Not long after my post on new coffee inventions went up, I received an email from Aerobie and Aeropress inventor Alan Adler. It turns out that Alan is not only a talented inventor, but also a super nice guy. He sent me a complimentary Aeropress to try out and, when I told him of my love of Aerobie, included an autographed one of those. That one of a kind astonishing ring now hangs proudly on my living room wall.
For the past couple of weeks I’ve been trying out the Aeropress with several different coffees, both at home and with better equipment at a coffee shop. To guard against personal bias, I got input from some of my barista and coffee loving friends as well.
The first thing we noticed was the design. It’s made of lightweight, durable plastic, is surprisingly small (compare to a Coke can below), and very clever. The press is made of three components: a screen for holding the filter, a chamber to hold the water and grounds, and a plunger to push them through the filter. The set also comes with a scoop for measuring the coffee, a stirrer to agitate the grounds, a funnel for depositing them into the press, and a large supply of paper microfilters with a handy dispensing case. A small touch I like is that the chamber and the plunger are both marked with calibrations for 1-4 cups’ worth of brewing water.
One of the best features of the Aeropress is how well the plunger and brewing chamber fit together. Unlike the metal screen on a French press, the end of the plunger here is made of solid rubber and forms a tight seal with the chamber. This allows the user to create significant air pressure when forcing the water through the grounds and keeps the press amazingly clean. The edges of the brewing chamber are left with practically no coffee residue on them and all the grounds are compressed into a puck. To clean up, all one has to do is unscrew the filter screen, push the plunger to eject the grounds and filter, and give the device a quick rinse. French press owners will appreciate this convenience.
The brew time is also faster than a French press because it uses a finer grind. The total recommended brewing time is about twenty seconds (I sometimes wait a little longer), including some brief stirring and the plunge (compare to four minutes on a French press). A second advantage of the finer grind and shorter brew time is that I think it makes the Aeropress more forgiving of uneven grinding. Unless one has a good grinder at home, coffee ground coarsely for a French press will still probably include a lot of finer particles. These will be overextracted at four minutes brew time and contribute bitter flavors to the resulting coffee.
So how about the coffee from the Aeropress? It definitely exceeded my expectations. It comes out in a concentrated form that expresses the flavors of the beans. It can be stretched by adding water, though I like it straight as is or with just a bit of water. I prefer to use it with a slightly finer grind and water hotter than the 175 degrees the package recommends.
In my original post I expressed skepticism about the paper microfilters. In an email to me, Alan said that he tested them against a variety of fine metal filters. Blind tasters universally preferred the paper. My friends and I agreed that they work well; one barista remarked that the Aeropress is the least distorting paper filtered coffee maker he’s tried. It beats a drip coffee maker hands down.
The real test for me is how well it holds up compared to a French press. The flavor compares well. The body is different — not quite as thick and much more particle free. It won’t leave grinds at the bottom of your cup like a French press will and it won’t have lots of visible particles suspended in it. I like the texture a French press produces, though other drinkers may prefer a cleaner cup. The Aeropress will be great for them. I still use my French press on most days, but I do plan to continue using the Aeropress on a regular basis because I like the coffee that comes out of it. In fact, I used it this morning for a pleasing cup.
I still disagree with marketing the Aeropress as an espresso maker. Though it does use pressure to make a concentrated shot of coffee, it doesn’t produce any crema (perhaps it could in theory with hotter water, much more pressure, and some way of tamping the grounds, but it’s certainly not designed for that). Whether or not this should count as espresso is a matter of definition, but for me good crema is the very essence of espresso. That’s not to mean that the Aeropress coffee doesn’t taste good, but I would say that it produces a short black coffee rather than a shot of ‘spro.
I’d like to test the Aeropress a bit more on better equipment than I have at home so I could try more exact grinds and water temperatures, but I can say without hesitation that it makes a good cup of coffee when used correctly. I definitely recommend it above drip machines and I expect that many people who try it out at home will find it gives them better results than their current coffee maker. It’s not totally replacing my French press, but it does have the advantages of greater speed, ease of cleaning, more forgiveness on a poor grind, and taking the coffee off the grounds immediately after brewing. The small size and light weight also make it the ideal coffee maker for travel.