In Praise of the Simple Coffee-Making Aeropress

The Aeropress is the brew method of choice at Phil & Sebastian's new Calgary coffeehouse

The Aeropress is the brew method of choice at Phil & Sebastian’s new Calgary coffeehouse

In the high-tech coffee world, cafes spend thousands of dollars on fancy machines to produce perfect cups of espresso or drip java. Yet a $25-35 plastic tube is increasingly elbowing its way into the mix at highfalutin coffeehouses.

It’s called the Aeropress, invented by Alan Adler, who also came up with the Aerobie flying ring. I do the Aeropress a bit of disservice. It’s actually two plastic tubes, one rubber-bottomed tube fitting tightly inside the other. There’s just one other piece, a black plastic cap, with a bunch of small holes, that screws onto the bottom of the larger, outside tube.

Here’s essentially how it works. Place a thin, circular paper filter inside the black cap and screw the latter on to the outside tube, placing said tube on a warmed-up cup. Dump freshly ground coffee (16 to 22 grams, depending on cup size and strength preference) into the tube and pour near-boiling water to almost fill the tube. Stir, wait a bit and then push the rubber-bottomed inner tube to the bottom of the outer tube, expelling the coffee through the filter into the cup. It takes a surprising amount of force and time, about 20 seconds, to push the liquid through.

David preparing an inverted-style Aeropress drink at Cupper's Coffee & Tea in Lethbridge, Alberta

David preparing an inverted-style Aeropress drink at Cupper’s Coffee & Tea in Lethbridge, Alberta

The Aeropress has been around for nearly a decade. But maybe because it was so simple or/and coffeehouses had invested so much in expensive machines that it’s taken awhile to win more widespread commercial appeal. But that’s certainly changing. Indeed, I saw Aeropresses being used in three upscale southern Alberta coffee shops in the past couple of weeks.

“It’s incredibly simple but brilliant in the way it works,” says Phil Robertson, co-owner of Phil & Sebastian, which uses the Aeropress to make individually brewed cups of coffee at one of its three Calgary coffeehouses. He loses me when delving into the details of things like the backpressure created in the tube. But the essence is the Aeropress produces a great cup of coffee. I like making it super strong and adding hot water for a potent Americano.

A little chocolate cake? No, it's the thick puck I produce from the Aeropress grounds when making my potent Americano

A little chocolate cake? No, it’s the thick puck I produce from the Aeropress grounds when making my potent Americano

Now, as in anything coffee related, there are many nuances in the way various shops use the Aeropress. Some prefer paper filters, others metal. Some like a coarser grind, others a finer one. Some like the standard method, others an inversion technique. Brewing times may vary.

But the beauty of the Aeropress, beside the low cost, is the simplicity of its use. The average coffee drinker using a home espresso maker is at a considerable disadvantage trying to compete with a skilled barista manning an industrial espresso machine. But with a quality bean and a wee bit of practice, home users can pretty much match the Aeropress results of the pros. A bonus is the workout you get doing those one-armed “pushdowns”.

So when you hear coffee connoisseurs talking about espresso “pulls”, don’t be surprised if they also get into Aeropress “pushes”.

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