This interesting read from Priceonomics provides the backstory on my favorite coffee-making device and the man who invented it, Alan Adler. For years, I've wondered how the same company behind the Aerobie Frisbee found itself in the coffee game, and it turns out that things went down pretty much the way that I had imagined:
A long-time coffee enthusiast and self-proclaimed “one cup kinda guy,” Adler had wondered this many times himself. 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.”
I've used an Aeropress just about everyday for over a year. There's nothing that comes even remotely close to it's combination of taste, ease of operation, and the relatively quick brew time. The utilitarian device is also darn-near indestructible, with no real moving parts and robust materials employed throughout. Even with all of these attritributes, maybe the easiest feature to overlook with the Aeropress is also the most endeared by those who use it day in, and day out: the Aeropress requires almost zero cleaning or maintenance in between uses.
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.”
If you aren't already searching for one on Amazon right now, consider this: the physical appearance of the Aeropress (it looks like a cheap and gimmicky piece of pseudo-medical equipment) suggests the Aeropress has earned it every bit of the success it has enjoyed in recent years on it's merits alone. This is not one of those objects of desire seen at Crate & Barrel, that you routinely talk yourself out of purchasing. Put plainly, the Aeropress is ugly- or at best, aesthetically unremarkable. Yet it has earned a spot on the counter top of coffee geeks around the world. In an era in which kitchen gadgets can be some of the sexiest and most expensive tools in the home, this cheap and simple tool is gaining popularity amongst a crowd that is notoriously difficult to please. ◉