Plunger (French Press)
At its simplest,
a plunger consists of a cylindrical jug, a filter with the same
diameter as the interior of the jug, and a stick attached to the
filter which can be used to push it down into the jug, filtering the
coffee from the grounds as it goes. The simplicity of plunger
brewing has made it the most popular method used in Australian
households; the complications involved mean it's rarely used at its
To get the most out of a plunger you need fresh
coffee, the correct medium grind and the right technique. As with
filters, the manufacturers of plungers all have their own
definitions of what constitutes a cup, so it's wise to measure the
actual capacity of your plunger before you begin.
- If you like really hot coffee, heat your
plunger by swirling some boiling water in it. Discard this
- Using 10g of coffee per 180ml of
water, add coffee to plunger.
- Boil your water, remove from heat and allow
to stand for 30 seconds, then pour onto the coffee.
- Be careful as you're pouring, fresh coffee
will produce lots of foam. If you're brewing a full plunger, fill
only to within 3cm of the lip of the jug.
- Using a wooden spoon to avoid damage, stir
the coffee for 90 seconds.
- Insert the filter, lower the lid then push
the filter about 2cm under the surface of the coffee.
- Wait 30 seconds, then plunge all the way with
a slow, steady pressure. Serve immediately.
Basically the extended stirring provides the
maximum extraction at the right temperature, leaving you with a
rich, hot coffee. Most plunger instruction manuals say something
like "pour on hot water, insert filter, allow to stand for 4
minutes", but in my experience fresh coffee brewed this way can end
up underextracted and too cool. The froth, gas, adsorbed air etc. on
the surface of the coffee means that particles never wet properly,
and as a result significant amounts of coffee are wasted.
There are probably at least as many other ways
of brewing coffee as the ones described above, but they tend to
occupy minor niches in the overall scheme of things. One method is
the Napoletana or Neapolitan "upside down" brewer, where water is boiled in the
bottom half of an espresso pot like device, with the coffee in the
middle, and it's then flipped over! The hot water actually filters
through into the "base" and is poured from there. It tastes like
coffee brewed using a "gold" filter.
Vietnamese "screw down" filters are another
variation, usually one cup affairs that drip into a cup which
already contains sweetened condensed milk..an acquired taste, and
often mostly VERY dark roasted robusta coffee. In Singapore and
Malaysia you sometimes still see the coffee "sock" used for kopi-o
and kopi-susu, black coffee with heaps of sugar and white coffee
made with sweetened condensed milk respectively. The preference for
sweetened condensed milk in the tropics is a holdover from the days
when this was the only type of milk product which didn't go "off" in
the heat and humidity.
Then, of course,
we have the good, old fashioned recirculating percolators, which
force boiling water up through a tube, over the coffee, which then
flows into the bottom of the pot to be recirculated again. My advice
on using these, manual or electric is:
- Grasp percolator firmly by the handle.
- Hurl forcefully into the nearest bin.
- Go and buy a plunger.
Coffee in a percolator is inevitably boiled
several times over, leading to significant overextraction and the
tarry bitterness which boiling produces. If you HAVE to use a
percolator, choose a coffee which is low in acidity and VERY smooth,
and grind it even coarser than for plunger. Allow it to perk for no
more than 3 minutes. That said, you can get excellent coffee by
simply pouring "off the boil" water into a ceramic or metal pot
which has 10g of coffee per 180ml of water in it, stirring for a
couple of minutes and allowing a couple more minutes for the grounds
to settle. If you're really fastidious, pour through a strainer when
Of course, there is one brewing method that
surpasses all others (except perhaps espresso, which is so different
a beverage) in clarity of flavour, purity of aroma and ultimate cup
satisfaction; coffee that tastes like it smells. And that is…