French Press for teaThe argument about the best method for brewing tea is a big one. Opinions vary from each person to the next and techniques are as varied as there are types of tea. Hardware innovations in tea brewing don’t happen very often, though every now and then a new gadget pops up on the market promising a better way to brew tea.

However, there is a modern way to brew tea – one that is better than anything that has come out in recent memory. We say modern only because it is a method that is just over a hundred years old. Compared to yixing pots, that’s practically a baby…

As a tool or method for brewing and rebrewing tea, it doesn’t get much better than the French Press. Originally created for coffee, it has since found its way into the tea world as way to brew, enjoy, and savor the agony of the leaf.

Like many things with tea, there is a secret to using it and it is easy to get it wrong.

The history of the French Press

Cafetière à piston in French, the origin of the Press is disputed between the Italians and the French, though it was an Italian, Attilio Calimani, who patented it in 1929. Stories of it go back as far as the 1850’s as part of coffee legend.

The legend of the Press describes an old farmer out on a walk who sits down to make some coffee over a fire. Lost in thought, instead of boiling his coffee grounds and water together, as was the norm, he boiled the water and forgot to add his coffee grounds. When he realized his mistake, he poured the grounds into the already boiling water. Because the coffee wasn’t saturated, it floated on the top, making his coffee undrinkable. He found a screen and used it to push the grounds to bottom of his jar. With the grounds out of the way, he was able to enjoy his coffee. In fact, he found that because the grounds were not sitting in the water as it boiled up, the coffee tasted better, lighter and far less bitter.

The story is told in many different ways with the Italians and the French fighting over the nationality of that old man, but the method of using a screen to move the coffee to the bottom of the pot is heart of what later became known as the the French Press. The mechanics of the Press are simple, nothing more than a plunger with a screen inside a cylindrical carafe.

How to use a French Press

Using a Press is easy, it doesn’t require any special skill but there are some unique things that can be done with it that let you enjoy your tea more than most any other modern method of brewing tea.

  • Put your leaves in first. Drop the dry leaves into the bottom of the Press.
  • Boil your water, or heat it to whatever temperature you need using your stove or kettle.
  • Pour your water onto the leaves. Just like any of the other better methods for brewing tea, the hot and violent swirling water will help open up the leaves and spread them out more.
  • Let it steep for however long you want or need it to.
  • Plunge and pour out all of your freshly brewed tea. This is the secret and the ultimate trick to getting it right. Using a French Press doesn’t remove your need for a teapot, it just gives you a better way to brew it. Even with the plunger down, the tea will continue to brew.  Have your cups or mugs nearby for serving, and a teapot to hold the rest.

What makes a French Press special?

• It’s visual. The majority of Presses sold today are glass.  Which means that you get to experience an aspect of your tea that you don’t get with a clay pot. The agony of leaf the is the unfurling of the leaves during the brewing process. Watching good tea brew can be an experience by itself. Appreciating the visual part of brewing tea is something real tea lovers do, the French Press is probably the single best way to enjoy this. In fact, pulling up on the plunger can create a brilliant swirl of leaves. This aspect of it is not for everyone, but to those who like it, it holds a certain amount of beauty.

• It’s reusable. Once your pour out your tea, the leaves are left in the Press for another serving of hot water. After you’ve enjoyed your first steeping, you can simply heat some fresh water and begin again. A French Press makes resteeping over and over again very easy.

• It’s easy to clean. Cleaning up a Press is far easier than most other modern methods. The wet leaves are not crammed into a small metal filter, nor do you have the dripping mess of a fat, wet and cold filter bag to dump into the trash. Simply spraying a small amount of water into the Press loosens up leaves and you can just dump it all down the garbage disposal in your sink. Or, if you prefer a greener alternative, you can always pour them out into a houseplant or garden for composting. There really is no mess at all.

The French Press is a very western and modernized way of brewing tea. It is devoid the mythology, mystery and technique that goes with yixing pots, gaiwans and tea trays. It is a refined, simple and useful way of brewing tea that allows a tea drinker to easily experience their tea in a unique and elegant way. To some, it may be the best and most advanced way of preparing tea.

Do you or have you used a French Press for brewing tea? What are your thoughts? Do you agree with us about it’s usefulness and style?