Is it an Alternative for Espresso or Not?
We are revisiting a brewing device that was long ago dismissed as an alternative for espresso.
Of course I'm talking about the Aeropress.
Full admission. I was an anti Aeropress-er (not anymore).
For those of you not familiar with the Aeropress way of making coffee it's a strange looking plastic device that looks like a giant syringe.
Basically you put ground coffee in, add water, place in a paper or reusable metal filter, invert and plunge (or just plunge) the brew into your cup.
The result? A drip coffee-like drink that is slightly pressure brewed. Why bother with it? Because it is relatively affordable at $30.
The Aeropress has proven itself to be a successful brewing device and spawned a world championship for barista's to test their mettle with the famed aeropress plunge. Some barista’s adopt conventional techniques while others invert it and use more ingenious ways like plunging dressed like Rick Flair. That being said, I've always maintained that Aeropress is a great way for brewing small quantities of drip coffee, but therein lies its limitation.
It really does not make espresso.
I'm sure the founder Alan Adler is leaning forward in his chair saying damn you it does make espresso, but actually it can’t.
Bars of Pressure
It does create a pressure brewed coffee at approximately 2 to 2.5 bars of pressure but nowhere near what's needed to form a true espresso at 8.5 to 9.5 bars of pressure. It's like saying that an omelette is the same as a fried egg therefore I can substitute an omelette with a fried egg. In reality you would not accept a fried egg at a restaurant if you order the omelette. Both types of cooked eggs are different. I look at the Aeropress and Espresso in the same way, in that Aeropress creates a pressure brewed coffee, not an espresso.
What is Espresso?
Let's start by saying it is not that labelled bag of beans you just bought. Just because it bears the name doesn’t make it espresso. What makes it espresso is the method which must utilize between 8.5 and 9.5 bars of pressure, which only Hulk Hogan can produce with his bare arms, otherwise an espresso machine is required. Of course there are many more rules to what makes an espresso, which you can see here.
No Espresso Machine? No Problem!
For the longest time, when I am without easy access to an espresso machine, I would never consider pulling out the Aeropress and instead use the Moka Pot if someone asked for a latte. Mostly because the Moka Pot makes a thicker brew than the Aeropress. And, if you add steamed milk to an aeropress coffee it turns into the French interpretation of a latte - cafe au lait. Yuk, boring! … Technically the Moka pot does not generate enough pressure to make an espresso either. But as far as an alternative, it definitely is scrambled eggs to your fried eggs.
Use the Aeropress, not the Moka Pot!
So why am I now changing my mind on using the aeropress to make lattes and espressos substitutes?
The basic advantage of aeropress is that it's relatively easy to clean. Moka pots are messy. Difficult to get coffee grounds into the filter and hard to get wet coffee grinds out of the filter too, it is just messy for even the obsessive types. Its far easier to clean an aeropress especially if you're using paper filters all you have to do is unscrew it and then plunge off the filter and spent grounds into a garbage can and give it a quick rinse. So for that reason alone, I'm willing to substitute the aeropress in favour of the Moka pot, but both are imperfect substitutes for real espresso. But when you're social distancing and in quarantine these imperfect substitutions feel like you hit the treasure chest on Oak Island.
So how do you use the aeropress? We already know it doesn't generate enough pressure. The only way to make up for that shortcoming is to increase the extraction of the coffee. In other words we need to get more flavour out of the grounds of coffee. The easiest way to do that is to let the coffee sit in the aeropress longer. It may take between 30 and 60 seconds for some coffees and up to 2 minutes to brew espresso-like qualities. I would like to recommend extending the time past 2 minutes, but you should only do that if the intended result is based on taste and not recipe rules.
I would also recommend finer grind although that might cause you problems with the plunge. If you increase the fine-ness of the grind you will get more flavour out of the coffee, but the plunge might require a lot more brute strength. Be careful because there's some accidents that can happen if you're using a lot of brute force in trying to plunge the aeropress into your small unstable porcelain coffee mug. For this reason I'm going to suggest that you keep the grind relatively in a fine drip setting. To make up for the potential loss in not being able to go finer for more flavor, I will recommend you increase the brewing time.
Alternative Aeropress Method
This is top secret alien technology recovered from the Roswell incident. You can stir the hell out of the coffee. In other words add the water, take a small spoon or this special space-age spatula that comes with the aeropress and stir like a UFO. How much you stir depends on taste. We can give you suggestions, but basically if you agitate the coffee severely you will extract more flavour in a relatively shorter time. Now this may taste like crap or you may find that you liked it. My point is that you should do what your taste bud thinks is better until you learn to taste coffee like the professionals taste, which will be coming later on in the series.
In summary, yes I'm saying the aeropress can be used to make a redneck latte or a backwoods espresso. Either way it's a viable alternative if you've gone three weeks without a real latte and you just need something to remind you of what life was like pre-pandemic.
Is that an Aeropress Endorsement?
Sounds like a full endorsement of the aeropress because I've now said that it is capable of giving us an espresso substitute. So why am I still sounding like I'm on the fence with the product?
All single serve brew methods like aeropress, v60, Kalita etc, have one fatal flaw and that is if you are like a typical household with roommates or family members in isolation together, then potentially there is more than just you that wants a coffee, maybe even six of you. By the time the sixth person watches you fiddle with the aeropress, making those little single servings of coffee it's been close to 20 minutes or more. The same flaws exist in the cafe, which is why I am disappointed with cafes that try to do mass service of drip coffee using these single-serve methods. Most consumers will be turned away or not even bother to come to your cafe knowing how long it takes for a brewed coffee. Bottom line nothing beats a drip brewer for making coffee for more than one person. And like I've said repeatedly, coffee to me is a social drink. It's meant to be shared. In some respects I'm saying that single serve coffee makers are for the anti-social and COVID-19 says we can't do that. We don't have the option of being antisocial with coffee at home, it should be made in bulk, family style and shared so that everyone can wake up in the morning and not be waiting in a long lineup for aeropress coffee snapping at each other.
To Invert or Not
And one more thing, we need to let you know there are 2 fundamental ways to use the Aeropress to make coffee at home. The normal and the inverted. Now, you can go online and look for a recipe from a world champion and try to mimic it, but, what we have been saying all along is this.
Coffee needs to be fresh and it changes from day to day. So, the recipe the world champion used was specifically for and in response to the coffee they were using to win. The essence of the recipe, regardless if you make it el normale or el invertedarato is to use 60 grams of ground coffee per litre of water and with the Aeropress you normally can only brew about 250 to 300 ml of water so if we do a little math that makes your dry coffee about 15 to 19 grams. Again, don’t just do this, but taste it and find out if it is delicious or not and make adjustments each time you make it to taste better and better for your preference and palette.