A few months ago, I had the pleasure and privilege of meeting a very fascinating man. Marc Tormo was brewing coffee at The Brew Room in Savera Hotel. I had been a regular at TBR ever since they opened, primarily because they are the only café in Chennai to offer niche coffee brewing methods such as the Hario Pour-overs, Cold Drip and a geeky Vacuum Siphon; to celebrate their 3rd Anniversary, TBR brought back its Auroville-Spaniard architect Marc Tormo for a coffee brewing workshop.
The workshop turned out to be as captivating as I had imagined; perched on the front row, I would eagerly interject Marc to show off my half-baked coffee hacks. When I later caught up with him after the workshop, over a fiery Andhra Thali at Savera’s Malgudi restaurant, I was embarrassingly humbled to share space with this erudite devotee of the bean. Our chat and more importantly, Marc Tormo, obviously deserves a write-up of his own. However, this one is specifically about a brewing method. When two coffee nerds, with a plethora of brewing equipment at their disposal, talk about their favorite method – the discussion, invariably, points to the Aeropress.
The latest in a century old list of coffee brewing contraptions, the Aeropress is a marvellous, space-age hack of sorts. Invented a decade ago by Stanford professor and prolific inventor Alan Adler, it has spawned endless debates and discussions, brewing championships and even entire new companies! Adler has made a name for himself in ‘80s when he refined the design of flying discs (frisbees) to create an ‘Aerobie’ (also the name of his company); his final design was inspired by the ring-like shape of medieval Indian weapon – Chakrams, popularly used by the armed Sikh order of Nihang/Akali and which also find extensive references as divine Chakras in the Mahabharata.
Adler sold millions of these aerodynamically-efficient sport-toys, and some of them even set world records for distance in the unaided, human-thrown category. Then, the ingenious ‘life-hacker’ turned his attention to the conundrum of delicious, single-cup coffee. Unsatisfied with popular drip-coffeemakers or pour-overs, Adler used his experience in high-performance industrial design to come up with an invention that combined simplicity, with hackability. Avant-garde design, with classic principles. Vacuum pressure, with paper filters. I could go on.
I like to describe the Aeropress as an oversized 3-part modular plastic syringe. It also comes with a stirrer, a funnel for pouring in the ground coffee and a stack of paper filters, with a holder. The plastic is unbreakable, and has survived 5 clumsy years of constant use (and abuse). That is it.
Such is the adaptability of the device, that entirely new companies are making money off it, run by Kickstarter-funded enthusiasts seeking to derive the last drop productivity out of the Aeropress. It is either pure luck or as Alan himself admits, serendipity. I do not think so – it is his foresight and genius. For example, the ‘press’ cylinder, which is fitted with a rubberised puck on one end (to create a seal) is hollow. Able Brewing Company came up with rubber cap, creating a small sealable stash for storing coffee grounds or beans in that hollow. S-Filter (and Able) retailed perforated metal filters that substitute the paper ones. Many Aeropress-ers (myself included) believe that these metal filters impart a full body, on account of the metal letting coffee oils through. If you look closely, almost every single piece of the Aeropress is symmetrically aligned – neatly fitting into each other for convenient portability.
If reading up until this point has steamed up the coffee-geek inside and you are now wondering how to brew a great cup of coffee with the Aeropress, then you will have to wait for my next piece. Entire championships have been dedicated to usage of this brewer, and I intend on telling you all I know, so watch this space!
A self proclaimed food geek and coffee nerd, Amit Patnaik enjoys his time in the kitchen as much as he loves dining out. He runs the food blog Pursuit of Yummyness and contributes to The Hindu in Chennai.