Mugshot: taking the plunge with french press, press pot and plunger coffee

Illustration: Matt Golding.
Illustration: Matt Golding. 

Americans call it a ''press pot'' (sounds like something you need in the bathroom), specialty coffee geeks prefer ''French press'', but to you and me it's known as a ''plunger'', probably in the form made by Bodum, a Danish firm (which is why the French press bit doesn't ring true).

When I was in my early 20s we made coffee by steeping it in freshly boiled water in a 1950s ceramic coffee pot from an op-shop. We ground the beans in an old wooden hand mill, accidentally producing the coarse grind that's just right for steeping. To serve, we poured it through a tea strainer into mugs, and it produced a sweet, full-bodied brew.

We learnt the method from my girlfriend's parents, who'd picked it up in the beatnik early '60s. It was a primitive form of plunger coffee.

When plungers became widespread in the 1970s, they helped reintroduce Australians to drinking real (i.e. not instant) coffee at home: they are as convenient and easy as instant, and make much better coffee.

They can also make pretty ordinary coffee; the quickest way to go wrong with a plunger is to buy ground coffee at the supermarket, because coffee tastes best when it is ground fresh and ground to suit the device you're making it in.

Coffee ground for espresso or stovetop is too fine for plunger, and steeping that makes over-extracted, bitter brews. Because the mesh filters on many plungers aren't super-fine, you also get a fair bit of gritty residue; the finer the grind, the more you get.

Michael Sinclair, from Filter in Melbourne, is a plunger fan. He uses an Espro that he picked up in a fire sale in Liverpool, a high-end stainless steel pot with two micromesh filters that produces a sweet, full-bodied and very clean brew.

Sinclair's plunger recipe is simple, and will work just as well with a normal plunger: 20 grams of coffee, ground coarser than for pourover, and 330 grams of water.

''Preheat the brewer with hot water, drain, and add the coffee. Add all the water in one go and allow to sit for four minutes. After four minutes, break the crust that forms on top, allowing grounds to sink to the bottom, then scoop off the froth before plunging. This will prevent that sandy texture often associated with bad French press coffee.''

Then you just pour and enjoy - simple.