French Press vs. Espresso

Solarblogger has asked me the same question twice now, in comments made to posts. I decided it was finally time to answer, and that the answer deserved a post of its own rather than an unceremonious burial as a reply to a comment about an old post. It also gives me something to write about ― as you can see, my summer material has been rather thin.

Anyway, the question was twofold: 1) How do you make good coffee in a French Press/press pot? 2) Why do I prefer press pot coffee to espresso?

To part one, mostly out of laziness (more on that later) but also to give a link to the man who got me all started, see Mark Prince’s sweet tutorial on coffeegeek.com. His lengthy, precise, and accurate description of the scientific art of preparing wonderful press-pot coffee (complete with beautiful photos) is an edifying joy to study and practice. For me to try to duplicate or summarize his instructions would be just silly.

To part two, well, here we go…

The first reason I prefer press-pot coffee to espresso is a quantity-over-quality issue. I drink a liter of press-pot coffee every morning, partly out of comforting habit and partly out of caffeine necessity. I don’t know what the caffeine ratio of pressed coffee vs. espresso is, but I imagine that it would take quite a few shots of espresso to achieve my minimum daily dosage requirements. Making shot after shot in my Pavoni would chain me to the kitchen for the majority of my coffee-drinking time. There’s something about languidly sipping a hearty mug of joe while reading email or sitting on my back porch that just can’t be equaled by tossing back a few shots of espresso while standing at my kitchen counter. It feels like the difference between a long, relaxing home-cooked meal vs. a quick bite wolfed down over the sink on the way out the door. I guess I think I prefer a nice pot of coffee ― if I drink espresso, it’s over too quickly.

And as to quality ― yes, I make great press-pot coffee (imho, if I do say so myself). But espresso is just one step higher on the necessity-for-analness continuum than even press-pot coffee. It’s a step I haven’t been able to consistently take, yet. I can get away with a press-pot made from slightly substandard beans (even ― gasp ― pre-ground beans) from time to time. I don’t have to be quite the cleaning nazi with the press pot that I do with the espresso machine (but don’t get me wrong ― a clean press pot in a good thing). Maybe it’s just my hyper-refined palate, but if I mess up a shot of espresso even a little bit…yikes. Milk-based drinks are a bit more forgiving, yes, but even the traditional cappuccino that I have been known to drink now and then requires a darn good shot of espresso behind it, or its just not worth drinking.

But the more I write the previous two paragraphs, the more I can sum up my preference for press-pot coffee to espresso in one simple word: laziness. I’m simply too lazy to go to all the trouble to grind, tamp, pull, froth, mix, drink, clean and repeat five or six times to get the same coffee goodness that one simple grind-wait-press-drink gets me in the ol’ Bodum. I’m simply too lazy to roast up fancy espresso-blended coffee three or four times a week, when a once-a-week session with my trusty single-origin standbys will do. And I’m too lazy to change my morning ritual just because I have a really spiffy machine that sits in my kitchen cabinet and only gets broken out when I have company to impress. Sad, I know, but true.

However, in spite of recently turning 32, I wish to prove that I am not yet a dog that is too old to be taught new tricks. Therefore, I am throwing down a gauntlet for myself. All next week, 24-30 July, I will drink only espresso (or the occasional espresso-based drink). The press-pot will be relegated to the back shelf, and the Pavoni promoted to kitchen-countertop status. I’ll be as fussy as I need to be to produce the finest espresso in all the land.

And I will enjoy myself thoroughly.


I’ll let you know how this turns out.

18 comments:

Scott said...

I don't have any humble opinions, and I also don't have a ferrari on my kitchen counter, but even when I had access to professional equipment at the coffeeshoppe... I prefer press over espresso for numerous perfectly sound reasons.

Caffiene is an alkalyd, which makes it somewhat... brittle I guess, chemically speaking. The longer you allow the bean to remain in a state of pyrolysis (the temperature at which it begins to generate its own heat) the more the brittle alkalyds break down and the less caffiene you will be able to extract from the bean when it comes time to do so. (And you thought I never paid attention...)

Ergo, espresso has a lot of caffeine, but substantially less than say my preferred 'light city' roast.

I'm still a novice cupper, but even I can tell you that the degree of 'char' (my term) that an espresso roast requires in order to retain its character under the intense heat and pressure of an espresso machine tends to kill any character the bean previously had. Maybe my palate has yet to come to its full maturity, but I find it easier to enjoy the full body of a good cuppa Joe than to sip sip jet fuel and try to discern it's 'grassy notes'...

Just a few random thoughts, but I definitely prefer the French Press over the gurgly machine... that being said, there's nothing like a well-made cappuccino.

-Scott

chris j pluger said...

Well, no comments about where you worked when you had access to "professional equipment"...

But your observations are well-taken, and something I've noticed as well. Hence, my preference (read: desperate need for) GOOD espresso beans that I can roast myself, and not just any old burnt-to-a-crisp "espresso roast" that I happen to find on a shelf somewhere.

Jet fuel is bad. The stuff that (usually) comes out of the business end of my Pavoni is not. It's just too blinkin' much work!

But perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself. I'm looking forward to next week's experiment already.

Time to go roast the first batch...

Scott said...

I said the equipment was professional, not the people who were supposedly 'training' us to use it. In point of fact - and as a semi-humorous sidenote - the first guy who tried to teach me how to pull a shot was a Mormon and didn't drink coffee as a tenet of his faith... ergo he had NO earthly idea what he was doing. It's like asking a vegan to cook your steak.

And I pull a pretty mean shot when I have a decent machine to work with... Alas, I don't have a Ferrari. Come to think of it, I'm not even sure its a Honda. I use my little Krups to steam the milk -a function it performs admirably -not the espresso. That is usually made stove-top these days. Until I can save up for... a Mini-Cooper.

Now everyone in cyberspace thinks I'm a car-guy, when nothing could be further from the truth. Sigh.

Scott

chris j pluger said...

My point about "where you worked" was an underhanded jab at the quality of beans that such an establishment provided for you. As you pointed out in your first comment, the best equipment in the world is wasted on overroasted beans, and the coffee provider of your former place of employment is infamous for charring their product beyond all recognition.

I'm sure you do pull a pretty mean shot, no matter what car you drove to work.

(metaphorical confusion reigns...)

Come visit sometime. You can test drvie the Ferrari. (Those Italians can build stuff, can't they? And, apparantly, play a pretty decent game of soccer.)

Scott said...

I'll leave the metaphors in the garage from now on. And point taken. Garbage in - Garbage out.

(talk about a lukewarm bucket of spit! yrch!)

I was so rooting for Brazil, though. Perhaps the Brazillians needed to drink more espresso.

S

solarblogger said...

Thanks, Chris. That does answer questions.

I had found that tutorial and dug out my old Bodum after reading your initial comments on your preference for the French Press. My own results have improved greatly. I still don't prefer them to espresso (Most days. But in most areas of taste, I prefer variety over even the one best thing.), but they're good enough that I can easily see why this could be someone's coffee of choice. I am happy to hear that you are not estranged from espresso, though.

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I use a French Press and it makes the most delicious coffee!

Elliott Broidy said...

I am a fan of this, too

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Anonymous said...

Crazily old but a shame you never followed up on how your week went, as now more than ever, I think more and more people are "in to" coffee and then will ask this very question - is an expensive time consuming coffee machine / grinder etc necessary for someone that basically wants a strong long coffee....

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