What do you do when you just want one cup of coffee? If you’re Alan Adler, you invent the AeroPress:
He’d grown increasingly frustrated with his coffee maker, which yielded 6–8 cups per brew. In typical Adler fashion, he didn’t let the problem bother him long: he set out to invent a better way to brew single cup of coffee.
He started by experimenting with pre-existing brewing methods. Automatic drip makers were the most popular way to make coffee, but “coffee connoisseurs” seemed to prefer the pour-over method — either using a Melitta cone (or other variety), or French Press. Adler quickly found the faults in these devices.
The Melitta cone, a device you place over your cup with a filter and pour water into, has “an average wet time of about 4–5 minutes,” according to Adler. The longer the wet time, the more acidity and bitterness leech out of the grounds into the cup. Adler figured this time could be dramatically reduced, quelling bad-tasting byproducts.
It struck Adler that he could use air pressure to shorten this process. After a few weeks in his garage, he’d already created a prototype: a plastic tube that used plunger-like action to compress the flavors quickly out of the grounds. He brewed his first cup with the invention, and knew he’d made something special. Immediately, he called his business manager Alex Tennant.
Tennant tasted the brew, and stepped back. “Alan,” he said, “I can sell a ton of these.”
A year of “perfecting the design” ensued: Adler tried out different sizes and configurations, and at first “didn’t understand the right way to use [his] own invention.” The final product, which he called the AeroPress, was simple to operate: you place a filter and coffee grounds (2–4 scoops) into a plastic tube, pour hot water into the tube (at an optimal of 165–175 degrees), and stir for ten seconds.
Now comes the fun part: you insert the “plunger” into the tube and slowly press down; the air pressure forces the water through the grounds and into your coffee mug that’s (hopefully) positioned below. This produces “pure coffee” that is close to espresso in strength, and can be diluted with additional water. The process of plunging the tube also self-cleans the device, but Adler says this was simply “serendipitous.” After all, great inventions, he says, “always require a little luck.”
Alan’s new method shortened the typical wet time of other makers from 4–5 minutes to one minute. Not only that, but Adler claims his paper filters (which run $3.50 for 350, and are reusable up to twenty-five times each) reduce lipids that typically incite the body to produce LDL cholesterol (this is debated greatly in the coffee community).
With his plans mapped out, Adler went to Westec Plastics in Livermore, California, ordered $100,000 worth of molds, and put the invention into production. In 2005, Tennant and Adler debuted the product at Seattle’s Coffee Fest, where it was “extremely well accepted by the coffee aficionado community. ” Brewers loved the easily “hackable” design of the AeroPress; it’s list price — $29.99 — didn’t hurt either, especially when gauged against coffee makers ten to fifteen times the cost.