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Coffee on the road: The Aeropress.


If you’re not a coffee nerd, you might not have heard of one of the more interesting gadgets of the last few of years.


The Aeropress by Aerobie

I am speaking, of course, of the Aeropress, manufactured by Aerobie.  I’ll wait a second while you try to figure out why that sounds familiar.

Okay, I’ll tell you, the Aerobie is a flying ring, very similar to the more familiar Frisbee.

The Aerobie flying ring.

The Aerobie flying ring. Photo Credit: Tom A Smith

So, what does a Frisbee knock-of have to do with coffee?

Good question.  Turns out, the same guy, Alan Adler, president of Aerobie, inc, invented them both, and has a number of other accomplishments that thoroughly convince me that Mr. Adler would be a very interesting fella to hang out with.

Anyway, I digress. Back to Coffee.

The Aeropress could be described as the next step in the evevolution of the french press, in that it combines elements of steeping the brew, as well as screening out particulates.

Overall, I find the Aeropress to be a very nice method of producing a single cup of coffee.  There are dozens if not hundreds of recipes and methods on the web for dialing in the perfect cup, and there is even an Aeropress World Championship.

This is clearly a very successful venture by any standard.

In my own case, I find the strongest use case for the Aeropress to be travel and camping.  In my day job, I spend several days a month on the road, and good coffee can be a challenge under the best of circumstances, and a hopeless pipe dream under the worst.

After years of bringing a travel french press with me, I was happy to discover just how well the Aeropress works in, of all places, a hotel room.

The  major advantage that Aeropress has for this application, besides it’s portability, is the fact that a decent cup can be made with slightly cooler water than we might be used to.  The instructions that come with the press specify water around 80°C, or 175°F.   This temperature is completely possible using a hotel coffee maker (although I honestly don’t really care much for the method from the instructions, and if hotter water is available, I’ll use it).

Let me take a brief second to point something out: Over the last 15 years or so, I’ve stayed in a whole bunch of hotels.  Some of them were small independents, and some were gigantic high end chains.  What does every single one have in common?  The coffee machine sucks.  Really, the kindest and most useful thing I can say about any hotel coffee maker is that some of them can make decent hot water.  At least, they can sometimes make a cup of water that meets our temperature needs.

Rant over, thank you.

With our water supply taken care of, all we need now is a small hand grinder and some beans!


My hotel coffee kit

This is my mobile coffee setup – Aeropress with Able Disc fine, Hario Mini-Mill, bag o’ beans, and an orange stuff-sack to keep it all together.

As you can see in the picture above , I can actually carry a nice coffee setup in a fairly small space.  That orange stuff sack is a 10 litre, and there is plenty of room left inside. In addition to the Aeropress, I’ve got a Hario Mini Mill, and a small bag of beans.  In this case, it’s a bag of Kenya that I roasted a couple of days before, using my preferred Whirley-Pop method.

The recipe that I have found that works well for me on the road, given the limitations of my water supply, is to dose around 18-20 grams of coffee, which I grind coarsely with the Mini Mill (it fills the hopper to the second line).

I use the “Right side up” method, and place the Aeropress over a coffee cup (or, more often, a glass).  I drop the grinds into the lower half of the press, and then pour the water over in a swirling motion, to try to wet the grinds as much as possible, rather than let them float on top.  I fill to the top of the press.

Most hotels will provide a small condiment envelope that contains some powdered creamer and a couple color-coded sweetener envelopes.  What I am after, though, is the stir stick.  The longer wooden ones are preferable, as they generally can reach to the filter, while the plastic and cardboard ones tend to be a little shorter.  I stir, being careful to scrape the grinds away from the wall of the press, until the top is covered with a brown, foamy surface that kind of looks like espresso crema.

I then place the plunger on the base of the press, and let the coffee steep for about a minute. Placing the plunger on the base tends to create something of a vacuum, which keeps the coffee from prematurely dripping into the cup. After steeping, I then start a constant pressure press, that generally lasts about 30-45 seconds, until I hear the “hiss” which means the air cushion at the top of the coffee has hit the filter.  You don’t want to squeeze the grinds at this point, as what’s left tends to be overextracted and bitter.

If it all goes well, it’s the best cup of coffee I’ve ever made in a hotel room!

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