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  • The art of plunger/cupping

    Ive been getting into plunger lately, its a great way to drink coffee as a long drink, when travelling, or when you are sick of the finickiness or machine cost of espresso :P

    Ive been reading up on the plunger/cupping guides on the net and Coffee Snobs, and have seen a number of differences in recommended preparation procedure. Its very similar to the variables involved in tea making, which I have a fair bit of experience in. With lighter-fermented tea varieties, the slightest difference in preparation, say 3 degrees celsius or an extra minute of steeping, completely changes the taste profile. I just threw out a pot of oolong the other day because it steeped a minute too long  ;D A thermocouple in the kettle is a MUST.

    Changes in preparation variables dont seem to make as marked a difference in making coffee by direct steeping (i.e. plunger/cupping) but I’m still getting used to unique subtleties of its flavour. Here are the differences in preparation variables Ive noted between the guides:

    Coffee/water ratio (amounts have are often given per 4-5 ounces, and have all been converted to suit a standard 300mL plunger):

    Coffeegeeks guide to cupping: 18g/300mL
    Coffeegeeks guide to plunger: 21g/300mL
    Sweet Marias: 15-18g/300mL
    Coffee for Connoisseurs: 17g/300mL

    So far I’ve found the upper end of these ranges better, about 21g/300mL.

    Water temp:

    Coffeegeeks guide to cupping: 195-205 F (202 F is the “professional” standard)
    Sweet Marias: 195-200 F

    Water temp is often not given precisely, something like "coming to the boil" or "let the kettle sit a bit after it has boiled".

    Some guides recommend stirring. Most notably, Alan Frew stirs constantly for 90 seconds, paired with a short steep time of 2 minutes. Others let it sit and stirred after a minute or so with the plunger sitting just above the “bloom”. Some mentioned that for smaller volume plungers, a shorter steep time is better, particularly if stirred. Most advised around 3 minutes of steeping for the 300mL plunger.

    Finally, it’s often said that plunger takes lighter roast profiles than espresso, but everyone knows that probably :P

    Any cupping/plunger masters out there that want to post their opinions would be very welcome.

    Cheers,
    Richy

  • #2
    Re: The art of plunger/cupping

    Gday richy,

    Lot of info to be found on the site already about Plunger/French Press, a quick search revealed this recent discussion about it.... http://coffeesnobs.com.au/YaBB.pl?num=1185713780/12#12

    Mal.

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    • #3
      Re: The art of plunger/cupping

      Hey Mal,

      Yeah, Ive read a lot of the previous Coffee Snobs discussion. But theres so much difference of opinion about the preparation variables and not a lot of information how exactly they change the flavour profile, aside from making the drink strong/weak. Thats why I collected a kind of comparison of the advice of the guides and opinions Ive been to on the web. The recent thread you mentioned there ended in "I give up" (or something similar) from its creator, Robusto :P, so some extra discussion might be helpful.

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      • #4
        Re: The art of plunger/cupping

        Rightio mate, I get ya.....

        Ive been drinking plunger coffee for about a year now and I must say that I prefer brews made using Alan Frews method.... They taste richer, fuller bodied and sweeter to my palate than the others Ive experimented with. Ive also found that grind size effects the overall flavour qualities quite a bit too with finer grinds appearing to allow for more flavour complexity so it then becomes a matter of adjusting the grind size that is as fine as you can get away with while still being able to depress the plunger firmly all the way through the brew but not so firmly that one risks damaging the plunger structure. This results in the necessity to adjust the grind to cater for how many cups one is brewing.... the more cups, the slightly coarser the grind needs to be to maintain a consistent force when depressing the plunger.

        Have also found, just as with espresso brewing, that different beans and different roast profiles require different grind settings to achieve the above on a consistent basis. About the only variation to Alans method that I have made is to reduce the brew time to about 90 seconds maximum with the finer grind that I tend to use.... longer than this and the brew becomes noticeably more bitter, and I like my brews to be sweet .

        I must admit though, when I first started out drinking plunger brews about this time last year, I didnt realise that one needed to pay just as much attention to what one was doing with plunger brewing as one did with espresso. When you think about it though, it makes sense. So, I guess there is not going to be any simple answer for the best way to brew using a plunger, there are just as many variables at play as with all the other methods used, so one needs to experiment a bit to find out which method works best for you.

        Cheers richy,
        Mal.

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        • #5
          Re: The art of plunger/cupping

          I have started to drink plunger coffee at work but only have the single cup plunger approx 300ml. They state on average 18 to 20 grams of ground coffee is right for this sized plunger. But I do not have scales at work to measure 18 to 20gms of coffee grounds. So does anyone know what this equates to in spoons. Lets say the average housebold metal teaspoon.

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          • #6
            Re: The art of plunger/cupping

            Originally posted by Mal link=1186754466/0#3 date=1186826144
            Rightio mate, I get ya.....

            so it then becomes a matter of adjusting the grind size that is as fine as you can get away with while still being able to depress the plunger firmly all the way through the brew but not so firmly that one risks damaging the plunger structure. .
            ... or risks pushing the whole apparatus over...

            form experience i can tell you that hot plunger-contents flying every which way, including ceiling and walls and floor (OK, in our case they are really close together... :P ) is not nice, if not to say rather painful....

            :-* words of ancient and infinite wisdom: hold on firmly to the plunger containers handle when you push down the grinds!!!! :-*

            L

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            • #7
              Re: The art of plunger/cupping

              Originally posted by The Goodies link=1186754466/0#4 date=1186826666
              So does anyone know what this equates to in spoons. Lets say the average housebold metal teaspoon.
              For whole beans, a slightly heaped tablespoon measure is 7-8 grams of beans and this is what I have been using for yonks now....

              Mal.

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              • #8
                Re: The art of plunger/cupping

                Originally posted by Lizzi link=1186754466/0#5 date=1186826727
                form experience i can tell you that hot plunger-contents flying every which way, including ceiling and walls and floor (OK, in our case they are really close together... :P ) is not nice, if not to say rather painful....
                Oh yeah,

                Been there done that ..... not nice at all ,

                Mal.

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                • #9
                  Re: The art of plunger/cupping

                  When ground what does a slightly heaped Tablespoon of whole beans equate to?

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: The art of plunger/cupping

                    Thanks Mal, thats all awesome info. Yeah, Alans constant-stirring method makes sense. If you let it rest after the water is poured, most of the grinds just sit in about an inch of bubbly, airy, bloom ontop of the water, and not getting their full flavour steeped into the brew. Will give the finer grind/lower steep time a shot too for the extra sweetness and complexity...holding the plunger tightly!! (cheers Lizzie )

                    Mal, thats realy interesting that you find different bean varieties like finer/courser grinds, like with espresso. I guess this is just a matter of feeling the differences of pressure as you plunge with the different bean varieties and adapting the grind accordingly.

                    I forgot to add to the original post, does anyone have an opinion about pre-heating the plunger? Alan Frew says to preheat the plunger "If you really like hot coffee", indicating that its a matter of drink temp than flavour. Some tea-snobs are really adament about pre-heating the teapot (not me).

                    Richy

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                    • #11
                      Re: The art of plunger/cupping

                      Im probably a bit of a philistine compared to Alan richy :-[ ..... Basically, I put the kettle on (just enough for the number of cups being brewed), add the appropriate volume of beans into the grinder, grind about 5-6 grams and discard, then grind the rest into the doser. By this time the kettle is starting to sing so Off she goes.

                      Collect the ground coffee from the doser into a Tupperware ½-Cup measure and then toss into the Plunger.... Add water from the kettle which has cooled down a bit (dont worry about heating the plunger beforehand), once the "bloom" has stopped, stir the brew pretty actively with the wrong end of a chopstick until all of the coffee grounds have settled below the liquid surface.... allow to steep for 60-90 seconds (depends on how much Im hanging out for a brew) and then pour into cups and serve.

                      From start to finish is very quick, probably 5-8 minutes all up so is great for when relos or friends drop by, and they usually want seconds and sometimes even thirds so something must be working right ;D.

                      Originally posted by richy_4000 link=1186754466/0#9 date=1186829351
                      Mal, thats realy interesting that you find different bean varieties like finer/courser grinds, like with espresso. I guess this is just a matter of feeling the differences of pressure as you plunge with the different bean varieties and adapting the grind accordingly.
                      Yep, it just goes to show you.... things are never as simple as first they seem to be. Ive discovered for example that the recent PNG Peaberry that was on BeanBay, has to be ground quite a bit finer than say the Peruvian Grace Estate that I have, and some of the Central Americans. This is in order to maintain the resistance to depressing the plunger at around the same ballpark I mentioned above. Seems to be important though, if you want to maintain the consistency of quality from one brew to the next. All the best mate,

                      Mal.

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                      • #12
                        Re: The art of plunger/cupping

                        Despite using good quality fresh ground coffee, Ive never been able to get plunger coffee tasting much better than ditch water that gives you one hell of a caffeine kick. Very utilitarian experience in the morning though.

                        To me the real disadvantage of plungers is that unless your grind is perfectly consistent (hard to acheive without a well maintained high end grinder) you get that mud in your cup.

                        Ive had better results with a simple paper filter and a plastic funnel, although again, the grind consistency is important so you can control the rate of infusion and not clog up the filter. If you get it right, the taste is so so smooth and rich and looking into your cup is like looking into a black jewel.

                        The new Aerobie device looks to be a hybrid of the french press and the filter. At least with the aerobie the has a rubber O ring, and the permanent filter they use is microfine rather than the fairly crude "chicken wire" they seem to use for the typical french presses on the market.
                        Havent tried one but would like to get one for the office.

                        Jason

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                        • #13
                          Re: The art of plunger/cupping

                          Hey Richy,

                          Thanks for getting all of that info in one place. Much appreciated.

                          My $0.02; about a month ago I ran a coffee tasting session for some friends and 54g/800mL with a very coarse grind / 4min steep was right on the money. I took water directly from the espresso machine; we calibrated the mix tap to spit it out at 97C a month or two ago, but it might have slipped since then.

                          The best FP coffee that I have ever had has either been just a few days after roasting or after opening a sealed bag.

                          I havent done much experimenting with the fine grind/short steep time method, but I probably prefer the coarse grind/long steep time method at the moment - it gives you a bit of leeway with regards to time and it seems, to my tastes at least, to result in a slightly sweeter cup without the risk of getting bitter flavours in it. That said, Ill definitely try the fine grind method at some stage; Im leaning towards fine grind/fast extraction time with my vac pot.

                          To me the real disadvantage of plungers is that unless your grind is perfectly consistent (hard to acheive without a well maintained high end grinder) you get that mud in your cup.
                          To be fair, though, any grind that gives you too much of an unpredictable mix of powder and chunks is going to limit what you can get out of any brewing method. Basically, your choices will be to either settle for a fast brew resulting in a bland extraction, with nothing but the basic caramels colouring the water, or to steep for longer to get more flavours, knowing that you will also get more bitter flavours from the dust.

                          Ive had better results with a simple paper filter and a plastic funnel, although again, the grind consistency is important so you can control the rate of infusion and not clog up the filter. If you get it right, the taste is so so smooth and rich and looking into your cup is like looking into a black jewel.
                          Another brewing method that Im keen to play with!

                          Cheers,

                          Luca

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Re: The art of plunger/cupping

                            Thanks for your input guys. Theres some good stuff there to play around with. Ill report back when Ive tried everything out.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Re: The art of plunger/cupping

                              Great discussion....

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