March 12, 2018

5 Lessons I Learned From 4 AeroPress Champions (& Their Recipes)

The AeroPress is one of the best introductions into the world of specialty coffee. It’s affordable, fast, compact, and versatile. While it comes with a recipe, there are many ways to personalize it, bring out different flavour profiles, and experiment. And who better to tell us about this than four AeroPress Champions?

I turned to Paulina Miczka, 2017 World AeroPress Champion; Hugo Rocco, 2016 Brazil AeroPress Champion and third in the World Championship; Ben Jones, 2016 United States AeroPress Champion; and Leonardo Gonçalves, 2017 Brazil AeroPress Champion.

They showed me that there’s no “right way” to brew a great AeroPress coffee. They experimented with brewing methods and challenged the industry’s ideas of “how to brew” – and, in doing so, won championships. Read on to discover more!

Lee este artículo en español 5 Lecciones de Aeropress Que Aprendí de 4 Campeones (Y Recetas)

Aeropress

Steam rises from a freshly brewed AeroPress coffee. Credit: Coffee Sleuth/Danielle Kilbride

Lesson 1: (Re)consider Your Grind

Let’s review some coffee basics: coffee has an ideal extraction point. The finer the grind size, the longer the brew/contact time, and the hotter the water, the quicker it extracts. Since over extracted coffee tastes bitter, and under extracted coffee tastes sour, your coffee recipe should manipulate these three factors to produce a perfectly extracted, sweet, and balanced brew.

But you might be surprised to discover that all of my interviewees’ winning recipes used a much coarser grind size than is conventional for the AeroPress. Paulina uses a grind slightly finer then Chemex, Ben and Leonardo opt for one on the coarse side of drip, and Hugo grinds to somewhere between French press and filter.

Learn more! Read A Guide to Coffee Grind Size, Consistency, & Flavour

Grind size is always the best starting place for developing a recipe. As Ben explains, “Grind size is the greatest factor and dictates time; temperature and turbulence are secondary factors.”

And with a coarser grind, the extraction rate is slowed down – meaning there is greater flexibility to extend the contact time without developing a bitter brew. These competition recipes all had a brew time that ran from almost two minutes to about three minutes.

Paulina tells me, “I set up the one grind setting on my grinder and tried it with different recipes, using the refractometer as my guide, until I found the flavour I liked.”

In other words, experiment with your brew time and grind size. Don’t be afraid to break the rules.

You might also like our AeroPress Coffee Guide: How to Brew for Different Flavour Profiles

Recording brew time

Recording brew time to ensure a deliciously sweet, well-extracted coffee. Credit: Coffee Sleuth/Danielle Kilbride

Lesson 2: Plunge Time Matters

Brew time isn’t the only time that matters, however, when using an AeroPress. You should also consider the plunge time.

While Hugo says that he did not see a huge difference between a 30-second and a 45-second plunge, all of the champions’ recipes featured a plunge of around 30 seconds. For someone like myself, who typically plunges in 20 seconds or less, this was a big revelation!

“Too quick of a plunge time can make the coffee muddy and less clean. Too slow a plunge time can make it too watery (in sense of mouthfeel),” Paulina explains.

For a brighter cup, Ben stops plunging the moment he hears the hiss. This is the sound of trapped air being pushed through after all the water has already been expelled. On the other hand, for a fuller-bodied cup that includes the natural oils of the coffee and more coffee fines, he would continue until the hiss is complete. “I love the AeroPress for the simple control it gives over brew time. Every brew is about balancing extraction through exposure time,” he says.

Discover more! Read Everything You Need to Know About Body & Mouthfeel in Coffee

barista competitor

A competitor starts his plunge at a Washington DC AeroPress competition. Credit: Coffee Sleuth/Danielle Kilbride

Lesson 3: Don’t Fear Bypass Brewing

Many competition recipes use a coarser grind and longer immersion time. Many also brew a boldly extracted coffee and then add water – something called bypassing.

Ben uses 26g of coffee, adding water after the brew returns the coffee to his preferred ratio (he aims for 1:17, one gram of coffee for 17g of water, per cup).

Bypassing traditionally gets a strong coffee flavour without a heavy mouthfeel. Control your plunge time simultaneously to get the ideal body.

Lesson 4: Put The Coffee First

Always tailor your recipe to your coffee.

Hugo opted for a coarser grind size and longer brew time in the Championship, but he’s seen other methods work. He tells me that once he only had an espresso grinder on hand. He made an AeroPress with a fine espresso grind and one-minute brew time. This was finished with a bypass, and it was one of the best coffees he’s ever had.

The final result surprised Hugo, but he admits that the AeroPress is versatile with different origins and roasts. He remembers using one recipe for a Colombian coffee in competition which produced different results with a Brazilian coffee.

To take your brewing from good to great, learn about what you are brewing. As Leonardo proclaims, “Each roast requires a different recipe.”

These rules won’t apply to every coffee. Hugo has experimented with roast colour and water temperature and found that dark roasts don’t always work with low temperature water.

Put the coffee first: taste it, experiment it, and judge its flavour and not its label. As Leonardo says, “Every coffee has its identity and will respond differently to your techniques.”

aeropress in a bag

Packing the AeroPress, ready for on-the-go brewing. Credit: Coffee Sleuth/Danielle Kilbride

Lesson 5: There Are (Almost) No Rules

The champions have taught us that there is a great deal you can do with your brew time, that plunge and depth time can impact the mouthfeel, that bypassing allows you to control the intensity of your brew, and that coffees and roasts affect how you may want to brew on the AeroPress.

But there’s one more thing they’ve taught us: have fun and experiment.

The lessons we’re learning from them aren’t hard-and-fast rules. They’re evidence of what can be achieved when you question what you’ve been told, try different techniques, and create recipes that taste good to you.

Paulina advises, “Don’t be shy… it’s good to experiment with it.”

Ben, for example, has been enthusiastically testing different water temperatures. “I was running the coffee through a variety of brew devices and, on a whim, used room temperature water to bloom…” he says. “Because the AeroPress can be used as a full immersion brewer, I could let the grounds steep at room temp as long as I wanted before adding the hot water. This sent me deeper into exploring the effects of water temperature. So much fun!”

The more we experiment with the AeroPress, the more we get to understand it and the more it surprises us. Or, as Leonardo tells me, “Everyone can use the AeroPress; it’s a method for everyone. But the more you get to know it, the better coffee it’ll create in the cup.” (Translated from Portuguese.)

Hugo jokes, “Buy the AeroPress, make good coffee. Or buy an AeroPress, good coffee, a scale, a notebook, and a digital temperature kettle and go nerd.” It’s the best way to discover how to make delicious coffee.

coffee brewing

A barista brews a coffee using the AeroPress at a café in Colorado Springs, USA. Credit: Building Three Coffee

Four Champion Recipes

I couldn’t resist asking each winner for their personal winning recipes. Here they are:

Hugo:

25g coffee, with a grind profile between French press and filter.

150g of 89°C (192°F) water.

Brew for 2:15.

Press for 30 seconds.

Finish before three minutes, adding hot water until you have 200g of coffee.

Paulina:

Inverted AeroPress.

35g coarsely ground coffee (finer than for a Chemex).

At 0–15 seconds, pour 150g of 84°C (183°C) water.

At 15–35 seconds, stir.

Put the cap on the top with a pre-wet filter.

At 1:05, flip the AeroPress and start pressing.

At 1:35, stop pressing.

Add 160–200g hot water.

Leonardo:

Use 30g of coarsely ground coffee (setting 8 on an EK-43).

Pour 220ml of 83°C (181.5°F) water.

Stir carefully.

Dilute with 40ml water.

Stir and enjoy.

Ben:

Traditional/standard AeroPress orientation.

26g coarsely ground coffee

94°C/201°F water.

A stainless steel Able Brewing disc fine filter, plus 2 paper AeroPress filters; the paper should sit above the metal filter next to the coffee.

Rinse and preheat the AeroPress and filters.

Add coffee and 200 g hot water, then stir vigorously for 10 seconds.

Rotate plunger into place at the top but do not press.

At 2:00, press slowly for 30 seconds. Stop if you hear a hiss.

Add 75g hot water to the brew.

Go ahead, experiment more with your AeroPress recipes.  Put the coffee first. Play with grind size, brew time, and the plunge. But, if you’re like me, you’ll also be trying the Champions’ recipes – because what better way than to start our experiments with these factors?

Enjoyed this? Check out AeroPress Brew Guide: How to Brew for Different Flavour Profiles!

Please note: This article has been sponsored by AeroPress, Inc.  

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