Archive for March, 2012

French Press… ’cause coffee should taste good.

I’ve always looked at coffee presses with a bit of skepticism… they’ve always seemed like something old timey… passe… antiquated… stuffy. I mean, if those things were so great, we wouldn’t have invented drip coffee pots. I mean, seriously… progress happens. Electricity was piped into every home… and all I had to do was plug in my drip pot, fill it with grounds and water and flip a switch. Too easy.

But, as I was looking into home roasting coffee beans, I kept reading “French press” this, and “my coffee press” that. Got me thinking a little bit. As I was wondering through the kitchen section at Target, shopping for a Whirley Pop pan (for roasting my beans), I passed a coffee press on sale. Hmmm… only $20… I think I’ll give it a try. And it. was. the. best. coffee. I’ve. ever. had… ever. Ever. Aromatic, flavorful… not bitter. Man… maybe the antiquated way is the way to go. Plus, outlets are few and far between at work, so the “non-electric” coffee option seemed to be a perfect fit… until I realized I needed a way to boil water.

Here’s what you need:

Surprisingly, coffee beans are one of the two primary ingredients in coffee. Hmmm…

Your favorite coffee beans, whole… whether you roast them yourself, or shell out skrilla for a bag of Starbuck’s… whole bean. We’ll be grinding them ourselves. (Btw, my favorite store bought brand is Eight O’Clock… either the French roast or Colombian)… you want the beans ground coarse… if the beans are ground too fine, they’ll clog up (or slip through) the filter screen on the plunger.

A nice coffee grinder is a must… especially for those that roast your own beans.

A nice burr grinder… I did A TON of research on burr grinders before I bought one (err… had my wife buy me one for my birthday)… I decided on the Bodum Bistro burr grinder. Very well reviewed, decent price (for burr grinders, at least). Consistent grind… works great… no complaints. If you don’t have a grinder… you can use the grinder in the coffee aisle at the grocery store… just clean it out a little bit and stick an empty bag under the spout… give it a “dry run” for a few seconds to work out any grinds from the person that last used it. I wouldn’t take my own beans to the store to grind, but if you buy whole bean coffee there (PLEASE DON’T BUY THE COFFEE BEANS FROM THOSE PLASTIC BULK DISPENSERS!! Who knows how long those beans have been in there… exposed to light and heat… blech), I don’t see a problem with using the store grinder.

Hot water… the other important ingredient to coffee. It’s all coming together.

An electric water kettle… or some other way to boil water… tea pot/stove, microwave, etc. At first, I didn’t put two and two together that I would need hot water for the coffee.. derr… and I took my press to work, all excited, just to not be able to use it. Like I said, my work is very strict on outlet usage… no electric appliances at your desk… so it didn’t even dawn on me to think about how I would get hot water. After my disappointment and embarrassment, I had to I had to stop at Target AGAIN to shop for water kettles. I found an Aroma 7-cup electric water kettle on sale… $20. I fenangled my way into an approved outlet… boom. Hot water for everyone!

8-cup Bodum Brazil French press

A French press… I got mine, an 8-cup Bodum New Brazil press, at Target for $20. Bodum brand presses are reviewed very well… so don’t skimp a few bucks to get the knock off brand. Make sure to save the coffee portion scoop that comes with the press… you’ll need that for scooping out portions of coffee 😉 … and even though it’s an “eight cup” model, that’s only enough for two large mugs of coffee at my desk. Buy bigger if you want to make the equivalent of an entire pot.

a Thermos to keep your coffee all warm and snuggly, since the French press isn’t insulated.

An insulated storage container… obviously, the glass beaker of the press is not going to keep your coffee hot. It’ll need transferred into something that it’ll keep it all nice and cozy and steamy… and nothing beats a Thermos, in my mind. I mean, everything that keeps something hot is called a “Thermos”… so might as well go for the original. Big surprise, I got my Thermos bottle at Target… $20.

You’ll also need one chopstick… I bum a few extra pairs from the Chinese restaurant we frequent for lunch. And, don’t forget your favorite mug… obviously. Drinking coffee from your favorite mug just seems to make it taste better. I like my coffee with cream and sugar… so I keep a small supply at my desk. All the stuff fits nicely into one of the corners of my cube, so having all this coffee schtuff on my desk is no big deal. I’ll warn you that the coffee is kind of grainy, since the filter isn’t as fine as a paper filter… like how instant hot chocolate forms that chocolaty grainy powder at the bottom of your cup. But, no big deal… I’ve never found it displeasing… and now I’m used to it.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Fill your kettle to max, flip it on, and start it boiling.
  2. Grind your coffee… coarse grind… about 10 ounces of beans per press will be about right.
  3. Remove the plunger and add the grounds to the bottom of the press… five rounded scoops.
  4. The water should be boiling now… set the press down on a solid surface and pour the boiling water over the beans… pour in a circular motion, so the water evenly hits all parts of the beans. The beans will start to foam a little bit. Pour until the the water and beans fill up to the top of the word “ORIGINAL” (on the red sticker on the model pictured above)… that’ll leave enough headspace to fit the lid and plunger back on.
  5. Use the chopstick to stir the beans… some more foam will start to form. This is known as the “bloom” and it’s a good thing. No need to stir like crazy, just a half dozen, or so, gentle stirs.
  6. Put the lid/plunger back on… wait EXACTLY FOUR MINUTES. Too long and the water will pull off-flavors out of the beans. Too short and it won’t be as flavorful and strong as it could be.
  7. After the four minutes, plunge the press… use on hand to hold the lid tight.. use the other hand to slowly push the plunger straight down… even pressure.
  8. Pour the coffee into the Thermos, and off you go. That wasn’t terribly hard, was it?

Like I said, my French press works great for me at work, especially since I can’t have a personal drip machine on my desk. It’s become part of my morning routine. If I fill up the kettle to the max, I have enough boiling water left over for a bowl of instant oatmeal, so I’m killing two birds with one stone.

A French press will give your cup’a joe lots of great flavor… TONS more than even a good drip machine. Great aroma. Good body… nice and smooth. Does using a French press come off as “snobby”? Maybe… but if anyone thinks you’re being bourgeoisie, offer them a cup of coffee. I bet they’ll change their mind.

Visual Aids:

just to give you an idea of how it looks in practice (don’t go by this guy’s measurement stuff… just stick to the five heaping scoops from the scooper)…

feel like a latte?

Further Reading:

Coffee Geek: How to Use a Press Pot

Sweet Maria’s: French Press Brewing


After a little over a year of near-daily use, the beaker (the glass portion) on my french press cracked. Not because of anything wrong with the product… I was washing it in the break room sink and smashed my stainless steel thermos into the glass… right after I was discussing my “coffee snobbery” with someone getting a cup of 4 hour old Folger’s from the break room coffee pot. Karma is a bee-yotch. I looked up a replacement beaker in the instruction manual… Bodum part #1508-10 (1.01L/34oz beaker)… and it runs about $20 online… which is as much as the french press, itself. It’s also available in-store at Target… right next to the french presses… but, a Bodum 8-Cup Brazil press was on sale for $18 and the beaker cost $19.99… so the decision pretty much made itself. Shop around if you need a replacement beaker.


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Fried Chicken

Pretty straight forward… going to follow Alton’s technique from the Good Eats episode below (which also includes a tour of the Lodge cast iron factory in Tennessee… pretty neat):

Good Eats, Season 4, Episode 3: Fry Hard II (do yourself a favor and skip ahead to 1:40):



  • one 3-4 lb broiler/fryer chicken
  • 2 cups low-fat butter milk
  • 2 tbsp kosher salt
  • 2 tbsp paprika
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • a couple cups of all purpose flour for dredging

Should be better than the Colonel’s “secret recipe”… and I’ve been dying to get my cast iron skillet working for more than just Saturday morning bacon. The wife has been feeling a bit under the weather, so I’m hoping some good comfort food will help her feel a little better.

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Simple Yeast Starter

Plain and simple… fermentation control is what sets GREAT homebrew apart from OK homebrew. Besides controlling fermentation temperature (which’ll probably be a separate post… eventually), the yeast themselves are integral to a healthy fermentation. Pitching enough yeast cells will minimize lag time as the cells won’t have to replicate before beginning fermentation. When you pitch healthy yeast cell, you’re make healthy beer… the yeast aren’t stressing and producing off flavors. All in all, pitching enough healthy, active, yeast will make a better beer. Jamil Zainasheff, one of the greatest homrbrewers in the country, expounds on the benefits of healthy yeast in a new book Yeast: The Practical Guide to Beer Fermentation that he co-wrote with Chris White, of White Labs… one of the major brewing yeast producers. I’ve already covered how to get the most out of your dry brewing yeast by rehydrating… but how do you get the most out of a liquid yeast strain? The answer is simple… make a starter. A starter will allow the yeast to  replicate to the numbers you need for a healthy, vigorous fermentation BEFORE being pitched into your wort. The yeast will be active, as well… they’ve been in a semi-suspended state since they were packaged and shipped from the yeast lab… so they need to be roused… like being handed a warm cup of coffee when the alarm goes off at 5:30AM.

The benefit of a yeast starter is something most homebrewers can agree on… but, like most other homebrewing-related topics, the “best” method of how to actually make a yeast starter is up for debate. Some folks have professional chemistry labs in their basements… stir plates, flasks, yeast loops… typical over-the-top mentality. Some homebrewers, like me, figure out how to achieve the benefits and results without blowing an entire paycheck on equipment. I’ll spend the $1, instead of the $1,000… especially if it gets me to the same ends as everyone else. Here’s how…

What you’ll need:

  • Three days advance notice… if you’re brewing on Saturday, start this on Wednesday (“Smack” the pack on Tuesday).
  • 1 2-L plastic soda bottle (which you’ve pre-graduated to the 1L, 1.25L and 1.5L mark)… save the cap.
    • I’ve also seen 3-L generic brand soda bottles… they might be ideal, especially if you need to do a full 2-L starter.
  • Funnel that’ll fit into the pop bottle
  • 1 scale (which you already have as part of your brewing equipment)
  • 1 lb of pilsen DME
  • Fermcap-S (foam inhibitor)
  • 1 yeast smack pack, or one vial of your desired liquid yeast strain
  • Your sanitizer solution of choice.

…. that’s it.

Graduated this soda bottle at the 1, 1.25. and 1.5 Liter mark… and, so I never forget, I wrote how much DME to use. Never forget.

Now, here’s how to do it…

  1. Run your recipe through your brewing software. Using your predicted OG and the volume of wort you’ll be fermenting, plug the beer’s statistic into the Mr. Malty Yeast Pitching Rate Calculator to see how big of a starter you’ll need to make for your beer.  Enter the manufacture date of your yeast. Make sure to select “Intermittent Shaking” from the drop down, and hit “calculate”. For example, if I’m making 3.5 gallons of a 1.052 beer with yeastmanufactured in the middle of November, I’ll need a 1 liter yeast starter for my beer. If you need more assistance with figuring out the Mr. Malty Yeast Pitching Rate Calculator, has a great tutorial on using the calculator.
  2. Now that you know how much starter you’ll need, you need to make a starter wort. Collect the volume of water you’ll need (e.g. 1 liter of water for a 1 liter starter, etc.)… then multiply that volume by 100 to determine how many grams of DME you’ll need… 100 g DME for a 1 liter starter… 150 g DME for a 1.5 liter starter… and so on. Bring that much DME and the water to a boil for a ten minutes so it will sterilize… cool in an ice bath to room temp. Going back to my example, I’m going to bring 1 liter of water and 100 g DME to a boil for my 1L of starter wot Mr.  Malty told me I needed. You’re shooting for a 1.040 SG wort… a lot of brewers will collect excess running or pre-make starter wort. But, it’s not that hard to do make the starter wort on the fly, as needed. It’s that simple.
  3. Once you have your chilled starter wort ready, pour it into you sanitized two liter pop bottle using a sanitized funnel. Next, pour in the contents of your smack pack or vial into the starter wort in the bottle. Add a couple drops of Fermcap-S to prevent a krausen blow out. Cap the bottle. Shake for a minute or two… or until your arms feel like they’ll fall off. Shake it like it owes you money. Set it back on the counter, and unscrew the cap until it just barely catches the threads… this way CO2 can come out, and O2 from the air can get in.
  4. Every time you walk past the kitchen (or wherever your start bottle is), screw the cap tight, shake it for a minute, then set it down and unscrew the cap until it just barely catches the threads. This is the “intermittent shaking” method… and your kind of simulating the agitation of a stir plate (without having to actually have a stir plate).
  5. Let it ferment (and continue to shake) for a day or two… once the starter drops clear, and the yeast fall out of suspension, cold crash the bottle in the fridge… do this by AT LEAST the night before you plan to brew so it can have eight-twelve(ish) hours in the fridge. This’ll get the yeast cake compacted in the bottom of the bottle.
  6. On brew day, decant the liquid from the starter… just pour the clear liquid off the top without disturbing the yeast cake at the bottom of the bottle. Stop decanting and leave about an inch of the liquid in the bottle… this’ll give you a little liquid to get mixed in with the yeast cake when it comes time to pitch. Leave the bottle out on the counter during the brew day so it has PLENTY of time to warm up to room temp. When you’re ready to pitch, shake the starter bottle to loosen and resuspend the yeast and pitch the contents of the bottle into your wort.
  7. … and that’s pretty much it. Might seems a bit complicated, sure… but it’s less fussy that the “stir plate method”… and you don’t have to invest in buying or take the time to build a stir plate. Just a left over 2 liter soda bottle… that’s it. Even homeless people have left over soda bottles.

More information:

Brew Strong: Yeast Starters

Mr. Malty

Northern Brewer: Complete process of making a starter on a stir plate, including how to step up a yeast starter for more cell count.

Northern Brewer: Yeast Starter (making the starter wort and adding the yeast)

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