Clumpy Coffee Mess
February 22, 2011 10:10 AM   Subscribe

Coffee grounds in my french press—disposing of them. Am I missing something?

When I make coffee in my French press (which I love), I am always stymied by disposal. I am not supposed to put them down the sink or the toilet, according to my lease. (And I don't have a disposal.) But they are so waterlogged that just dumping them into the trash does not really seem the best option, and is messy either way.

Do you have secrets? Am I overlooking something? Or is this why some people like drip?
posted by dame to Food & Drink (33 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
We keep our grounds in a large jar, and they dry out fairly quickly if the jar is left open (or you could poke holes in the lid). Grounds are great for compost, and also useful if you're combating an ant problem.
posted by anastasiav at 10:13 AM on February 22, 2011

You could always rinse out the press in your sink, into a bucket or some container. Then filter out as much of the water as you can with a strainer, and dump the less-soggy remains in the bin. Or if you have any garden space (or public spaces you wish to enhance) you could use coffee grounds as fertilizer.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:13 AM on February 22, 2011

They make good compost.
posted by Simon_ at 10:15 AM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I tend to put a paper towel down in the sink, dump the press into it, then fold it all up and give it a squeeze and then the whole thing goes in the garbage... this does waste a paper towerl though.

Alternately, your press does have a filter! you can actually get them pretty dry and then just scoop them out with a spoon. You will likely still need to rinse some out though.
posted by utsutsu at 10:17 AM on February 22, 2011

I am in the same boat and I don't compost (though I should) so I end up just dumping them in the kitchen trash and it actually has not been messy or problematic.
posted by Rudy Gerner at 10:17 AM on February 22, 2011

When I'm sufficiently on-top-of-things to clean my French press right after pouring the coffee out, I just give it a few solid taps over the garbage can and the grounds fall out okay. I've never found it to be too drippy.

More often, I let the press sit full of the used grounds until next time I want coffee (I am a lazy, lazy person). When I've let it sit like that, the grounds don't tap out too well, so I need to rinse the grounds out; this is when I face your waterlogged gross grounds problem. My solution is a mesh sink strainer - I rinse out the grounds in the sink, and then let them drip dry in the sink strainer. When they aren't drippy anymore, into the trash they go.

So yeah, I would recommend a mesh sink strainer to catch the coffee grounds. Then empty the strainer in the trash. I used to compost them, but I don't have a good way to compost where I'm living right now.
posted by pemberkins at 10:18 AM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I wish some water in mine and then pour through a handheld strainer into the sink and knock the grounds into the trash. Not sure what the big deal with putting wet stuff in the trash is.
posted by ghharr at 10:22 AM on February 22, 2011

Do you line your kitchen garbage can with a plastic bag? If so, even if they're a bit wet the coffee grounds aren't going to be a problem. Plus, other things in the garbage (paper towels, bread, etc) will probably absorb some of that excess moisture.

Where I am (Toronto), we have separate collection for organic garbage and so we have a small garbage can on the kitchen counter which is where we dump our coffee grounds, fruit peels, kitchen scraps, etc. If any kind of garbage should be too liquidy it is this, but surprisingly it is not. This can gets emptied every day or two, and is again lined with a bag.

But if you have access to a composter then that is really where it should be going.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 10:28 AM on February 22, 2011

Previously. I usually squeeze most of the water out with the plunger thing and then dump the grounds in the garbage.
posted by aparrish at 10:32 AM on February 22, 2011

I wait until the press is cool, and just reach in with my hand, scoop up the grounds, and throw them in the trash. It's even easier if the press sits around for a day or two and the grounds dry out a bit. Then I rinse my hand and the press in the sink. No need for sieves and whatnot.

It occurs to me that if this sort of approach doesn't work for you, maybe you're grinding very finely? In that case, why not use a spoon to scrape the grounds on top of the other trash in the trash (to avoid a runny mess on the bottom, if that's what you're worried about)?
posted by Maximian at 10:32 AM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Your profile says you live in San Francisco, where there have been mandatory recycling/composting laws since 2009 so you should be putting them in the green bin. When I used a french press I would just water the large potted plants outside with the coffee grounds/water. Now that I use paper filters because I'm worried about high cholesterol I just toss the whole filter/grounds in the large green bin on my way out.
posted by at 10:41 AM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I usually let it sit in there for a day, then press any remaining water out with the plunger, and then just scoop the grounds into the garbage using a spoon. Some remnants are left in the press as well as on the spoon, but I'm pretty sure a very small amount of coffee grounds down the drain isn't a big deal, especially the coarse-ground french press ones because they don't tend to clump up like sand as finer grounds do. (Feel free to tell me I'm wrong about that, if anyone knows better.)
posted by wondermouse at 10:49 AM on February 22, 2011

I have a couple of methods.
Lazyman method of dumping them in the disposal. I know some people frown or claim it will damage the disposal but I have been doing this sucessfully for multiple years and have never had a problem.
Second environmental man method I use is to compost them.
Being winter right now, I'm going the Lazyman route.
posted by handbanana at 11:06 AM on February 22, 2011

I have formulated the same question in my mind: there are so many french press users, there must be something that I am missing...

The best way I've found is to use a very fine mesh hand-held strainer that is mostly flat. Kind of like this one. I get the used grounds pretty wet, swirl them around in the pot, and while they're mostly still in suspension pour the mix through the strainer into the sink. Then I knock the captured grounds into the trash or compost bin. What little is left on the strainer is easy to clean off.

utsutsu's paper-towel method also sounds pretty good.
posted by alb at 11:29 AM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

p.s. I now mostly use a hybrid brewing method, which is to put the grounds and hot water in a container and let them steep as you would with a french press. Then, instead of plunging with the press, pour the whole thing through a filter cone. Kind of best of both worlds, IMO...
posted by alb at 11:32 AM on February 22, 2011

I have never had a problem with garbage disposals and have been doing this for 20+ years. The grounds are excellent for compost.
posted by Hylas at 11:36 AM on February 22, 2011

Do you like gourmet mushrooms? You could try a variation on this innovation:
posted by SpicyMustard at 11:37 AM on February 22, 2011

Thanks for all the good options, everyone. When I say "trash can" I mean "mandatory, disgusting composting bin that I don't want to add more water to" but that seemed a lot. In my dream world they would just go down the drain since they appear to be 1000 percent water (even if I leave them all day).
posted by dame at 11:43 AM on February 22, 2011

I leave the french press upside down in the sink for a while, with the filter still in. When it has stopped dripping, the grounds are easy to scrape out into the trash and not too wet.
posted by froghopper at 11:50 AM on February 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

(Oh, and for those who asked, I hate wet stuff in the trash because I don't necessarily make enough trash to take it out all that often. So wet can end up meaning "stinky garbage juice".)
posted by dame at 11:51 AM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

When it comes to Compost bins - I can't recommend newspaper, paper bags and cardboard boxes highly enough. They will soak up the water. If you don't get the newspaper, start bringing home a copy of a free daily. Finish the cereal? use the empty box (this is where I shake out the little pieces of onions caught in the sink drain).
posted by Gor-ella at 11:52 AM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you have outdoor plants, you can take a page out of our book. We fill the french press with water, swirl it around a bit to loosen the grounds, and then dump it all out on a plant outside. The plant gets watered, the soil gets food, and the press gets emptied. There will be a little bit of grounds left in the press, but you can rinse that in the sink. As long as you're just rinsing a few bits of coffee grounds and not a whole batch full, you're fine.
posted by azpenguin at 11:57 AM on February 22, 2011

Another vote for the strainer. We typically empty the french press right after use with a swish of water or two, and then pour it all into a fine mesh strainer. We empty it the same night usually, and they dry out pretty well.
posted by furnace.heart at 12:19 PM on February 22, 2011

I freeze them! I empty the mostly-drained grounds into a seal-able container that I keep in the freezer. On trash night I transfer the frozen contents into the outgoing trash. I'll occasionally do the same thing with rotten fruit, vegetable scraps or anything that might attract bugs or get pungent.

You do want to make sure to use a container with a tight seal, or the smell of the grounds might seep into other freezer items.
posted by messica at 12:22 PM on February 22, 2011

My system is to pour out as much liquid as possible down the sink, then to use one of these guys to sort of spoon the solid grounds into the garbage can*. My spatula is a little thicker than the ones pictured, with a slightly concave surface, so it's perfect for scooping damp clumpy things like coffee grounds.

Inevitably there are some silty dregs and liquid left over, which I pour down the sink with the drain trap in place. For something to actually penetrate the trap and go down the drain, it would have to be really fine and no real threat to the plumbing. It's never more than a teaspoon or so of silt, anyway.

*In an ideal world they would go into a compost bin, but alas I live in a city and have a notorious brown thumb.
posted by Sara C. at 1:20 PM on February 22, 2011

Oh and re "stinky garbage juice": maybe look into getting a smaller can? I also find that I enjoy the smell of coffee grounds, and have decided that they "neutralize" the smell of other stinky garbage. That said, the longest my garbage sits with grounds in it is a couple days. Two weeks would probably render even the most fragrant grounds into "stinky garbage juice".
posted by Sara C. at 1:25 PM on February 22, 2011

I just leave my press tilted and upside down in the drying rack in my sink, so all the coffee can leak out over the next few hours.

When I next tend to the press, the grounds are dry enough for the trash. Dump grounds in trash, rinse rinse press, rinse sink, done.
posted by colinshark at 3:26 PM on February 22, 2011

nthing reuse as plant food:

I usually refill my press with some water, shake things up so the grounds are suspended in the water and then use it to water my potted plants. No need to flush or toss the stuff.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 3:42 PM on February 22, 2011

For years, we dumped ours in the trash. But then I started rinsing them down the drain and have never had a problem (10 years of doing this; old house with old plumbing and no garbage disposal). I figure the grounds help scour out smellier stuff in our drain. Maybe you could talk to your landlord and ask why you're not supposed to do this, see if you could get that removed from the lease agreement? Couldn't hurt to ask.
posted by torticat at 6:01 PM on February 22, 2011

In my dream world they would just go down the drain since they appear to be 1000 percent water (even if I leave them all day).

In the real world, coffee grounds clog drains like whoa, which is why your lease says not to put coffee grounds down the drain--your landlord isn't just being an ass about that. They also fuck up city sewage systems downstream, apparently.

I think torticat has dodged a bullet on that because of the "old plumbing," not in spite of it--coffee grounds plus PVC are apparently a terrible combination, whereas old iron pipe doesn't care as much.

In any case, the landlord isn't going to take it out of the lease, because he or she has certainly had clogged drains because of coffee grounds in this or another building already.

I blithely waste a paper towel using utsutsu's method, because that's less damaging to the environment than fucking up the wastewater treatment plant.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:24 PM on February 22, 2011

This always bothered me about regular french presses. I eventually switched to a Trudeau Tirra, which pulled the grounds up rather than pressed them down - cleaning was easier than with a regular french press. However, I took things a step further re: grounds-free coffee, and now use a Chemex, which has become my favourite way to make coffee.
posted by analog at 8:01 PM on February 22, 2011

I think torticat has dodged a bullet on that because of the "old plumbing," not in spite of it--coffee grounds plus PVC are apparently a terrible combination, whereas old iron pipe doesn't care as much.

Ah, I stand corrected, then. The dumping of coffee grounds has never made an appearance in any of my own (many) leases, so I didn't realize this was such a big deal.
posted by torticat at 9:37 PM on February 22, 2011

Never had such a clause in my NYC leases, so didn't realize it could cause an issue. I just fill up the press w/ water and dump it down the kitchen sink (no garbage disposal) about 2-3 times until the grounds are gone. If I can pour a cup of brewed coffee down the drain, why not a press full of coffee grounds suspended in water? (rhetorical question, I'm sure there is some legitimate reason for the distinction, but I've just never had an issue)
posted by melissasaurus at 3:48 PM on February 23, 2011

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