Coffee History: The French Press


[Photograph: -luz- on Flickr]

Can it be that the French press was actually invented by—sacrebleu!—an Italian? Today, we'll investigate the origins of this user-friendly coffee brewer.

Though known primarily for their devotion to espresso, Italians actually have a pretty varied history with coffee in several forms, from the Turkish style brews they drank when coffee first arrived on spice-trading ships to the Neapolitan flip pots popular in kitchens throughout the more southerly regions, and, naturally, there's also the tiny potent liquid made by master baristas all over the country.

But who would have guessed that the press pots with the Gallic name were actually born amidst this caffeinated abundance?

Actually, there is some debate about the press pot's development: Many resources claim a Frenchman was responsible for the idea by affixing a fine screen to his coffee pot to contain the grounds as he poured off the liquid, though the first patent for such a contraption was taken out in 1929 by a Milanese designer named Attilio Callimani.

Called a cafetiere in Italian, plunger pots have changed very little from that original design. Though zillions of companies manufacture them in myriad colors and materials (glass, stainless steel, polycarbonate plastic), the simplicity of the thing is its greatest appeal. Insert coarse coffee grounds and hot water, wait four minutes, plunge, and drink: It doesn't get much easier than that.

Because the extraction method employed here is steeping (meaning the water and coffee are in contact throughout brewing), it's a slow and steady process—not to mention a forgiving one. Without the addition of pressure or the necessity of controlling a stream of water flowing through a full filter, the press pot can sit largely untended to while it works its magic (and you finish making the rest of breakfast). No fuss, no muss: Just delicious, fresh, and full-bodied coffee.

I know it's practically all I can handle first thing in the morning, but how about you? Do you use a French press?