The Snow Peak Titanium French Press seems like a niche piece of equipment to keep in your kit when venturing out into the back country. I think most lightweight backpackers would scoff at the thought of bringing a specialized piece of gear for just a cup of coffee. They may just rather use instant coffee or tea bags. Have fun with that. Here’s a gear review.
As for myself, nothing beats a cup of freshly ground and freshly pressed coffee. If you’ve never tried french press coffee, I suggest you buy one for your own home. (Yes, Keurigs are easy and idiot-proof – but sometimes they taste like garbage).
I decided on dropping the $55 on Snow Peak’s french press both because I like french press coffee and because you get a titanium cook pot and french press for the price of one. At the time that I purchased it, back in 2009, many titanium pots from Snow Peak were priced just under $50.00. So it was almost a no-brainer to go with the french press, the only difference is that it just gives you a taller cook pot to boil water or drink out of.
The press weighs in at 6.3oz. It’s just over 3” wide and 5.5” tall. It is the standard unfinished, brushed metal grey that titanium gear comes in. It came in a standard cardboard box with a small info pamphlet in the box. The french press is a standard designed rod with an attached lid on one end and a threaded end with sandwiches a screen, gasket, and a thicker gauge metal strainer. The screen is the most important part of a french press, as it must filter out the finer coffee grounds, while also allowing a suitable flow rate during pressing. This screens seems to be made by a heat resistant nylon mesh, rather than steel as most kitchen models use. The pot is a single walled container (don’t drink hot liquids straight from it if you value the skin on your lips!) and has the ubiquitous fold-flat metal handles.
Out of the box, I was very surprised with how light it was. I think this happens anytime you unbox a piece of titanium gear. It’s a marvel at how light yet sturdy they can be. You’d think you could bend something so light as easily as tin foil. But it’s rock solid sturdy. The ram rod press will tighten down on itself pretty tightly, and doesn’t come loose easily. A loose press will pivot while pressing and allow a lot of grains to come through, so this is very important.
Pure titanium, with all its lightweight and Rockwell hardness rating glory, is a poor metal to use for cooking, not to mention pretty freaking expensive. It absorbs and dissipates heat very quickly. Most titanium cookware we use today is comprise of an alloy of titanium and other metals (probably aluminum). This brings the price down while also giving it better thermal properties; however, it does add some weight. Lightweight purists can argue the pro’s and con’s until the cows come home.
The lid is also made of titanium, however, the rest of the components that make the press and cup handles are not. I assume these are aluminum. There is also a plastic knob on the top of the lid that aids in pressing.
In The Field
I used this press for several weeks as my daily coffee maker. It did surprisingly well. If you’ve never used a french press, it is a subtle art but very easy to master. There are magical numbers to learn. How many tablespoons of grounds to add? How long to steep it before you press? I generally use two tablespoons of ground coffee per standard mug sized coffee. I’ll let this steep 5 minutes and be done with it. Sometimes it comes out a little weak and sometimes stronger, but against all odds, I’ve learned to deal with it. It’s just coffee. Coffee purists can wag their pinkies all they want.
I usually grind my coffee beans ahead of time or bring pre-ground coffee when camping. To cut down on weight, I premix powdered creamer and sugar ahead of time as well. I normally do a 2:1 ratio of creamer to sugar. Also, keep the grounds a little larger to help minimize the amount that gets through the filter.
As mentioned before, it does let quite a few more grounds through than a standard press, but it requires a little more finesse to use. Given that its a smaller diameter, you must press faaaar slower than you would a standard press. My Bodum is probably twice the diameter of this press, which means you can press a relatively easy speed. The press on the Bodum is also significantly more sturdy, as weight isn’t an issue. Knowing that, pressing slowly and softly is the name of the game here. If you get to eager and excited to brew your coffee, you will invariably get grounds that push their way past the sides of the press or worse: building up an excessive amount of pressure to cause it to shoot out the sides of the lid and burn your hands!
In the field, I’ve used this quite a few times to brew a morning cup of coffee while camping or steel head fishing. This thing also kept me and my buddy friends during a weeklong fly fishing road trip in Montana. Normally at camp, I’ll boil water in another container for use in making up packet meals and throw it in the press to just steep the coffee. I’ll also sometimes brew up a pot to enjoy with my girlfriend after we summit, especially if its still early out. There’s nothing better than enjoying a fresh cup on the top of a mountain. It also gives you some added pep for the descent. Note: Coffee grounds are green fertilizer. I’ll throw out the used dregs at the base of a pine tree or acid loving plant (berry bushes).
There are a few downsides to this as both a french press and a cook pot. The french press portion does let some coffee grounds through. This isn’t a huge concern as almost every french press, even the higher end Bodum that we keep in the kitchen, does as well. That’s part of french press coffee. As a cook pot, the dimensions of the cup seem to make it slightly taller to come to boil.
Given this design issue, coupled with the poor thermal properties of titanium alloys, to boil water in a unit that has a significantly higher height to diameter ratio makes it a very less efficient boiling container. Think about how quick it would take to boil water in a skillet than in a tube. The surface area exposed to direct heat is far less than the surface area exposed to colder atmospheric air. I have not tested this in a timed head-to-head experiment, but I will bet my weight in titanium that the pot that comes with this french press takes significantly longer to boil.
However, these drawbacks in design can be mitigated by creating a thermal container with tin-foil, a wind screen, or by coating the exterior in a more conductive material. Also, you can just boil water in a more efficient container, which you may have with you if you’re camping in a group and use a larger pot or skillet.
Word of warning, those folding handles get super hot! I read a pretty neat DIY article on modifying the handles to make them a little less of a finger burner.
For anyone who wants to enjoy a cup of coffee out in the stink, I’d recommend using this french press. Although its not perfect, it does the job and does it well. It’s also one of the few titanium french presses on the market. I wouldn’t use it as a cook pot to boil water, as I initially thought I could do. It just doesn’t have the efficiency. I do use it as a drinking cup for cold beverages however. I even use it around the house if we’re out of clean glasses. Just pull out the press.
There are other light weight coffee makers out there, that utilize a steeping chamber or packet percolator, but it doesn’t have the panache of a french press, now does it? Sorry, that made me sound like a coffee snob.