Introduction: AeroPress Coffee Maker - a Beginner's Guide

After years of making coffee in my cafetiere (also known as a french press) and resenting the horrendously time consuming and messy clean-up, I finally came across the AeroPress. I've always kept clear of anything with a paper filter due to the added expense and "complication", but after locking myself out of my coffee drawer at work, I thought I might as well give it a go! Desperate times call for desperate measures but I was so happy I've never looked back.

I've seen a number of different guides online advocating different ways of using the AeroPress, but as a beginner, all I wanted to know was how to use the plastic jumble I'd just bought. It took a while to get used to it (partly due to the confusing instruction manual) but now my coffee making time has dropped from 5 minutes down to half a minute! That's how quick the AeroPress can be. Sure, there are other methods, but my time is premium and the coffee is still excellent.

Step 1: Empty the Box

Inside the package you'll find a mess of pieces. It can be pretty intimidating! All you really need is the AeroPress labelled tube, the little bag of filter papers, and the plastic mesh. The scoop is for transferring the right amount of coffee (which is handy) and the stick it's wrapped with is for stirring your brew. Ditch the stick, we're all about speed here! You may want it when you're more comfortable with the AeroPress, but you should rarely need to stir your coffee. It's best to get it pressed through as soon as you add the water, and if you want it stronger you should always just add more coffee. Like with tea, longer steeping times leads to more toxins and bitterness, so I only stir if my grounds are floating and for this I use the other end of the scoop.

The oddly shaped tube with the slice down its' side is for holding your filter papers, which is nice, but you can forget about it in terms of coffee making. If you have a small cup or unsteady hands the funnel can be useful. It's intended to guide your grounds into the body of the AeroPress or give a wider brim to your drinking vessel so the AeroPress will fit. As a coffee drinker I assume you're not using china and use the biggest mug you can find. I applaud you.

Step 2: Preparing the Press

Open up the little plastic bag of filter papers, take one and place it in the crevice of the plastic mesh. You can put the others in the little plastic holder - I normally leave the plastic bag on them to help protect against accidental splash damage or drops.

The numbered tube is your coffee maker itself and is actually two parts. It'll be a bit stiff at first and you can afford to be a little rough with it. The rubber plunger is where your mesh will screw on but it can't fit at the moment, you need to pull it out. Using both hands, hold the press by it's octagonal plastic lip with your fingers and push the rubber with your thumbs. You don't need to do this every time, but it does make it a bit easier. Now take the press in both hands, holding it at each end of the cylinder, and pull. It's normally a bit stiff, so if you have problems enlist the help of a friend.

Step 3: Assembling All the Pieces

Once they're apart put the plunger down and connect the cylinder to the filter mesh, making sure that the mesh stays horizontal. Your coffee can be ruined if your paper slips, so this is very important! Give it a clockwise twist and the filter should be nice and firmly attached. You can see the teeth lock into position on the lip of the press, so keep an eye on this if you're unsure. When fully tightened the teeth should be completely obscured.

Step 4: Add Your Grounds

If you look through the top of your press you'll see the paper resting flat at the bottom. Check there are no creases or folds, as any gap will lead to spent grounds getting into your coffee. If all is well you can now scoop in your coffee of choice; fine ground works, or any espresso grind. The finer the grind the more force you'll need to push it through, but it also means more surface area and therefore stronger coffee! One scoop = 2 measures = one espresso. I like an americano, so I just use one scoop unless it's a becoming a long day. Don't go over two scoops or you'll find it impossible to press the coffee! If you want to make more then repeat the process, it doesn't take long once you're used to it.

Step 5: Making the Coffee

This part you'll want to do in as quick a motion as possible, but it's best to get used to it first off. Place your AeroPress over your mug, keep the plunger to hand and boil your kettle. Coffee is best with water that's at around 80 degrees Celsius, but I wouldn't worry too much at this point unless you're very well prepared. Once your water is ready pour it in to the press, keeping an eye on the numbered side for the right height. One scoop is two, two scoops is four. Stop pouring when you reach it then put your kettle down and grab your plunger.

It's best to hold the press at its' base, where it meets the mug. On this first time don't worry about getting it perfect, just get used to the motion. Fit the rubber end into the top of the press and, holding it steady at the base, push down from above to build up the air pressure inside the press and force the water through the grounds and filter. If you're struggling to do this, try resting your arm on the press and bearing down with your body weight. If this isn't enough you can use your hand as well, but you'll want to make sure the press is secure. Nobody wants boiling water splashing about.

Step 6: Feel, Watch and Listen

There are three way to tell that your espresso is ready.

  1. Pressure: Once all the water is pushed through you'll be pushing air, which is much easier. If you notice a loss of resistance then your coffee is probably ready.
  2. Level: The numbers refer to the fluid level. You can just about see the grinds, water level and rubber bung, but distinguishing between them can be difficult at first. It's very easy to mistake the residual coffee grounds for liquid and vice versa, so don't rely purely on sight.
  3. Sound: When the water has been pushed through you'll hear a slight hissing noise as air passes through the filter paper, spraying tiny flecks of coffee. This is probably the easiest to notice, especially when it's quiet.

It's best to stop applying pressure as soon as there's no water left to press. Pushing until you reach the coffee grounds means more clean-up as they stick to the rubber bung. It can also make it harder to remove the filter cap and rarely cause your paper to break, releasing grounds into your coffee. Urgh!

If you do go too far never pull the the plunger back up without holding the press over a bin or compost container. You'll suck air in from the bottom, displacing the paper and causing a lot of grounds to immediately fall back through the now exposed holes. Whoops!

Step 7: Removing the Press

Your espresso is now ready, but your press will likely still be dripping. Steam will be condensing on the press, and a little coffee continues dripping through the paper. Take your mug and press and hold them over the place you'll be depositing the coffee ground patty. Remove the mug and put it to one side and let any drips fall into the container. You'll want to keep the press level as turning it at an angle (or upside down) will spread the grounds and get them stuck all over the bung.

The plastic mesh doesn't conduct heat so if you're careful not to touch the flat bottom you're fine to clean the press now. Leaving the press as is will cause damage to the bung, so always empty it immediately. if you create a crescent shape with your thumb and forefinger you can grab the plastic mesh quite safely, turning anticlockwise to release the lock. Place it down somewhere you don't mind getting a bit of coffee then push the plunger all the way down. You'll hear a satisfying "thunk" and a little cake of coffee grounds will drop out. Rinse off the mesh and the bung and you're all set to go again!

Step 8: Espresso and Beyond

You should now have a
perfectly pressed espresso. Congratulations! You can top this up with water for an americano, or add lots of milk and create a laté. The instruction book can give you a few ideas. I like my coffee black and without sugar, so after a quick kettle pour I'm done. The main body of the press doesn't need cleaning very often due to the vacuum seal, as all the material is pushed out by the bung. Feel free to literally rinse and repeat; a quick run under the tap for the bung and mesh should be all the cleaning you need to do for a good few months! Make sure the bung is loose when you put it away, or completely disassemble it. The bung will lose its' strength if regularly stored compressed and will stop producing an effective seal.

If you have gone wrong, don't worry. I could tell you many stories of failure with my AeroPress, and a whole many more with other coffee makers. Some easy mistakes to watch out for:

  • Filling the plunger instead of the press with grounds
  • Pulling the plunger back up while holding over coffee
  • Forgetting to use filter paper
  • Forgetting to use the mesh (particularly fun)
  • Doing three scoops
  • Filling all the way with one scoop

The last two are not so disatrous, but more water results in a different taste. A good experiment is to try filling up to making two coffees in one press. Can you taste the difference between the first and second? Can your friends and family?

Wherever you go from here, I hope you find AeroPress coffee as satisfying as I have! Have a look at some other guides and see what you can learn, or find a local coffee dealer who can introduce you to the great variety of beans. There's so much more to coffee than the instant aisle at the supermarket.

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