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The Science Behind French Press Coffee

The French press is a simple approach to brewing that’s still popular.

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Coffee serves as much more than a simple refreshment. For many, it’s a philosophy of life, a beacon of hope in a dark and dangerous world. Brewing is an almost religious ritual for some of us. Choosing this method reveals a lot about who you are. Maybe it’s a bit much, but surely you know a coffee enthusiast who has made it their mission in life to convince you to switch to espresso, pour-over, or the latest and greatest, the Aeropress. One of the oldest and most popular methods is the French press, which is also one of the simplest.

As opposed to other coffee preparation methods, which involve rapidly pouring boiling water over a large quantity of coffee grounds, the French press method involves slowly steeping the grounds in water, like you would with a cup of tea (via Epicurious). Conveniently, you put in very little effort, if any, to complete the process. If you want to avoid sediment in your cup, choose coarsely ground coffee; if you do it right, the resulting beverage will have a full-bodied, sweet flavor that many people prefer to other brewing methods.

Sweeter Coffee From A French Press

From a chemical standpoint, coffee is a solution, meaning that its components have been dissolved in a liquid (via Encyclopedia.com). Although water is the ‘universal solvent’ because it can dissolve so many different substances, only a small percentage of the compounds in coffee beans are soluble (dissolve) in water. This is why brewing coffee often results in a mess of wet grounds. Royal Coffee claims that the primary water-soluble components of coffee are fruit acids, caffeine, lipids, carbohydrates, dietary fiber, and melanoidins (byproducts of the Maillard reaction that occurs in coffee roasting). These compounds all dissolve at slightly different rates in water. Selecting a different brewing method may prevent some of the less desirable compounds from making it into your cup.

The fruit acids and caffeine, which are the most desirable components of coffee, dissolve more quickly than the other compounds, as explained by Royal Coffee. Since they dissolve last, carbohydrates and plant fibers have a bitter taste that can ruin the overall flavor if there are too many of them. Serious Eats claims that the flavorful compounds in coffee are easily washed away by the drip and pour-over methods, which subject the grounds to a steady stream of hot water. The resulting beverage is not as tasty when made in this manner. French press coffee is known to be sweeter and more flavorful because of the slower steeping time and gentler process.

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