It’s been ten glorious years since the first World AeroPress Championship: ten years of experimental, creative, boundary-pushing – and, above all, fun – performances.
When it first took place, in a small room in Oslo with just three competitors, few could have imagined the mammoth that it would grow into. Today, there are 58 national competitions around the world in the months leading up to the World Championship, while its sponsors include some of the industry’s biggest names. Over 3,000 people compete every year.
So, what does it take to walk away with the iconic golden AeroPress trophy? And as the championship has evolved, how have the recipes changed? I reached out to several Champions to find out.
Lee este artículo en español ¿Cómo Han Cambiado las Recetas de los Campeones de AeroPress?
Gold, silver, and bronze: the trophies for the World AeroPress Championship, provided by AeroPress, Inc. Credit: World AeroPress Championship
The Early Days
The coffee industry has come a long way over the last decade, something that’s reflected in the competition’s constantly evolving recipes. In the early years, the presentations were high on passion. However, by today’s standards, the coffee wasn’t what you might expect of a Championship-worthy AeroPress brew.
Paulina Miczka, 2017 World AeroPress Champion and Head Barista at Kaffeine, London, tells me that “over the years, tastes have changed. Some time ago, people loved dark roasted coffee.” Lightly roasted single-estate coffees? No, thanks – think a toasty, chocolaty blend instead.
But it’s not just the coffees that have changed: the recipes have, too. Lukasz Jura, 2009 AeroPress Champion and Owner of Coffee Proficiency, Poland, tells me that, today, “we are much more aware of the extraction process.”
If he were competing in 2018?
“I think that I’d have to do everything different,” he confesses. “Today, I’d start testing coffee with my regular recipe… Then, I’d make adjustments depending on the coffee I have. I’d definitely goal into something I can easily repeat in the coffee shop, so I can share the experience with my customers.”
But a lack of coffee science and darker roasts don’t indicate a lack of passion, talent, or inclination to push the coffee industry forwards. Far from it: these early pioneers drove experimentation and helped put the AeroPress, one of coffee’s most beloved brewing devices, on the global coffee map.
Learn more! Read 5 AeroPress Lessons I Learned From 4 Champions (& Their Recipes)
Paulina Miczka, 2017 World Aeropress Champion, 2015 and 2017 UK Aeropress Champion. Credit: Paulina Miczka
A Playground for Coffee Experimentation
Jeff Verellen, 2011 and 2013 World AeroPress Champion, tells me that “most of the competition was purely for fun. A lot of competitors did something very kooky: Gwilym Davies was standing next to me freestyling completely, having no recipe in mind. In 2011, James Hoffman was testing new prototypes of an ultra-advanced Japanese synthetic filter in the championship. Stephen Leighton of Has Bean was making two AeroPresses very differently and mixing them.”
When I ask Stephen Leighton about his goal, he confesses, “I can’t remember what I was thinking at the time. I tend to have a lot of crazy ideas.”
As for James Hoffman, he says, “Hario was experimenting with a synthetic filter for the V60 that was easier to clean and maintain than cloth. It didn’t filter quite as well as cloth, I think, so when I used it, I made a double layer of it, cut to fit an AeroPress…
“I just thought it was fun. This is why I used it, more than following any particular trends at the time. Back then, the AeroPress Championship was much less serious than it is now.”
In the earlier years, the championship wasn’t about brewing the best possible coffee. It was about experimenting. You followed those “what-if”s and “I-wonder”s to do something new – and sometimes, that something new was also incredibly delicious.
Many would say that the event still has this playful, open-minded attitude. But some things have changed: today, experimentation is guided by greater coffee knowledge, data, and often technical tools and equipment.
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Using a scale to carefully control brew ratio. Credit: Dedy B. Rivai
3 Things That Have Dramatically Changed
Jeff says, “It all depends on the panel of judges but, in general, the evolution is to more cleanness, less body, more juicy (but not sour) coffees.” He adds, “These recipes are for competition. Not a lot of people brew them at home; some of them are a bit too elaborate, some of them require a lot of coffee.”
But what has led this evolution?
“Nowadays, we understand much more about coffee then we did 15 years ago,” Paulina says. “We have better tools and grinders than we had before… the understanding of water is also much better. There are many books those days which help us learn more.”
And Martin Karabinos of Leroy Bar & Café, Slovakia (who represented his country on the world stage in 2014, 2016, and 2017) says that changing recipes reflects not only competition standards but the fact that more and more coffee consumers are turning to an AeroPress. “The fact that consumers are asking for AeroPress was not as usual as it is now,” he says.
So, let’s take a look at some of the big changes:
Water Temperature & Quality
During the initial years, Jeff says that “the more serious competitors were trying conventional techniques using 1:16 brew ratio, 90°C (194°F) water temperature, two minute plus steep time, and pressing all the way through. This made an ‘okay’ cup, yet was a bit dry and bitter. I noticed that, at lower temperatures, this bitterness fell away. In 2010, I came third with 86°C (187°F); Marie Hagemeister took the title with 80°C (176°F).”
And today, it’s not unusual to see competitors using water between 75°C and 79°C (167°F–174°F). (Interestingly, when Martin placed second in the World AeroPress Championship in 2014, he used 80 g of water at 35°C/95°F and 135 g at 92°C/198°F.)
What’s more, Martin tells me that “certainly today, the filtration of water is discussed more. In Rimini, I used the basic water from organizers of World AeroPress Championship. Nowadays, the filtration of water is at a completely different level. Baristas can influence the composition of water, which is great.”
The AeroPress: the inverted method. Credit: Leto Coffee Brew Bar
Paulina used a refractometer, a tool to measure extraction levels, in her routine. But what is extraction? And how does it affect the taste of our coffee?
Extraction is the process by which flavor and aroma compounds in the coffee grounds enter the brewed coffee. But not all compounds extract at the same time or rate. First, you get the fruity acids, then sweetness and balance, then bitterness and finally astringency. This means that, by controlling the rate of extraction, you can control the flavor of your coffee.
Discover more! Check out What Are The 3 Phases of Drip Coffee Brewing?
Paulina says, “My recipe couldn’t be that special without the refractometer I used. Many years ago, when people started working on AeroPress recipes, they couldn’t come up with one like that because there simply weren’t all those tools and knowledge available.”
Using it, she tells me, allowed her to achieve the best possible balance of acidity, sweetness, and body in her final brew.
The AeroPress, ready to use. Credit: The Coffee Tamper
Bypassing: it’s the act of adding water to already brewed coffee.
Many AeroPressers will add all of their water to the AeroPress channel. But it’s also possible to use less water during brewing for a more intense flavor. Water can then be added later to keep that strong cup profile while reducing the heavy mouthfeel. It can also limit variables during brewing, increasing consistency.
Doing this is, in fact, closer to the original recipe recommended by AeroPress creator Alan Adler, who set out to create an espresso-on-the-go.
Read all about how Alan Adler created the AeroPress here!
And it’s a fashion that has come back in style. Lukasz tells me, “There’s a tendency of bypassing AeroPress brews these days, at least in competitions.”
Jeff agrees, saying, “The first time I saw an inverted bypass recipe was the winner of one of the regionals in the US in 2012–2013, I think… He used a bypass recipe involving 37 g of coffee and quite a big dilution, making essentially three coffees…
“I remember Tetsu Kasuya, the 2016 World Brewers Cup Champion and 2015 Japanese AeroPress Champion, being inspired by this, too. There were many bypass techniques being used in the 2016 Polish national championships. Filip Kucharczyk mastered it and took the title in a field of 108 competitors.”
Starting the plunge. Credit Bastiaan Roozendaal
Some Things Never Change
But despite these changes, many things have remained constant. Lukasz tells me, “The AeroPress seems to be still an innovative brewing method. For many years, competitors were presenting very different styles of brewing and many of them are surprisingly good.”
And Jeff emphasizes that “the AeroPress is more of a device to brew at home. The World AeroPress Championship is a reflection of a gigantic hobby culture.”
There are many wonderful things about hobby cultures. They are filled with passionate, open-minded individuals. They lead to experimentation, diversity, and ultimately evolution. And even as the AeroPress becomes a more common fixture in coffee shops, this attitude continues.
As Paulina says, “There is still so much to learn.”
Enjoyed this? Check out 5 AeroPress Lessons I Learned From 4 Champions (& Their Recipes)
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