As I have mentioned to a few people before, my ultimate dream of domesticity is a place where I can unpack all of my books, and perhaps where I have an espresso machine. That day, if it ever comes, is a long way off. All indications are that the next few years will continue to involve a fair bit of moving about.
Since I was an undergraduate, I have been making coffee using a French press. I have either purchased pre-ground beans, with the pieces at the appropriate size for this brewing method, or tried to approximate the proper grind using a cheap blade grinder. Neither of these approaches is ideal, since pre-ground coffee gets exposed too thoroughly to air and blade grinders produce bean fragments of very inconsistent sizes. Also, the French press itself has some limitations. It produces a relatively bitter and sediment-laden sort of coffee.
Based on enthusiastic reviews online, I am trying the AeroPress coffee maker. It is sometimes described as a way of making espresso, but I don’t think that’s entirely justifiable. It doesn’t use steam or a great deal of pressure. What it does do is produce good coffee in small volumes. It’s a bit complicated and not especially quick, but the ritual of it is part of the appeal.
In order to work well, the AeroPress requires beans that have been consistently ground to the right size. To do that in an inexpensive and portable way, I bought a Hario Skerton hand-driven conical burr grinder (similar). You put a small handful of coffee beans in the top, turn the handle for a few minutes, and end up with enough ground coffee to operate the AeroPress. You could more easily produce bean fragments of the right sizes using an electric conical burr grinder, though they are more expensive and one purchased for use in one country may not necessarily work in another.
The AeroPress is basically a plastic syringe. When used in the most effective way (not the way in the instructions), you place it on a countertop with the plunger already inserted and the receptacle for the filter cap facing upward. You add ground coffee and boiling water, stir, and wait a few seconds. You then put the end cap on, with a paper filter in place. To get the coffee oil, you then want to carefully press the plunger in until the first small quantity of liquid comes through the filter. Then, invert the whole device above a mug and press out the remaining coffee. This requires some force, so either use a mug that has reasonable strength or be prepared for the possibility that it will break.
After completing this process, you end up with a small cup of coffee and a puck-shaped mass of depleted coffee grounds. The AeroPress is easy to clean. You just discard the filter and the ‘puck’ and rinse the rest of the device off.
I enjoy the coffee the AeroPress produces, though I am still experimenting with the precise ratio of coffee grounds to hot water. It is much denser and richer than ordinary French press coffee, though not quite as much so as real espresso. It isn’t bitter, and doesn’t contain any bean sludge. The whole process of making AeroPress coffee is better suited to a quiet Saturday morning than to a hurried weekday departure, especially if you use a hand-driven grinder.