Filter’s 4 Steps to Making a Great Cup of French Press Coffee

by December 20, 2011 at 3:00 pm 3,159 0

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Tim Brisnehan, Head Barista of Filter DC  on 20th Street NW.  (Ashley Lusk)

From Ashley Lusk. Check out Ashley’s blog Metropoetrylis and find her on Twitter at @arlusk. You can email her at [email protected]

If you’re a coffee enthusiast then there are few better holiday gifts than a robust bag of coffee beans or a new French press. But as Tim Brisnehan, Head Barista of Filter DC notes, these should be the gifts you wait until the last minute to buy.

“Coffee beans are at their peak within a week of their purchase,” he says. “Buying coffee now to give to someone at Christmas — it’s already a month old.”

Among the District’s thriving network of local coffeeshops, you’ll mostly find a collection of people who just care about producing a solid cup of joe. “Nothing is lost in revealing the secret to good coffee,” said Brisnehan.

Coffee Gifts: If you’re planning to guide your sister away from her Folger’s obsession to a more sophisticated brew, Brisnehan recommends a gift of locally roasted Ceremony whole bean Peruvian Bambino coffee. At Filter you can also pick up a French Press (~$30), a water kettle ($54) or even a gift card for your favorite coffee connoisseur. In case you’re wondering the one gift not to get your bean-fiending friend: another holiday mug.

Brisnehan, who has been at Filter DC nearly since they opened their doors in March 2010, let me slip behind the coffee counter to learn the techniques for taking Filter’s signature roasted Ceremony beans and turning it into delicious home-brewed coffee.

French Press Coffee

To start, there are three things you need:

  • Filtered water*
  • Unground Coffee beans **
  • A French Press

*According to Brisnehan, DC’s water source has impurities that create taste defects (excess mineral hardening and chlorine), something you don’t want in your coffee. Start with filtered or bottled water to hit the right taste notes.

** “It smells so good when you’re grinding coffee and that stuff that you’re smelling, you want that brewing into your coffee. So always start with a fresh grind,” said Brisnehan. Determining the correct grind for coffee is not only tough to do, but difficult to explain. For a French Press coffee your grinds should be roughly the consistency of beach sand; if you’re doing a pour over brewing method the beans should be the consistency of fine table sugar.

Step 1: Pre-warm your utensils

For French Press coffee you will want to pre-warm your materials — pour warmed water into your French press to clarify and gently heat the instrument. Pour this water out just before you are ready to brew your coffee.

Step 2: Weigh and grind your coffee

Brisnehan doesn’t use volume metrics, he uses mass — a kitchen scale works well for this. The starting point is 60 grams of coffee per liter of drink. A 17 oz French Press equals half a liter of liquid meaning you’ll want 30 grams of coffee. For the mathematically challenged, it is basically 3.5 tablespoons per 17 oz pot. Grind your beans and then place the grinds into the bottom of your Press.

Step 3: Hot Water

You want your water to be “just off the boil” or around 190 degrees. Brisnehan suggests turning the heat off the water as it begins to boil and then waiting just until the water stops bubbling before pouring it over the grinds in the French Press.

Step 4: Brew Time

Let the water and the grinds brew for four minutes total. About one minute into the brewing process, gently stir the coffee and grinds and break the crust that has formed across the top. The coffee will sink to the bottom of the press, leaving fragrant oils on the top. Allow the coffee to finish brewing for the complete four-minute cycle, then push the plunger down slowly. Pour the coffee into a cup immediately and enjoy — coffee that remains in the press continues brewing and loses exact flavors.

Filter DC

  • Where Am I Going? 1726 20th Street NW
  • When Am I Going? Mon to Friday, 7 am to 7 pm; Saturday and Sunday, 8 am to 7 pm.
  • To Go Cups? It’s the exception, but they have them.
  • Paycheck Pain? Coffee $2.25-$3.50, specialty drinks $2.75-$5, pastries $3.00.
  • Say What?  Quiet except for the alt-rock on low
  • What You’ll Be Eating: This place is not known for its food — you head here to get a really well brewed cup of coffee or tea.


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