The Aeropress came crashing on to the specialty coffee scene at Seattle's CoffeeFest in 2005; designed by retired Stanford engineer and coffee-lover Alan Adler, the aim was to achieve greater control over the many variables that affect brew quality. Marketed as a portable ‘espresso style’ coffee maker (though not technically espresso, as we learned here), the Aeropress is perhaps one of the most popular, and certainly one of the most affordable, quality brewing devices in cafes and kitchens across the globe. In this article, we will explore three different brewing methods for achieving exceptional coffee using the Aeropress.
Method #1 - The Original
The original Aeropress recipe is both simple and elegant: place the Aeropress on top of your cup with a fresh filter in place. Pour your coffee grounds into the press (either 14 g by weight or by simply using the included Aeropress scoop), followed by hot water (~95C / 203F) up to the #2 mark on the side of the chamber. Stir fast for 30 seconds then insert the plunger, expelling the rest of the remaining water as you press down. To clean the Aeropress, simply unscrew the cap and use the plunger to remove the cylindrically packed grinds into your organics bin. That’s it!
The main advantages from a brewing perspective are the narrow brew-time window, added pressure to increase extraction, and a fine paper filter for a smooth, clean cup of coffee every time. Practical advantages include portability, an efficient grind-to-flavor ratio, and a no-mess clean up.
Method #2 - The Inversion
A friend of mine recently complained that his Aeropress brews were too weak. After a brief discussion, it was clear that the water was running through the grinds too quickly, an issue that could probably be solved by dialing in the grind. However, another solution to Aeropress brews that taste too ‘thin’ is to use the Inversion Method, my personal favorite.
For this method, begin with the plunger inserted about ¼ inch and place the Aeropress upside down on the table, lid off. Pour your grinds in, followed by hot water, as before. However, this time let the coffee sit longer; set a timer for anywhere from one to two minutes (or longer - feel free to experiment!) to extract a greater depth of flavor. When your timer goes off, place a filter in the lid, wet it, and screw it in. Immediately flip the device onto your coffee mug and then press out the whole brew at once. Viola!
The advantage of the Inversion Method is two-fold. First, you get more of the late-stage brewing flavors which can lead to the brew feeling more ‘full’ or ‘developed’ on your palate. Second, all the water is exposed to the coffee grinds for a much narrower range of time (i.e. the time it takes to flip the Aeropress and depress the plunger) which helps to optimize the consistency of your brews.
Method #3 - The Cold Brew
Cold Brew coffee is most popular during the hot days of summer and can be achieved using your Aeropress. The basic idea is to use larger grinds in cold (or room temperature) water over a long period of time (i.e. hours, not minutes). If you are interested in experimenting with cold brew, or are a long-time Aeropress brewer who wants to try something new, give this cold brew recipe from European Coffee Trip a whirl.
Place your coarsely ground coffee beans into an inverted Aeropress with the plunger inserted about ¼ inch. Fill the chamber up to the 4 mark (~200 mL) with cold or room temperature water. Place a dry filter in the lid and screw on (to prevent spills) then store for 12 hours either on the counter or in the fridge. I recommend unscrewing the lid and wetting the filter with cold water, replacing it on the Aeropress before flipping it on to your mug and fully depressing the plunger. Add a patio with a view of the ocean on a hot summer day and you are all set!
Of course, these three methods are just the beginning of all the brewing bliss you can achieve with the Aeropress. Weighing out your coffee with a scale, using a professional burr grinder, and experimenting with brew time can all aid in consistently bringing out the best flavor in your coffee. However you make your coffee, buy it local, travel safe, and brew on!
Tyler Hagan is the founder of Commonly Coffee and in this expert feature article, originally published on Commonly Coffee (affiliate links included), he offers insights into brewing with the iconic Chemex. Check out Tyler's blog on Commonly Coffee and follow him on Instagram for more stellar coffee content.
The Chemex: Iconic multi-cup coffee brewer...or glorified flower vase?
There is no other coffee brewer that I feel is more polarizing in the specialty coffee community than the Chemex. I cannot even remember how many conversations I have had with friends who fall into one camp or the other.
Say what you will, but the Chemex doesn't seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. In fact, it's already been immortalized in culture with its place in the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City.
The Chemex traces its origins back to the early 1940's where it was invented by German Chemist, Dr. Peter Schlumbohm in 1941. This eccentric inventor has filed for over 300 patents in his time. Schlumbohm set out to not just make a simple-to-use coffee brewer, but also something that would be visually appealing. What is truly remarkable is that it has remained essentially unchanged for almost 80 years! It a culture where trends come and go sometimes in weeks if not years...the Chemex continues to be found in homes and specialty coffee shops across the globe. The next time you find yourself binge-watching your favourite show or a watching movie you'll likely see a Chemex on the kitchen counter...it has that "look" that continues to be appealing to absolutely everybody. It's been featured on F.R.I.E.N.D.S, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, the Mary Tyler Moore show and even 007 James Bond has brewed coffee with it.
The Chemex corporation is family owned with their headquarters located in Chicopee, Massachusetts. It is there that they manufacture the Chemex Coffeemakers, filters, Chemex Chettle, and other accessories.
The Chemex were originally all entirely hand-blown pieces, whereas now many are moulded-glass designs. You can still find hand-blown versions but they will cost more than their moulded-glass counterparts. Whichever one you choose, what is unique about the Chemex is that it is your brewer & server all-in-one...all contained within the gorgeous borosilicate hourglass uni-body shape. A pouring spout is molded into the top half to accurately channel your freshly brewed coffee into your cup. Each traditional Chemex is finished with a wood collar along with a leather tie and wood bead. The wood collar acts like an insulated handle to ensure your hands stay cool as you pour your freshly brewed coffee. An updated version of the Chemex is available with a glass handle along the side of the body. While perhaps a bit more functional, I feel it lacks that iconic look again of the Chemex.
Chemex Coffee makers come in a variety of sizes, most commonly in three, six, eight and ten cup options...but go as high as 13 cups (plenty to share with friends!) One of the most confusing things I have to clarify with people is "cups" when they seek to purchase a Chemex.
On their website they say "Coffeemakers are measured using 5 oz. as 1 cup." If you do the math 5oz only equals .625 of a US cup. Normal volume would dictate that 8oz is one US cup. So when you purchase say an 8cup Chemex like I own that's actually only going to yield you roughly 40oz of coffee where you might assume that 8 "cups" would equal 64oz of coffee. Not a big deal, but something to be aware of.
The only other item you need with a Chemex is a filter. Chemex filters are also quite unique in their own right. The first thing you'll notice with these filters is that they paper is quite thick. These bonded-paper filters are specifically designed to remove greater amounts of sediment and to give you a smooth cup with greater clarity.
Another option when it comes to filters with the Chemex are reusable metal filters called Kone, made by a company called Able Brewing. These are a great way to reduce paper-waste if that is something you are looking to do. I have owned one of these for a number of years and thoroughly enjoy using it.
When it comes to brewing on a Chemex I tend to use a 16:1 ratio, but the beauty of brewing coffee is that in the end do what tastes good to you. A general rule of thumb thought is to stick to the 1:15 to 1:17 range. So if I were brewing a 16:1 ratio in a Chemex for every 1 gram of coffee I would add 16 grams of water.
When I do brew on my 8cup Chemex I am typically brewing a larger volume of coffee to share with friends (or all for myself) since sometimes that's what’s necessary for survival! So in this instance I would brew using 40g of coffee which would yield 640g of total volume. Now the best thing with a larger Chemex is that you can brew less. You could brew using 25g, 30g etc...which is one of the advantages of not purchasing a smaller vessel. But that's totally up to you.
What many find with the Chemex is that it is a forgiving coffee brewer. Whereas some brewers require more attention to the many variables that go into brewing coffee, the Chemex allows the person brewing to achieve results they can be happy with without feeling overwhelmed in the process.
Like I said at the beginning, the Chemex coffee brewer is loved by many, and yet for others seems to be reserved for holding flowers instead of brewing coffee. I love my Chemex. And I am fairly sure that you will too.
Thanks to Tyler for sharing his passion and expertise!
Find more coffee reviews, expert advice, and coffee know-how
at CommonlyCoffee.com and be sure to follow Tyler on Instagram.
What is Espresso?
Espresso. Not EX-presso. ES-presso. Yes, that’s the stuff.
Any coffee drinker who frequents cafes will be familiar with the rumble of grinding beans, the gurgle of trickling shots, and the hiss of steam as milk is foamed. Espresso is a staple in cafes, inseparable from our modern coffee culture though not antiquated as you might think. It is essential in creating popular beverages such as cappuccinos, lattes, and cortados, to name a few. However, despite its ubiquity, many coffee drinkers may understandably still ask the question: What is espresso?
First and foremost, it must be understood that espresso is a brewing method, not a type of coffee. Other brewing methods include the French Press, various pour-over methods such as the Hario V60, immersion devices such as the Aeropress, and even old-school drip coffee machines. Coffee roasters create specific taste profiles for espresso, but technically you could use any type of coffee bean for the espresso brewing method.
Espresso brewing involves hot pressurized water shot through very finely ground beans packed into the long-handled portafilter which locks into the espresso machine; the resulting highly-concentrated liquid is caught in a small cup called a demitasse. Officially speaking, espresso is defined by pressure, temperature, and time. Pressure must be 9 bars (roughly nine times normal atmospheric pressure), the temperature must be around 93 °C (200 °F), and the shot must be drawn in 25-30 seconds. In fact, the parameters and methods of brewing espresso are so specialized that they have their own terminology. With other methods one would say they ‘brewed a cup’; with espresso, one will ‘pull a shot’.
Now, the extremely observant coffee drinker will notice that espresso shots are not always pulled to match the parameters described above. Espresso, perhaps more than anything else, is a marker of quality and experience in a coffee establishment. Anyone who has worked at a cafe will relate to the struggles of wrestling the espresso machine into producing a well-balanced shot.
Painting in very broad strokes, inexperience behind the bar or a poorly-tuned espresso machine will result in an underextracted or overextracted shot. Underextracted shots (not enough pressure, heat, or time) tend to taste acidic or sour. Overextracted shots (too much pressure, heat, or time) tend to taste bitter or burnt. Well-balanced shots highlight the full flavour profile of the coffee and are marked by a light-brown aromatic foam that floats on the surface known as crema. If you want to fall further down the espresso rabbit hole then check out Matt Giovanisci’s article on Roasty Coffee.
So the sad news is that you cannot recreate the cappuccino experience using an old drip coffee maker; for that you will need to visit your favorite local cafe, unless you are ready to invest in an espresso machine of your own. Cheaper models start around $150, with professional grade espresso machines easily running up to $7500 or more. While espresso can be endlessly fascinating to explore and experiment with, proper maintenance and repair for these machines is costly and time consuming. As a final tip, do not buy beans pre-ground for espresso unless you have an espresso machine; espresso is meant to be extremely fine and all other brewing methods will benefit from a coarser grind.
As part of the Van. Isle Coffee Tour, Drumroaster Coffee in Cobble Hill features not only amazing locally roasted coffee but also a free display of rare and antique espresso machines! In fact, Drumroaster patriarch Geir Oglend entered Vancouver Island's coffee scene in the 1970s as a cafe owner famed for his expertise in fixing these rebellious devices. Check out Geir's collection the next time you head up or down the island and, wherever your journey takes you, travel safe and brew on!
Roaster: The Stick Specialty Roasters
Location: 6715 Eustace Rd, Sooke, BC V9Z 0H1
Fruity and well balanced, I immediately did a double take after my first sip of Tsunami Espresso from The Stick Specialty Roasters. I usually add cream to my espresso drinks but this extracted so perfectly that I drank it black - a rarity for me! Serve Tsunami Espresso Americano-style as the perfect compliment to either an early-start breakfast or a classic West Coast brunch. Suggested as a welcoming entry for those who want to start exploring the wild world of espresso-based drinks.
Nothing says West Coast living like waking up at the edge of the Pacific Rainforest looking out over a rocky beach to a rumbling swell. And what better compliment to that view than a finely brewed cup of coffee?
From adventures to Nels Bight near Cape Scott, Mystic Beach on the Juan de Fuca trail, or Beale Cove on Texada Island, morning coffee on the beach always tops my highlight list. Admittedly, I do get a bit of side-eye from friends and fellow campers when I pull out my Aeropress, my Hario hand grinder, and my JetBoil; however, the offer of a finely brewed cup of coffee as the sun rises over the waves never fails to win them over.
Many backpackers forgo their usual brewing methods on the trail, opting for instant coffee or tea to satisfy their caffeine fix. However, there are some very light and portable brewing options for adventurous nature lovers across the island and beyond. I'll give a quick highlight here of three ways to brew better coffee on the beach as you explore Vancouver Island.
Ah, the Aeropress: simple, yet effective. This brewing device is light and portable, using both immersion and pressure to maximize extraction. The small, circular paper filters are easy to pack as long as you can keep them dry, ensuring a crystal clear brew with sharp flavors and next to no sediment. In terms of technique, the Aeropress is “low floor, high ceiling”, producing excellent brews even for novice coffee makers with room to expand and experiment. Calgary roasters Phil & Sebastian can get you started with some Aeropress basics.
This Japanese-designed pour-over coffee device won the coveted Good Design Award in 2007. The Hario V60 is named for the sixty degree angle of the conical sides which helps to optimize water flow during percolation. The portability of this device is attractive to many, though it demands much more in terms of technique. Brews are clean and full of flavor but highly susceptible to issues such as channeling, grind overflow, or errors in pouring technique. With patience and practice, you can wield the V60 like a pro with a little help from the experts at Union Hand-Roasted Coffee.
Ok, ok, hear me out. Old fashioned brew methods such as Cowboy Coffee, a descendent of more traditional preparations such as Turkish coffee, are often frowned upon by those who consider themselves coffee connoisseurs. However, in terms of measurable extraction, veterans at Barista Hustle believe there may be no better option than these traditional coffee brewing practices. What may appeal to hardcore and ultralight hikers about this technique is that it requires no extra equipment. Learn the good, the bad, and the ugly of Cowboy Coffee brewing techniques from Driftaway Coffee.
No matter how far or how wide you wander across Vancouver Island or up the strait, no beach is too remote for a good cup of coffee. If you can spare the weight, it is well worth it. Pair that with locally roasted beans using the Vancouver Island Coffee Tour Map and you're all set for a transcendent coffee experience on the beach. Travel safe and brew on!
In Praise of Better Coffee
The sad fact is that most people drink terrible coffee.
Stale beans, burnt roasts, and poor brewing methods produce a bitter flavor; this bitterness stimulates stomach acid production which then leads to an unpleasant assortment of digestive discomforts affectionately termed ‘gut rot’ by the coffee community. Some bury the bitterness in cream and sugar; others stubbornly drink it black to prove their mettle.
Despite all this, many still enjoy coffee as a beverage. Whether because of emotional associations, cultural customs, or an acquired caffeine dependency, coffee is intricately stitched into our daily life. The good news is this: coffee does not have to taste terrible, nor does it have to make your stomach feel upset. Though the art of brewing requires a lifetime to master, I believe there are three basic coffee concepts that will spur novice coffee drinkers on to intrepid amateurs.
Coffee Concept #1: You cannot extract a high quality cup of coffee from a low quality bean.
Mass market coffee blends, pre-ground and sold in large tins at the grocery store, are problematic for several reasons, most prominently because they are sourced from so many locations. Some farms may have good crops, some poor, but inevitably the coffee quality falls to the lowest batch in the bin. Without getting too technical, high quality coffees are graded using a Q score; this standard, set out by the Coffee Quality Institute, is a grade out of 100 points. Any coffee rated 80 or above is considered specialty with a guaranteed baseline quality. Local and small batch roasters usually source their specialty coffee beans from a single origin; this means they can be confident of the quality of the whole batch because they bought their coffee from a specific farm. Therefore, it is important to purchase beans from a source that guarantees quality from the start. In most cases, your local coffee roaster is your best bet.
Concept #2: Even high quality coffee beans can be ruined with a poor roast.
Local coffee roasters are artisans of the highest degree and are constantly roasting fresh batches of coffee. The smaller scale of their operations actually allows them to hone the roast to perfection, whereas industrial roasting methods for mass market beans typically err on the side of being overdone or even burnt. Worse, fine grinds and long stretches of time spent in transit and sitting on the grocery store shelf exacerbates staleness. Local cafes can grind whole beans for you which should be brewed within two months of the roast date for optimal freshness. Explore local light, medium, and dark roasts to discover your preferred flavor profile.
Concept #3: Your brewing method either maximizes or minimizes a coffee’s potential.
Extraction is the process of dissolving the wide array of delicious flavor components out of the coffee bean and into water as it brews. Poorly extracted coffee is a tragedy; the excellent flavor and craftmanship of the perfectly roasted bean is left in the grinds as the taster gets a paltry shadow of what the coffee could truly be. Many modern brewing techniques help optimize extraction (a subject for future articles). If you’ve never heard of an Aeropress, the Japanese-designed Hario V60, or the Moka Pot, you might be surprised at the reasonable price-point for these options designed to optimize your extraction. Each requires a bit of practice and specific types of grinds, but the flavor difference is well worth the investment of time.
Coffee is a part of our culture, a daily ritual for some and a social rite for others. No matter when you drink your coffee, consider enriching your experience by employing these three essential coffee concepts. As always, travel safe and brew on!
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About the Curator
Joshua Gillingham is an author, board game designer, and coffee lover from Vancouver Island. He curates the Vancouver Island Coffee Tour. For questions or comments about VICT, map updates, or roaster openings and closures, send him a note via the community contact form.