There are a million ways to make coffee out there. On our last voyage we made coffee in a French Press coffee maker. Jon thought the coffee was great but I hated cleaning the little curlycues (called the “spring screen” apparently) which caught the coffee grounds and took a fair amount of water to wash out. On our 2500 mile traverse to Hawaii our stash of 120 gallons seemed vanishingly small so I resented the water that the coffee maker required just to be cleaned. For this new trip I wanted a better solution.
Some Coffee-making Solutions
In the months leading up to the start of our second voyage I researched coffee makers. A coffee maker is something we use every day and something that keeps my husband happy (I drink tea), so I wanted to get this right. The solution also had to be possible without electricity, using just water heated on our propane stove. It also had to be possible to use while on passages, although I admit he sometimes just drinks instant coffee when the weather gets really rough. And finally I wasn’t willing to spend big bucks on this solution, nor was I willing to store a huge device – the device had to be respectful of our limited galley space. So I started googling and researching coffee sites and sailing / cruising sites. These are some of the solutions I tried.
What about regular drip coffee? I ordered a cone-shaped pour-through metal filter (to save on paper trash). It looked very robust and easy to clean. It only made one cup at a time though.
Regardless of its virtues Jon didn’t like it. I don’t actually know why Jon took against it, but I think he thought it was too tippy. Not only is it not attached to the cup, as it just sits on top, but the top is also wide open and the hot water would splash out at the slightest movement. Might work at anchor but not so well underway. And it does take some time to drain into the cup, so it would be possible to lose the coffee during this time. Making coffee in the sink is not ideal. And again, it is intended for making one cup at a time which was not what we wanted. So this solution wasn’t going to work for us.
The Chemex makes fabulous, non-acidic coffee. However their trademark hourglass-shaped glass carafe, although very beautiful, is too difficult to store and too unwieldy and breakable for a monohull. It uses custom acid-free filter papers and makes the carafe quite slowly. You have to pour some hot water in, wait for it to filter through, and repeat until the carafe was full. This was frustratingly slow and would have been too difficult on a boat for us. We loved it at home, but decided not to bring it on the boat.
Finally I heard about the Aeropress. The Aeropress coffee maker has a bit of a cult following. It was invented by the maker of Aerobie frisbees, my dog’s favorite kind of frisbee, so I already had a warm spot in my heart for the inventer. When a friend showed my how to make it, however, although it looked cool, it seemed to only make one cup. We wanted to be able to make a small pot at once. This seemed a strike against it. And if you read articles about the Aeropress, this seeming limitation is often brought up as a deal-killer. I have read dozens of articles saying that it is “too bad the Aeropress only makes a single cup at a time”. As I found out, this is absolutely false.
I continued reading about the Aeropress and discovered that it could be used to make intensely strong coffee, like espresso, and then watered down to make normal Americano, with no compromise to the taste. Simply add four scoops of coffee at once, let the coffee brew and then add the rest of the hot water directly to the carafe – no pressing required – later.
As for the tippiness of the unit, it is a little tippy if left by itself. However the brew time is quite short – 10-30 seconds to “brew” and then 20-40 seconds of pressing, during which time you are holding the unit. After that you just pour the rest of the hot water in at your leisure. So although it it a little tippy, like normal drip coffee, it is better secured because of the shape of the funnel that holds the chamber and it is also very quick to make, so it becomes a reasonable compromise on a heeling boat. Let’s look at making coffee in the Aeropress in more detail.
Aeropress in More Detail
The Aeropress has the following parts: a plastic chamber that is open on both ends, a filter cap into which a paper or metal filter is inserted before screwing the filter cap onto one end of the chamber, a plunger that is inserted into the other end of the chamber in order to press the coffee, a stirring paddle, and a funnel that sits in the cup or carafe and into which the chamber is placed before pressing.
We find we can easily make a pot of coffee, even in seas, using the aeropres, with little mess to clean up. The coffee is, according to Aeropress and independent testers, much lower in acid than coffee made in a french press. Some claim this is, as with the Chemex, due to the special paper filters used, others claim it is the short brew time and the lower temperature water that keeps the acidity low. All I know is that my husband gets the taste he enjoys and I don’t get a mess in my galley.
How we make a pot of Aeropress coffee
- Place the funnel into the top of a 1 liter carafe.
- Fit a paper filter into the filter cap and screw the filter cap onto the bottom of the chamber. Place the chamber onto the funnel.
- Pour 4-5 Tablespoons of finely ground coffee into the chamber.
- Fill the chamber with boiling, or near-boiling water. (Aeropress recommends 175 to 185 degree water). Stir with the stirring paddle to mix the water and coffee.
- Place the plunger into the top of the chamber and SLOWLY press down on the coffee and water combination. Take 30 seconds or more to press the liquid into the carafe.
- Remove the chamber with the plunger still in it and hold over a trash can. Quickly unscrew the filter cap and place in the sink. Depress the plunger fully into the chamber which pushes the coffee grounds and paper filter into the trash can with no mess. Place the chamber and plunger into the sink and rinse quickly.
- Remove the funnel from the top of the carafe and fill the carafe with more boiling water, diluting the espresso into standard American coffee. Experiment until you get the strength you like.
We have now been using the Aeropress for about 10 months and are very happy with it. Quick and easy to use, easy to store, makes great coffee in adequately large amounts, and reasonable cost. I highly recommend it.
More information on Aeropress
- Here is the instruction manual (pdf) that accompanies the aeropress coffee maker.
- The aeropress costs less than $35 and can be bought on Amazon and other online stores.
- Lots of different ways to make coffee with the Aeropress. (I told you it had cult-like status!)
Plus – a Useful Accessory
I can’t finish without mentioning the insulated carafe we use with the Aeropress coffee maker. Jon wanted something that was not tall and narrow – which would be too tippy on a boat – something with a lower center of gravity. And insulated to keep the coffee warm longer. This item, the Isosteel 1 liter insulated Carafe, made in Germany, available on Amazon, fit the bill perfectly. The Aeropress funnel fits tightly into the carafe opening so that we make the coffee directly in the carafe, then add the rest of the hot water later. It is an attractive and well made item.