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Secrets of the French Press

To coffee drinkers who only get their morning joe from coffeehouses, a cup of coffee may take only a couple of forms: black or with cream. But home brewers know that there's a world of possibilities between the bean and the cup. For some, the French press coffee maker may seem like an intimidating tool - thanks in part to its name - but in reality it's a fairly easy way to make great coffee. Like all good things, it takes a little practice to get it perfect, but even novices should be able to squeeze a noticeably different kind of coffee out of one from the get-go. Although it's simple to use, there's much more to the French press than meets the eye.

What's in a Name? 
First things first: The French press may not actually be French. According to Over Coffee, a patent for a close ancestor to the French press was filed by two French designers in 1852, but it wasn't until 1926 that two Italian designers patented a close ancestor to the modern French press. In 1935, another Italian created the distinctive mesh screen still used in today's French presses, and the rest is history.

The French Press Difference 
Coffee made in a French press is distinct from brew made with other methods. It often tastes bolder, which leads many people to think that it contains more caffeine, but it's actually just the opposite. Smaller coffee grounds tend to release more caffeine into the final product, and longer brewing times do the same. Since French press coffee brews faster and requires coarser coffee grounds, it's a bit lighter on caffeine. According to Caffeine Informer, it could have around 20 to 30 percent less of the eye-opening chemical than drip coffee.

The bold taste of French press coffee comes from the fact that it uses a wire mesh rather than a paper filter. Paper filters trap some of the oil in coffee grounds, whereas the mesh screen lets them seep into the brew. This leads to a strong taste with less of the delicate flavors that some other brewing methods can pull out. The lack of a filter also means that some sediment could make its way to the bottom of the cup. Whether this is a good thing is a personal preference, but an excessive amount of sludge could be a sign that the grounds are too fine.