Take the 2-minute tour ×
Seasoned Advice is a question and answer site for professional and amateur chefs. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I recently ordered a French press (Bodum Kenya) and a ceramic conical burr grinder. I've tried this with two different decaf blends from Vermont Coffee Company, one which I ground at the store four days prior and one which I purchased in bean form and ground immediately before brewing.

With both cups, I experienced a weird, astringent powdery taste (arguably closer to a sensation) on the end of my tongue. I made an extra cup from the pre-ground and used hotter water (200 degrees instead of 190) and it seemed to help slightly, but it didn't fix the problem.

My methodology was as follows: heat the water, then while it's going fill my press with hot water (to heat it up, to minimize heat loss and prevent cracking) before I grind the beans. Then when the water boiled I temped the water until it hit 200 degrees even, dumped the priming water from the press, and then filled it with three scoops of coffee and roughly twelve ounces of water (my press's beaker is unmarked.)

Finally, I waited nearly four minutes before pouring.

Any idea what's going wrong here? I'm not getting much aroma or body, either. The grinder I'm using is made by Hario, and is a hand-crank conical burr grinder which received excellent reviews.

Update: As an experiment, I tried grinding a fine batch for the purposes of testing it in my bland (but unoffensive) Senseo. I learned two things: one, my brand new burr grinder has a skewed burr which screws up the consistency of the grind, and two, most of the offtastes I detected are still present. I'm drawing two conclusions:

  1. I'm using WAY more coffee for the french press than I am for the pod-brewer
  2. My grind probably isn't helping matters
  3. I do not like this roast at all anyway.

I'm returning the grinder and I will order something else. In the meantime, I've ordered a bag of whole-bean Lavazza I know I like, so that if this problem reoccurs I'll be diagnosing the issue against a blend I have specific and extensive knowledge of.

Update 2: I've substantially increased the size of my grind, and made three sequential cups with smaller and smaller grinds. At the current spot I produce a decently-aromatic 12 ounces with just under two scoops of beans, and it's completely without either the sour or powdery characters it previously suffered. It still tastes weak, though, despite a faint velvety richness which I think is indicative of what this coffee should taste like.

Increasing the amount of coffee brings back the sourness, but not the powdery taste. Interestingly, in this case the spent grounds smell quite nasty - the sour taste dialed up to 11. I'm going to finish the bag of beans and replace the grinder and see where it takes me - and once the equipment issue is resolved I'll be back to report and accept an answer.

share|improve this question
    
Two things: 1.) Are you allowing the coffee to bloom? Seeing as how you're getting weak brews, it seems you might not be getting good contact with the water and beans. 2.) Drink your hot water plain before trying to brew coffee. Also, run a no-coffee press through your french press and drink that. Water can have a big effect (My first apartment's water was treated with sulfur, which ruined my ability to make coffee without filtered water). Just two things that popped into my head while reading the post and its answers. –  stslavik May 20 '13 at 21:27
add comment

3 Answers 3

You didn't mention the size of your grind. You definitely want a course to medium grind. A fine/espresso grind will leave a lot of sediment and produce a bitter cup of coffee from over extraction.

Two things you can do to minimize sediment:

  1. After letting it brew, before plunging, use a couple of spoons to scoop out as much of the coffee grounds as you can. This video shows a demonstration of this.

  2. Decant the coffee. Pour the coffee from the press into another jug and let it settle a moment before pouring into your cups.

Another tip: Place a saucer over the top of the press for the four minutes to minimise heat loss.

share|improve this answer
    
It's a pretty coarse grind. My device doesn't have numbered settings - it has an internal bolt which, if disassembled, can be tightened or loosened - but I did mini-grinds a couple beans at a time until I had something comparable to what's going on in this other post: cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/4996/… –  sudowned Jan 5 '13 at 0:29
    
I think the decanting suggestion's a pretty good one. I wonder if part of my problem might be stirring the coffee midway through the steep, because - separate from this dusty taste - there definitely ARE bits coming through. –  sudowned Jan 5 '13 at 0:35
    
I apologize, but I disagree with scooping out the grinds. French Press makes the best coffee, but people over-complicate it, sending newbies into a dash for their nearest Staryucks. –  Thomas Jan 5 '13 at 16:01
    
I never stir my french press mid-steep. You can't see it, but imagine there is a large volume of silty sediment that's settling during the steeping process. You will almost always see less silt by 1. grinding courser, 2. leaving it be while steeping, 3. steeping long enough, and 4. not drinking the dregs. –  ashkan Jan 5 '13 at 17:30
1  
sudowned - Give it a try, at least. If it don't work for you, then it don't work for you and you've confirmed your assumption. On the other hand... –  Evan Jan 6 '13 at 5:06
show 1 more comment

French press coffee is going to inevitably have more of the grounds, that make it through the filter, than some other methods of coffee making. Some people dislike this about the method--I don't personally have a problem with it, and think French Press is one of the best simple ways of making coffee.

To minimize the amount of sediment in your cup:

  • Use a high quality grinder, which will give a more a more even grind, with less dust which will get through the filter. You have said you are already using a burr grinder which usually offers a high quality grind.
  • French Press uses a more coarse grind than other types of brewing; make sure you are grinding at the appropriate size.
  • Let the coffee sit for a few second after you press it for the remaining sediment to settle; then, don't pour out the last bits of coffee, which is where the most sediment will remain.

This article at I Need Coffee is a step by step guide on French press coffee, with a good picture of the grind size, including a nickel for scale.

They also suggest a device called a "Coffee Catcher" (which evidently is now out of production, but may still be available) to help minimize the sedimient. I cannot speak to the efficacy of the device.

share|improve this answer
    
I'm actually pretty OK with sediment - turkish is a nummy treat from time to time, so I like to think that it's something I tolerate well. Curiously, I also got this off-taste from some Lavazza Dek (pre-ground) which I brewed in my ghetto Senseo with the refillable hopper. I'm all but certain that what I'm detecting isn't actually a substance but a quality of the coffee. –  sudowned Jan 5 '13 at 0:33
add comment

French press coffee is a science experiment every morning.

Consistency is hard, but possible.

A. Learn your batch of beans: Every batch is different, even batches of the same bean and roast.

B1. Have a baseline grind. For French press, the baseline should be coarse. Grind some beans at your baseline grind and make some coffee. How's it taste? Too "chewy" or "powdery" or "silt-y", the grind needs to be more coarse. Too watery, less coarse. You have to learn the grind for every batch, even batches of the same beans and roast. Every one will be different, but not dramatically so.

B2. Caveat: Too much coffee can contribute. The quantity of beans per batch is something you have to determine for yourself (to taste). I find that darker roasts requires less beans (25-30 grams beans for 750 grams water) than medium roasts (30-35 grams beans for 750 grams water).

C. Grinder. You don't need a burr grinder, but you do need a grinder. A $20 Krups will do just fine. You DO need technique, however: "For this batch of beans, I need this grind." It will be different for every batch, even batches of the same roast. Use a baseline (i.e. that looks about right) and make some coffee at that baseline. Then adjust coarseness and quantity up or down. If it's hard to press the press, the coffee it far too finely ground. (On second thought, I guess a burr grinder with settings could help with consistency. I just eyeball it now that I've sold my great, but ultimately superfluous http://www.baratza.com/cgi-bin/commerce.cgi?search=action&category=RGRD.

D. Temperature. 200 F might be too high for the beans you are using. I find 195-197 F for French press works well for most beans. I doubt the temperature has anything do with what you're experiencing, but temperature is 90% of making great coffee: getting the right temp. for the bean, holding it at temp for brew, getting it to the cup without losing too much heat, etc. Do you put boiling water in your coffee cup to preheat it? Is it a covered cup? If not, you'll lose as much as 20 F going from press to cup. More if you add cream and sugar, which are 33-41 F and room temp., respectively. Temperature is everything in coffee. You have to put a lot of effort into getting it right from the time the water hits the beans to the time it hits your tongue. It's a finely-tuned game of getting the temperature right.

E. Rest. If you preheat your covered cup, then you can let your coffee rest for a minute or two before you drink it. This allows the sediment (which isn't filtered as well in a French Press) to settle to the bottom of the cup.

In short, it's the sediment that gives French Press a powdery/chewy/taste. Limit it by learning how to grind each batch of beans and (if possible) letting your coffee rest a minute or so before drinking.

share|improve this answer
1  
This is an awesome answer because it's so expansive, even though it re-treads grounds (ha!) we covered in the other answers + comments. Allow me to step through one at a time: A: Working on it! I've determined part of the problem is that even with an appropriate grind in a drip machine, I don't like this coffee (it's too floral and acidic.) B1: Working on this. Will be easier when I have a grinder that works better (mine has a crooked burr). B2: Yeah, this. I was putting four of the Bodom measuring spoons in for 12 ounces of water. This is twice my ratio for drip. –  sudowned Jan 5 '13 at 19:35
1  
Temperature-wise, it's my assumption that I need the temperature to be 200F if I want the temperature to be above 195F when I close the press. Heat dissipates during the pour, and is consumed to some extent by the glass itself unless I boil extra water to keep the press warm with (I use hot tap water instead, maybe this should change.) The grounds are room temperature, which means about 50 degrees in my house. I'll try cooling the water down to the target temperarture range and see if it helps, though. –  sudowned Jan 5 '13 at 19:37
    
I've started making it like Alton Brown does: in a Thermos. I filter it through a fine sieve after it's finished brewing (which I sometimes forget for 8-15 minutes and end up with uber-caffeinated coffee). I started this after I bought a Thermapen digital thermometer. I couldn't figure out where the temperature was going when using my French Press. It would go from 197 F to 160 F in less than 5 minutes. It was everything combined: the carafe, the plunger, spoon, sugar, coffee, cream, etc. They're like temperature thieves. –  Thomas Jan 6 '13 at 0:10
    
Definitely. I live in Vermont and I homebrew beer, where temps are very important - I have a nylon "cozy" for keeping my boiler at temp during mash, and even with ten gallons of liquid maintaining a temp in the 160ish range (depending on recipe) is a risky business. I assumed that with a much smaller thermal mass it'd be even trickier, and I think I was right. Interestingly, now that I've opened up the grind a bit more, I'm getting passable but weak cups; I tried adding more coffee to compensate and I'm back to sour, though without the powderiness. –  sudowned Jan 6 '13 at 0:32
    
I think my problem is the uneven grind, which is ensuring I overextract from the little chunks before the flavor can come out. I'm going to see if Williams-Sonoma has any hand-grinders in stock on Monday and buy one I can inspect in the store. Out of curiosity, when you brew for ten minutes, how does it affect flavor? Any off-tastes or is it just a recipe for jitteriness? –  sudowned Jan 6 '13 at 0:33
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.