Elixir For The
by Nancy Michael
If you're a coffee fanatic you probably use a French
press coffee pot. It's a simple design that makes great
coffee quickly and easily. Just place the fairly coarse
ground fresh coffee in the bottom of the French press
pot, pour water "just off the boil" over the
grounds and let it sit for a few minutes. Then, using
the plunger, which contains a fine mesh filter, press
the grounds to the bottom. The liquid that's left is
divine. It's a rich creamy and full of coffee flavor.
The reason? The coffee oils aren't trapped in a paper
filter or burned to figurative ashes in a percolator.
They float up lazily and form a rich, thick brew that
tastes like a heavy cream in the mouth.
It doesn't get much better than this. So to whom do
we pay homage for this simple device? Well, a little
surface research says the French developed it. Dig a
little deeper and Italians say it's theirs. Such a dilemma!
Does anyone really know the true history? We'd like
to think that the correct chronology runs like this:
The French invented the press pot in approximately the
1850's. The first pots were metal, and functioned roughly
like they do today pressing coffee grounds to the bottom
of a metal pot, through a metal screen (or sometimes
through a loosely woven material).
In the 1930's, the Italians reinvented the French press
pots, using first metal, and then glass. The pot has
been refined over the years to the single-chambered
French press pot we know today. The latest twist on
the French press pot is a two-chambered version designed
for (horrors) the microwave, by Ian Bernsten, author
of the book Coffee Floats, Tea Sinks.
Well, the truth lies somewhere in between the historical
accounts. Unearthed from a pile of dusty notes in an
old church in Provence, here's the real fractured fairy
tale about press pots.
How the French Press Pot Came to Be
He wasn't a sharp thinker. No, not the old man on the
hill. But he did spend a majority of his time generating
thoughts from the top of a tall hill or mountain, if
you like. Every day, the old man walked slowly from
his house in Provence to the top of the hill, where
he sat for hours... thinking and drinking his coffee.
Through the windy Springs, hot Summers, bittersweet
Falls and the snows of Winter, he made the daily trudge
to his hill. In the coldest part of winter, when there
was little daylight, he'd carefully carry his ground
coffee, a bit of firewood, and his old coffee pot to
the top of the hill where he made a strong brew to warm
his bones and soul.
The old man boiled his coffee and water together in
an old pot, then drank the strong, bitter liquid- a
punishment of sorts- for the coffee tasted dreadful.
One day, he made the mistake of boiling the water without
the coffee. A simple oversight, you say? Ahh, but a
fortuitous one. When he realized that he'd left out
the coffee, the old man quickly dumped the fresh grounds
he had wrapped in an old, soft kerchief into the boiling
water. The grounds formed a thick plug of coffee at
the top of his pot. 'How will I ever drink this coffee,'
he thought to himself, cursing.
Of course, at just the right moment, a small, weather-beaten
Italian man appeared at the crest of the hill, toting
his wares: a large section of metal screen and an Italian
flag (that's why we know he was Italian).
The old man took one look at the screen and saw the
perfect way to save his coffee. He jumped to his feet,
ran to the Italian, and grabbed the screen from his
hands. He carefully fit a section of screen over his
pot. Using a stick, he pressed the screen to the bottom
of the pot, leaving the fresh, creamy coffee in the
One sip and the Frenchman knew he'd achieved greatness.
He shared his thick, tasty brew with his new-found
friend, who charged him a million centimelira for the
portion of screen he nabbed. Together they began a manufacturing
plant in a small village of Cafe-Si-Besoin, a suburb
of Bern, Switzerland where they crafted French press
pots and made a fortune.
Today, over 2.5 million French press pots are sold
each year in the United States. The standard design
is a glass beaker, surrounded by a metal or plastic
holder. The plunger is attached to the pot lid and presses
the coffee grounds to the bottom of the pot. There are
several manufacturers of the popular coffee (and tea)
pots. All will provide you with a great pot of coffee
that reflects coffee's aroma, flavor and true taste.
If you haven't tried a French press pot, go get one...
and think about the old man on the hill. History tells
us the coffee will be an elixer for the soul."
Nancy Michael is the owner of French Jacket(tm), a
firm that manufactures and sells patented warmers for
French press pots. She can be reached at 818-243-7949
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appeared originally in Coffee Times print magazine and
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