Power-Sipping Coffee

Lest at RVers Corner asked me the other day how I make coffee in a French press. I thought my reply could be expanded into a post. 🙂

Why a French press?

I switched to the French press in the fall when I was boondocking or dry camping most nights as I RVed across northern Ontario. The only power this method requires is a bit of propane for heating up the water. I’m also a bit of a coffee snob and like my beans freshly ground, so I also use a tiny bit of battery power, through the inverter, to work my coffee grinder. I’ve since become hooked on this fabulous, rich, creamy coffee and haven’t taken out the drip-style maker in about seven months, even though I spent the winter on full hookups!

Isn’t French press coffee a lot of work?

No! It takes about six minutes start to finish, four minutes of which you can spend prepping the rest of your breakfast!

Step One: Buying a French press

I just went to Winners and bought the smallest model they sold that had a glass carafe. It is made by Arcosteel with French-tempered glass and makes exactly one mug of coffee. The carafe was, of course, accompanied by a plunger, as well as (fairly useless) instructions, and a measuring spoon for the coffee grinds.

Step Two: Choosing the coffee

I like a dark roast, ideally Sumatra. I buy my beans whole and favour small coffee shops that roast their own beans, buying only enough to last me a week. One advantage of buying whole beans, besides the fact that the coffee remains fresh longer, is that you can play with the coarseness of the grounds until you find the size that makes the perfect coffee for you.

Step Three: Putting water on to heat

I put about a mug’s worth of water into the kettle and set it on the stove to heat while I prepare the coffee beans.

Step Four: Grinding the beans

There are several schools of thoughts on this subject. Some say that for perfect French press coffee, the beans must be coarsely and evenly ground. Others claim that it must be finely ground. I like a happy medium between the two, which is two short pulses on my Braun grinder. I tried coarsely ground beans, but found the flavour absolutely insipid while a fine ground meant more grinds in the cup. I use the spoon that came with my French press to measure out the correct amount of grinds to dump into the bottom of the carafe.

Optional Step 4A: Preparing the milk

I like my coffee with a bit of hot milk and have found that the easiest way to achieve this is with powdered milk. I add about a half teaspoon to the bottom of my mug.

Step 5: Adding the water

There are, again, several schools of thought as to how hot the water should be. Some like for their water to be boiling hot. Others let it boil and then wait ten seconds before adding the water to their beans. I usually wait until the kettle is about to let off its first scream. I first add a bit of water to the milk in the mug to create instant hot milk. Then, I add water to the beans in the carafe. Mine has a metal ring around the top for holding the handle. The lower part of the ring happens to be the perfect measure of water. You will need to experiment with your carafe to determine how much water you need for the number of people you are serving. The first time I made coffee with my press, I poured hot water into the mug and then into the carafe to determine that the metal band is a good indicator.

Step 6: Letting the coffee steep

The rule of thumb is 4 minutes and then the coffee becomes bitter. Four minutes works great for me with the grind size that I use. It wasn’t nearly enough for a coarse grind and it was too much for a fine grind. Again, it’ll take some experimentation; but the results are worth it! While the coffee is steeping, you can stir it once or twice to release the crema, the golden foam of coffee oil that is so rich with flavour. When the time is up, slowly lower the plunger to trap the grinds at the bottom of the carafe

Step 7: Pouring the coffee

Pour the coffee slowly and leave a  bit near the end to avoid getting the finer grinds in your cup. Because I use a medium, uneven, grind, I always manage to get a bit of the finest grind at the bottom of my cup anyway. Solution: I don’t drink the last mouthful. Those with fancier grinders should be able to avoid this.

Step 8: Savour this delicious coffee!

Pouring the coffee into the hot milk is the only preparation I need to enjoy my French press coffee. One nice thing about this method is that the coffee remains very hot for a long time, so you can truly savour and enjoy your coffee while reading the paper or updating your blog. 🙂

Step 9: Disposing of the grinds and cleaning the carafe

I empty the carafe into the day’s garbage, using a spoon if needed to get the last of grinds. I then rinse the carafe and plunger under hot water. Every few days, I wash both parts with hot soapy water, but some purists will say this is a no-no and that the carafe should be allowed to ‘season’ the way a cast iron frying pan is.

So, while there is a definite method to making French press coffee, there are a lot of variables to play with the make a cup that’s perfect for you. What I like best about this method is that it can be used to make delicious coffee anywhere, whether you’re heating your water on an electric stove while at home, over propane in the RV, or over coals while camping.

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  • Do you use full cream, or skim milk powder? Do you find it mixes better by adding the water to the powder, rather than adding the powder at the end?

  • All my experiences with what I thought was good coffee went out the window after I tried some of the Mexican beans! Even the mass produced version of ground coffee available at WalMart (Karat brand in one Kilo blue foil bags) is so much better that what you buy in grocery stores in Canada and the USA, I know some of the specialty coffee like you buy is also very good but it is also very expensive. The better Mexican varieties are very cheap ($4 – $6 per pound). The coffee produced in Chiapas and Veracruz is the best of the best and can be found throughout Mexico. I brought back three or four pounds and am saving it for special occasions.

  • Stuart: I loathe cream. 🙂 So, I use skim milk powder. I used to add the powdered milk directly to the coffee, but didn’t like the result. It would thicken the coffee, kind of like adding cream (yuck) but I’d need so much to achieve the desired taste that I’d be left with sludge at the bottom of the cup. By adding hot water to the powdered milk, I need a lot less powdered milk.

    Croft: You do this one more time and you’ll be leading a caravan to Mexico next winter. 😉 Also, don’t forget that the coffee you bought for special occasions will get stale fast. I hope you’ve been storing it in the freezer.

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