AeroPress - A Fresh Squeeze on Coffee
Aeropress making a brew.

The AeroPress Coffee Maker is unique in combining several coffee brewing techniques in one foolproof package. Borrowing some theory from traditional espresso machines, where hot water is pressured through a 'puck' of coffee, the AeroPress also calls on drip filter and plunger technology to create an extremely satisfying brew.

The Coffee Making Process

The only requirements to use the AeroPress are some ground coffee and hot water. No electricity, no steam, no dramas, it's all very simple.

A plastic coffee scoop (supplied) dispenses the correct amount of ground coffee into the brew chamber which is sealed at the bottom with a small paper filter - much like those found in traditional drip filter machines. The AeroPress makes between one and four 'espresso' shots - one scoop of coffee per shot. Hot water is slowly added to a corresponding number on the brew chamber - 2 scoops of coffee means filling the brew chamber to the level marked '2'. It's a thoughtful touch that eliminates the need to measure anything.

The coffee and water is stirred for ten seconds and the plunger is then slowly depressed for around 25 seconds resulting in a very smooth and aromatic extraction.

Cleanup is a breeze, the minimal parts separate easily and regular washing up methods are all that's required. No back flushing, no polishing of stainless steel surfaces and no Meccano like disassembly. The simplicity of the AeroPress makes a mockery of much more complicated coffee makers that still don't make a better cup of coffee.

Construction

The AeroPress is basically two telescopic tubes, the brew chamber and the plunger. Both are constructed of copolyester, a material not unlike polycarbonate but containing properties that ensure the coffee maker retains it's strength and chemical resistance. It's a good thing because in practise the unit requires a reasonable amount of downward force to extract the coffee. It's a chunky, robust bit of gear that can obviously take a bit of punishment. The rubber seal looks durable and AreoPress recommends storing the plunger and chamber separately to preserve the life of the seal. Alternately the plunger can be fully depressed so the seal extends out of the brew chamber to avoid compression.

The brew chamber is sealed with a plastic filter cap the holds the paper filter in place and provides resistance to the extraction process. The filter cap requires nothing more than a one quarter turn to secure it in the locating lugs - quick, simple and appreciated

The package arrives with a coffee scoop, a stirrer, a funnel and a filter holder. Nice touches but probably things we would leave behind on a camping trip. We'd even dispense with the stirring paddle and stir the brew with the scoop handle to minimise the component count. With these extra components omitted and the scoop stored inside the plunger the Aeropress packs away to a respectable 180mm by 105mm. Weight is minimal.

Rounding out the package are 350 paper filters, enough for a year of coffee considering the paper can be washed out and reused.

The AeroPress has been around since 2005 and is made by 'Aerobie' and if the name rings a bell then you may remember them as the makers of hi-tech Frisbees in the eighties.

Techniques and Twists

The AeroPress is designed for use with freshly ground coffee beans not instant coffee. There's not an instance where freshly ground coffee won't outperform the characterless stuff from supermarket jars and it's this fact that makes any coffee making apparatus vastly superior to instant coffee. We ground some of a favourite beans using a Compak grinder and produced a grind somewhere between espresso and drip filter - coarser than we'd use in a commercial machine.

Our unit arrived with an 'S Filter' from Kaffeologie, a U.S. outfit who make them specially for the AeroPress. The S filter is simply a stainless shell disc with 50,000 perforations that replaces the paper units supplied with the brewer. In theory the stainless steel shouldn't absorb any of the valuable oils that you're trying to entice from the coffee and in practise it produced a noticeable difference. Not huge but obvious nonetheless. The Kaffeologie filter sells for under 15 dollars while a years supply of paper will set you back around half that.

You may be surprised to learn that there is an actual AeroPress World Championship coffee making competition, such is the following this cylindrical extractor has generated. Contestants alter grinds, times and techniques to outdo each other in the quest for the ultimate cup and it's all very serious business. Inverting the AeroPress is an alternate method of extracting more flavour.

Gwylim Davies was the 2009 World Barista Champion and his method with the Aeropress is a slight deviation from the standard instructions -

  1. Preheat the AeroPress with hot water including the paper filter
  2. Add the coffee and just cover the coffee grounds with hot (not boiling) water and stir for thirty seconds
  3. Top up brew chamber to correct level with more hot water and infuse for another thirty seconds
  4. Depress plunger over thirty seconds
  5. Don't fully depress. Stop and leave a small amount of water in the chamber. Gwylim's reasoning is that this last bit of water contains most of the natural bitterness contained in coffee and omitting it from the brew makes for a smoother cup.

All this fiddling may mean nothing to the average punter who just wants great coffee but to tinkerers and coffee snobs the AeroPress holds enough mystery to satisfy their quest for caffeine nirvana.

Is It Espresso?

No it's not, although despite a couple of nods to the word espresso in the instructions and on the web, the AeroPress doesn't really pretend to be anything other than an individual product that makes a very clean and smooth cup. True espresso machines treat ground coffee beans beans quite roughly. Water temperature (at 94°C) is much hotter than the 80°C recommended by Aerobie. Espresso machines operate under much greater pressure resulting in more flavour extraction but also a greater extraction of bitterness. The AeroPress persuades the flavour from the bean in a much subtler way and the result is a delightful cup of coffee. In a way it takes the best from both worlds - the deep extraction of an espresso machine and the delicacy of a French Press (plunger). We understand that there are European Cafes that are using their own brewing technique and delivering AeroPress coffee to their customers with great success.

Conclusion

The Aeropress is equally at home making a brew on the kitchen bench as out in the bush. One drawback about home use is that it won't handle being stuffed in the dishwasher. Cleaning up is simple affair and this fact shouldn't hinder a buying decision, but if you refuse to wash your dishes by hand it's something to note.

We often drink an espresso in the afternoon and have been using the AeroPress as alternative to an espresso machine with a great deal of pleasure. We've found that the neat brew from the unit requires less sugar to smooth out the rough edge of true espresso. As a morning drink with a dash of frothed milk it makes a superb latte.

The most endearing quality of the AeroPress is the absolute simplicity of the design. The robust build with no fragile glass, electricity or fiddly procedures make it a clear cut winner. The fact that it makes a great cup of coffee is icing on the cake.

As a touring companion the AeroPress is compact enough to find a spot in the rear of the 4WD or the camping equipment box and we'd happily use it on an extended trip.

The final, overwhelming feather in the cap is that the AeroPress can be had for under $50. That's cheaper than a lot of Moka Pots and Plungers - for a product that actually makes better coffee. Outstanding.


We take a look at various methods of portable coffee making at - Making Great Coffee on the Road

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