Hi! My name is Ben Contois, and I’ve been a barista with La Colombe Torrefaction for the past three and a half years now. Before working at La Colombe, my knowledge of coffee and the industry, as a whole, was quite minimal. Even now as I type this post, the industry is expanding and evolving, and I hope to share with you my brewing experiences and my never ending journey to learn as much as I can. Working behind the bars in both Philadelphia locations has taught me a lot about coffee and what’s happening in the coffee scene here in Philly, the U.S., and around the world. It has been such a pleasure to talk to folks from all over about their experiences with coffee and coffee bars, and how they compare with our little spot on the earth.
I enjoy learning from others, and I also like learning from fellow industry professionals who have shared their knowledge through blogs, twitter feeds and links, YouTube, and anything else I can access. I have recently become a member of the Barista Guild of America, which has given me access to a wealth of information through the SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America), and this spring, I am looking forward to beginning my Barista Certification process. I hope that my posts will help dissolve some of the mysteries and misconceptions of brewing coffee at home as well as provide you with some new ideas. I want to also learn from those who read my posts, so please be in touch if you have any questions or comments – let’s learn together! For my first post, I’d like to focus on a brew method that perhaps most people are familiar with – the French press.
This week, I spent some time brewing coffee with the Frieling stainless steel French press. The French press (or press pot) method is how I began my homebrewing journey. I liked the simplicity of the process. I admired the sleek design of the glass carafes and metal frames. However, I’ve heard over and over again from folks at the cafe that they now use its plastic versions after breaking their first carafe. Myself – I’ve broken at least 3 glass French press carafes at home (mainly due to rushing while trying to clean them), so I am a big fan of the Frieling’s sturdy construction. It’s also double-walled, which helps keep the water hot during the brew. I usually use 28 grams (1 oz. or 4 leveled Tablespoons) of coffee for every 16 oz. (2 cups) of water. Fresh roasted, freshly ground coffee is always best to brew with. I used La Colombe’s Mexico – Atoyac De Alvarez single-origin coffee for my latest pot. After 4 minutes of brewing, the resulting cup was smooth and balanced. Soft notes of blueberry in the finish, and as it cooled, hints of honey, golden raisin, and tobacco snuck in.
As a barista, I try to go the extra mile for all my customers. Since you are making coffee, for YOU, the extra attention paid to details will go a long way in your cup.
Protips: To keep coffee hot after brewing, store it in a thermos. Or take out your old glass carafe to hold the coffee for a minute while you clean out your Frieling. It’s best to not hold your brewed coffee in with the grounds. If you don’t have a grinder at home, there are some affordable Burr grinders on the market. Or get it ground at the shop, and pick up an airtight container to help maintain freshness. Store it in the cabinet – never in the fridge or freezer!
Stay tuned for my next post. I’ll be talking about one of my favorite 1-cup brewing methods – the Aeropress. If you have any questions or comments, hit me up on Twitter @benzinoreal, or start it up in the comments section below. Take care, and drink great coffee!
Thank you Ben!
Thanks Gene! I’m always happy to share knowledge about something that I am passionate about like coffee. Stay tuned for more. 🙂
Thank you for sharing some good simple advice about home brewing with a French press. I too have broken a few glass pots but for $40 bucks I keep going with a another purchase from kitchen capers and I am back in business . I am from Philly as well and I am sure I have purchased many a coffe from you and your fellow barista’s at La Colombe. Thank you so much for your dedication and continuing education of the art of coffe.
I have been working my way thru all the different workshop beans. My favorites are the Papua New Guinea and the Bolivia Amor De Dios. I have been getting it coursly ground by the barista but would like to purchase a burr grinder in the future. Do you have any suggestions for a decent low to medium cost burr grinder? One quick question what is the correct temperature to use when using a French press. I have had some times when the grinds seem to bubble or fizz a bit when I pour the water in. One other item I love and would recommend to anyone who loves coffe is the La Colombe Coffe caramel. It is better than crack and adds another layer of flavor. If you dip a spoon in peanut butter and then the caramel it’s a win win. Well that’s all thanks again and I’ll see you around Philly. Please tell Mr. Carmichael Thank you introducing the world to the way coffe should taste.
Hi! Thanks for the feedback Eric – much appreciated. I do love using glass to brew coffee in, it’s easy to clean, doesn’t stain, and you can see what’s happening in your carafe. But after spending $100+ dollars and having my technique down with many, many brews, I’m going to stick with the stainless steel. It’s just as easy to clean and stays good and hot. I still have my glass French press. I need it for cold brews in the summer. I can’t wait to try some of these single-origin coffees as a cold brew. You just got me pumped for spring!
As far as a grinder goes, it all depends on your usage and the variety of settings that you may need. Do you brew only one French press a day for 1 – 2 cups, or do you brew many times a day with a variety of devices (i.e. Chemex, French Press, Stove-Top Espresso or Auto-Drip)? I mentioned one Burr grinder in my post, which requires a little elbow grease. I only brew a few times a week at home so it’s great for me. Check out this link from coffeegeek.com. Read through the section called “Low End Champs.” I have personally had my eye on the Baratza Virtuoso. As far as temperature goes, I like to have my water in the 190 – 195 °F range (10 – 20 seconds after the water is taken off boiling). A “bloom” is natural when adding hot water to the ground coffee. Just make sure to pour the water slowly and evenly so the grounds become saturated at the same rate.
Hey Ben, I joined the Barista Guild in October. inspired by Todd’s adventures on Dangerous Grounds. Took the 2 hour customer service webinar taught by Lorenzo Perkins and then a Barista Basics class with Sue Harnley, owner of Eugene Coffee Company. I start tomorrow helping at the shop part time and I’m stoked to learn more about the incredibly interesting subject of coffee. Todd recommended a 1000 page book by Wintgens which I’ve almost completed plus I’ve been reading many more books and checking out all the coffeehouses around town. Coffee is something that can keep you busy for sure.
If Todd gets eaten by hyenas or a yeti, will you be JP’s new partner?
Ron – Thank you for reading and getting in touch. Congratulations on your new job! I checked out the ECC website, and I really like the focus on community, education, and passion for great, sustainable coffee. With all the resources at your fingertips and access to the BGA and SCAA, sounds like we will both be kept quite busy for years to come (The Wintgens book “Coffee: Growing, Processing…” sounds like a beast! I’ll have to add it to my long, long reading list).
The more I get to know Todd and JP; the more I get to see their great dynamic as a team. With all of JP’s culinary sensibilities and Todd’s experience with extreme situations and environments (and their combined taste and ability to find great coffee to share), I’m far off from ready to become a “partner.” That’s why I’m on the blog, to share and to learn as much as possible. I want to build my range of experiences any way I can, so in the event of a freak yeti strike (Do yetis live in coffee growing regions? Perhaps it’s you who should be careful of the yetis!), or hyena stampede – I may be able to work along with others to fill some mighty big shoes. I think that we’ll be able to make it through the 2nd season of Dangerous Grounds before having to be concerned about anything like this though. (*Fingers Crossed*) Todd recently took off to the first destination for next season.
Can you tell us a little bit about perfecting the French press grind in a manual burr grinder? I’ve recently done a lot of espresso and now I can’t seem to get my French press grind to yield a decent brew.
Hi SCCS! I’d love to take a moment to talk about grinding. As I’m sure you know, this is a crucial step to attain the coffee bliss that you desire. Personally, I have been using the Hario Skerton Coffee Mill. This grinder is great for achieving consistent grind particles. The trick with these manual grinders is in the adjustment. If you have been able to grind and make adjustments for your espresso, I’m going to assume that you understand the basics of adjusting the grind setting. I have found that it is quite easy to slip and make too large an adjustment. When I first got the grinder, I took a few beans from the café and tossed them into the bulk grinder at the café for a reference point. Once I got home, I used a few beans to check the setting I had on the Hario Skerton. It took a couple tries for me to get it right, but the waste was minimal in comparison to just grinding “blind” and brewing a less than satisfactory cup. Check out this link that I found when I searched for “French press grind size.” I think that it’s pretty accurate, but I’m sure that your local (and hopefully friendly) barista would be more than happy to give you a quick reference grind. If you find that you are brewing and using different methods every day, it might be time to upgrade to something electric with measured settings. If manual grinding is really your thing, then the next time you get ready to grind, take a look at the burrs, and how far apart they are resting from each other. Make small adjustments, and be very mindful of the position of the burrs in relation to the grind size that you are getting. I’m confident you’ll be brewing a killer French press pot in no time! Take care, and thanks for reading!
Ben, I get so emotional talking about coffee. My paternal grandparents were immigrants from Italy to Philadelphia in the early 1900s. Coffee was also made. The kitchen table was the best place in the world. (It helped that there was no shortage of Italian cookies and breads.) I have recollections of brewing for espresso — like a stainless steel combination and the other, a beautiful ceramic. I will be reading your blog to get up to speed in my own home. Thanks for your tips.
I have been learning for two years now and I feel like I started too late and I can’t catch up, maybe, I don’t have the knack, because it seems like some people learn it all so fast. How many hours a day does a barista work with coffee to get up to speed?