Coffee invention #1: Regular readers know about my obsession with Aerobie, the “astonishing flying ring” that puts all other frisbees to sad, sad shame. So you can imagine that my interest was piqued when I learned that Aerobie inventor Alan Adler had turned his engineering efforts to the creation of a better coffee maker. I haven’t tried it out, but reading over the product page it appears to have some good points and some bad points.
[Update 12/4/2005: Since writing this post I have been able try the Aeropress out in person. My review of it is available here.]
The Aeropress works similarly to a traditional press, in that water is poured over loose grounds and then forced through a filter with light pressure after a period of steeping. One difference that I like is that, as you can see in the promo picture, coffee in the Aeropress is pushed downward through a filter with light air pressure, rather than the filter pushed through the coffee as in a French press. The advantage here is that if you brew more coffee than you can fit in your mug, the remainder is kept off the grounds so it doesn’t leech out bitter flavors.
Now for some criticism. The Aeropress uses very fine microfilters instead of the more porous steel filters found in most presses. Aerobie claims that this allows the drinker to use finer ground coffee, resulting in shorter steeping times and fewer particles sneaking through to cause the bitterness and grittiness that often haunt the final dregs of a French press. However, the rich body produced by a French press is part of what makes it so delicious and sensual. In contrast, Aeropress coffee is “so pure and particle-free that it can be stored for days as a concentrate.” That doesn’t sound to me like coffee with a good, velvety body.
The Aeropress also boasts of producing coffee with low acidity. That’s a good thing if you’re used to the stomach-turning acidity of the coffee you probably get from your office’s drip maker. But acidity has a good side called brightness. Balanced by body and other flavors, it’s valued in a quality cup. I’d be worried that a bright coffee might come out a bit flat after a thirty second journey through an Aeropress.
Finally, the Aeropress’s advertised ability to make espresso is ridiculous. You can’t get a good shot of espresso unless you’ve got the pressure to extract the lipids and colloids than produce the flavorful and aromatic crema. Absent that, all you’ve got are a few ounces of highly concentrated coffee. It may taste good in milk, but it’s sure as hell not espresso.
It seems that the primary quest behind the Aeropress was to create something better than cheap drip brewers and the trendy and expensive pod machines. I’m willing to believe that this device meets that challenge and produces a smoother, less bitter cup. Unfortunately, from the description it appears it may achieve this at the cost of body and brightness, two very important qualities. If the Aeropress came with the option to use less porous filters that would work with coarser grinds and longer brewing times, then the downward filtering and easy cleaning might give it a legitimate edge over a French press. I suppose the challenge here would be preventing the coffee from filtering through too early.
Coffee invention #2: I wasn’t sure if this was real when I read it, but it’s a kind of neat though not world-shakingly useful idea. Coffee shop owner Nick Bayss has invented “smart” coffee lids for take-away cups that change color with heat. They start out a dark coffee brown, then shift into a bright red when they heat up. A dark band around the rim shows that the lid is on securely, while a red spot on the band would indicate that it has been applied incorrectly and steam is escaping. This indicator would supposedly prevent burn-causing spills. The lids would also give customers a visual signal of their beverage’s temperature.
Like I said, this is not an invention one can’t live without. But at a cost of just a penny extra per lid, they may be worthwhile. Add to this the fact that the new Smart Lid Systems company is looking into making the lids with custom colors or appearing messages and they might just have a marketing winner. Check out the pictures in the article. They look cool.
Coffee Invention #3 [update]: A few minutes after posting, I came across this third coffee invention. Nestle has applied for patents in all major markets for a kind of coffee beer. This isn’t beer flavored with coffee, but rather a beverage fermented from actual roasted coffee beans. Yeasts metabolize coffee and sucrose. Previously extracted coffee oils, nitrogen, and sugar are then added to create a foamy drink.
Alas, Nestle’s coffee beer is fermented at a temperature too low to produce alcohol, so drinkers looking to get drunk and buzzed at the same time will have to settle for Anheuser-Busch’s nasty sounding BE energy beer. It’s not nearly as appealing as this farcical ThinkGeek product.