Cupping Vs French Press

UPDATE: This video now covers the technique explored below

I like cupping coffees, especially delicious ones. I am occasionally guilty of liking a coffee so much that I swipe the bowl after we’re done for drinking. This is obviously a disgusting and shameful habit, but hey – tasty is tasty.

Cupping is something that occupies a constant pocket of my mind – the process, the purpose, the results and everything in between. Like many people who often fall in love with coffees on the cupping table I also like full immersion brewing a lot. Often that means the french press.

Cupping, as a brew method, seems to break the rules. While the brewing process is likely slowed quite a lot by the break and clean part of the process (the stir at around 4 minutes), there is still ground coffee and water sat together for 30 minutes or so. And at the end of that 30 minutes some coffees taste utterly fantastic.

If you ask most people how they grind for press, compared to cupping, they’ll say coarser. This doesn’t seem to make sense. The main part of the brew is done in a similar time – 4 minutes – and with a press pot we separate the liquid from the grounds pretty early on. How are we going to get a cup as good as the bowl when the grind is coarser and the total brew time shorter.

I wondered if the agitation of the pressing action played a part – and with traditionally brewed press pots I think it does. If you haven’t stirred and scooped the foam off then there is probably lots of ground coffee that suffers some form of percolation as the screen moves it through the liquid coffee to the bottom of the press.

So today I did a little experiment. I brewed two press pots:

The first was brewed as I usually do: 60g/l (in this case it was 24g/400g water), 4 minutes, break and clean, press and then after a minute or so I served/decanted. The grind was a little coarser than cupping (2 steps on our VTA6).

The second I treated like a cupping bowl. Cupping grind, 4 minutes, break and clean and then I left it sitting there for 10 minutes (around the time a cupping bowl starts to get really tasty). When it was time to pour I put the strainer in but didn’t plunge – I just poured it through the mesh.

I then served everyone in the roastery a sample of each in a simple blind tasting. The french press method had a higher acidity, juicier perhaps, but at the expense of some sweetness, balance and mouthfeel. 5 to 1 went with the cupping method.

For those who delight in the details I also finished up by running the numbers. The french press method had squeaked in a little over 16% extraction. The cupping bowl a little over 18%.

There were a few take home lessons:

  • We’ve been underextracting most of our french press brews. With good coffee they are pretty tasty, but this needs to be fixed. Our french press grind now matches our cupping grind.
  • This test would have been more interesting had I used the same grind for both presspots. I will run that one tomorrow or next week.
  • It is really hard to overextract a french press when it comes to brew time. I used to firmly believe in decanting as soon as possible. I can no longer justify that idea.
  • The Honduran CoE lot from Cafe Grumpy was tasty despite our mistakes. (Always fun to test with interesting coffees!) I think I’ve said before that very delicious coffees can sometimes remove the incentive to keep experimenting.
  • I need to test the effects of agitation through pressing, as most people don’t do the break and clean when drinking coffee at home.
  • I need to test the difference between a 4 minute, 5 minute and 6 minute brew/break time.
  • French press now might be the ultimate lazy way to make coffee.

288 Comments Cupping Vs French Press

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