What do you expect when a real inventor decides to make the world’s best cup of coffee?

By Tracey Minkin
April 09, 2020
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You love coffee? You need coffee? Then you’re like me, and perhaps like me, you’ve spent a lifetime in a series of relationships with coffee makers that have pretty much let you down in one way or another.

My tragic coffee maker history

It all goes back to a cheap, circa-1980s Mr. Coffee electric drip maker—a Christmas gift from a boyfriend who would become my first husband. (I’d shared my growing interest in espresso and this is what he bought me, which may go to explaining why he is no longer my husband.) Did every cup of coffee taste like plastic just a little bit or was that me?

Then there was my self-funded upgrade—a Bodum Chambord French press system—that looked sexy on the counter, but that always seemed to produce too much sludge at the bottom of my cup. And wobbled way too much every time I plunged. And was a bear to clean.

I eyed friends’ expensive coffee makers but never loved what they made, so kept my money for other indulgences. A post-husband boyfriend smack-talked places like Starbucks while performatively crafting small cups of bitter brew in his prized Moka pot (he later was forced to take a job—post our breakup—at a Starbucks in a fitting turn of fate). More recently, I craved the sleek, midcentury-modern-perfect Chemex, but was a nervous executor of the perfect water pour (How much? How fast?). In a way, I feared I would be a disappointment to it.

At my office, I endured nostalgic-looking (but awful tasting) diner-style coffeemakers, growing so frustrated I ran out to Target and bought a bright red Keurig single-cup maker—on sale—despite a gnawing sense of my contribution to landfill disaster. I bought a reusable filter. That was a bear to clean.

I gave up. I stopped making coffee at home or work altogether, becoming a steady customer of coffeehouses large and small, taking advantage of fresh roasts, careful measures, and thereby sweet pour-overs and bracing cortados. I kept a bottle of Trader Joe’s French Roast coffee concentrate in my refrigerator for desperate times.

And then I discovered AeroPress.

Aleksandr Mostovoi/Getty Images

Buy it: $30, surlatable.com

I may sound like they pay me to say this (they don’t), or I may just sound like a born-again evangelist. Which I am. This inexpensive, genius creation of inventor Alan Adler, who also invented the Aerobie flying disc (look it up: it flies farther than the original Frisbee!) is the best coffee maker I have ever encountered. It is the easiest to use and hands-down makes the most delicious, low-acid cup of coffee (and espresso-style coffee) day in and day out. It’s a breeze to clean, easier still to store, requires no electricity, and in its weirdly not-pretty way, is adorable. I even follow it on Instagram and dream of attending the World Aeropress Championships (not as a competitor but merely as a groupie).

Why AeroPress makes such amazing coffee

Here’s the secret to why this inexpensive little coffee maker is so effective: It was designed by an engineer who set out to design something that would make the best possible single cup of coffee. And when an engineer sets their mind to something, good things result. The proof, then, is in the making itself, and it lives up to those lofty aspirations.

The process

What the AeroPress does is combine the best elements of other coffee makers: time for freshly ground beans to mingle with hot water (French press), a gravity feed (drip and pour-over makers), and filtering through paper (drip and pour-over makers). It works like this:

1. Place an adorable little silver-dollar-size paper microfilter in a screw-on filter casing;

2. Screw the casing onto an equally adorable single-serving-size, polypropylene piston (that’s phthalate and BPA free, by the way);

3. Set that piston (which is perfectly designed to set atop every cup and mug in my cabinet) atop your cup or mug;

4. Pour a scoop and a half of fresh grounds into the piston (they provide a scoop which has one of the easiest-to-grasp little handles I’ve ever seen—again, engineering!);

5. Fill the piston to an easy-to-see line with hot water;

6. Give it a stir with a tool designed to fit the task perfectly;

7. Gently push the plunger into the opening of the piston, it fits so well it creates a vacuum to keep the water and coffee comingling in the column without falling through the filter;

8. Count to 60 (this time can vary as you experiment with your own preferences);

9. Plunge the piston, gently, pushing that trapped column of air down, which in turn pushes the infused coffee through the filter;

10. Lift the whole unit off the top of your cup with one hand (nothing is hot), and below lies your perfect, rich, cup.

I know that sounds like a lot of steps, but in fact, it takes about 2 minutes total, and every step is so easy and methodical that making coffee this way become a brief and meditative break. Yes, you have to make one cup at a time, so AeroPress may not be for a household that demands lots of cups all at once. And yet: I’ve found that taking the time to make each cup of coffee fresh makes it just a little more special, and also curbs mindless consumption. Everyone wins, in other words.

For a fun example of AeroPress in the wild, check out this video:

Why cleaning the AeroPress is a gift unto itself

As someone who hates how much water and time it takes to swish out grounds from other coffee makers, I am obsessed with the hack AeroPress has created for how to get rid of your grounds: Once you’ve plunged your coffee, you’ve got a compacted, hot puck of grounds at the base. All you do is unscrew the filter, point the plunger at your trash (or better yet, your compost), and give one final quick push. Voila! The compacted grounds pop out in one piece, and you’ve got a tool that needs only a quick rinse to ready it for its next use.

This elegant engineering is one reason that AeroPress has become a darling of hikers and campers—it’s lightweight and portable, sure, but it also cleans up with almost zero water. Even the paper filters can be reused several times.

Why is AeroPress coffee so good?

Of course, every coffee drinker knows what they like the best—a smoother finish for one person, a bitter kick for another—and so part of the fun of AeroPress is taking the standard recipe/method they offer in their marvelously thorough instructions and tinkering until you get it just how you like it. And then sticking to that. There’s also evidence that paper can filter out oily substances called diterpenes linked to elevated levels of LDL (the bad cholesterol), which leach out during infusion. (The wire mesh of a French press does not catch diterpenes, which has caused some concern). Meaning the little AeroPress—quirky looking hero that sprang from the mind of a true inventor—might be helping your health as well as offering you the sweetest, easiest ritual—and best cup of coffee—you ever make.

Now, for a bit of joy, watch the inventor himself, Alan Adler, take you through it all, here.