Sunday, December 19, 2010

Buy the Aeropress and save hundreds (thousands?) of dollars:

The Aerobie Aeropress makes an excellent cup of coffee. It has been compared favorably to an espresso-maker that costs $8,000. I appreciate good coffee. I had an espresso-maker that cost nearly $300 (possibly the best espresso-maker that, at under ten pounds, I can easily carry), and I was thinking, wistfully, about buying a more expensive one. But I will be happy with my $30 Aeropress. What a money-saver!

If you search for this product on the web, you will see people lauding it to the skies. But take a caveat: people who say it makes great espresso ought to warn you that the Aeropress makes no “crema,” the special light brown froth that fine espresso-makers generate on top of the coffee. (Espresso “fans” who fail to mention the crema issue sound like amateurs to me.) A taste of Aeropress espresso may convince you that you can live without crema. Frankly, I’m going to miss it, but the taste of the coffee is still what counts.

Before lauding this product to the skies, I’ll mention two other issues: It’s a challenge to make a single-shot espresso with the Aeropress. A fancy espresso machine might do that better. Also, the Aeropress seems to be an espresso-maker, not a coffee-maker. The instructions tell you to add hot water if you want a full cup, the so-called “American cup”of coffee. I’m making excellent espresso, but I haven’t learned how to make really good “American” yet. (Much of the problem is that I rarely try; I just drink another espresso!)

When you try to make a single shot of espresso in the Aeropress, you will face a funny problem. Just follow the instructions, and you will wind up with a mug containing an ounce or so of coffee. Are you going to drink a shot of espresso out of a mug? No. Are you going to pour it into an espresso cup, leaving a few precious coffee drops behind, and greatly lowering the drinking temperature? No. Well, you can follow the instructions I gave (just below) in this blog, for preparing your Aeropress espresso directly in an espresso cup, by using the Aeropress funnel. No, that’s too dangerous. Take your choice.

Obviously, the single-shot issue does not apply if you’re making multiple shots, a latte, a capuchino, etc., etc. (Note that you can make a quadruple-shot and add water, to have the equivalent of four traditional cups of coffee, prepared in no time.) Fancy espresso-makers can froth milk for you, but there’s a $15 thingy that can do the same trick, once you heat the milk. Now let’s mention a few more wonderful things about the Aeropress:

It’s easy to clean. No other coffee-maker is easy to clean! With all the others, from time to time you have to do serious scrubbing, or even replace parts, to get your maker clean again. With the Aeropress, you briefly rinse one part, and you’re done. (Optionally, you can rinse the inexpensive filter to re-use it.) The easy cleaning ought to sway millions of coffee drinkers, even if the Aeropress was a weak sister coffee-maker, but it’s not.

I’m comparing the Aeropress to both my French Press (Aeropress is much tastier) and my espresso-maker (Aeropress is better, except for the lack of crema). So far, I have tested with really excellent coffee beans from Terroir. In a few months, I’ll be experimenting with cheap coffee, to see how that goes.

The Aeropress makes coffee very quickly. Most coffee-makers enforce a “reflection/expectation” phase, when you can smell the coffee and you’re waiting to be able to drink it. With the Aeropress, once your water is at the right temperature, you work quickly and in thirty seconds, you can start to drink.

The Aeropress makes fine-tasting coffee. The quick brewing time means less acid, and a smoother taste.

A note about water temperature: you’re probably going to want a thermometer so that you can experiment, and consistently get the temperature you want. If you decide you want higher temperatures (around 195F), then a cheap candy thermometer will be fine. To get the lower temperatures (down to 165F), you may prefer an “instant” thermometer that gives you a readout in a second. You can alternatively buy a $50 water pot (intended primarily for tea) that will heat water to any selected temperature. Hey, you can afford it, since you didn’t buy that $500 espresso-maker!

Using the Aeropress is very easy, but if you’re like me, be prepared to screw up before it all becomes a smooth habit. Here’s my most embarrassing brew: I got the water to about 185 degrees; I poured it into the Aeropress and stirred for ten seconds; I pressed down and gently pushed the water through the filter into my cup. That’s when I realized I had put no coffee grounds in the Aeropress. (I felt really stupid about the ten seconds of stirring)

There’s one more important thing to say about the Aeropress. Depending upon your own natural mind-set this is either a blessing or a curse: you have many degrees of freedom to control, to produce the cup of coffee you like best. Many expensive coffeemakers will not give you this much control. Here are your degrees of freedom:
  1. Decide how much to grind the beans. (You can grind store-bought grounds as well, to make them finer.)
  2. Choose your water Temperature. People recommend anywhere from 165 to 195 F. What’s right for you?
  3. Control the filter. It can be new, carefully cleaned, or lightly cleaned. (Most coffee-makers retain coffee stains from previous uses. You can try to mimic this “carry-over” by reusing a dirty filter.)
  4. Decide how fast to push the water through the grounds.
  5. Decide how much water to push through the grounds. E.g., to make a single-shot, you might fill to just below the “1” or just above it.
  6. Choose your type of coffee.
  7. Decide how long to stir: the instructions suggest ten seconds, but you can do more or less, stirring vigorously or gently. Stirring has an affect on the water temperature.
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