Aeropress: Little Coffeemaker that Could

Aeropress 1 The Aeropress marks the longest I’ve ever waited for formally review a product. I met inventor Alan Adler nine or more years ago. We were introduced by then Bunn VP Aimee Markelz. Just to show how gracious some people can be even in an industry with such hot competition as coffeemakers, Ms Markelz was walking through the International Housewares show before showtime and spied this new coffeemaker. When I did my usual walkaround at Housewares she handed me a slip of paper with the Aeropress booth number on it. She told me she thought I’d find it interesting. I did. I do.

The reason I waited so long to review it? I guess I took it for granted. But now I feel a little guilty and negligent. Or it’s such an open-ended device it all depends on how you use it. Honestly, I can’t tell you why. Is it because it has no engine, no water heater? That can’t be. Neither does the Sowden SoftBrew nor does the Chemex. Is it due to it’s cost – as in low? Nope, I’ve reviewed the Melitta single cup, and I’ve packed three of them into knapsacks of my college bound sons.

So, let me stop the self analysis and proceed to make amends for my lengthy review time. The Aeropress, though wholly innovative and original in its design, seems to provide the features of all the world’s coffeemakers through time. Like a modern Hollywood film, it has elements of all that came before it in its genre. The Aeropress has some elements of the French press, namely the press, both in name and procedure. The Aeropress has elements of the Chemex, particularly in its filter and its brewing temperature recommendations. Finally it has elements with the vacuum or siphon coffeemaker, mainly its mass-compressed grounds puck.

The Aeropress is perhaps the ultimate flexible coffeemaker. It can be used conventionally, where it gives the impression of being a somewhat leaky manual drip maker. It can be inverted, placed upside down, its filter cap removed and it becomes a settling tank where coffee is steeped like a tea before its cap is replaced, it is flipped over and then pressed to completion. Which is it for me? I’ve spent several years in each camp. Finally (or just lately?)

I’ve settled on the conventional method. I believe I’d done this out of simplicity, and perhaps a little out of my desire to set the record straight on what I consider the Aeropress myth of being a leaky drip maker. When people pour a little hot water into the Aeropress and stir so that the grounds get plenty wet and are allowed to swell and settle before the press is used, a minute amount of water travels through the grounds and out through the filter and into your cup. There is nothing about this that is going to affect your coffee end result. It is no different than the initial drips of any drip coffee maker. Coffee is all about grounds/water contact time and nothing else.

Aeropress brewing temperature is, or should be, controversial. I know it’s manual so you can use whatever your lil’ water heatin’ vessel can provide. I have a fancy schmancy BonaVita kettle with dial and hold temperature settings. Inventor Alan Adler says Aeropress competitions tend to be won at brewing temps of 185°F for the super light roasted coffees and 175°F for medium to dark roasts. What does all this mean to the coffee industry, who’s fought so long and hard to convince us to brew hotter into their 10 degree (195F-205F) window? That’s a tough question and likely a subject for a different article. For the moment I’m going to use the ole’ reviewer copout #7 that we should view the Aeropress on its own terms. Of course you can use your Aeropress at whatever temperature you prefer, but after a number of tests in my kitchen, I’m inclined to operate mine at the light roast winning temperature: 185°F.

Speaking of roasts, here are some coffees that I tested:

  • George Howell Coffee’s La Minita I got spectacular results with this coffee. Man that is one complex beverage as brewed in the Aeropress. Like a great symphony orchestra, La Minita’s Bill McAlpin is unable to create a bad note. This coffee, third wave light roast and all, is just a perfect match for the Aeropress. Did I hear chocolate? I know most coffees give this note at this brewing temperature, but it’s the quality of chocolate note that this coffee provides.
  • Sight Glass Colombian Finca Alcatraz – I recently became smitten with this coffee in all brewing methods. I don’t know what to say except I just enjoyed its richness and cocoa and nougat notes. I admit I feel the lush fruit notes are boosted by moving the brewing temperature back into the 190°s.
  • Counter Culture Finca El Puente Honduras – I couldn’t resist trying some coffee farmed by CoffeeCon presenters Marysabel Caballero and Moisés Herrera and their latest coffee. Counter Culture roasted it at the light end, although to be fair, not too light, which I found to be a perfect match for Alan’s observed 185°F brewing temperature. Okay, I probably sneaked up to 190°F. I got that black cherry flavor kick right away.

Conclusion: The Aeropress is just a wonderful brewer. If you are caught between gigs, you likely can afford it. It is easy to use, to clean up. And, it delivers an ultra clean taste, with plenty of viscosity but virtually no sediment. If this is the cup you seek, the Aeropress is a brewer used must have in your brewing arsenal. Period.

Photo note: Aeropress Inventor Alan Adler says, “I do like clear glass which reveals the flow (drip), but recommend a wide-bottom, sturdy mug like the attached pic.”

Alan Adler recommends robust glass only.

 

 

 

 

Another Coffee is Wine Article

Oh, no! Not another coffee is wine article!! Ever since the coffee trade learned how much wine is marked up before you and I buy it, they’ve salivated over this analogy. Is coffee like wine? Of course it is, just like maple syrup, blueberries and salmon. There are grades and flavor differences based upon where it was raised, how it was processed and just flukes of nature that are recognized during evaluation and priced accordingly.

Let’s go through this article, which appears in the Wine Enthusiast, and see how they did. Here’s the link:  http://www.winemag.com/February-2014/The-Wine-Lovers-Guide-to-Coffee/?goback=%2Egde_150968_member_5826407454983876609#%21

“Joe-ography.” Cute. Okay, let’s talk about geography. The writer makes the argument that coffee is like wine and geography affects the beans’ flavor as it does grapes. I basically agree that geography appears to affect coffee. But, of course there’s much more to the story and differences abound. Most of the world’s coffees are from two types of bean (He acknowledges this in paragraph 2). Wine is from lots of different grapes and of course geography affects a chardonnay grape, so that one grown in France tastes different then one grown in California. He says wine can be divided into old world and new world. I can’t see how that applies to coffee in any way.  While geography is important to coffee and wine, the paragraph does nothing to convince me that coffee is like wine.

Things You Didn’t Know About Coffee. All of these are ostensibly correct. A few of them would make me see similarities to wine, back to terroir (where it was grown and climate conditions). The rest, things like dark roast (which he recommends at least twice) are not analogous to wine. Can you imagine a why don’t you drink wine article in a coffee magazine pointing out the virtues of heavy oak? That’s more like roast, as it’s among the things the trade does to goose up flavor after the harvest so to speak. I’m sure the coffee folks he relied upon told him to point out that certain coffees feature more acidity, but I think it’s better to say that different coffees feature different acidity acidity and character due to their geography (again) and leave it at that. Obviously he has mixed acidity and acid as the same. They are not the same and titling the point “acid trip” adds confusion.

America’s Seven Best Roasters. If a coffee magazine featured a wine extolling article and claimed there were top seven winemakers, I propose by next morning there’d be one few coffee writer, no doubt buried in an undisclosed winery as a message to trade writers like us never, never to do this again. I happen to have had coffee from every one of these shops and they are all in the top rank but there are dozens of equally good roasters, and while I like to extol the roaster’s role in coffee, to be brutally honest, there is a lot more variance in the quality of even the best roaster. Dare I suggest that the roastmaster’s job is to roast just enough to maximize acidity, but at the expense of  so-called development, or balance. I’d argue that wine is inherently more created. Since wine is truly a prepackaged beverage, the choices of variety are expanded, blends are the rule, not the exception. Brewing is done for you, perhaps years before. Coffee brewing, the point of consumption culinary art that you and I, or our neighborhood barista has mastered to extract exactly the right flavor balance from even the best grown, best roasted coffee is never mentioned.

The Wine/Coffee Connection. This is an, if you like this wine, you’ll like this coffee section. Actually here I think the writer succeeds. In most of the examples I think he got it close to how I see it. And, I think it’s analogous. There is a spice in most Sumatras. A Pinot Noir has more lightness like a Central American, although here again, there may be more differences variance between coffees. I’ve had some incredibly big Central Americans as I’ve tried more small plot samples.

I’m sure the coffee business says, “Great they spelled our name right.” I’m not against the idea of promoting coffee to another culinary consumer group with deep pockets and finicky taste buds. But, overall, they missed the boat. Coffee is like wine in its complexity. Beyond that, its geography factor is different, its delivery state to the consumer is different. The roaster’s role is more limited than the vintner’s. The consumer’s role is much greater than the cork-popping wine aficionado’s. Oh, and wine has a giant shelf life where coffee has virtually none. Nonetheless, I applaud the attempt.

 

 

 

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