On the precipice of AeroPress
The simple and inexpensive coffee brewing device has a devout following, but is it worth tinkering with?
We get many emails asking for our preferred AeroPress recipe, and after many shifting answers and tail-chasing, I think I’ve landed on a response. But first, some background…
I recall in 2006 at the Specialty Coffee Association conference when the spotlight was shining very brightly on a pricey brew-by-the-cup machine called the Clover that had just launched. The Clover made a fast and theatrical cup using a piston, a vacuum, some dials and blue LEDs. The machine helped usher in the current era of single cup brewing and tasting menus and the move away from batch brewed drip. The trend accelerated after Starbucks bought the company behind Clover and independent coffeebars moved toward manual single-cup methods, such as the new to the US market (and soon to be ubiquitous) Hario V60.
But hanging around the booth with all the Clover brewers was the pesky presence of a very loud gentlemen who hadn’t booked a booth of his own but was everywhere hawking his new product called the AeroPress. The man was Alan Adler, the inventor of the Aerobie flying disk (think frisbee, but more of a ring shape) and he was certain his new plastic contraption would revolutionize coffeemaking. He made himself unavoidable.
The AeroPress in that era was claiming to be capable of making espresso shots. It included confusing and convoluted instructions that knowledgeable coffee nerds knew would not produce good results—let alone anything close to proper espresso.
But the AeroPress quickly found a devout and vocal following online in the emerging world of places like Reddit. An “as seen on TV”-like product phenomenon, but happening on the internet. There was a period of time where any blog post or news story touching on any topic around coffee was overwhelmed with comments singing the praises of the AeroPress. For many of those early adopters, it was the first time they were making coffee outside of a Mr. Coffee or capsule machine—their gateway into this new, better coffee universe. Eventually coffee pros stopped rolling their eyes and starting embracing it.
Today the AeroPress is part of the pantheon of manual brew methods. It’s relatively simple, like a big plastic syringe you load up with coffee grounds and hot water, pushing out a brew through a small paper filter disk. It’s inexpensive and goofy enough to seem fun in comparison to more serious looking brew tools. There’s even a high stakes World AeroPress Championship complete with trophies and prizes.
So getting back to the question of the ideal AeroPress recipe…
For better or worse, the AeroPress has given birth to dozens, even hundreds of ways to make your cup. Different ratios of coffee to water, different steep times, different grind settings, special swirls or stirring techniques, upside down and “inverted” brewing, particular geometries for the pucks of spent grounds. The tinkering potential is infinite.
The website Aeroprecipe collects more than a hundred recipes from numerous sources, tagged and sortable. You can even ask it for one at “random”. Our YouTube star pal James Hoffmann recently did a very thorough 3-part series on AeroPress that’s worth a watch.
But here’s my personal take and distilled advice for this device:
Conservatively, I prefer simpler, unfussy recipes that use grounds that aren’t too fine, relatively long-ish steep times, and coffee-to-water ratios more in line with other brew methods. I believe this makes for reliably better and easier to repeat cups (I think James has landed in a similar place with his “ultimate” recipe).
For many, the appeal of AeroPress over its rivals is speed and so they understandably lean toward finer grinds and quicker brew times. Arguably, if you’re going to spend around 3 minutes brewing your cup, you’d be much better served with something like my favorite single cup pourover device, the Kalita Wave 155.
But if you are hunting for AeroPress recipes, I suggest focusing your search on recipes that work with your burr grinder’s sweet spot—the zone of grind adjustment where you see the most uniformity of particle size and least amount of dust or fines. As with most brewing, your grinder will present your biggest constraints. With imperfect grinds you’re more likely to see uneven extractions resulting in bitter or sour brews. The result being that you might give up on the device altogether—or maybe this frustration leads you to becoming one of the committed tail-chasers for whom the AeroPress exerts such a powerful pull? Maybe we’ll see you on stage at the next brewing competition?