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The AeroPress: Short or Long?

An apt follow-up to my comments on brewing guides, this is a description of a few of my AeroPress brewing methods. It was sparked by a twitter conversation between Flibster and BenJohnMiller 

Now, I consider the AeroPress a really interesting addition to my coffee kit. It’s not my favourite for taste – but it has the distinction of being by far the most versatile brewer I know of. So here are my main categories of AeroPress method, and my own preferences on how I brew each way.

Long Drink
A traditional filter style coffee.

1. Grind 18g of coffee to a coarse filter grind.
2. Construct AeroPress (for simplicity, hereafter called AP) and place on mug. Wash the filter paper through with a little freshly boiled water.
3. Empty said water from mug, replace the AP and add the ground coffee.
4. Add freshly boiled water (approx 90° C), until the top of the brew liquid reaches the 4 mark.
5. Use the AP stirrer to create an even stirring motion until the liquid reaches the 2 mark.
6. Top up to 4, repeat step 5.
7. Plunge.
(must be adjusted for mug volume 😛 )

Short Drink
Not an espresso, not a traditional filter coffee – kind of half way between.

1. Grind 20g of coffee to a consistency between filter and espresso.
2. Construct AP, but use 2 filter papers rather than 1.
3. Add coffee to the AP and add approx. 20g of hot water.
4. Stir, and allow 15 seconds for swelling of grinds. Try and leave grinds in a flat bed.
5. Positioning AP stirrer with the bottom touching the side, just above the coffee bed.
6. Add hot (approx 90° C) water, pouring slowly onto the AP stirrer, so the coffee bed is not disturbed.
7. Fill to 3 mark.
8. Wait 30 seconds, then plunge.

Pseudo-Americano
A short drink diluted with hot water.

See The HasBean Aeropress brew guide 😛

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The method of no method

If you’ve found your way here, and somehow haven’t watched/read some coffee brew guides – go and do it now! I recommend the Brew Methods website as a great starting place.

I suppose the point of this post is to recommend watching other peoples guides, but it’s also to encourage you to not use them. What I mean by this is that a brew guide is a well defined method someone is using to make a consistent cup of coffee – but consistency is not always a good thing.

Surely, you say, consistently good coffee is what we want? Well yes, but brewing coffee is a complex activity, with all sorts of variables that impact the end result. Some of these you control to some degree – things like water temperature, grind size, turbulence/stirring, etc. are in this catergory. Other variables you can’t (or won’t want to) change – for example your beans (variatal, processing, roast, age, etc), the ambient temperature or the amount of coffee you want to make. You need to be able to deal with these variables changing – and make the best cup you can within these constraints.

To do this, you need to be able to alter those variables you can control to compensate for those you can’t. Watch brew guides, try their methods, then play with mixing and matching techniques. Whilst doing this, some results will be terrible – but others will be exceptional. With each experimentation you’ll learn more, improve your understanding and make better coffee more often.

So watch the brew guides, learn and understand their techniques, and incorporate them into your arsenal – but don’t let them dictate your way of doing things.

Taking the tech out

This is just a quick opinion share prompted by some recent comments from coffee people, which helped crystalise some thoughts of mine.

For the “speciality coffee” community, there is a big concern over how to coherently and effectively engage people outside the community. What do you start with? What image, message, words, etc. do you use? Tracability? Drink types? Roast profiles?…

So this is my analysis of the biggest limitation we currently suffer.

Question: Who do we want to recruit coffee geeks from?
Answer: Food and drink lovers. It seems simple, but check out some coffee twitter feeds – nearly all of them are into other food and drink areas (esp. Good beer). Most speciality coffee people wouldn’t order a pint of Stella out of choice, but lots of real ale buffs drink instant coffee. Because they don’t care? That seems unlikely – much more plausibly, because they don’t know they have an alternative.

Question: why do these people believe they can’t get into speciality/good coffee?
Answer: They’ve been sold the idea that good coffee is about technology. What is good coffee to them? Lattes, Cappucinos, espresso, etc. This requires a big shiny bit of geek-heaven, and perpetuates the myth that good coffee requires lots of money spent – and hence any expensive coffee machine must be a good machine… So for them, good coffee is a pod machine, a bean to cup fully automatic, maybe a semi-auto espresso machine. Assuming they have a go anyway, they put some supermarket pre-ground into their espresso machine and find the results uninspiring – their enthusiasm is drained, they give up, coffee geekery is dismissed as hype.

Question: How do we increase engagement?
Simple – take out the tech. Don’t get me wrong, in the hands of a true expert, espresso is a wonderous thing. But it can’t fundamentally make bad beans into good coffee. Also, that expertise requires a huge amount of commitment, time, money and obsession to achieve. Contrast this with a French Press. It’s cheap, simple, and generally reliable. Even a cheap blade grinder will do for French press – so our would-be-geeks can spend a tiny amount, buy good beans, grind at home, and achieve actually good coffee that will stand out against the generic instant/etc.

This is certainly similar to my route into the speciality coffee world.

An added bonus of this is it brings the beans to the forefront. Espresso puts coffee beans into a metaphorical (and occasionally literal) black box. In people’s perceptions, they are detached from the end result. For any brewed coffee method, it is simple to understand the basic mechanics of what’s going on. To go back to foodies, one of the most commonly appreciated foods is a steak. All that’s required for preparation is a grill, yet food fans will happily use its quality as a measure of a restaurant. We need to make people care about the beans above the tech. Everything else – tracibility, roast style, flavours, locality, etc. – can be saved for later.

Please let me know your thoughts.

Brewing Diversity

I’m a big believer in diversity in brewing coffee. It’s something that a fair few people have talked about before, but one worth another mention. But what do I mean by diversity in brewing? Well, two things…

Diversity in brew method
We’re lucky that the UK, and many other countries too now, have access to great micro-lots of coffee, roasted by great people and shipped to us straight away. So you’ve got your lovely bag of single estate through the post, ripped it open, brewed a french press (for example) and it’s lovely. Stunning. So you drink it morning, noon and night. And it’s still lovely – and then you realise you’ve only got a little left. At this point, you’ve got two choices – finish it off in the french press, or risk some experimentation. I’m in favour of the later – in fact, I always try to brew any coffee I get across as wide a range of brewing methods as possible.

The reason for this, is that no brewing method gives you the “real” flavour. Each method showcases a different element of the coffee. So to really appreciate your great coffee (and the great roaster and farmers and importers 🙂 ), you need to explore it – to try out different methods and see how it performs. It risks losing some of your precious beans to a disappointing cup of coffee or two, but it’s worth it for what you might find.

Diversity in coffees
The second part of this, is to try new coffees. I’ve recently been trying coffees from some different roasters, including The Coffee Collective in Denmark. I’d heartily recommend this – try coffees from different (roasting) countries, different roasters, different origins. It’s great to expand your taste experience, and it’s great for making you appreciate just how good the ones you use on a more regular basis are!

My first coffee competition: Pt 2

This is the second blog post about my first coffee competition – the UKCIC 2010. The focus this time is my performance and lessons for other perspective entrants to competitions. So – what are the top lessons I learnt?

Talk!
Competition is about communicating something to the judges. The coffee should do that, the physical presentation will do that, but if you don’t talk you’re wasting a valuable communication opportunity.

That said, what you say needs to be appropriate and accurate – details of the coffee and estate, tastes to look for, theory, history, etc. could all be apt. And they need to be said at the right time – whilst the clock is running. It sounds obvious, but I made the mistake of doing a lot of the talking to the emcee afterwards, rather than during the competition – and all of that couldn’t be counted towards my score.

Have a message or story:
You aren’t just being marked on the end product (coffee) – you’re being scored on the experience. That’s just like in a shop, where the customer is paying for the service as much as your coffee (no matter how good the coffee is!). So make sure your performance is just that – a coherent, focused communication of a message or story, in which the coffee is a big part of how that is communicated.

Hygiene:
These are barista competitions – every element of the performance should also meet professional standards, including hygiene. Particularly consider any areas that you don’t practise day-to-day – if a speciality drink uses ingredients, do you need tongs to handle them? How will you keep the work space clean? And remember to keep fingers away from the necks of bottles, ingredients, etc. Easy mistakes, but these things will lose you points.

Assistance:
In the Cezve/Ibrik competitions, you can have an assistant. I tried it on my own. That was a mistake – an extra person lets you concentrate on making the coffee and doing what you want to do. If the rules allow for anything like this, which will make it easier or enhance the presentation, take advantage of it.

Practice!
Finally, and most importantly, practice. Try the routine, to a timer. Make coffee. Do it a lot – for months in advance. When you get there, it needs to be totally familiar – the stress and unfamiliarity are bad enough, without you forgetting what you wanted to say or getting your coffee over-extracted.

All of these areas are things I could have done better, or just straight forwardly did badly. I’ve made these mistakes – so hopefully anyone who is yet to compete will read this and make new mistakes 😉

If there is one final point I want to end this on – have a go at competing. It doesn’t matter if you’re a home barista or do it as a job, it doesn’t matter what kind of competition you compete in – barista, cevze/ibrik, cup tasting, good spirits, aeropress or anything else, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been into coffee, it doesn’t matter even if you’re competitive by nature or not. By competing, you meet other enthusiasts, who are likely to be friendly and share their knowledge. You also appreciate a different side of coffee – coffee as performance – which most of us don’t do day to day, if at all. And you help build a national and international community of people who care about coffee and who enable us to get great coffees on our streets and at home.

A quick experiment for the Chemex

Here’s a simple experiment I’d like people to try. All you need is a chemex and two cups. I don’t want to prejudice your results – so please give it a go, post in comments and I’ll follow it up with my experience.

Thanks go to Gordon at Harlequin Coffee & Tea for inspiring this.

1) Brew a chemex of coffee in your usual manner.
2) With 2 cups ready, place the lip of the chemex against one cup and pour half the coffee into it.
3) For the other cup, lift the chemex well above the cup and pour. I reckon you can get a foot gap between the chemex and cup, due to the chemex spout.

Now try the two cups side by side. Any taste difference? Let me know in the comments!

Visit York!

A quick blog post this time, and not strictly on Brewed Coffee. A couple of days ago I travelled up to York for the day to try two well regarded coffee shops – The Perky Peacock and Harlequin Coffee and Tea. Both of them I first learnt of from Steve Leighton’s In My Mug videos, and had been meaning to visit for a while.

The Perky Peacock

I had chatted with Nicola at The Perky P on twitter for a while, so it was great to actually meet her in person. The Perky Peacock is a lovely little coffee shop underneath Lendal Bridge. Nicola uses a house blend from HasBean, which I had as an espresso, a macchiato and from the Marco Filtro filter machine. It’s a good blend and Nicola pulls it as a lively espresso which stands up well to the milk.

Harlequin Coffee and Tea
There’s a small ground floor entrance to this central little tea shop on the first floor in King’s Square. It’s run by Gordon, a fantastic barista. Gordon showed me the great range of HasBean coffees they stock, talked through how they make their coffees and asked me where I wanted to start. I happily put myself in his hands – he’s hugely knowledgeable and enthusiastic on his subject. He made me two espressos – one pulled short, the other long – and talked me through the tasting, discussing the flavours, how he would usually pull it, and so on. Then I tried a French Press – very nice – and he insisted on doing me a macchiato as well before I went. The macchiato was creamy, caramel and sweet, with the coffee and milk complementing each other very nicely.

If you’re near York, visit these shops. They are great shops, making great coffee and deserve people spreading the word. I want to say a huge thankyou to Nicola and Gordon – I firmly believe the best part of being a coffee enthusiast has been the people I’ve met, and they exemplify that. Both of them are hugely generous, kind, talented and friendly. I’m not eloquent enough to fully express my gratitude and enthusiasm, so I’ll just say again – make sure you find the opportunity to visit these wonderful shops yourself.

My first coffee competition: Pt 1

I started out with a plan to write a post about my first coffee competition – the UK Cevze/Ibrik Championships 2010. Since the competition, I’ve been pondering what I wanted to say about it. Certainly something about my performance – both for myself and for anyone else about to try a coffee competition for the first time. Certainly something about the competition itself. Certainly something about the people I met… And you can see how the scope quickly becomes too large for just one blog post. So I’m chopping it up into two parts. This is part 1, and in it I’ll talk about the competition, the results and the people – basically the parts of the experience that aren’t to do with me specifically. Part 2 will follow shortly, and will cover my performance and the lessons I’ve learnt.

The competiton
This year was the first UK Cevze/Ibrik Championships, and the flow of information from the SCAE UK was a bit unreliable at time. Thankfully, I was put in contact with Aysin Aydogdu – who has been the UK competitor at the World Championships previously, coming 3rd in 2009. Aysin was very kind and very helpful – I’d left entering late because of changing jobs, so I wasn’t certain I could get my entry sorted in time, but Aysin got it all sorted and answered my technical questions.

I’ve got to say I was very nervous – it was my first competition, after all. We were in the downstairs part of the Ishtar Restaurant, and as the competitors and audience arrived, so my nervousness increased. I was the only competitor who hadn’t grown up making coffee in an Cevze/Ibrik, and I quickly realised that the audience were equally knowledgeable.

My nervousness continued to build during the pre-competition routines – a belly-dancing display, an explanation of the competition rules and introductions for the judges etc. We drew lots for competition order, and I was third of five – luckily, pretty much were I would have chosen to be!

The nerves hampered my performance – see part 2 for more on that – but weren’t needed.. The audience was very kind and appreciative, as were the other competitors. After we’d all competed, I was third, Hasan Huseyin second and Aysin first. Hasan put on a polished performance to pip me to second place – his experience really showed through in how calm and well paced his routine was. He’s also a really nice guy, and gave me some much appreciated support and offers of assistance (again, see part 2) before the competition. Aysin smashed all of us with her display. It was all about showing the traditional Turkish setting for drinking coffee, and was very impressive. Combine that with great coffee, and she makes a fantastic and very well deserved UK Champion – I’m really looking forward to cheering her on at the WCICs. I’ve already mentioned her help with my entry for the competition – so for all her help and support both before and on the day, I’m hugely thankful to Asyin.

A big thankyou and well done also to the MC and the scorekeeper for the day – both of whom were new to coffee, and got roped in by Aysin – but both of whom did wonderfully. Praise too for the judges – they clearly enjoyed it and did a good job of making the scoring process clear.

That pretty much covers the competition, I think. If you’ve got any thoughts or questions, leave them in the comments. It was a good experience, and I hope to see a lot of you who are reading this at the competition next year – as competitors or audience, it’s well worth it.

Setting the context

This is my first blog post, and although I’m keen to jump in the deep end and start with a topic on my mind right now, such as the UK Cevze/Ibrik Championships, I’m going to start with setting the scene instead.

Hopefully this blog will get some feedback and attract people from different parts of the coffee community – so if there is going to be a discussion, I need to start by providing some context for that discussion and a bit of background. I’m splitting this into 3 parts – the blog, speciality coffee in the UK, and the cezve/ibrik brewing method.

The blog
There are lots of great online resources/blogs/articles/etc. about coffee, and I’ll put up a list of links to some of these in the future. But the Cezve/Ibrik method isn’t well represented, and generally when it is, it’s not with the focus on improving it that you see for the other brewing methods.

I’ve been interested in all types of coffee for a few years now and came third in this years UK Cevze/Ibrik Championships – more on that in another post. I don’t consider myself particularly knowledgable – so the aim of this blog is to ask questions and, sometimes, propose tentative theories. And I’m hoping it will also help me de-clutter my head 🙂

Speciality Coffee in the UK
I’ve always found the term “speciality coffee” an odd one. To me, the obvious sense of the term is the more unusual and esoteric drinks – the milk and espresso concoctions of the highstreet chains being an obvious example.

In fact, speciality coffee afficianados are more likely to want a “simple” coffee – an espresso, latte, filter, etc. – but held to higher standards of quality than the norm. It’s kind of like saying that people who prefer eating at a michelin starred restaurant are into speciality food… Kind of true, but misleading in it’s implication.

Anyway, speciality coffee in the UK seems to be a growing group of people and focuses on the quality, tracability and technique of getting from beans to the most enjoyable cup of coffee possible. This means knowing and understanding as much as possible about the whole chain – who grew the beans, what varietal they are, how they were processed, who roasted them and when, to what degree of roast, how they are ground and how they are brewed (to name but a few).

Ibrik/Cevze brewing
Basically, this brewing method consists of grinding coffee very finely, adding water and heating in a jug. It’s the most basic method of preparing roast beans into a coffee. And that is part of why everyone interested in coffee should know a bit about it – good fundamentals always helps your overall understanding. Another, and infinitely better, reason is that it makes a lovely and distinctive cup of coffee. It doesn’t taste like any of the other methods – possibly because of the temperature profile for the extraction (yet another future topic :-P) – so it allows you to explore another facet of a beans flavour.

Notice how I keep referring to it as Cevze/Ibrik brewing? The best known name in the U.K. Is probably “Turkish Coffee”. However, in Greece they call it “Greek Coffee”, in the Middle East “Arabic Coffee”, and on and on across the world. These traditional methods from different regions are not quite the same – but they’re all close enough that they should fit under one title. However, what title is acceptable to everyone? Cevze/Ibrik (two words from different languages that both refer to the brewing jug used) is the one favoured by the Speciality Coffee Associations – but even that is culturally loaded to some extent. I’ve not got any suggestions that wouldn’t cause as many problems as they fix, but if you can find a phrase to cover this brewing method in a way which is both inclusive and clear to everyone – please let me know your ideas.

That pretty much covers what I wanted to start with, I hope. I’ll aim to follow up with something more focused fairly soon (time allowing), but please please provide feedback and comments on this post. And if you’ve got this far – thanks for reading!