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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!