Saturday, October 22, 2005

Mythbusters, Nancyland Style: Battle French Press vs. Drip Coffeemaker

I might get some flack from the coffee geeks reading this post, but bear in mind, I AM a scientist by nature, so I like to think I know a thing or two about designing a fair and solid experiment. So everyone knows that a French press produces a better cup of coffee than most drip coffeemakers on the market simply because you can get your water hot enough (just off the boil) to extract more out of your coffee, right? Well, I'm not one to blindly accept these things without testing, and besides that, I've gotten pretty good results from my beloved little drip coffeemaker. It's actually a little freebie machine that I received from the Gevalia coffee company in the mail, and it produces up to 4 cups of coffee, and as little as 2 cups of coffee quite respectably (which can't be done in a full-sized coffeemaker successfully, generally speaking). It's a Melitta machine with a cone-shaped filter. I use a metal mesh reusable filter to save trees. Incidentally, the little Melitta cone-shaped filter that you can place over a mug and pour boiling water into is approved of by the JJ Bean website as an acceptable home brewing option. So I decided to do the side by side comparison, very open to having the results change my morning coffee routine. I measured equal amounts (4 level tablespoons) of JJ Bean's Ethiopian Harar, finely ground into each machine. I measured exactly 2 cups of cold, tap water for each machine as well. I was expecting the process of brewing the coffee in the coffeemaker to take less time than the French press (including boiling time using my electric kettle), but actually, they were both ready to drink in the same amount of time. After pouring in the rolling boiling water, I stirred the grounds vigorously in the French press as directed, and gave it 3.5 minutes brewing time, with lid on, and plunger raised. The ratio of coffee to water wound up being a little high for my taste, but I wanted to make sure that I followed the generally accepted recommendation to not skimp on the coffee. After tasting each product a few times using a spoon, both Martini Man (tasting "blindly") and myself (not tasting "blindly") decided that the coffeemaker coffee was smoother, less bitter, and preferable. So, at least for this particular coffee blend, and for my morning quantity of 2 cups of coffee, the coffeemaker coffee wins out on:
1. taste - smoother
2. ease of preparation - I can stick the coffee in and ignore it while I shower, as opposed to having to stir and time the brewing for the French press).
3. no unwanted sludgy dregs at the bottom of the cup.

So far, it's only a sample size of one, and I can and should repeat this experiment. Another consideration is that it's quite likely that the final amount of water used was slightly less in the French press due to more water loss through evaporation by bringing the water to a rolling boil. This would obviously have a huge effect on the smoothness or bitterness in taste. However, I really think that the water difference here is negligible since the coffeemaker water is heated throughout the five minutes of brewing time, and has water evaporating throughout this period of time, while for the French press, evaporation happens mainly over only two minutes, during the time it takes to boil the water. Remember also, these results are specific to my own personal coffee needs, with my admittedly unsophisticated coffee palate, and with the equipment available to me at this time. Hell, yah, I know an espresso maker would be even better. But for now, my verdict is MYTH BUSTED!

8 comments:

CoffeeGeek Bloggin' said...

LOL! ;)

Can post more later, but what grinder? What variance in grinds did you use between the drip and the press?

As a scientist by nature, think about the differences of total, constant infusion (press) vs. rolling extraction (water passing thru grounds and filling a pot).

Dumpling_Girl said...

I had JJ Bean grind my coffee finely (yah, don't give me any grief about not grinding it seconds before I make the coffee - remember the goal of this experiment was to determine if there was a significant taste difference to me for my personal coffee needs, and my lifestyle, which doesn't include waking up an extra 5 minutes earlier to grind my own beans. The coffee was ground the day before), so I can't tell you what grinder make and model yet, but I just wanted to say OF COURSE I used the same grind of coffee for the drip vs. the French press. What else would I do? Also, I don't understand what you are saying in asking me to think about the differences of total, constant infusion vs. rolling extraction. Hello, that's exactly what I was testing! :) That's the difference I was trying to isolate.

linda said...

Not a coffee geek here. When I get my coffee ground at JJ, they ask drip vs press and then grind accordingly.
PS.
Press girl at home ( when I am not too lazy to make real coffee), drip at work

Dumpling_Girl said...

ahh, okay thanks. I had the thought actually after I wrote the comment that each style would have a specific grind. Previously I thought that the grind for the drip would be the same as for the press. Well, there's another rainy day project - repeat the experiment with the grind for press. Would that be a slightly coarser grind then? I've got beans and a little cheapy grinder at home.

linda said...

I believe it is a coarser grind. I am by no means an expert, but I found the following page to be quite interesting
I Need Coffee

CoffeeGeek Bloggin' said...

Yikes Nancy. I will give you grief, especially since you do have a science background.

Ground coffee gives off about 80% of it's stored CO2 within the first minute after being ground. The remaining 20% or so leeches off over the a longer period (some of it is still trapped within the cell wall structure of the grinds).

C02 is one of the primary flavour transporters from the bean to cup. It's responsible for transporting most of the lipids and oils that are not otherwise water soluable.

Here's the real myth you should bust: people talk about this coffee machine, that press pot, this espresso machine, that coffee maker with the nifty digital timers... and think the grinder's an afterthought, and "don't give me any grief about it".... but the real key to quality coffee in the home is the grinder, and NOTHING else on the brewing side. The "myth" that the grinder's an afterthought is the real myth that needs breaking.

Fresh, recently roasted coffee, ground within a minute of it's use. Then just get an old clean sock, load it up with ground coffee, pour boiling water through it and capture it in a cup.

I will guarantee you that it will be better than any of your brewing methods talked about, be it the press or the drip, with the old, stale ground coffee.

Bust that myth, Nancy! ;)

CoffeeGeek Bloggin' said...

Yikes Nancy. I will give you grief, especially since you do have a science background.

Ground coffee gives off about 80% of it's stored CO2 within the first minute after being ground. The remaining 20% or so leeches off over the a longer period (some of it is still trapped within the cell wall structure of the grinds).

C02 is one of the primary flavour transporters from the bean to cup. It's responsible for transporting most of the lipids and oils that are not otherwise water soluable.

Here's the real myth you should bust: people talk about this coffee machine, that press pot, this espresso machine, that coffee maker with the nifty digital timers... and think the grinder's an afterthought, and "don't give me any grief about it".... but the real key to quality coffee in the home is the grinder, and NOTHING else on the brewing side. The "myth" that the grinder's an afterthought is the real myth that needs breaking.

Fresh, recently roasted coffee, ground within a minute of it's use. Then just get an old clean sock, load it up with ground coffee, pour boiling water through it and capture it in a cup.

I will guarantee you that it will be better than any of your brewing methods talked about, be it the press or the drip, with the old, stale ground coffee.

Bust that myth, Nancy! ;)

Dumpling_Girl said...

Hee hee. I'm still not waking up early to grind my coffee. (though I know that this would make a huge difference. Told ya not to give me any grief! i.e. I know about that, but I'm still not willing to spare precious morning minutes for it. For a party, at night recently - yes, I freshly ground my coffee for my guests). I was just curious to see if I should switch from using my coffeemaker to my press pot. And I'm not going to do that either. Na na na na na! Actually, you reiterated my point in your comment, people DO talk about the press pot, vs. coffee maker, etc. disproportionately. And it took actually doing the side by side comparison to bust that myth. :) I don't need to do a side by side comparison of freshly ground vs. previously ground. You can smell the difference as soon as you grind coffee. I may do the side by side with a coarser grind sometime. Thanks for your comments everyone!