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The Aeropress: A Look Back

First in a series about coffee brewing techniques.

Ahh, the Aeropress.  Introduced in 2005, this unique device has gained quite a following and continues to be popular.  Coffee brewing techniques change over time, and I thought it might be interesting to take a second look now that we’re well past the initial hype.  How does it stack up to other brewing methods?

Designed to be an easy, convenient way to brew a single cup of coffee, the Aeropress functions much like an oversized syringe.  It consists of three major parts: the brewing chamber, a large plastic plunger, and  the filter housing which fits onto the end of the chamber.  Ground coffee is loaded into the chamber and filter, hot water is added, and the grounds are stirred for roughly 10 seconds.  Then the plunger is inserted into the chamber, creating an airtight seal. When the plunger is pressed down, air pressure forces water through the coffee grounds and the filter, and into the cup.   The resulting brew is quite concentrated so hot water can be added to adjust the volume. Voila!

There are a plethora of variations on this basic technique, but we won’t go into those here.  Instead, let’s focus on the pros and cons of this product and why you might choose it over something else.

The big question: how does Aeropress coffee compare to other brew methods?  In a nutshell: quite well.  While the body is not as heavy and robust as what you get from a French Press, the Aeropress can impart a silky mouth-feel to many coffees that you just can’t get from other brewing techniques.  However, it lacks the crispness and clarity a properly brewed pour-over can bring to more delicate floral and fruited coffees.  Choose your coffee with this in mind.

It’s great for travel.  Easy disassembly and quick cleaning with a little hot water and a paper towel wipe give it a big win over the French Press, with its multiple components needing to be taken apart, cleaned, and reassembled.  The plastic pieces are resistant to drops and being squashed into the trunk of the car.  Of course, a single pour-over cone and a box of filters is pretty hard to beat for portability.

Coffee brewed with the Aeropress is very forgiving of variations both in the grind and in the water temperature.  If you don’t have a perfect fine grind, the coffee still comes out nicely, without over-extraction.  The extraction efficiency seems to roll off slowly if the brewing temperature drops under the optimal, rather than falling off a cliff as it does with other methods.  This flexibility is a huge advantage in some situations, such as if you’re brewing while camping and forgot your portable solar-powered PID controller for maintaining proper water temp, or you had to use the “hammer and Ziploc bag” method of grinding your beans (we don't recommend this).

The Aeropress’s  relatively small filter area minimizes “off” flavors that can come from the paper filter.  A standard Chemex filter, if not rinsed prior to use, can impart a lot of papery taste to your brew.  Of course, metal filters are also available for both of these brewers, and this would avoid the issue altogether.

Aesthetically it looks a little strange, particularly when compared to the classic beauty of an ibrik or a vacuum pot, or the clean simplicity of the Hario V60.  I like to think of it as a medical device for caffeine delivery, so its appearance doesn’t bother me too much.

Pros: Distinctive silky mouth-feel with some coffees; easy cleaning; very portable; forgiving under adverse brewing conditions; minimal filter taste; very affordable (under $30).

Cons:  Not a beauty contest winner.

Overall, the cost and performance of this neat little gadget make it a great addition to your brewing lineup.


 
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