Can you teach an old Cafetiere new tricks?

Can you teach an old Cafetiere new tricks?

The humble Cafetiere gets a pretty bad press (haha) in specialty coffee circles. But I'm going to speak a few words in its defence as we come up to Christmas this year. Also, check out this new recipe and brewing method which I think will help you get a better result from this classic brewing method.

So why use a Cafetiere (also known as a French Press)?

It's Ubiquitous 

First of all, it is very widely available and pretty cheap. If you go off on holiday, most self catering accommodation will have one of these in the cupboard*.  (* unless that have a ghastly Nespresso sitting on the counter instead - a serious downgrade in my opinion) Also, if you are staying with family over the holiday season, most likely you will be able to rummage around and find one of these lurking as an alternative to instant or the aforementioned pod machine. 

It's Easy

If you have boiling water and some good ground coffee, you can make a really decent brew. If you add in a few bits of equipment you can elevate your results further. All it takes is a bit of attention and consistency in your method.

You can upgrade it with some extras

Those two extra bits of equipment that you can add into the equation are a scale and a grinder. A grinder is the secret to getting great coffee at home, there is no getting around that - coffee starts to lose its aroma and flavour after it has been ground so the less time between grinding and brewing the better. A scale is the other important element, it does not need to be fancy, but it does need to be accurate (to .5g) will also ensure greater consistency and control over your results.

The cafetière also has a secret trick up its sleeve ... more on that later!


The recipe

There are three important elements to your recipe, as in all coffee brewing: amount of coffee/water which depends on your cafetiere size, the coarseness of your coffee grind and your brewing time. Then there is the method, you will see this one is quite different from our original old school cafetiere recipe.

Size of cafetiere

We will be using a ratio of 75g coffee to 1 litre of water. Using this, you can calculate exactly what you need for your size cafetiere.

8 cup cafetiere uses 1000ml water so this is easy - use 75g coffee! This is the size to use when making coffee for a group - it makes four average mugs or 8 old school coffee cups.

6 cup cafetiere uses 800ml water so needs 60g coffee - this is the one we use in our demonstration video and although in theory it makes 6 cups, that is old school tiny coffee cups and this in fact exactly fills our Steampunk enamel camping mug!

4 cup cafetiere uses 500ml water so needs 37g coffee. I would say this is a large mug size or two medium mugs. Perfect for your morning get up and go cup or a mid morning sharing with friends cup.

Figure out what size cafetiere you have by filling in with water while it is on the scale and seeing how much it weighs, or by pouring the water out into a measuring jug.  

The grind

As I mentioned earlier, having your own grinder - whether it is electric or a hand grinder, is the single most important thing you can do to get better coffee at home. If you have your own grinder, you can also experiment with different grind settings and figure out your favourite grind for whatever method you are using! If you are using a hand grinder, this will be fine for a smaller sized cafetiere, but you may find grinding 75g of coffee for the largest cafetiere quite a workout!

I have used the Baratza Encore at the setting of 10. I would describe the grind from this as fine breadcrumbs or coarse sand. This is quite a bit finer than what we recommended in the old recipe, but I think it gives a better extraction and a good body to the coffee when brewed using the method described here. 


The time

This is the final variable in this brew and is all bound up with the methodology. Basically the main difference from how we recommended making a cafetiere nearly 10 years ago, is that we are taking longer to make this cafetiere - 7 to 8 minutes rather than the original 4. I've definitely been influenced by James Hoffman's method of a longer brew (he leaves it 10 minutes) and also the technique of letting the coffee settle and using the cafetiere plunger as a sieve instead (more on that in the method, below).

The method

So here is how we do it, step by step.

1. Grind your coffee to the texture of coarse sand (10 on the Baratza Encore).

2. Boil your kettle and preheat your cafetiere, pour water out into your mug.

3. Place cafetiere on scale and pour in ground coffee. Tare scale.

4. Start timer and pour in half the total volume of water. Make sure all the grounds are completely wet, stir/agitate to do so. 

5. Leave for 30 seconds. This is the 'bloom' where the coffee is degassing. The fresher the coffee, the more bubbly this will be.

6. Then pour in the second half of water. Leave the cafetiere uncovered.

7. At the 4 minute mark, use 2 spoons to skim off the foam/grounds that are still floating at the top of the cafetiere. Then place the cafetiere lid/screen gently on the surface of the water. Do not plunge the screen!

8. At the 7 minute mark, pour out your coffee, very slowly and gently through the screen.

The aim in using this method is to not disturb the coffee sitting at the bottom of the cafetiere and to use the screen as a filter for the coffee. Because the filter is a metal mesh, small particles do go through it which is why cafetiere coffee can be murky and muddy tasting. By using this longer method and letting the coffee settle to the bottom, you get a much clearer and cleaner result.

You will notice that the longer brewing time will mean that the coffee is basically exactly the right temperature to drink too! Though this will of course vary depending on the ambient temperature where you are brewing. I would not recommend this method if you are up a mountain in a blizzard as you will end up with cold brew - but it will work beautifully in your great auntie's kitchen!


Not just for coffee!

I promised at the beginning of this that the old cafetiere was capable of new tricks... here you go! Did you know that you can use your cafetiere to achieve really nice microfoam in milk? This means you can make a delicious Café au Lait with your cafetiere coffee, or you can make milk for espresso based drinks too. You can even make a thick creamy hot chocolate this way. This method also works with barista standard plant milks.

How to froth milk in a cafetiere

1. Fill your cafetiere 1/3 full of hot (not boiling) milk - or plant milk.

2. Pull the plunger rapidly up and down through the milk. You will need to do this around 70 times until the milk has become creamy and expanded in volume.

3. If you have a barista frothing jug, pour the milk into that and then 'groom' the milk to get rid of big bubbles and get a shiny smooth texture. You do this by tapping the jug sharply on the counter a few times and then swirling the milk around in the jug until it is smooth and silky with tiny microfoam.

4. if you don't have a barista jug and only want the milk for pouring into your cafetière coffee, you can tap your cafetière gently and swirl in that. Just be careful with the glass!!


As a variation, you can make any other hot milky drinks such as hot chocolate, chai latte, turmeric latte etc by putting the flavouring in the hot milk in step one and then proceeding as described above.


Thanks to Castaway Creatives for the videos and the stills in the milk frothing section. 

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