Am I going to catch, like, coffee scrofula?
May 1, 2015 9:50 AM   Subscribe

How clean should I be keeping my french press? Help me overthink a plate of (coffee) beans.

I have a pretty standard little french coffee press. I make coffee, oh, maybe 3x a week let's say.

My typical post-use routine is to tap out the loose grounds and let it dry for a few hours, then tap out the rest and give the pitcher and the press a good rinse under hot water. Then I let it dry completely. Then before I make my coffee I prime the press with a pitcher of boiling water and give the whole thing several vigorous plunges. Dump it out then make coffee.

The only time I do a really thorough clean (pulling back the filter, wiping down the press, getting under the spring, etc) is when I'm having guests over because it's not fair for me to unwittingly subject other people to possible coffee filth.

But is it really, though? The only thing going through the press is coffee, so it's just coffee oil patina that collects on it. And it gets hit with boiling water regularly so how bad can it really be? Am I accidentally breeding bacterias with very discerning tastes? My press doesn't look particularly gross, it just looks well-loved. Which it is. My precious.

Am I supposed to be using soap? (I did that once, I could taste and smell soap for a really long time afterwards.) Am I supposed to dismantle the press apparatus and clean everything separately? (Google wants to tell me more about spent grounds management and less about washing.)

For that matter, should I and how should I be cleaning my coffee grinder? I have one of those little electric pulverizers (not a burr grinder, I know, I'm such a philistine) that gets used for coffee beans only.

My assumption until today was that my method was working perfectly fine, but I'm doing some spring cleaning and started to wonder.
posted by phunniemee to Food & Drink (22 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: When I was using a french press, I dismantled and rinsed it thoroughly with water after every use. About once a week, I cleaned it using white vinegar.

Rancid coffee oil isn't yummy. But you don't need soap to keep that at bay.
posted by wonton endangerment at 9:58 AM on May 1, 2015

We just rinse it after every use and let air dry... disassemble the plunger and pop everything in the dishwasher once a week (or sometimes even less often).
posted by raspberrE at 10:01 AM on May 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Our French press has been cleaned once with soap and water, and it was not by me. Because that soapy coffee taste is the worst. My routine is, sometime after I have my coffee and before I leave the house, dump the grounds, add a bit of water and dump the rest, rinse everything with water and let it dry. It stays clear and clean. My bf did take everything apart and wash it when it looked brownish once when it hadn't been cleaned right after use. I'm pretty careful to wash things correctly, separate cutting boards for meat and all that, but happy with the rinse-after-use routine.
posted by DoubleLune at 10:01 AM on May 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Coffee oils are particularly pernicious, they build up, and go rancid very quickly. I am a coffee roaster, and am a huge advocate for 'the right tool for the job' in this kind of situation. Its cheap, and lasts forever. You should pick up a single bottle of Puro Caff. Its a totally benign cleaner, but specifically formulated to break down coffee oils. Though I use it at work all the time, I bought one of those bottles and its lasted me…jesus… three, four years? Its worth the $15 bucks.

My wife uses the french press daily, and this is our cleaning routine: Rinse it out after every use, but once a week, put a dime-sized scoop of puro in the press, and fill it with warm water. Let it sit all together for 5 minutes or so, and then give it a quick rinse and a scrub if it needs it.

You'll be able to smell the coffee oils breaking down, and its horrible, but thats what you'd be drinking the next week. Regular dish soaps do not do this. Vinegar doesn't either. Not to the same degree at least. Puro leaves none residue, and none taste if you rinse it all off. Soaps and vinegars very much can.
posted by furnace.heart at 10:04 AM on May 1, 2015 [12 favorites]

Best answer: And for the blade grinder, just wipe it out with a paper towel every once in a while. If you like darker roasted, oily coffees, I would wife it out much more regularly with said paper towel, because again; those oils are collecting and going rancid. They are very unstable oils, and get gross mega fast.
posted by furnace.heart at 10:06 AM on May 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Great info so far, thanks! (I just want to note, if there were anything noticeably rancid about any part of my press I would have gone defcon 1 on the thing long ago. It has a vague, pleasant coffee smell.)
posted by phunniemee at 10:10 AM on May 1, 2015

Best answer: I ... I don't even empty mine until the next morning, when it gets a rinse/wipe (both the body and the plunger) and that's it. Every so often, I will disassemble it and give it a good scrub with a little bit of soap, but that's pretty rare.

I have been doing this for years (15? I don't know. A long time) and I haven't died and still enjoy delicious coffee on a daily basis (I have never detected any rancid flavors in mine and I'm pretty sensitive to such things).
posted by darksong at 10:43 AM on May 1, 2015 [12 favorites]

Best answer: Best way to clean the oils out of the grinder, I've found, is to grind uncooked white rice in there. Dump, wipe with paper towel, repeat until the ground rice is white, not coffee-brownish.
posted by slateyness at 10:57 AM on May 1, 2015 [5 favorites]

I switched from French Press to Chemex because the cleanup routine is much easier (nothing to disassemble). But if you love the FP, you love the FP. Don't use soap, that stuff is evil. +1 for Puro Caff.
posted by jeffamaphone at 11:00 AM on May 1, 2015

After reading this thread I think I will invest in some Puro Caff, but generally my cleaning routine is really low-maintenance. If I get to the press within 24 hours of its last use, I dump the grounds and rinse it thoroughly with water and manually rub off any grease that doesn't rinse. If it's been more than a day and the press is still dirty, I add some dish soap.

Clearly this isn't ideal, but I haven't noticed any problems (other than the occasional stray ground morsel that makes it into my cup, but I attribute that to the rubber plunger part that's degraded after so many years + lazy days submerged in old coffee). I think your current routine is more than adequate.
posted by witchen at 11:05 AM on May 1, 2015

Also, for some people just buying a thing of Puro is just too fussy, which I totally understand. We've run a few trials in our little lab with different soaps, and hands down (even with untrained coffee folk) Seventh Generation's unscented soap is the closest thing to actual unscented soap out there. It's a pretty decent soap to boot. Not quite as good as Dawn in the cleanliness department, but it doesn't suffer from the same intense soapy tastes. It was a trade off, and thats what we use in our cupping lab for actual dishes-that-hold-coffee, not coffee equipment.

So if you're looking for a less intensive route, I'd really suggest 7th Gen's unscented soap…and I rarely throw down for brands.
posted by furnace.heart at 11:38 AM on May 1, 2015

Wow you guys put me to shame. I grind my beans, throw them into the French press, throw boiling water overtop, let sit for 5-7 minutes (while I toast and eat my bagel) then drink my coffee. Once the contents of the coffee pot are consumed, I throw the coffee crud into the garbage disposal unit in my kitchen sink, give the coffee pot a rinse and let it sit until the next morning.

Once a week I dismantle the French press, and put the various pieces into the dishwasher where they get a clean scrubbing along with the other dishes accumulated during the week. And that's it!!
posted by seawallrunner at 1:46 PM on May 1, 2015

Response by poster: I don't have a dishwasher unfortunately, so I'll be doing analog cleaning only.

I'm gonna get me some Puro Caff and do this thing right. Love the suggestion to blast some rice through the grinder.

Thanks, folks!
posted by phunniemee at 2:00 PM on May 1, 2015

I might be late to the party, but a cheapo alternative for de-griming a caffetiere (or a teapot for that matter) is a teaspoon of washing powder. As in the stuff you wash your clothes with - I think this is laundry detergent to Americans.

Top up with hot water, give it a stir and leave to soak for 10 minutes. Rinse thoroughly. Comes out sparkling.

Oh - and as for normal use: after I've poured my coffee I top the caffetiere up with water, shake, pour it out and repeat once or twice until it's clean. That leaves it clean enough for another cup.
posted by Lorc at 2:29 PM on May 1, 2015

Oh. Well. I definitely do the thing where the next morning I dump out the grounds and give it a good rinse in hot water, and that's it. I've not tasted any horrible rancid flavors, either.

I'm going to try this Puro Caff, I think.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 4:30 PM on May 1, 2015

A little baking soda and hot water for the french press - works amazingly well if you use a little on a cloth and wipe down the sides to get the coffee residue off. I have no idea why more people aren't using baking soda for everything, it's a mystery to me because it is like magic with cleaning out coffee and tea stains! As for the grinder, I've heard that you should just grind some stale bread in there to clean it out, but have never tried it. I bought a paintbrush at a hardware store and use that to brush away the grounds.
posted by belau at 4:54 PM on May 1, 2015

Eh, you don't need PuroCaff, you just need OxyClean Free (or any other sodium percarbonate product without fragrance). It's the third ingredient (of three) in PuroCaff. The first two ingredients in PC are de-scalers which you don't need because you are not cleaning a machine with a boiler.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:14 PM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Sorry, just double-checked and the first ingredient in Puro-Caff is TSP, which will also remove grease. But I doubt you need that kind of cleaning power. (If you're curious, the other ingredient is Sodium tripolyphosphate, an excellent descaler but bad to flush into the water system, as is TSP.)
posted by oneirodynia at 6:21 PM on May 1, 2015

Not only coffee oil buildup, but clogging the screen, is good reason to try to keep it reasonably clean. Especially if you leave it dirty when you go off for a weekend somewhere and find the screen clogged with fibrous moldy growth that cannot be removed. Not that this ever happened to me.
posted by halhurst at 6:27 PM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's totally fine just to rinse it with hot water. You won't get scrofula or anything else.

If it looks dirty or smells funky in there, clean it with a vinegar solution or soap and water. Otherwise, don't worry about it at all.
posted by clockzero at 10:43 PM on May 1, 2015

When I recently looked into cleaning coffee oils from a french press, I got caught in a research rabbit hole that led me to dozens of articles like this one on pubmed:
Cafestol, a diterpene present in unfiltered coffee brews such as Scandinavian boiled, Turkish, and cafetière coffee, is the most potent cholesterol-elevating compound known in the human diet.
Paper filters remove/catch the cafestol, apparently, and your heart is saved.

I switched to a pour-over kit and put the cafetière on the shelf. The paper filters were easier to pick up and chuck in the compost bin anyway.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 4:26 AM on May 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: My cannister of Puro Caf came yesterday and now my press is fresh as a daisy.

Seriously, I used just a tiny sprinkle and let it sit for a few minutes and it stripped off everything. Looks brand new. What a world.
posted by phunniemee at 7:21 AM on May 6, 2015

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