It's true what they say about AeroPress

New Year, new you? How about something no less dramatic but less daunting to achieve: a new coffee maker.

Too many choices, too little to spare after the expense of the holidays in the face of a recession? How about one sweetly affordable recommendation, in particular? While this coffeemaker isn’t new to the market, it's often overlooked as an option in favour of French presses and other products more conventional than what amounts to a wackadoodle syringe. Behold, the AeroPress!

For years, the consistency of opinion surrounding the Aerobie AeroPress Coffee and Espresso Maker has been a unanimous roar of enthusiasm. So much so, I’ve always thought to give it a go but the peculiar looking, glamour-free piston-funnel design has never intrigued me enough to actually do so, until this past Christmas.

The momentum to make a move was prompted by the blast of good news on coffee’s health benefits that had been percolating for some time and seemingly erupted in November [see Drink to Your Health: Study Links Daily Coffee Habit to Longevity]. Among the suggestions made for optimizing coffee's good potential, filter use was recommended as a guard against the cholesterol-raising agents in coffee - two diterpene compounds called cafestol and kahweol found in the oily fraction of coffee and a potent stimulator of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol - the bad cholesterol associated with an increased risk of heart disease that collects in blood vessel walls. Espresso, French press, Turkish and Scandinavian boiled coffee contain the highest levels of the compound, which is almost entirely absorbed by paper filters.

Personally, I'm attached to a decent, stainless-steel French press and the grunty cup of mud it produces of a morning (meant as an endearment) but the prompt about filtered coffee set in - I already don't add sugar and replaced creamers with almond milk years ago (the elimination of dairy and sweeteners being another recommendation for maximizing the benefits of coffee). Yet the diterpenes my French press apparently isn't removing urged me to consider another elimination (ironically, the pursuit of longevity does feel like one loss after another). Enter the AeroPress, which utilizes two filter options: paper and metal (paper is the choice for optimal diterpene absorption*). At a total cost of $39.95, the AeroPress represents a reasonable leap of faith to take on a tweak to a morning routine in the name of health.**

Nevertheless, once the AeroPress was home I just couldn't bring myself to get to grips with it. The habitual use of traditional coffeemakers with their handles and spouts and well-formed bodies proved hard to budge. And all of these parts, what were they?***

The manual enclosed briefly and easily explains all there is to it, which isn't a lot - and this is what my partner found when they read it and jumped into testing the AeroPress without any hesitation, declaring: "Don't expect anything. It's my first try."

I have to say, those AeroPress fanatics are right. That first try was terrific. Granted, a French presser might be considered an easy please but there really was a difference: a smoother taste but still robust; almost as though the AeroPress had combined the nuance of siphon coffee and the body of French press without the grit and bitterness due to its short filter time, lower temperature and rapid flavour extraction. Those first two factors also reduce the acid level of an AeroPress brew, which laboratory tests (according to the maker) have shown is one fifth that of regular drip coffee makers. I definitely did not expect a strong coffee to be so stomach friendly and this was its second best selling point aside from the improvement in taste. Some say the decrease in acidity leads to a tamer cup but because the AeroPress is so versatile, adjusting variables such as extraction and grind can change taste and alter acid levels.

One of its most charming qualities is its briskness. One of my main peeves with coffee first thing is that I need it first thing, not in three minutes, five minutes or worse but with the swiftness of thought. With the exception of instant coffee and some pour-over methods, there is little else faster than an AeroPress; however, it is hands on.

For a starter recipe: Place the filter provided in the screw-on cap (moistened first with water), attach to the brew chamber, place the chamber on your mug or pitcher of choice (ensure both are stable together), add coffee (the manual provides ratio suggestions to begin with), add enough boiled water to infuse the grounds, stir with the coffee paddle included, wait 10-30 seconds, then add more water. Insert the plunger and apply pressure, moving slowly - first-timers will need to take extra care here as engaging the parts can be awkward initially (if an AeroPress blooper reel existed, it would be priceless). Remove. Add more boiling water to your coffee concentrate if desired or other topping preference. Done.

Well, not quite. Although the AeroPress is "self-cleaning" it needs to be dismantled right away to ensure ease of separation between the plunger and brew chamber. I STRONGLY recommend doing this over a sink. And then carefully empty the coffee puck into your kitchen waste/compost container (because they are wet, coffee grounds and filters decompose fairly quickly). Rinse the parts and store the AeroPress with the plunger all the way in the brew chamber (for long life) and set aside. If you do not follow these steps immediately you may find yourself struggling when you try to later. For instance, you might thwack your arm against a counter from exertion as the two parts refuse to let go or flour the room with coffee grounds or find yourself stuck with the parts seemingly jammed together, leaving you wanting to hammer them into a wall. I'm not saying this is what happened to me but whatever you do, before you drink the coffee, add more water to the coffee or breathe; dismantle the AeroPress first. It's a gift really because how often do we leave French presses sitting on counters, stewing in their own juices waiting to be emptied or seldom cleaned thoroughly because they are cumbersome to wash out? The AeroPress washes up lickety-split with its built-in prompt to users, who dare not leave it to idle lest it turn on them later!

The brain child of aerodynamic toy inventor Alan Adler, the Aerobie AeroPress was borne of Adler's desire for a good, single serve coffee and a short wet time. After sharing an early prototype with Aerobie's general manager, the thumbs up was immediate: "Alan, I can sell a ton of these." The product now accounts for more than half of Aerobie's sales. Like so many, I'm sold too. Never would I think a single-serve, somewhat hands on coffeemaker would suit my household of two but it has worked out to be more time efficient (you can start guzzling while you're making a cup for someone else), cost-effective (we use a teaspoon less of coffee per day) and the difference in strength and flavour is something we noticed right away.

Like the quirky innovation it is, the AeroPress also lends itself to experimentation and versatility and has even spawned its own worldwide and national championship competitions that have resulted in the show-offy and high-risk "inverted" method (using the device upside down for a longer steep time and increased flavour). For more method and technique ideas, explore recipes here. For a video on how to get multiple cups from one pressing, see here (at the 7:33 mark). For a variation on a basic, getting started recipe, try this.

Other selling points: the very durable and shock-resistant AeroPress takes up zero counter space, is uniquely transportable and makes an ideal travel coffeemaker or coffee unit for cottages.

* Aerobie only manufactures paper filters for use with the AeroPress but metal filters are available on the market. From the Aerobie website: "We were originally planning to include a metal filter with each AeroPress but when we conducted blind taste tests comparing paper filtered AeroPress brewed coffee with metal filtered AeroPress brewed coffee, the paper filtered coffee always won. We also learned using a paper filter is healthier because it removes diterpenes from coffee and diterpenes are potent agents that raise your bad cholesterol. AeroPress paper filters are 100% compostable along with the coffee grounds and they retail for slightly more than a penny a piece so they are gentle on the environment and your wallet."

** It does seem ironic that the concern here is with filtered vs unfiltered coffee, while the fact that the AeroPress is a giant gob of plastic goes without mention. On that score: the AeroPress is made from BPA and phthalates free, food safe copolyester. Meanwhile, one unfiltered cup of coffee a day is not a significant health consideration but if, like me, your caffeine consumption climbs during cooler months, it might be something to think on.

*** Parts breakdown: the Aerobie AeroPress comes with a brew cylinder and plunge system, a scoop, a stirrer, a funnel for grounds, paper filters (350 per pack) and a holder for filter storage.

Lisa Peryman
Lisa Peryman


Lisa Peryman has worked with Greenpeace Australia and The Wilderness Society (Australia). She studied journalism in New Zealand and book and magazine publishing in Canada. Her background includes reporting and editing for daily newspapers and trade magazines, as well as creative copywriting for broadcast. Lisa is continuing her studies in Canada and currently works with Probe International as an editor and writer. Earnings from Green Beanery operations support the work of Probe International, a Canadian charity that works with citizens' groups around the world to protect their lands and their livelihoods. Probe International is a Canadian trust.