Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Pressing concerns: Do you use a French press for tea?

I'm hunting a good French press again. Teaware doesn't last forever, and the glass beaker on my favorite large press cracked a while back. But it raises the question: Is a French press teaware?

I've always enjoyed having a French press (or cafetiere) on hand, even though technically it's designed for coffee. Claimed as an invention by both the French and the Italians, the press first started appearing in French cafes around the 1850s, eventually patented in 1929 with French manufactures coming first.

There are some teas — particularly my favorite white tea, with its large, dried leaves and stems — that seem to work best in a French press. The beaker of a press gives leaves like these plenty of room to float, swirl and steep. I've never liked tea balls or pots with strainer baskets, as they tend to compact the loose tea and prevent good water circulation during the brew. A press, meanwhile — as long as you don't actually press the plunger all the way down and thus squeeze bitter flavors from the tea — allows the free circulation with the benefit of perfect straining (when straining is needed).

Materials are good here, too: French press beakers are usually glass, which is both an excellent insulator and best for visuals (for practical and aesthetic reasons). I avoid plastic on French presses at all costs: glass container, metal parts and fittings.

As long as you keep a press clean — as noted in this good video discussion of French press tea making from Lainie Sips — and, duh, don't use the same press for tea and coffee, a good press should serve you tres bien.

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