Maxwell House’s new TV commercial has a ‘down-to-earth’ dude intruding on a highbrow restaurant table to frown upon the ‘plunged’ coffee being served. “Oh, is this what we’re doing now? I wouldn’t let a plunger anywhere near my coffee”, he says. While I may not agree, I know that coffee is liquid passion. In most of us, this passion flows hot and creates strong opinions. We know exactly how we like our coffee, thank you very much, and we aren’t about to gamble our magic beans on the next invention.
My own taste in coffee has grown simpler over the years. Imagine a rocket blasting off into a starry sky, discarding parts of itself that are no longer needed: cream, frothed milk, flavoured syrups and sprinkles. All gone. Before I tried the Aeropress I was passionate about the coffee that powered my days: long, flat, black; one sugar.
Alan Adler’s passion is science. Trained as an electrical engineer, he’s a natural inventor who improved the Frisbee by punching a hole in it. Now, instead of Frisbees people throw Aerobies, which have rendered the passtime positively antisocial: the Aerobies fly so incredibly far that people can’t even talk to each other anymore.
All elements of Aeropress package
Rich and undeterred, Alan next trained his analytic powers on making the perfect cup of coffee. Behold the thirty-dollar Aeropress.
It’s important to state right up front that Adler didn’t create the perfect espresso, despite the fact that the Aeropress is billed as an espresso-maker. The Aeropress works at a lower pressure and temperature than a real espresso machine, and it uses a paper filter. It cannot create the frothy emulsion called “crema” that espresso drinkers adore. An espresso without crema would be rejected by the most humble aficionado even if offered by Sophia Loren herself. True, there are brown bubbles on the surface of the strong coffee concentrate that the Aeropress produces, but it’s just aerated coffee.
It’s also delicious. Here’s how the device works:
The box includes a funnel, plunger, chamber, scoop, cap, stir stick, and a supply of paper filters. If you want to play by Adler’s rules you should also have a cheap cooking thermometer on hand to ensure that your water is the correct temperature (a little less than 80 degrees celcius*).
1. The filter goes into the cap, which is screwed on to the bottom of the chamber. The chamber is filled with finely-ground coffee, to the level of cups desired, as indicated by the numbered blue circles. Then the chamber is placed on top of your favourite coffee cup.
2. Adler needed a way to help us measure the correct amount of liquid
for an optimal brewing ratio of water to ground coffee. He could have
added a measuring cup to the kit, but in a stroke of brilliance, he made
the plunger itself hollow and added cup measurements on one side. So we
can fill the plunger with the recommended amount of water, and pour it
into the chamber.
3. Having gotten this far, most of us will simply pour hot water into the cylinder and jam the plunger down like we were back in our bedrooms with Play-Dough’s Fuzzy Pumper Barber Shop. We are not all disciplined scientists.
Adler is more rigorous. He knows that the flavour of coffee is affected by overextraction: the sad practice of forcing too much water through a limited amount of ground coffee. Overextraction produces more beverage, but the result is bitter. If you usually use a French Press to make coffee, you might be inclined to let this mixture steep awhile before you unleash the plunger. In the Aeropress that approach would create overextraction. Ten seconds of together time is all the water and coffee require before you take the plunge. Use the supplied stir stick and rotate it for ten seconds to make an even solution of the coffee and water.
4. The Aeropress is a sturdy instrument, and you will quickly gain confidence in pressing the air and water down and out of the chamber. Pressing gently and slowly (20 seconds is the recommended time) gets the best result.
What is that result? Exceedingly strong coffee, ready to be mixed with hot water to reach the number of cups we chose when we loaded the chamber and filled the plunger. Finally we are drinking a smooth, bold Americano.
Now, the final booster of my coffee rocket has tumbled away. I don’t have to add sugar to my coffee anymore because the absence of bitter oils makes the overall flavour much sweeter. I certainly don’t miss the grit left behind by the French Press. The smallest amount of attention is all you need to create a coffee of consistent intensity. The Aeropress is not convenient for those who need to make great amounts, but for two people it’s ideal.
Another interesting quality of the unmixed Aeropress concentrate is that it doesn’t seem to oxidize as fast as a cup of coffee generally would. You can take it to work and add hot water throughout the day to create more coffee. Just be prepared for non-believers to slowly back away when you do.
I’ve used my Aeropress for several months, and coffee oil has not built up on the plastic. It’s certainly easier to clean than a French Press. You can’t put the Aeropress in a dishwasher, but cleanup is easy. Just unscrew the cap and peel the filter away from the compressed grounds. I have found you can actually re-use the filter several times – it’s hardy enough to withstand a gentle wash. Position the chamber over your wet compost container and push the plunger all the way down. A hockey puck of grounds will emerge, sometimes with velocity, so aim carefully. Rinse and repeat.
In my opinion, we can trust Adler with our magic beans. His science and our passion are compatible.
* If waiting for your kettle to reach 80 degrees celcius seems primitive, there’s an app for that.
A coffee enthusiast, Dwight Friesen has built websites at CBC for the past ten years and enjoys new forms of storytelling…