible on your table or countertop. The base can be part of the beaker’s handle or attached securely to the carafe.
It is a pretty straightforward device, and its design hasn’t changed much over the centuries since its invention.
Let’s look at where the French press began.
Two French metalsmiths and inventors, Henri-Otto Mayer and Jacques-Victor Delforge, patented the first French Press in 1852 under the name cafetière. The basic design, a carafe with a lid and plunger, worked well, but there was plenty of room for improvement. Around 50 years later, Frenchman Louis Forest registered another patent for a “Caféolette” to some success. The Caféolette brewed coffee with milk, which you may know as café au lait. But it was in 1923 that the real breakthrough occurred.
While designing a tomato juice separator, Italian inventor Ugo Paolini got the idea of making a coffee press with a filter, patented as an “apparatus for preparing infusions, particularly for preparing coffee.” Paolini’s coffee press acquired a patent in 1931 for the invention. In 1936, an Italian inventor and designer, Bruno Cassol, added a stainless-steel spring filter that sealed inside the beaker. Before this, the plunger used a cheesecloth or metal sieve filter. The reusable, easy-to-clean steel spring made the press extremely popular across Europe, making it the standard coffee press design today. However, Swiss inventor Faliero Bondanini, patented the French press as we know it today, in 1958. Bondanini’s coffee press was easier to clean, used a more efficient filter and sieve, and most notably made from glass.
This iconic French press was popularly known as the Chambord coffee maker, named after its manufacturing company. The signature Pyrex glass carafe, round handle, and stainless-steel plunger and lid became a staple in households worldwide. Suddenly the French press took center stage and the rest, as they say, is history.
As we mentioned earlier, making coffee using a French press is a delicate process. However, that also means it’s slower than other methods and needs quite a bit of experimentation to get the perfect cup. We identify that the French press is one part of your coffee brewing equipment. You will need the following as well:
All set? Let’s make some righteous French press coffee!
Our Good Fika coffee-to-water ratio is one ounce of coarsely ground coffee for 16 ounces of water. This is about 6 tablespoons of coffee for two cups of water. If your coffee grinder is adjustable, select the coarse setting. If not, a few pulses should be enough to get a coarse grind. The chunky grounds work great with the slow extraction process without clogging the filter. Add the ground coffee into the carafe first before the water.
We recommend letting your water reach a full boil (212ºF) and then leave it to cool to about 200ºF before pouring it into your French press.
Pour the water gently over the coffee grounds and let it stay for a minute or so until the grounds float up and form a crust on the surface of the water. Stir the grounds with a spoon so they’ll sink to the bottom of the carafe, and then place the lid with the plunger pulled up.
Start your timer as soon as the lid is on. Our recommended steeping time for French press coffee is three minutes for a lighter brew and five minutes for a strong brew. Some stronger, bolder coffees would need less steeping time, while lighter, more delicate flavors may need a little extra time to sit in the carafe. This is all part of the beauty of French press coffee: you can tweak your flavors as much as you like.
There should be some resistance when you push down the French press plunger, but not too much to require both hands. If you find yourself pushing too hard, either the coffee grounds are too coarse, or you have a clogged filter. Too little resistance means that the grounds are too fine, and you’ll end up with a gritty cup of coffee.
After this much care and time put into your French press brew, serve yourself a cuppa as soon as that plunger is down. Prepare for a mind-blowing aroma, flavor, and strength of your French press coffee!
Pour the coffee out of the French press and into an insulated flask to keep it hot. If you leave the coffee in the press, it will continue to steep and turn bitter. Decanting also ensures that you leave any residue in the French press.
We’d like you to enjoy a great cup of French press coffee every single time, so disassemble and clean all the parts of your press after each use. The filter will last longer and does not carry forward any coffee residue and oils into your next fresh cup.
We love our French press coffee at Good Fika for that special occasion or our precious coffee blends that demand nothing but the most authentic brewing. Done the right way, French press coffee can be a consistently delicious, rewarding brew that you’ve been dreaming of. We hope that we have wholly demystified French press coffee for you. Happy brewing!