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How to Make Better French Press Coffee

By Cook's Illustrated Published November 2013

Interested in making rounder, sweeter, more complex coffee from your French Press? Here's how to do it.

Even devoted fans of the simplicity and convenience of using a French press know that the coffee made in it can be a bit bitter and lacking in complexity. But 2007 World Barista Champion James Hoffmann has popularized a break-and-clean method of preparing French press coffee designed to fix some of its shortcomings.

Ordinarily, with a French press you pour nearly boiling water over coarsely ground coffee, stir the grounds into the water, let it steep for 5 minutes or so, and then push down the plunger to separate the grounds from the coffee. The problem is that the raft of grounds creates back pressure against the filter, which can force unwanted compounds from the beans, resulting in an overextracted, bitter flavor.

The break-and-clean method circumvents this entirely by removing most of the grounds prior to plunging. Here’s how it’s done: First, once the steeping is complete, you “break” the raft of grounds by gently stirring it up with a large spoon. Then you use a spoon to clean out most of the remaining grounds floating on the surface before using the plunger to filter those that are left behind.

When we gave it a whirl, the majority of our tasters agreed that the technique produced a cup of coffee that was distinctly rounder, sweeter, and more complex. (If you find your coffee not quite as strong as you like, try extending the brewing time by a minute or two.)