Enter the French Press

I remember a time when French presses were the rage among serious java heads. On the heels of coffee’s second wave, this made sense. These presses, which were invented in Italy, not France, did a remarkable job of extracting all the best that darker roasts had to offer. They produce a cup with silky mouthfeel and rich body.

With the rise of the third wave and specialty coffee, the popularity of the French press took a hit. The French press was often was seen as a shotgun when compared with the sniper rifle accuracy of newer brewing methods.

I have never given up on using French presses, particularly stainless steel models, which hold heat better than their glass counterparts.
My 36-ounce Frieling ($100 on Amazon) is a tank. It’s easy to clean and well-engineered. All standard French presses produce sediment, but that never takes away from my enjoyment. It’s a writer’s brewer: classic and dependable. I suspect my daughters will one day inherit my Frieling — it looks as good today as it did when I bought it over a decade ago.

Left: The Frieling French press is easy to clean and seemingly indestructible. The stainless steel construction makes for excellent heat retention. Right: Le Creuset makes excellent French presses in a variety of colors. They are also sold in sets. Even if French presses were likely Italian in origin, there’s still something to be said for having a “French” French press.

Another beautiful and dependable model is the 27-ounce press from Le Creuset ($70 on Amazon). If you’re like me and admire the way the colors of their signature stoneware deepen with age, this is a great choice. I know of no other model worth using that’s available in so many colors. Plus, there’s also something to be said for a French press that’s French.

The final gadget I experimented with is a new one. It is marketed as an American press ($80 at ItsAmericanPress.com). Though it resembles a French press,  there are some notable differences. The American press uses a pod instead of a single filter attached to a plunger. This pod contains a 100 micron filter on both sides — you extract coffee with both downward and upward motions.

The most immediately striking aspect of the American press is visual. The coffee seems to appear, as if by magic, from the top down. Theatrics aside, and despite its appearance, the American press produces a different type of cup than its French counterpart. This might seem a drawback or one of its greatest assets, depending on your perspective. I find the French press to be a forgiving way to brew coffee. You can use average beans and get above-average results — it is a method that emphasizes mouthfeel and body over nuance. 

Baristas from Brew’d Awakening helped us test the American press. L-r: Kiana Nem; Annah Phen; Esmeralda Nova. Below: Monita Khuth brews a cup with the American press. Photo by Kevin Harkins.

The American press, in contrast, brews with greater precision and therefore doesn’t mask imperfect beans. It has a number of admirable qualities beyond its ability to produce a clean cup. It’s durable but lightweight; it’s aesthetically pleasing, unlike other press coffee makers it superficially resembles; and it is easy to maintain. It will no doubt find its way into my backpack for hiking trips when the weather turns warm again.

The French press’ nearly century-old design has remained durable for a reason. Even if innovators discover ways of modifying its basic components, it remains, after all, a filter attached to a plunger. Anything so simple yet effective deserves a place in every coffee lover’s cabinet.  

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