Tuesday, May 09, 2006

first blush--aeropress

so i've been hearing about this aeropress gadget around the web. it's quietly raising eyebrows and quietly getting reviews on prominent coffee sites by folks who hold the power to launch it right. i say quietly because, as basically a couple pieces of glorified plastic and rubber, maybe the powers that be don't want to admit that it is, all things considered, a decent coffee producer and a heck of a bargain. so what did i do? i went out and ordered one online. it arrived today, along with some other coffee stuff and i sent the kids outside to play for a bit...in the 93F texas heat.

i'm one of those kinds of people who learns with a split mix of visual and kinetic learning. meaning, if there's a manual for a new product i have to read the entire thing first, then go through a mock dry run using the equipment while following the manual, then go for the real thing. so when the aeropress arrived i quickly shuffled away the packing peanuts, ripped open the box, laid out all the pieces and the manual and commenced inventorying and reading.

first, the "manual" is hardly that. it's one sheet of thick paper. second, it's a snap to read with clear instructions and even some helpful best practice tips thrown in for good measure. third, well, i don't think there is a third, but since three is a Godly number and a number of completion, i'll say that the manual was written by english speakers, for english speakers.

now, a quick side note. as thompson owen of sweet maria's says on his website the packaging is just plain embarrassing. as in, embarrassing for the manufacturer, embarrassing for coffee professionals, maybe even for your average discerning, thoughtful consumer. the first thing i noticed about the packaging was its claims to create espresso. false. and dumb. espresso is way, way more than just concentrated coffee. it's, well, er, --okay, let's leave the metrics of espresso for its own someday post. suffice to say, i almost expected to see an "as seen on tv" sticker somewhere on the large-firecracker-like box.

no matter. i had bigger fish to fry. i quickly walk over to my pantry to select a coffee for this experiment. i had roasted some beans for an account and had miscalculated the overages and found myself with several half pounds of about four different coffees. after deciding against a central because i thought it might be too boring (see one of my posts below) i narrowed it down to an african and an indonesian and finally decided on a decaf (wp) kenya. i know, i know: decaf? but i take extra special care sourcing/sampling decafs i carry because i don't like for them to lose a step to their caffeinated cousin. and i figured what better coffee to really pull out clarity notes from using this contraption than a kenya?

so i fired up the ol' kettle with some water, ground more kenya on the ol' mahlkonig than i needed (in case i wanted to do several tests) and made double sure i had all the parts i needed laid out sequentially.

now, here's the part that most flies in the face of tradition. not only does this contraption claim a very short brew cycle--they say start to finish is under a minute--they also claim, controversially and, to my mind, incorrectly, that the proper extraction temp is between 165-175F. i recall in my days with big green leading a workshop for a bunch of fellow starbuckians (coffee masters) where one of the exercises we pulled from the coffee and tea manual was to brew two presses of coffee, one at normal temp, around 195-200F and one at just ten degrees below that, at 185F. i picked, again, kenya because, one, i'm a sucker for kenya's bright but caramelized grapefruit and two because, well, any notes in the cup are going to be most exaggerated coming from a kenya. what did we find? you guessed it: tepid tasting, dull and lifeless swill in the cooler press versus alive, crisp and juicily tart kenya in the hotter one.

thus, my skepticism on aeropress's cooler temp. how could you possibly extract more from less, and in less time? one would think you would need either higher temp or longer time (or a little of both) to pull out all the chemical compounds, acidity and fullness from the coffee. and to top it off, aeropress uses a filter to trap some of the rich, silt-like sediment we've all come to know and love.

anyways, my water heated too hot so there i sat, therm in cup, waiting for some to cool before putting it in the water chamber and then into the coffee. waiting. waiting. man, i'd better not be waiting so long for sucky coffee. finally the appropriate temp arrived and away i went.

one other thing i found in two trial runs that i didn't care for was the inability of the water to easily penetrate the bottom of the grounds without the help of the stir stick. this leads, in my opinion, to unevenly extracted grounds, especially with a steep time of less then a minute. i stuck that thing down there and was a little upset to feel the crunching of dried grounds at the bottom. but stir i did and then i placed the suction chamber on top and began to press as instructed.

let's just say i was a little underwhelmed with the results as they appeared in the cup. but, remembering the old adage to never cup with your eyes, i proceeded. of course, i had to taste this straight shot first, to see for myself what the manufacturer was claiming was delicious "espresso." i think my choice of kenya helped me and helped the manufacturer. me, because i noticed what others have said about it: lots of clarity and those characteristic kenya notes came bursting through the cup. the manufacturer, because if it hadn't been such an extraordinary berry burst of a kenya i probably would've been gauging it against true espresso instead of merely thinking of it as an extra strength african. i proceeded to add water and...oops. i added maybe a bit too much. or maybe not. after tasting the concentrate, i honestly couldn't tell.

for my second run i decided to up the ante from a "1" shot to a "4" shot. why not see the full run? this time i was dead certain there was something wrong about the water not penetrating the grinds, especially since there were so many more grinds to penetrate and only by risking spillage over the side during stirring several times was i able to mix water and coffee adequately. the "4" pull, oddly, didn't seem to extract all that much more than the "1" leaving me to wonder whether i had done something wrong ("crap. i misread the one page manual") but adding an appropriate amount of water yielded a surprisingly decent cup.

now on to some likes/dislikes about this device. one. cleanup is a snap, as advertised. you need little more than water, mild soap and a paper towel and sometimes not even the soap. second, i actually really enjoyed the flavors that came out of the cup. while i'm still rolling my eyes at the manual's/box's claims of the richest, smoothest, most delicious coffee and espresso you've ever tasted in your whole entire life, the end result was better than i had feared and almost as good as i had anticipated. i do think i want to continue tweaking, though, and i'll probably start first by raising the temp to closer to normal ranges. maybe they know the average consumer won't be able to tell the difference of lost high notes that may come out with the coffee exposed to higher temps. but i'm not average. i'm nerdy on coffee. so i'll make my own adjustments and recommendations, thank you very much.

another item in the like department is the step by step instructions and how well they correlate to the actual product. this, coupled with very strong ease of use design elements incorporated onto the product itself, is a big win. maybe even my mom will take to using a coffee device the prescribed way. okay, maybe not. but she could relatively easily, is my point. (sorry mom. must be a left-handed thing.) and the price is right. for just under $30 it was worth the price of admission and certainly better than any so-named, so-priced espresso machine one might find on the aisles of wal-mart.

dislikes? i think i've pretty much spelled them out above. silly marketing/packaging. unecessary claims to coffee messiah-hood. my personal hangups about steeping time/temp.

i heard someone say the aeropress could be the $30 answer to clover. having not tasted the fruits of said clover i can't judge. but i respect the person who made the claim and i'm sure it's worthy of investigation. (so if clover equipment co. wants to send me a demo machine i'll be happy to blog about it to my one, two, maybe three readers.)

clover for the masses or not, i had fun using the device and i will use it again and show it to all my coffee friends. who knows, but with some tweaking this could become my prefered method...at least for my morning cup and at least until my demo clover arrives.


At Wednesday, 10 May, 2006, Anonymous Stephen Leighton said...

Right on review. Kind of hits all the points I love and hate about the aeropress. But overall I think its one of the most exciting things to hit the home market this year, if they would just stop with the silly claims, and naff packaging :)

At Wednesday, 10 May, 2006, Blogger blanco said...

heh! thanks, steve. your reading and commenting means a lot to me. thanks for gracing my blog with your eyes.

At Thursday, 11 May, 2006, Anonymous Mark said...

Personally, I've decided to remain quiet about the Aeropress because the inventor is a bit too close minded on some things, like

a) trying to compare the output to espresso
b) refusing to actually discover what is extracted by espresso preparation
c) is very weird on the subject of LDL cholestorol.

And, the reason why he recommends the brewing temps he does, is because he uses stale, old, extra crispy coffee.

That said, with the metal filter (which he won't sell), it can come surprisingly close to the Clover in terms of taste in the cup, if you match the clover's brewing parameters.

At Thursday, 11 May, 2006, Blogger blanco said...


what are some of those parameters?

At Thursday, 11 May, 2006, Anonymous Mark said...

I meant, whatever parameters you use on the clover, match that on the aeropress, with the metal small hole filter (0.05" hole size), and it's hard to tell the difference.

You'd match up

- water temps
- grind fineness
- grind dose
- stirring
- steep time (you can steep with the aeropress by inserting the plunger on an angle to get it in further before sealing it, then straighten the plunger, and pull up slightly to keep all the brew in the chamber)

It essentially works just like a clover under this use.


At Thursday, 11 May, 2006, Blogger blanco said...

ah yes. excellent. now if my demo clover would only arrive.... :)

At Monday, 15 May, 2006, Anonymous Stephen Leighton said...

I've enjoyed the whole extraction times with the aeropress and until the clover comes to the UK I'll remain happy.

Blanco, thanks for the blog, it rocks and I love reading it. Really sorry you can’t make Bern, would have been great to meet up with you, and share a beer.

Next time


At Wednesday, 17 May, 2006, Blogger blanco said...

you rock, steve. i have loved perusing your website just to see what you've got going on. maybe i could come work for you...washing dishes in the back room or something similar.

At Friday, 10 April, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.




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