With its amber cylinders and clinical sheen, it’s not surprising that some see AeroPress as a mysterious brewing method. “It’s so different from what’s popular right now. There’s a steep learning curve for new users,” says Kelly Sanchez, Blue Bottle’s Quality Control Specialist for Perfectly Ground Coffee (and semi-finalist in last year’s ).
Developed by Alan Adler, a lecturer at Stanford University and inventor of the Aerobie, a world-record-setting throwing disc, AeroPress comes with an intimidating pedigree. But Kelly, a longtime user of the local invention, has learned that mastering it isn’t a question of ability, but of practice. “It’s hard to say that it’s an easy brew method, because you still have to ask something of the person doing it,” he says. “There’s a level of engineering you have to comprehend and appreciate—a technique you build over time.”
Like a large plastic syringe, the AeroPress uses pressure to filter out coffee in small, single-cup batches. Responsive and tidy, at its best the contraption produces a smooth, nuanced flavor, and at a brewing time of one to one and a half minutes, often more quickly than other methods.
This flexibility—both of flavor and of application—is one of the AeroPress’ greatest strengths. It’s possible to use it two different ways (Blue Bottle favors the inverted method, which prevents premature drip-through), and with the variables of grind, extraction time, filter type, and water level, the AeroPress is open to endless experimentation. Says Kelly, “There’s a feeling of choose-your-own-adventure with AeroPress.”
Recently, he’s been exploring one of these adventures with Blue Bottle Perfectly Ground. “I brewed with the AeroPress for a long time before Perfectly Ground, and as a beginner I made lots of bad coffee. Having the coffee already ground and measured out is really convenient.”
When it comes to AeroPress, however, Kelly points out that distinguishing between convenience and ease is crucial. “Just because Perfectly Ground is perfectly ground, it doesn’t guarantee the perfect cup of coffee—you still have to follow instructions and learn a bit of the craft,” says Kelly. But with its clear instructions, and coffee pre-measured down to the tenth of a gram, Perfectly Ground can make AeroPress more accessible to new users still learning the ropes. “If you’ve always been curious about AeroPress, Perfectly Ground can be like a set of training wheels,” he says.
This is especially true for those who are used to simpler brewing methods like coffee machines or pour over. The grind size for AeroPress is very fine—about two times finer than pour over—which is unique for most at-home brew methods. If you’re hand-grinding your coffee, over time you develop your own technique for getting the right size. This means that switching to AeroPress might be an adjustment for new users, though many will see this for the opportunity it is.
“If you’re somebody who doesn’t necessarily want to put a bunch of effort into their coffee, it might not be worth it,” says Kelly. “But for others, the complicated nature of AeroPress is really exciting, even if you haven’t done much home brewing before. Read the guidelines carefully. Really visualize it. When I’ve worked with newcomers, it can feel like I’m asking them to build a robot. So you want to familiarize yourself with the equipment before you start putting a piston into a hot tube of water.”
Getting better acquainted with other brewing devices is a good idea, too. “If you’re completely new to home brewing, start with pour over,” says Kelly. “Pour over is essentially a coffee maker that is done by hand; the machine is disassembled and the user handles the brewing mechanics. It’s more familiar and it’s so simple. It looks like what it does. AeroPress doesn’t look like anything. Like, you look at it and you don’t understand how coffee is made with it. With the dripper, you can watch the coffee waterfall through it.”
Once you’re familiar with it, AeroPress is disarmingly easy to use. As its fans know, mastering the technique is just as rewarding as the delicious coffee it produces.
For more pro-tips from Kelly, check out a blog post he wrote about choosing your brewing method.