As we conclude our quest for the perfect cup of coffee at sea, there is only one piece of equipment left to add to our coffee arsenal: the coffee brewer.
With so many products, it could be nearly impossible to know whether or not you are going to get a good cup of joe when buying a brewer. Over the past decade or so, an artisan coffee movement has been sweeping the nation, and the market has been inundated with choices of manual brewers, drip brewers, pour-over brewers and French presses.
The French press is a good concept for sailors, but the design has been revolutionized by Alan Adler, a Stanford grad and inventor of the Aerobie flying disk. He fused the designs of pour-over brewers and French presses to create one of the latest crazes in home brewing, and the absolute best coffee maker a sailor could ask for.
The best coffee maker a mariner can buy is the Aeropress.
The Aeropress is made from two different kinds of impact-resistant, BPA-free plastic. It can weather a fall off of whatever you might have it on top of, without a threat of breaking or cracking. The Aeropress can make four cups of coffee, or about two mug’s worth. We found its capacity to be one of our favorite attributes of the brewer. The clear plastic body has graduations on it, and getting the perfect ratio of coffee to hot water is made without excessive measuring or tinkering. Any time we make an entire carafe with a traditional drip brewer, we end up wasting up to half of the coffee brewed just to get that one morning cup.
To brew, a Micro-Filter is placed at the bottom of the press, directly above the coffee cup. Then, coffee grounds are poured over the filter, and hot water over that. After stirring for ten seconds, the plunger is pressed down, forcing the water through the grounds. In less than one minute, coffee is brewed to aromatic perfection and ready to enjoy.
Amazon is flooded with five-star reviews for the Aeropress. Nearly 2,000 of the 2,500 total reviews gave it full five stars. It is the #1 best-selling coffee press on Amazon, topping models from every other major coffee maker manufacturer.
The beauty of the Aeropress is in its simplicity. With only two parts, cleaning is done even more quickly than it makes coffee: the coffee grounds and micro-filter can be ejected after use, and a brief rinse leaves the Aeropress ready to use again.
The list of expert reviews for the Aeropress is extensive, and everyone from beginning coffee drinkers to experienced professionals loves its simple and easy-to-use design:
“I have to add my enthusiastic recommendation to that of so many others about the brewer. The quality of the coffee it yields has to be tasted to be believed. I own every brewing device known to man and my plunger pot, Technivorm drip brewer and two vacuum pots have done nothing but gather dust since the AeroPress made its way into our house”
Kevin Knox, author of Coffee Basics.
When comparing the Aeropress to other coffee makers, it seems that there are infinite possibilities. Between carafe sizes, brew strength, supplementary components and a slew of other features, there are unlimited ways to compare and critique coffee makers. Although the Aeropress stands head and shoulders above its coffee competition, there are a few different types of brewers that are worth noting.
Drip Coffee Makers
Drip coffee brewers have become the standard of making coffee over the last half century. They heat up water before dripping it over a layer of ground coffee which flows into the large carafe. Drip brewers are self-contained, and many have automatic start features to have your coffee ready right as you wake up. This Cuisinart Brew Central model has the ability to make between one and 14 cups at a time- convenient for those who only drink one or two cups per day, and it heats the water up to whatever temperature you desire. Drip coffee brewers like these are the norm for most at-home coffee drinkers, but they have a large countertop footprint, and require precious 110v electricity which is not always readily available at sea. As noted in the Best Coffee Grinder, lack of electricity is a poor excuse for a sailor to be without his coffee.
Pour Over Brewers
By far the cheapest way to make your coffee is to brew it with a pour over cone. These are exceedingly simple: a glass or ceramic cone is placed over the coffee mug, and hot water is poured over coffee grounds and a paper filter, through to the cup. Pour-overs only require paper filters, hot water and coffee, and no for electricity. They can be found for around $15 on Amazon, like this Hario model. The two main reasons that we do not recommend pour-over brewing for sailors are the durability of the unit and the consistency of the coffee. They are normally made from fragile glass or ceramic, which wouldn’t survive a fall off the counter in rolling seas. Also, to achieve a consistent cup of joe, the water must be the same temperature, and it must be poured over the exact same amount of coffee, for the same amount of time. A blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while, but making the best cup of coffee every time with a pour-over brewer in a seaway requires far too much precision for the average sailor.
Single Serve Coffee Makers
Keurig and other single-serve coffee makers have taken a serious chunk of the coffee maker market share in the past decade or so. This standard Keurig model will put you back $115, far more than the Aeropress and pour-over brewers. Admittedly, their convenience for home use is unrivaled: pop in a K-cup, close the lid, and your coffee is ready in about two minutes. K-cups can be found in nearly every American grocery and coffee store now, in as many flavors as one could imagine. They bring up a number of conflicts for sailors that are insurmountable for the morning cup of coffee at sea. Keurig and other single-serve brewers sell proprietary ground coffee “cups” that are nearly impossible to find internationally, unless via mail-order. They are fast, but the coffee is mediocre at best, and the initial and recurring costs are far higher than other brewers. And, just the same as with drip brewers, they require the luxury of 110v electricity, which makes them undesirable for the open ocean.
French presses have become much more popular with the expansion of artisan coffee making. Ground coffee and hot water are poured into a press before separating (pressing) the grounds through a mesh filter. This Bodum French Press has a classic design, and is a great place to begin if you want to go that route, though it is not the most ideal for sailors. They don’t require electricity, but making different amounts of coffee can prove to be inconsistent because of the need to have the perfect amount of ground coffee, water and steeping time. Some swear by its methods, but most French presses are fragile glass and are not ideal for outdoor or nautical use by our standards.
This leads us right back to the best coffee maker, the Aeropress. One of the best and most convenient features of this press is that the Porlex JP 40 grinder fits directly inside the Aeropress for storage. The grinder and a brewer can be stowed in a footprint the size of a large coffee mug, a huge plus for the more compact galley.
The taste and quality of coffee produced from the Aeropress cannot be understated. Even when using the exact same ground beans as in a drip machine, the Aeropress blows the competition out of the water. “I almost can’t drink anybody else’s coffee,” said renowned cookbook author Janet Fletcher in an LA Times article about the Aeropress.
Essentially, the only drawback that either of them found with the Aeropress is its small capacity. This is easy addressed, though, by its quick brewing time. If more than four cups are necessary, the beans are easily replaced and pressed again in about a minute to make more.
As the popularity of the Aeropress proliferates, new accessories are being unveiled constantly. Anything from matching carafes to weighted plungers to standardize plunging time can be found with a few clicks on Amazon. Customer service at Aerobie is something they take very seriously, even if they mostly manufacture toys. Replacement parts are inexpensive and are easily ordered by calling Aerobie’s customer service line.
After sipping on more cups of coffee than even your most wired nocturnal friend, we are proud to announce the ideal cup of coffee: Tonx beans, stored in an Airscape Coffee Canister, ground with a Porlex JP 40 grinder, and pressed with the Aeropress.
Now, we sit in our cockpit, with a perfectly brewed cup of coffee.