Around these parts, coffee is non-negotiable. It’s the first step of every day, and if there are any obstacles, they are summarily hurdled or destroyed on the path to caffeination.
But here’s the thing: we love our delicious java far too much to skimp on quality. As my wife, Natania, recently wrote over at our companion site GeekMom, “life is too short for crappy coffee.” So while it might be tempting to make a pact with Keurig and choke down quickly-made, mess-free K-Cup swill, it ain’t happening. The environmental impact is one thing, the absurd DRM is another, but putting obscenely expensive, second-rate coffee (and, depending on who you’re asking, carcinogens and other nasty stuff from the disposable plastic cups) into our bodies? No thanks.
So begins the journey on figuring out the best way to make coffee in the morning. With kids running around, breakfasts and lunches getting made, and the standard chaos of a weekday morning, there are a few important factors: speed, mess, and flavor. Flavor is very importance, but it’s also subjective, and we’re not connoisseurs. I can tell the difference between coffee from Waffle House and the stuff from our local artisan coffee shop, but … it turns out that my tastebuds aren’t as fine-tuned as a lot of folks out there on the Internet.
Our first option uses the Aerobie Aeropress Coffee and Espresso Maker, a simple device that turns hot water and coffee beans into a smooth, rich, silt-free brew in just a few minutes. Best of all the Aeropress is $30 at Amazon.
Step One: Grind
We don’t have a great coffee grinder. One of these days, I’ll spring for something better. The Capresso 560 Infinity, probably. Our current model, a Krups burr grinder we picked up at Costco, does a terrible job with uniformity, generating a lot of fine dust that gets everywhere.
I start with 18 grams of whole bean coffee on the grinder’s medium setting. Do I weigh it every morning? Hell, no. But I did weigh it when I first tried this method, and found out that this equates to about 3 tablespoons. So I use the spoons most mornings.
I believe that weighing coffee produces consistent results, but a few grams more or less doesn’t seem to impact the coffee’s flavor to me. Again, my tastebuds are not yours. John Lee Supertaster I ain’t.
Step Two: Dump
Your Aeropress has instructions, but don’t read them. Turn the whole thing upside down, pull the plunger to the number 4, and leave the top of the device off for the time being. Dump the ground coffee into the chamber.
We’re using the inversion method because it lets the beans steep in the hot water for a little longer, resulting in a richer, more satisfying cup of joe.
Step Three: Steep
Pour hot water into the Aeropress, saturating the coffee and filling up to the 1 level. I use a chopstick to stir it, then give it a few seconds to let the carbon dioxide escape. Then I fill it up to just a few centimeters below the top. Stir it again (I love breaking the crust that builds up here… it’s very tactile), then set a timer for a minute. Go get the kids’ shoes on, or finish up with their lunches.
Step Four: Press
Some folks swear that pouring hot water over the paper filter makes a difference. I believe them. But it’s not a difference that I notice. So I just pour tap water over mine so it sticks to the cap, and then I screw it onto the Aeropress. After your minute is up, flip the whole thing over and put it on your mug. Push the plunger down with a steady and even pressure. When you hear air hissing out of the filter, stop.
Step Five: Finishing Touches
The Aeropress makes strong coffee, so I like to dilute it with a little more hot water if I’ve got time to enjoy my cup. Or sometimes I just drink the strong stuff with a splash of cream. Try it black to get the full effect, and then doctor it up depending on your tastes. If you like sweet coffee, you’ll love it. If you prefer it unadulterated, you’ll love it, too. If you’ve never put salt in your coffee, now’s the time to try: just a pinch of sea salt can really intensify the flavors in whatever beans you use to brew.
Step Six: Clean Up
For us, cleaning up after coffee can be a deal breaker. If there are grounds all over the place, or the coffee spills and stains the countertop, it’s a real bummer. The good news with the Aeropress is that it’s pretty much self-cleaning. Unscrew the cap and the paper filter stays behind. Aim it at your trash can (or better yet, a compost bin) and push down the plunger, and the filter and puck of used coffee is disposed. Rinse off the plunger and you’re done.
We reuse the paper filters a few times–just rinse them and put them somewhere to dry out–and there are reusable stainless filters for the budget or environmentally conscientious.
Like anything else you eat or drink, coffee is a very personal thing. Every step I’ve outlined above contains a few variables that may impact the flavor of the brew on your own unique palate. Maybe you’re super susceptible to the taste of the paper filters, so rinsing it with hot water makes a big difference. Or perhaps you’re one of those amazing coffee connoisseurs who can tell the difference a few extra grams of grounds makes.
And thus I say to you: go forth and experiment! Change it up. If a cup tastes off, try something new. Let the water cool a few degrees. Grind the beans finer. Put more or less into the brew. Find your perfect equation and try to stick with it, for as long as it keeps you happy. And then change it up again, because variety is fun!
I’m hoping to test more brew methods in the coming months, so what’s your favorite style? Leave a note in the comments below or tweet at me.