Caffeine please...
January 24, 2012 8:13 AM   Subscribe

Help me perfect my aeropress coffee!

I've had this thing for like 3 years, but I've always felt like the coffee was waaay too weak, albeit tasty. I would use freshly roasted coffee, ground finely (although I never felt like I could get a remotely even's just the cheap whirly grinder type thing), and I'm pretty sure there was a time in my life that I did measure the temperature of the water, aiming for hot-but-not-too-hot. I can't do that now though.

Now, I li sample ve in a dorm room, and I am Out Of Space. So, preground coffee it is (or cafeteria coffee, which doesn't suck, but isn't great). Last week, I found myself with a packet of preground starbucks coffee (the new blonde roast, which is surprisingly good, I guess I don't like bold coffee as much as I thought) - nowhere near fresh, probably, but I measured it when it was already ground, without thinking, so I used a ton more coffee (any tips on measuring preground coffee?). That, plus the fact that I was using a super-tiny mug so I didn't dilute the coffee much meant that it was probably the best aeropress cup I've ever had. But do I really have to use a ton of coffee to get that? And only get a small cup out of it?

Also, coffee purchasing: I can't afford nice coffee (especially when I have unlimited access to dining hall coffee, so I can't justify spending much on coffee at all). What can I get (preground - no room for a grinder!) at the grocery store that would suffice for the aeropress? Unfortunately, I don't have access to the grocery store grinding machine deals, either (nyc grocery stores, not normal grocery stores).

Finally, I'd like to try this technique, but I do not have the luxury of a scale, or measuring unground beans, or grinding my own coffee, or a thermometer (but I do have this, with its adjustable temperature dial - I just don't know how to tell how hot the water is.

I recognize I don't have the tools for great coffee, but I'd like to do my best - anyone have any tips for aeropressing?
posted by R a c h e l to Food & Drink (20 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Despite the claims on the side of the box, the Aeropress basically makes a decent brewed coffee, and certainly nothing approaching an espresso. If grinding, and weighing the dose are out, then of all the parameters that you can still adjust, I think use of a timer to measure brewing time is probably most important to consistency. You may then just have to take careful notes about what three tablespoons of coffee tastes like, compared to three table spoons and a tea spoon, and what a long brew time tastes like compared to short.
posted by roofus at 8:40 AM on January 24, 2012

There is a World Aeropress Championship every year where baristas show off their techniques. I've learned a lot by looking at the winners' "recipes". Some are way easier than others. I definitely suggest an inverted method. Also, I don't weigh my coffee, but use quite a bit. After you have found how much ground coffee you like using, you should be able to eyeball it pretty consistently. I also don't take the water's temp.
Here's my method:
1. Boil water
2. Fill inverted aeropress with the hot water to the "2" mark
3. Soak filter with hot water
4. Take water off heat source (unplug your hot pot) and uncover/open to let cool
5. Grind beans (you would skip this step, but wait a minute or two)
6. Swirl water in aeropress around, move to mug, swirl in mug
7. Put coffee grounds (I use about 3.5 tablespoons/20 grams) in inverted aeropress
8. Fill with slightly cooled water
9. Wait 15 seconds
10. Stir 10 seconds
11. Screw on filter cap and carefully flip onto mug
12. Press down with even pressure until I hear the hissing sound then stop
13. Enjoy
This process takes about 4 minutes after the water is boiled.

As far as coffee, there must be places in nyc to get good, inexpensive coffee, ground to order, but I don't live there, so I could only speculate.
posted by 2ghouls at 8:44 AM on January 24, 2012 [6 favorites]

I typically grind two spoonfulls (the included measure) of beans (at a medium grind, maybe? about the size of sand grains), add about 175°F water to between the 2 and 3 on the aeropress and stir. I start pressing after about 20 seconds and finish by 30 seconds from initially pouring the water into the ginds. That works well for me, and I add further hot water to taste, as it comes out quite strong.

If you have even a tiny amount of space a kitchen thermometer and small hand-cranked burr grinder were the two things that made the most immediate difference in my coffee enjoyment. The burr grinder takes about as long to grind the beans by hand as the water does to reach temperature, and gives a much more even grind than the whirly-blades. You can pick up both of them for less than $40, and they only take up about 4 square inches of space.

I'd love to try the upside-down method, too. Thanks for another link highlighting it.

On preview, what roofus said, if you can't swing a burr grinder and thermometer; use trial and error, and record what settings work well for you.
posted by BevosAngryGhost at 8:49 AM on January 24, 2012

My technique will no doubt horrify some coffee purists, but it works for me.

I use pre-ground coffee, because having to grind coffee before I have coffee would basically be impossible. Also, too loud at 5:30 in the morning. The grind is fairly fine, but not all-the-way-espresso fine.

I heat the water to about 170 degrees - I have a cheap thermometer from the grocery store, but I can pretty much tell by the sound of the water in the kettle when it's getting to the right temp.

I use two scoops per cup - each scoop is about two tablespoons, I think. Put the coffee in the inverted press, add water halfway, stir, let sit for a few seconds, add more water, stir again, put the filter (rinsed) on, invert, press, add water, drink.

We have regular-size coffee cups in our house, by the way.
posted by rtha at 8:51 AM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

I find the aeropress takes a lot of coffee to make a decent cup.
posted by jbenben at 9:11 AM on January 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Just use more coffee grounds per cup. You might also try agitating longer than the recommended ten seconds. I'm perfectly happy with my Aeropress brew (not espresso at all, as pointed out).

The "inverted brew" method sounds like a lot of work for not much gain.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 9:25 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

The #1 thing that improved my Aeropress coffee was grinding the beans right before brewing. Before you say you don't have enough room, look at the Hario Mini Mill Slim. I use it at work, where space is at a premium. It's a tiny hand-powered grinder that holds exactly two Aeropress scoops worth of beans (seconding rtha that two scoops is the right amount). I start grinding when I start heating up my water, and by the time the water is done, the beans are done too.
posted by zsazsa at 9:26 AM on January 24, 2012

I find I need to use almost twice the coffee for the Aeropress as I would for a cup made in my Swissgold one-cup filter. But it's worth it. I've tried the 'inverted brew' method and it's a lot of faffing about for something that's no different from a cup made in the normal way.

I use boiling water straight from the kettle, and a fairly fine grind - almost the finest grind on my Cuisinart burr grinder. I pour on the water, give it a stir for a few seconds and then use the plunger. This gets me a nice strong brew with a decent 'crema', which I then dilute with more hot water to make an Americano.

I also reuse the filter, peeling it off the 'puck' of coffee. I've got 23 uses from a single filter before I've finally ditched it. (This is not tightwaddery, just to see how many times I could reuse it.)
posted by essexjan at 9:47 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

The biggest possible difference you can make is to buy a tiny little hand grinder (like the Hario mentioned above) and grind your beans fresh. It takes a minute or two, but it is worth it. Otherwise, I find the upside down method works well, I let it sit for about 2 minutes after stirring (so probably 2.5 minutes with stirring and pressing). I use water around 90C, but there is a range around there that works well. If you could borrow or buy a thermometer, you could calibrate your adjustable kettle and then know how to set it going forward.
posted by ssg at 10:25 AM on January 24, 2012

Definitely agitate for more than ten seconds. The day I spaced out and agitated for like 30 seconds changed everything for me. I always do it that way now.

Other than that, essexjan posts for me.
posted by bink at 10:32 AM on January 24, 2012

I found that pre-heating the Aeropress cannister and cup, and letting the coffee grounds steep while inverted for longer than recommended (I slowly count to 15 or 20 instead of timing 10 seconds) have made the largest difference for me. I use pre-ground coffee from Target (Caribou) that is optimized for a drip coffee maker, 1 scoop of grounds and I fill up the entire cannister with hot water. In fact, this makes coffee strong enough that I dilute it some with hot water for a cup of coffee.

From reading through some of the coffeegeek forums, here's my understanding of how the different variables can be tweaked to take care of specific problems:

1. Weak coffee - this means under-extracted coffee, which can happen if your water isn't hot enough (unlikely), it's ground too coarsely (very likely with supermarket coffee), and/or you're not letting it steep long enough. Since you're using a coarser grind than recommended, you probably have significant leakage out the bottom of the Aeropress while you're brewing which will definitely exacerbate watery coffee. The inverted method fixes this, and once you pick up how to smoothly turn it over without spilling (very simple!) you'll regret not doing it before. This also lets you brew for longer without losing all the coffee out the bottom with a coarse grind, reducing the amount of coffee you need to use. The coarser the coffee, the longer you need to brew in order to extract the flavor.

2. Sour coffee - in my experience, Aeropress coffee is not super-great with single-source beans that are lightly roasted, because the sour note really comes to the foreground in a way I find unpleasant. In general, Aeropress coffee is "flatter" but also cleaner than what you'd get in a french press, which in my opinion works much better with a medium or darker roast that would taste too burnt or bitter in a french press.

3. Bitter coffee - this means over-extracted beans. Happens if your water is too hot and/or you brew too long. If you start getting bitter flavors, turn your heat down until you brew long enough to get a strong cup of coffee without bitterness.
posted by iminurmefi at 10:44 AM on January 24, 2012 [6 favorites]

I didn't notice any special benefit from the inverted method. I just spilled more grounds into my cup.
posted by willpie at 10:49 AM on January 24, 2012

Please note I'm not much of a coffee snob and the Aeropress makes great coffee for me without much problem

Coffee - I've really been enjoying the Seattle's Best coffee in the blue bag which is a medium roast. I realized that although I like dark roast in Canada, in the US dark roasts taste too bitter and burnt. It's preground so that would work for you.

Water temp - I err on the 'too cool' side of things. I let the kettle boil, turn off the heat and let it sit for a minute or two. Hotter water, closer to boiling, makes coffee that is more bitter than I like.

Measurements - I use one scoop of coffee per cup. This is the provided scoop so I'm guessing it's like 2 tbsp. I fill up the water to between the 2 and 3 cup measures then, after I press through the coffee, I top up my cup with more water (which is why I don't care where I fill the measure to). I don't find that this is weak coffee at all. It's not espresso strength but it's strong coffee.

Other - I don't use a wet filter because I find those are much more likely to break and get grounds everywhere. I often walk away while my coffee is sitting in the column waiting to get pushed through the filter but I don't stir/agitate that long. I put the plunger all the way to the grounds - I always wonder if this is wrong because it seems to take a lot of effort but, oh well, I figure I'm getting every last drop of the delicious, delicious coffee.
posted by hydrobatidae at 12:41 PM on January 24, 2012

I like a strong cup of coffee, this is how I Aeropress it:

1. Put two scoops (using their provided scooper) of pre-ground coffee (ask for the grinder setting to be between paper & espresso) in the aeropress with dry filter in place over your cup.

2. Microwave 1.5C of warm water for 90s (this gets the water to the perfect drinking temp for me, just below boiling but with microbubbles starting to form).

3. Pour hot water into aeropress to the top. Some will leak through the filter to your cup, this gives you room to insert the paddle and stir vigorously for 10-15s. Top off with more hot water before plunging.

4. Plunge slowly, 20-30s, all the way until it burps at the bottom.

5. Add remaining water to top-off your coffee cup.

This makes strong, smooth, black coffee. Obviously, finding a source of beans that you like, and grinding yourself with a burr grinder, will improve the flavor. But at least it'll be strong :)

After reading the other posts, I'm going to try using less coffee (I hate the wastage) and stirring longer, but that may lose some of the smoothness.

Also, I rinse and re-use the filters for quite a few servings, there's no reason you need a new one every time. But I also drink leftover cold coffee from my cup in the morning, so take that with a grain of salt....
posted by jpeacock at 1:34 PM on January 24, 2012

If you are willing to spend a bit more on kit, I'd recommend a Clever Coffee Dripper. It'll brew 1-2 cups at a go and allows you to control the seeping time similar to how you would in a french press. Usually I seep for 4 minutes. Unlike the french press the coffee isn't gritty.

For reference, the guide on the box suggests 22g (3/4 oz.) of coffee per cup which is actually quite a lot. So it is likely you just aren't using enough coffee.
posted by chairface at 2:54 PM on January 24, 2012

I like Italian Roast for a strong cup. this is the first I've heard of the inversion, but it makes sense because it seems the first bit of water just runs through the filter without much brewing time.
I use 3 aeropress scoops. nuke a cup and a half of water for 3 mins (ymmv based on microwave strength) til just before boiling. pour to the top and stir, let the level go down as i stir and then refill to the top before pressing. press slowly.
enjoy a hearty cup of rich dark coffee.
posted by OHenryPacey at 5:04 PM on January 24, 2012

I have used an aeropress for years. During the week, I make weaker coffee (1.5 scoops). On the weekend, I spluge and make stronger coffee (2-3 scoops - such a rebel).

Grinder: I have the Hario Skerton hand grinder (same as the Kyocera CM-50), hot-rodded with a bottom bearing for more consistent coarse grinds.

I just boil the water in a kettle and pour away. I used to measure the temperature and all that jazz. I tried the upside-down method too. Bah! Wastes of time. If you do it every day, you get used to exactly how long it should steep without overextracting.

My favorite beans are Stumptown's Holler Mountain (though they foam like *crazy*) or if I'm not being lazy, I'll have home-roasted beans from my frankenroaster.

I do agree the aeropress uses more coffee beans than other methods to get the same strength, but I do think it makes a better cup than most methods. French press (with the right grind) and the "clever coffee dripper" (and similar products) are other great alternatives.

I live near Portland. That's why my coffee drinking is so damn complicated. :-P
posted by sarah_pdx at 6:22 PM on January 24, 2012

FWIW I've had both and I recommend the Porlex Tall over the Hario hand grinder. It's tiny and awesome and built like a tank. And grinding your own coffee will be the single easiest way to dramatically improved your cups.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:26 PM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

To reiterate some of what's been posted.

- experiment. There are a lot of things to adjust
- Get a thermometer so you know what temp water you're brewing with
- The aeropress does use a lot of coffee.
- I recently started using the inversion technique and I think it makes a difference.
- If you're anywhere near the village, Porto Rico has lots of decent coffee for a good price
posted by jefftang at 7:17 AM on January 25, 2012

The point of the inverted brew is to make sure the oils in the "bloom" on top of the brewed coffee make it into your cup. But the paper filter will filter out a lot of those oils, so you won't notice a difference making your coffee inverted unless you're using a third-party filter that isn't paper. The folks at the Aeropress Championship thingie tend to use metal or felt filters.

So if you don't notice a difference inverted and you're using paper filters, that's why!
posted by mendel at 1:51 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

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