Inverted Coffee – the story

This site has background and info on making an inverted coffee – if it’s a user guide you’re looking for then there is a great guide over at Stumptown Coffee

aeropresss-coffee

An introduction to the design and operation of Aeropress® coffee makers

We have explored in other articles some of the many and varied ways of turning ground, roasted coffee beans and water into a cup of coffee. These include percolators, cafetieres, stovetop espresso makers, Turkish coffee, cold press and many more. All of these coffee making methods produce different flavours and have their pros and cons, depending on your needs and preferences.

It really is remarkable how many different ways humans around the world have developed to make coffee, and many of these have become an intrinsic part of local culture. The cafetiere is so associated with France that the Americans even refer to it as a “French press”; the Turkish coffee method is actually employed across the whole Middle East and no trip to that part of the world is complete without sampling the thick, strong brew this produces, perhaps accompanied by a hookah and apple-infused tobacco; and mental images of an Italian kitchen, alongside the pasta and tomatoes, will usually feature a steaming espresso maker bubbling away on the stove.

The reason that these methods are so closely associated with these parts of the world is that they have been used there for so long – hundreds of years in some places. These coffee making methods are so established, so traditional, that you might think there wasn’t much room for innovation in coffee making. Surely nothing could come along that could seriously challenge these traditional methods, either for flavour or for convenience? Surely everything that can be tried has been tried? Well, you might be in for a surprise, because as recently as 2005 a new coffee making device was invented that was inexpensive, quick and which produces a coffee that many users report rivals or even surpasses that made through traditional methods. That device is the Aeropress coffee maker. It is produced by a company called Aerobie and was invented by its president, Alan Adler.

You may be one of the many thousands of happy regular users of Aeropress coffee makers spread all over the world – but if not, you may well be asking, what is an Aeropress coffee maker? That is a very pertinent question to ask, given that is what we are here discussing. Let’s take a look.

The device is actually kind of simple – if ingenious. It basically consists of two clear plastic tubes, one of slightly smaller diameter than the other such that it can slide in and out, fitting rather snugly. The smaller tube has a rubber “plunger” type implement at the end, making a water-tight seal as it is pushed through the larger tube. In this respect it resembles something like a very large syringe.

At the bottom of the large syringe a filter can be affixed – either a disposable paper filter or reusable fine metal filter, depending on preference. It is worth noting, for those who like to minimise environmental impact (as well as keeping down costs), that some users report that the paper filters can be rinsed and reused, up to half a dozen times. Anyway they are very inexpensive, and in terms of the environment it is also worth noting that the Aeropress coffee maker requires no electricity or power (aside from a little elbow grease).

The method of making coffee using an Aeropress coffee maker could not be simpler. You first place the required amount of coffee in the bottom of the large cylinder. As with all coffee making methods, it kind of goes without saying that you should use the best quality coffee you are able to source. There are guidelines to what the correct amount is, but of course it will vary with personal preference and with which blend of beans you use. You’ll soon get the knack of what works for you, and after the first couple of goes it really is a bit of a doddle.

The grind recommended for Aeropress coffee makers is quite fine – not quite so fine as for an espresso machine, but getting towards that.

Once your ground, roast coffee beans are at the bottom of the large cylinder, you pour in your required amount of water, straight from the kettle but slightly off the boil – as with other coffee making methods, the old adage of “you boil it, you spoil it” is as true as ever. Then you gently stir the coffee to ensure good contact with all the coffee grounds and then let is steep for about 10 seconds (again, this might vary with the desired strength as well as for different coarseness of grinds).

When this 10 seconds or so is up, the Aeropress coffee maker can be placed over the cup or receptacle you want your coffee in, and the smaller of the cylinders in inserted into the larger. The rubber makes for a tight seal, and by applying steady pressure the plunger is pushed down, forcing the coffee through the filter and into the waiting cup. This takes about 20 seconds. Yes, you did the maths right – the whole process takes about 30 seconds. This makes it considerably quicker than just about any method of making coffee. Indeed, in speed terms it’s about on a par with making a cup of freeze dried instant coffee – which will make you wonder why you’d ever bother making instant coffee again, when you can now have the real thing in just as quick a time and with similar convenience.

The speed/simplicity aspect is perhaps the most striking attribute of the Aeropress coffee maker the first time you use one – and that’s before you’ve even tried the coffee. But before we come on to the taste of the coffee itself, it’s worth looking at some of the other advantages that have helped ensure the device’s rapidly growing, widespread popularity around the world.

The first of these is price. Retailing generally at well under £30, the Aeropress coffee maker is many times cheaper than many more flashy home coffee makers. Plus as mentioned it requires no power to operate, so is obviously cheaper to run. True, that is still more than a basic cafetiere or stovetop espresso maker (both of which can be picked up very cheaply on the high street), but the Aeropress coffee maker has other advantages over these in terms of convenience, speed and many would argue taste.

A further advantage is the simple, lightweight and robust design. It’s a lot easier to sling one of these into your overnight bag if you’re going away for the weekend, or even to take camping or to a music festival, for example, than it would be to lug a cafetiere or stovetop espresso maker with you – and obviously an electrically powered coffee maker is completely out, particularly for the camping/music festival example.

There are no moving parts to go wrong, just the two tubes, the rubber seal and the filter. The tubes are made of copolyester, which is a strong plastic but not brittle, so can take a few knocks. For these reasons, people can expect many years of daily use from one Aeropress coffee maker.

Yet another advantage is the ease of cleaning. Once you’ve made your cup of coffee, which as we’ve seen takes only around 30 seconds, you can simply plunge the used grounds out into a bin, waste disposal unit or compost, if you’re a compost kind of person. Then give the tubes and filter (if using the reusable metal filter) a quick rinse under the tap, and you’re done. Again, there is barely more effort required than when making instant coffee.

So why would you ever use instant coffee, otherwise known as soluble coffee? Instant coffee by the way, is actually produced from real coffee beans, despite what some people think. They are ground and roasted in the normal way, then water is added to make a basic coffee drink. This water is then extracted, either by freeze-drying or spray-drying (the latter being preferable if slightly more expensive, should you be choosing some in the supermarket), leaving the crumbly solids that we know as instant coffee. These are then packed into jars and shipped all over the world, wear water can be added and – theoretically – the coffee can be restored to its original state.

Of course, it doesn’t quite work out this way. In much the same way that most foods lose some of their goodness, flavour and natural essence when they are processed, the during the process of diluting, drying, packaging and rehydrating, something of the quintessence of the coffee bean goes missing. It never really tastes like “real” coffee, even though it is real coffee. However, it is quite possible to enjoy if you don’t expect it to taste like real coffee. Treat it as a different drink in its own right, with its own flavour profile. You could compare this to how you don’t go to McDonald’s for a gourmet burger, but if you treat the Big Mac as a unique food product in its own right, you can really enjoy it for what it is.

An even more extreme example would be eating cheese and onion flavour crisps. Many crisp aficionados regard these as the finest of the crisp flavours, but people unfamiliar with flavoured crisps (such as many Americans, who not only tend to not have as many crisp flavours as us, but also refer to them as potato chips), will moan that they taste nothing like real cheese with real onion. And of course they are right, and even more so when they say that the roast chicken flavour doesn’t taste an awful lot like roast chicken, and as for the prawn cocktail… Of course, the answer is the same as that for instant coffee: don’t compare it with the “authentic” product that it seeks to mimic; you will always be disappointed – and who wants to go through life being consistently disappointed. No, treat it as a different and interesting flavour in its own right, and then judge it on its own merits.

Even if you don’t like instant coffee on its own merits, there are reasons to keep a jar at the back of your cupboard, even if you become an Aeropress coffee maker convert. Instant coffee has a near indefinite shelf life, as long as you keep it dry and in a cool, dark place. It is also very light to transport compared to coffee beans, meaning it is very inexpensive. So yes, but a jar, keep it at the back of a cupboard, it’s there if ever you need a shot of caffeine or coffee-style hot drink but don’t have any beans in or can’t get to the shops. But that aside, many people who try the Aeropress coffee maker find that after experiencing the convenience of using it to produce “real” coffee, they find that they rarely see the point in making the (inferior) instant coffee ever again.

Of course, it can’t just be the speed, convenience and ease of cleaning that converts people away from their preferred method of making coffee (be it cafetiere, espresso maker, instant granules or whatever) to full-time use of an Aeropress coffee maker: the actual coffee has to cut the mustard too, if you’ll forgive the slightly awkward metaphor. So, how does Aeropress coffee maker coffee actually taste?

Keen-eyed readers will have noticed that in the Aeropress coffee maker method of coffee making, the coffee is forced under pressure through the filter. And they may have thought this has some similarities to an espresso machine, which of course also forces water though the coffee ground under some pressure. If you spotted this, well done, for yes, the Aeropress coffee maker does indeed produce a drink that is similar in strength and flavour profile to an espresso. And many people enjoy it as this, although of course hot water can be added to produce something akin to an Americano.

Note though that while it is indeed similar to an espresso, it is not the same. In fact, many independent users report that coffee from Aeropress coffee makers produce coffee that is in fact superior in taste to traditional espressos and indeed any other method of coffee making. The reason for this may be that the coffee is in contact with the roast coffee grounds for such a short period of time – only around 30 seconds – that it develops a different flavour to other methods where the ground coffee beans sit with the water for much longer. It is also thought that the action of the air and water pressure as the plunger pushes the coffee down leads to superior flavour extraction. This seems to result in it drawing out all the delicious flavours but less of the acidity and bitterness. In fact, it is estimated that Aeropress coffee makers produce coffee that is as little as 20 per cent the acidity of coffee produced by drip coffee makers, and lower acidity also than most if not all other methods of coffee production.

This low acidity leads to an exceptionally smooth taste. It is not unusual for people trying Aeropress coffee makers for the first few times to find that this is the first time they’ve been able to enjoy coffee without adding milk and sugar – it really is that different. And given the speed and convenience of the Aeropress coffee maker coffee making process, it really is remarkable that it produces a cup of coffee that some people actually consider possibly the finest coffee they’ve ever tasted.

So conclude this whistle-stop tour of the Aeropress coffee maker, the main advantages are considered to be:

  • Speed of the coffee making process – from only around 30 seconds from kettle to a cup of real, espresso type coffee

  • Lightweight, robust and portable design of the unit

  • Ease of cleaning and maintenance

  • No electricity or heat required

  • Simplicity of operation

  • Relatively low price point compared to many more complex coffee makers

  • A flavour profile that many users report as comparable and even superior to that produced by other, vastly more costly coffee makers

So are there any disadvantages? Well, unlike with a stovetop or electric espresso maker, you don’t get the crema, that light, foamy layer on the top. Some people like this, visually if nothing else. However many users feel that the simplicity, speed and flavour of the coffee produced by an Aeropress coffee maker more than make up for this minor drawback. And of course, it can be quite handy to have an Aeropress coffee maker for regular, convenient day-to-day coffee making, while still having their old espresso maker, percolator, drip machine, or whatever, for occasional use if you fancy a change. Although if you do adopt this system, you may find as many do that you use the Aeropress coffe maker more and more often, and find yourself less and less returning to your old method, which increasingly seems a rather complex, drawn-out and faffy operation for frankly less delicious coffee.

Of course, you may be sceptical about the Aeropress coffee maker, and this is a good thing. Scepticism is healthy, in pretty much all things. It’s healthy to be sceptical with political claims, religious claims, scientific claims – and certainly with something as vitally important to our daily lives as coffee, this level of healthy scepticism should if anything be even greater. Coffee is one thing you really don’t want to get wrong in life. All I’d advise, being completely objective, is to give an Aeropress coffee maker a try. Most people who do so – as evidenced by the huge numbers of overwhelmingly positive independent reviews on retail websites – find themselves very pleasantly surprised. Good luck – and enjoy!