When my friend Steve Cross told me he had found an outstanding coffee making device, I listened. He knows coffee. He knows I love great coffee and that I am on a constant quest for fine brew. He loved the coffee I made for him from my home roaster. And who loved it when I took him to my favorite coffee shop, Barefoot. So I was listening when he said:
It makes a great cup of espresso. Takes about 90 seconds to grind coffee, fill, heat water in microwave to around 165 degrees, pour water in funnel, push plunger, take apart and rinse and clean. Amazing.
Besides, listening to Cross's advice is a good idea anyway. If I needed more convincing, the reviews on Amazon and elsewhere clinch it (they seem almost too thrilled)!
To get right down to it: He is right. This makes a great cup of coffee -- or espresso, latte, or (with a little more gear) capuccino. A substitute for a $400 espresso machine? Possibly not for purists but for the rest of us, yes.
No need to detail its operation, their website and others already cover that. The basics: You grind your coffee and toss it into a cylinder. The bottom of the cylinder has a disk of filter paper, held in place by a cap with holes in it. You add a measured amount of water, heated to 165-175 degrees F, stir for ten seconds. Then you insert a tight-fitting plunger that forces the hot coffee through the filter. It takes 20-30 seconds to complete the extraction.
It's like a French press except that the grounds are removed by filter paper rather than a screen. That is important for two reasons. First, the paper removes all solids. You don't have the slightly muddy texture of French press coffee and the complete removal prevents over-extraction, with its bitter flavor components. Second, the plunger and filter allow a much, much finer grind. That means extraction is much more uniform. The larger particles used for French press coffee require a 3-4 minute brew time, over-extracting the outside of each particle before the goodness can be dissolved from the center of the particle.
End result is that the Aeropress, in 30 seconds, pulls the flavor from every coffee molecule and leaves the bitterness behind, with extraordinary efficiency, not unlike a carefully operated, top-grade espresso machine.
I took an espresso workshop once and learned two things: One, that it is quite easy to make good espresso. Two, that it is really hard to make great espresso. Either way, the technique and the gear have to be right. That's why even in coffee shops, there is so much so-so brew out there.
The Aeropress takes away the uncertainties and produces something pretty close to top-notch espresso. The only negative is that I can't achieve a crema with it and the mouthfeel is thin if you're not taking milk with it.
I was surprised to discover that the Aeropress's brew dilutes very nicely to make a cup of regular coffee! With its complete lack of particles, it can be blended, diluted, or augmented to make a fine latter or Americano or plain ol' cup o' Joe.
One last comment, and the purists should probably leave now. If you like a capuccino or a latte (or my favorite -- a "dry latte," which is a latte but with most of the milk replaced by foam), the Aerolatte does a nice job and is worlds easier than steaming. It's a handheld frother with a spinning coil that whips heated milk into a froth in a few seconds.
The Aeropress instructions are well written so I don't need to give details but here is the general flow of my morning routine:
- Put filter disk in Aeropress. Grind the beans (which I roasted the night before) very fine. Pour into Aeropress. Put milk in a cup and water into the plunger (which doubles as a water vessel and is marked for measurement).
- Put water in microwave. (Time needs to be determined by experiment and thermometer: You want 165-175 degrees, and that's important).
- Remove water and put milk into microwave.
- Pour hot water onto grounds, stir with the paddle that is provided for ten seconds.
- Use the plunger. Take your time. A proper draw will take 20-30 seconds.
- Foam the milk. I end up with 3/4 cup of milk-plus-foam (and sometimes add an ounce or so of half-n-half or cream).