Making a French im-Press-ion on Tea

French presses are becoming all the rage for gourmet coffee drinkers — but what about tea? We tea drinkers like the gourmet touch when preparing our fine teas just as much as coffee drinkers like it for their fine coffees. Can we use a French press, too? Sure we can, at least that’s the opinion of several tea drinkers I know.

First things first. What the heck is a French press? No, it has nothing to do with laundry. Basically, a French press is a glass or plastic cylindrical beaker and a plunger with a wire or mesh filter. They date back to the mid-19th century when they were made of metal instead. The legend of how the French press was created goes back to an old man in the Provence area of France. He would go out for a long walk and stop to make coffee over an open fire. He bought a metal screen from a passing Italian peddler and used a stick to push that screen down into the metal cylinder. The result was a very good cup of coffee free of most of the grind pieces.

So, how do you use a French press to steep a very good cup of tea? And does tea that you steep in a French press taste better than tea steeped other ways? The answer to the first question is simple and objective. The answer to the second is strictly subjective and depends on your tastebuds.

Simple steps for using a French press to steep tea:

  1. Be sure that the French press is thoroughly clean from the last use so that the metal parts aren’t coated with bitter alkaloids from the previous steeping.
  2. Put about one half ounce of dry tea for every cup (8 ounces) of water into the press.
  3. Bring your water to just under boiling and pour it into the press over the dry tea.
  4. Let steep. How long depends on the tea being used. Black tea needs a few minutes. White and green teas take only 30 seconds to a couple of minutes. Oolongs will need something in-between. You will need to do some experimenting and can hurry the process along by pushing down the plunger once or twice.
  5. When the steeping is done, push down the plunger (don’t force it) and pour the tea into your cups or mugs.

Keep in mind that teas come in different forms: full leaf, broken leaf, fannings, dust, and powder (mainly Japanese matcha). If the pieces are too small, they will get pushed through the wire or mesh filter attached to the plunger. It’s also not a good idea to use the same French press for both coffee and tea. The strong taste of coffee is hard to wash totally out of the metal screen on the plunger. You also shouldn’t let tea continue to steep in the press (unless you actually like “bitter tea face”). When steeping time is done, pour all the tea into cups or another container. Since French presses often only hold about 2 to 3 cups of liquid (some hold as much as a quart), this shouldn’t be too much of an issue. If you’re using the French press in an office, keep another container there to hold the excess tea liquid and then clean the press.

Awhile back, I wrote about steeping tea using an infuser basket the size of the cup. The point was letting the tea fully interact with the water, not get cramped in a small space, such as an infuser ball. The French press certainly accomplishes this, too, and is therefore a viable alternative to steeping loose in a teapot (but don’t tell my teapots I said that — they’re very jealous).

Want a good demo for how to use a French press properly? Check out this one by Lainie Peterson of Lainie Sips.

Do your own taste test of tea steeped in a French press versus in a teapot and see which you like best. I think the teapot steeping tastes best (had to say that, since my teapots are listening). Enjoy!

Don’t forget to stop by A.C.’s blog, Tea Time with A.C. Cargill!

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