Push ahead

It may be made from just two plastic tubes, but the humble AeroPress produces fantastic complex flavours and is a favourite with the pros. Joshua M Pattinson gets tips from the top on how to use one. Photo by Gary Smith

On the table in front of me are two hot cupping bowls with 12.5g of Caravan’s Hope AA from Tanzania and Square Mile’s La Buitrera Huila from Colombia. Beside me is Shaun Young, age 21, the current UK AeroPress Champion and head barista at Kaffeine. I’ve managed to steal Shaun away from his coffee shop in Fitzrovia to demonstrate the AeroPress and talk me through his award-winning method. “I’m using the recipe from the competition last year: 15.5g of ground coffee, water at 85 degrees, a two-minute brew time and 30-second press.”

First, neatly set out your equipment: the AeroPress, paper filter, pouring kettle, scales and timer. Next, rinse the filter paper to get rid of any papery taste: measure out 150mls of hot water for this, which will also pre-heat the brewing vessel.

Shaun has decided on the La Buitrera Huila, and weighs out 17g: “I use 15.5g for the recipe, so I weigh out a few grammes more and add the right amount later.” He grinds the coffee in a Mahlkonig Tanzania grinder on a setting of 5.25. “You don’t want it too coarse like a French press, but you don’t want it too fine like espresso. You want it somewhere in the middle. As I run my fingers through it you can feel those big particles but you still get fines in there, too.”

Shaun adds the 15.5g of coffee into the AeroPress, taking care not to let the grounds touch the sides and making sure they sit level at the bottom. When the water comes up to 85 degrees he weighs it out. “I add about 35mls of water to pre-wet, and the first amount of water goes in nice and slow. I’m trying to saturate all the grounds so we get an even extraction, and as soon as it touches the coffee I start the timer.”

As we wait for the coffee to pre-infuse I ask Shaun why he brews at a cool 85 degrees, where most people use water at 92-96 degrees. “In the AeroPress, 85 degrees is a temperature that works well for Colombian coffee. If I was brewing Ethiopian coffee, like in the 2012 AeroPress World Championship, then I would use water at 92 degrees, because those coffees like heat.”

Shaun then begins to pour quite fast to move the grounds around. “I’ll use 250mls of water and pop on the lid to create a vacuum in the brewer.” For the actual moment of pressing he uses one consistent push. “If it goes down too easily then the grind size is too coarse; if it’s too hard, then the grind size is too fine. I press until I hear that satisfying hiss at the end.”

We wait for the brewed coffee to cool down. “Probably the best thing about the AeroPress is how easy it is to clean,” Shaun says. “Just unscrew the cap, pop the puck into the bin and
give it a quick wash – happy days!”

As we sit down to enjoy the coffee, I’m struck by Shaun’s charisma and gentle charm as well as his passion for the craft. “It sounds clichéd, but I had my first flat white in Sydney. I was working at a restaurant in Surrey Hills and there was a café close by called Single Origin, where I went every day. I thought it was amazing.” He started in the coffee industry just a year ago, working at Taylor Street Baristas. “Then last summer I entered the UK AeroPress Championship and my passion and career skyrocketed. The only reason I entered was because I wanted to learn more about it.”

Winning the UK Championship meant flying to Portland, Oregon to compete on the world stage. “It’s crazy to think that brewing coffee could take me to America. I never thought it could give me so much,” he says, smiling with amazement.

It was in Portland that Shaun met the inventor of the AeroPress, Alan Adler, also known for creating the range of flying toys. “He’s absolutely mad! He’s an older guy, and he runs around with a TDS metre (Total Dissolved Solids) measuring everyone’s brew. He’s a complete character, and it was great to meet him.”

“We sell more AeroPress at Kaffeine than any other brew method,” Shaun explains. “It’s quick, clean, inexpensive and you can yield some great cups. It’s not as clear as the V60 and not as elegant, but you’ll get some really tasty coffee from the AeroPress.”

This year, Shaun is competing in the UK AeroPress Championship again as well as the UK Barista Championship (UKBC) and has high hopes of doing well. “I’ve prepared my presentation and know how to express what I want to say. I want my routine to be about having fun and enjoying great, tasty cups.”

“The AeroPress competition is so chilled and relaxed. You just turn up, have eight minutes to brew 200mls of coffee and serve it. It’s taken to the table blind, three judges cup it and select the winner. You don’t have to present anything like you do in the UKBC – now that’s an ordeal.” So, anyone can win? “Calm down mate,” he laughs.

Eventually Shaun wants to open his own café, but is taking time to learn more about the industry first. This year, he founded Beanstalk, a bespoke coffee cart business serving specialty coffee for festivals and corporate events. Beanstalk uses Has Bean coffee, crafted by some of the best baristas from London’s leading coffee shops. “We’ve got guys from Notes, Dose and Kaffeine – it’s a really good mix of people.”

“It’s not only about earning money to put into a café, it’s also about my development and learning. When I do have a café I want it to be awesome.”