· technology ·

Following the sad demise of our espresso machine, we were looking around for a cheap and temporary method of making nice coffee. We have a cafetière, but we're not keen on the kind of coffee it makes. We seem to end up with bitter coffee, with lots of grounds and sediment in the bottom, and they are a pain to clean in the morning when you're in a rush.

A while ago, I saw an article on the Aeropress, and thought at the time that it looked quite nifty. Faced with the dire prospect of a lack of nice coffee while we find out how much we're going to be charged to repair our machine, I thought I might as well get one. Even with the massive markup of all US-made goods bought in the UK, it only costs £25 or so. There are all kinds of rave reviews for the Aeropress on the Internet, but I decided that even if it only made OK coffee rather than great coffee, £25 would be reasonable for a very portable coffee maker that we could take on holiday with us.

We got our Aeropress last week, and I'm really impressed with it. It's well made (very sturdy, with high quality plastics, so there's little chance of breaking it), and it does indeed make very good coffee if you tinker a bit. It's basically a very large syringe, with a perforated filter cap (lined with one of the supplied paper filter discs) rather than a needle tip. You put the coffee grounds into the outer cylinder (placed on top of a mug), measure hot water into the plunger part, tip it on to the grounds and stir for a short while. Then you slowly and steadily insert the plunger and push down, so that the air pressure built up forces the water through the grounds. When you've pushed the plunger all the way down, it compresses the grounds into a compact puck. You then unscrew the filter cap, depress the plunger fully, and the coffee puck pops neatly out into the bin (or compost bin, in our case). The clever design means that almost no grounds are left in the unit, and you can rinse it under the tap very quickly to clean up.

The beauty of it is that you don't need to steep the grounds for very long to extract the maximum amount of flavour, and the paper filter stops any grounds from making it into the cup. What you end up with (if you do it right), is a very smooth, but very full-flavoured cup of coffee. We usually made Americano coffees with our espresso maker, by topping the espresso up with water, and we do the same very successfully with the Aeropress.

I mentioned earlier that you have to tinker about with it a bit. The makers supply detailed instructions which are a good starting point, but everyone has different taste, and uses different types of coffee, so you might find that you need to experiment a bit. This -- of course -- is actually a massive selling point to any kind of geek, so I had fun with that part.

We have a coffee grinder, and I found that using a slightly finer grind helped, as did stirring the grounds and water for about 20 seconds rather than the recommended 10 seconds. But I like my coffee quite strong, so your mileage may vary. Anyway, it's great fun, makes good coffee, and only requires ground coffee and some way of heating water. We're considering getting our espresso machine repaired and selling it, then using the Aeropress full time.