An Ode to French Press Coffee

By Greg Seitz

After writing recently about my Double Shot Mug, and how it’s been in my life for more than 15 years (see “A Mug Like An Old Friend”), I realized that I overlooked one of its most important functions: It’s not just a mug, but a French Press also.  Now, I’ve lost a lot of possessions in my life, so if I were to speculate how I managed to keep the mug, I would chalk up its dual purpose as a coffee maker and mug as the reason.  Since I’ve already written here about my relationship with this humble, stainless steel mug, I think it’s only right to give my relationship with French Press coffee its due credit.

It all goes back to the summer of 1995, when I was fresh out of high school and new to the American west, working labor jobs in Big Sky, Montana, and living in a cargo van.  With no plans to further my schooling after high school, and no real plans in general, I’d been kicked out of my parents’ house; my mindset was a mix of the spirit of adventure and the lonesome anxiety of striking out on my own.

I’d been making my morning coffee in a stovetop percolator, which tasted burned and bitter, and often resulted in my being late for work.  Then one day I found a glass French Press at a thrift store, and since it seemed like less time and effort, I decided to give it a try.

My first cup of French Press coffee is a memory that’s permanently etched in my mind.  It’s uncanny how even now, decades later, the distinctive smell of pouring hot water over grounds in a carafe takes me back to that dark morning inside the van.  Not only did the coffee taste robust and flavorful, it was strong.  After drinking it I wasn’t just ready to work, I felt like a hero, ready to lift cars off small children, should the need arise.

Thus began my journey of trying different beans, and breaking a lot of glass carafes.  Like the man says, it was the best of times, and it was the worst of times.  With the highs that came with discovering roasts like Ethiopian Yirgacheffe came the lows of cleaning glass shards out of the van and waiting for the percolator yet again.  It felt like a godsend when, in the late 90’s I discovered the combined travel mug/French Press, the Big Sky Bistro.

For a decade or so, I was a devout French Press user.  I loved the ritual, from plunging the press downwards, to finishing the coffee, swirling the slurry of spent grounds at the bottom and slinging it onto the ground. I took comfort in its familiarity.

Habits change, and as a result, a standard electric pour-over coffee pot with a timer has been my standard as of late, with the occasional French Press in the afternoon. That said, this past week I spent my 41st birthday backpacking with close friends in the mountains just south of Glacier National Park, bringing my trusty Double Shot mug with the French Press lid. At the end of my morning coffee I’d take a quick look around me, a mental inventory.  I couldn’t help but get sentimental for those moments I swirled my spent grounds out there in the wild among friends. I was home again.