If you thought you needed to splurge on a shiny, show-offy kit to make barista-style coffee, then here's some good news for you: many really snobbish bean lovers use a humble press that costs a mere £25.
The AeroPress is not new – it's been around for a decade, and was, bizarrely, invented by Alan Adler, the man previously best known for the Aerobie Frisbee. But this simple, robust gadget makes a mean cup of coffee – so good that many artisan roasters use it in their coffee shops, while aficionados show off their skills at the annual AeroPress championships.
It's an uncomplicated contraption: a circular chamber and a plunger, which are used to force hot water through ground coffee and out via a filter. "It's low-maintenance," James Bailey, of roasters Workshop Coffee, explains as to why his company uses the AeroPress in its London cafés. "It doesn't smash; it's easy to clean. It does what it needs to in a very utilitarian way."
So popular is it that there are various "hacks" and twists to vary the results. Here, Bailey shares his guide to pressing your AeroPress into service – from absolute beginners to the coffee nerd's perfect cup…
1. The basic press
The AeroPress comes with a coffee scoop; put a filter in the bottom of the chamber, pop a couple of scoops in, fill right up with just-boiled water, and give it a good stir. "You've got the nice rubber seal at the bottom of the plunger, too – a lot of people forget to put it on [to create a vacuum] and the coffee drains through the filter quickly before you plunge it," says Bailey. "So pop the plunger in to let it steep: that's the first step to improving it."
And if you're thinking that anything beyond Nescafé feels "posh", think again: brands of ground coffee that you can buy in supermarkets simply won't do, Bailey insists. "Most stuff that's readily available across the country at any time of the year is terrible. Buy from a barista who can at least tell you where the coffee is from, when it was picked, who roasted it. As a rule of thumb, I'd never buy a bag of coffee without a roast date on it."
2. Better coffee
The gadget you really do need? A grinder. Bailey swears those 30 seconds of effort will elevate your coffee no end; a simple hand-grinder costing £15 will do. "Everyone has a pepper mill at home," he points out. "Everyone has their own corkscrew – you don't buy your bottle of wine open."
Second, choose freshly harvested beans – this is, he claims, far more important than where they hail from: "Different countries pick their [coffee] cherries at different times of the year and if you have coffee that's very fresh, it has a lot more character to give out when it's roasted." Try different brands to find beans you like – aside from Workshop's own, Bailey recommends Drop, Five Elephant and Small Batch.
Play around with the grind. "If you grind it very fine, then you're able to brew it very fast. If you're taking your time, coarse grind, pop the top in, come back 10 minutes later and slowly push it." How you plunge can also change the cup: "If you like a thick, heavy-bodied cup, use a little more coffee and plunge hard: you will get more of the oils through. I favour a slow plunge: you get good clarity of flavour."
Make sure you rinse the filters before use – no one wants papery coffee! And milk is a no-no for Bailey: it changes the taste vastly.
But the easiest tip? Don't neck it. "Don't drink it piping hot. Your taste buds won't be able to assess what's going on until the coffee gets down to about body temperature. Take your time is really the hack."
3. The expert brew
Embrace your inner pedant and invest in little weighing scales. Workshop uses 250ml of water to 17g of coffee, which makes one big cup or two small. "Coffee is a pretty potent ingredient – little variances, a gram more or less, will make a difference."
A simple hack is to buy a special metal filter, which results in a thicker, oily coffee, but "if you like thin, clear, open flavours, use two or even three papers", says Bailey, who prefers his coffee "like juice, or hot squash".
Finally, get the water right. Bailey recommends filtering tap water at least, and ideally buying a soft, pH-neutral mineral water that's low in calcium and bicarbonate, which "buffer a lot of the bright notes".
Bailey is a fan of Waitrose's Essential table water: "It's £1 and it's really good for brewing coffee. Volvic is good, Duchy is good; Spa is this Belgian water that's a little bit acidic, which makes coffees really sparkly."
4. Hack the press!
The best-known hack is simple: turn the AeroPress upside down (with the plunger already in place). This inverted method allows you to brew without losing any dribbles, and there's no rush to get the top in; once steeped to taste, just flip it into your mug with one hand on the plunger and the other on the chamber.
Another twist is to use cold water, then store in the fridge overnight. Voilà! Cold-brew coffee: delicious, and trendy enough to boast about. Bailey's tip is to make it a bit stronger than your average brew – that way, you can pour it over ice for the perfect, melty blend.
And if all this sounds like a lot of effort just for a coffee, would you be sold if we were to mention booze? Bailey knows people who've cold-brewed beer over coffee in an AeroPress, or even used it to infuse spirits. Apparently, a coffee gin and tonic is a thing now in the US…
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