This week on Instagram we focused on the Aeropress. We discussed the brewing process, different techniques, and how to tune your own recipes. Here it is, all in one place.
AEROPRESS WEEK STARTS NOW. Today, let’s take a look at the device itself. Aeropress uses an immersion technique to brew coffee. This means the coffee beans steep in hot water (like tea), then are separated from the (now tasty) liquid. In that sense, the aeropress is like a french press. This is fundamentally different from pour-over or espresso (percolation), where the water is pushed through the coffee via some amount of pressure (pour-over = atmospheric pressure, espresso = 9x atmospheric pressure). However, the line between immersion and percolation gets blurry with aeropress. I’ll explain. In my opinion, aeropress gives you more to experiment with – there are a lot of variables you can tweak to make a great cup. This can be a good thing, but it can become complicated quickly. In particular, where the french press, for the most part, gives you coffee/water ratio, grind size, and steep time (these can get more complicated, but that’s not the point right now), the aeropress gives you all of those as well as pressure as a variable. Yes. The aeropress is actually a blend of french press and espresso machine, and it can actually do an all right imitation of an espresso (more about this on Thursday/Friday). Ok, so what? Well, I wanted to introduce the aeropress like this before talking recipes because the most important thing about the aeropress is that it can be infinitely complicated, but you can also stick with a single basic recipe and be successful. So, my tip to you, is to become proficient at one aeropress recipe you like, and build on that. There are tonnes of resources out there that will tell you “this is the best aeropress recipe” but that’s stupid. The best recipe is tuned to the coffee you are using, and roasted beans are constantly changing, oxidizing, and drying out from the second they are roasted. The best recipe is the one you are comfortable performing and enjoy the taste of. I’ve shared my baseline recipe here, but I encourage you to google around and play! Later this week we will talk about tuning your recipes.
Did you know I made it to the semi-finals of the 2018 Aeropress Nationals? This is a photo from right before the competition, with the competition beans. What I owe my reasonable success to is a somewhat off-the-radar recipe I developed for the contest. First, I started with the recipe I shared yesterday. Then, I picked a few variables I would focus on in my experiments. I picked variables I believed would make the biggest impact to the final taste. I picked 1) Coffee/Water ratio 2) Total brew time and 3) Grind size. Here’s my logic. Coffee/Water ratio can be thought of as a volume knob on a stereo, but for taste. This isn’t exactly true, but to a first approximation, this is going to modulate how strong the coffee will be. Then, I think of brew time and grind size the low and high ends of a stereo’s equalizer, where low end corresponds to the deeper, chocolatey and bitter flavors, and the high end corresponds to the fruity citrus, acidic flavors. I think this analogy is actually pretty deep, because just like a stereo, coffee/water ratio will boost all frequencies (not exactly evenly, but approximately evenly), while the grind size and steep time can let you fine tune a little… HOWEVER, all of these “frequencies” are in a sense chained together; if you pull one section of the chain up, the rest will follow. So you can increase steep time to pull more chocolatey notes, but this will also increase the total strength (volume) of the coffee (music). Likewise for reducing grind size. Hey, no one ever said coffee was easy! So, have a look at the tasting notes on the bag of coffee in the photo. See all those fruits? After tasting it, I decided I wanted to get those fruits as loud as possible, and totally knock the socks off the judges. I gambled on a tried and true method in the music industry; compare two songs and the louder one will usually win. How do you think I did this? Check in tomorrow for the recipe.
Yesterday I left you with a challenge: find a way to bring out the acidic, fruity notes of a coffee and push the taste over the top. The way I achieved this was with a very fine grind, a huge coffee/water ratio, and a short steep time. Fine grind helped me pull out the fruity notes, high C/W ratio to up the “volume” of the brew, and short steep time to minimize the bitter notes. To continue the music analogy from yesterday, I took a song, cut the bass, pumped the treble, and blasted the volume. The result, in theory, was a very clear cup that let the coffee “speak for itself”. One problem I came across while testing this recipe was that the recipe was splitting my test subjects; some loved the in-your-face flavor, some found it too aggressive. I wanted to mellow it out a little bit to try and keep the unique flavor profile but lower the “volume”, but found it very tricky to accomplish this by changing C/W ratio, steep times, grind size. This led me to the concept of brewing a “concentrate”. You know how an Americano at a cafe is an espresso that’s been diluted? That is exactly what I mean when I say a concentrate. Now, there are practical limitations to brewing an actual espresso with the aeropress (tomorrow’s post), but you can brew a very strong cup of coffee if you want to, and from there you simply add water to taste. This ended up being the premise for my competition recipe, and I think it worked brilliantly. I don’t think I invented this idea, but I strongly believe it to be the best way to make aeropress for a guest. Identify the flavors you want to feature via grind size and steep time, then go for a high C/W ratio, and dilute to suit your audience. And as I mentioned yesterday, it worked fairly well, getting me into the semi-finals of the 2018 CDN National AP Championships.
So we started to get sort of technical this week, but I strongly believe coffee is only as complicated as you make it. With that in mind, I thought I’d share with you my “on a bike trip/camping/I just want a coffee” recipe. It’s written without reference to weight or exact time, but instead in terms of senses. Honestly, this is how I aeropress most of the time. I’m never unhappy with the coffee, and it lets me relax and enjoy the sights/smells, and it other words, the process of making coffee. This is especially important to me at work, where I use my coffee break as an opportunity to decompress, let my mind wander, and maybe turn inward for a self check-in. I’ve also put together a worksheet so you can take notes while you brew. Hopefully the prompts (sight, smell) help you to be aware while you brew. When you find a recipe you like, you’ll have the sense-triggers recorded so that if you are missing your scale, you can still make a pretty good cup.
CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE: This is me, at FIKA in Toronto. This is me, getting a lesson from YADI (behind the camera), on the important things to consider when aeropressing. This is me, re-posting an interview with Yadi I published on my personal website… jeeze, must have been 2-3 years ago now. This was just after his Toronto Regional Aeropress win, and before his trip to Canadian Nationals. Yadi, I bet you wouldn’t have guessed I’d get such mileage out of one little email interview. But I have to say, I wouldn’t be doing all this now if you hadn’t been so kind and inviting. I really appreciate it. Link to the interview is in my profile, but don’t go there. Go to FIKA and talk to him yourself.