A brewer like the It’s American Press doesn’t come along every day.
For starters, it’s surprisingly beautiful–in the way that complexity is beautiful when rendered, reduced, refined; rethought and redrawn until what remains is the perfect balance of form and function.
I know what you’re saying, “Hey, it’s just a coffee maker!”
But, as coffee makers go, this press is dead sexy.
Correspondence with the designer, Alexander Albanese, was also surprising. Six email exchanges in three days in which we discussed American Press best practices, improvements already in the works, ideas for making an outback version, a marine version. Then there was the unexpected segue into the best satellite communications gear for those who spend vast amounts of time in remote places, in my case, the ocean, in his, outer Montana (I though all of Montana was “outer”).
Which is to say that making a rugged, versatile, aesthetically pleasing brewer is Alexander’s passion, and he’s good at it.
How it Works
Right out of the box, the simplicity and elegance of this press are striking.
The American Press disassembles into but three, robustly built parts, a real plus for that moveable feast which is the typical boat galley. The carafe is constructed of a thick, double-walled plastic, and both the pod and plunger are beefy. Note the strong plunger rod, which is solid stainless steel.
The core innovation in the American Press (as with the AeroPress) is the snug-fitting rubber gasket at the bottom of the pod. Unlike the rolled screen of the traditional French Press, this gasket forms a tight seal between hot water and grounds and absolutely excludes any of the latter from making their way into the final brew.
The upper of the two stainless steel filters is a very fine, 100-micron screen. While not nearly as fine as the typical paper filter (~20-microns), it is fine enough to pull out nearly all the particulate without stripping flavor.
The pod accepts two tablespoons of grounds with ease and, if gently tapped, another half. It is important not to over-grind the coffee beans as this will make the plunger difficult to depress. For example, while 30 seconds of whizshing in a typical coffee mill is perfect for a paper cone brewer, in the American Press this produces the back-pressure one would expect from heavy equipment hydraulics. A medium grind of approximately 20 seconds is more appropriate.
Once in the pod, the grounds are self-contained and could be flung across the cabin without fear of escape.
Hot water is then poured into the carafe and the pod/plunger assembly is inserted. Again, this creates a fairly stable and self-contained unit. It is not, however, entirely spill proof. Though the rubber seal on the lid is snug, it has a built-in pour spout that cannot be closed, meaning that once the brewing process has occurred, tipping the unit over would spill hot liquid.
The American Press design allows steeping, what Alexander calls “pre-infusion,” and he recommends times between one and two minutes. My standard to date is two heaping tablespoons of grounds pre-infused for one and a half minutes…
…at which point the plunger is pushed to the bottom of the carafe. Again, Alexader recommends depressing the plunger slowly, for example, over the course of one to two minutes. This produces an…
…extraordinarily rich brew…
…that’s a full, 12-ounce portion…
…and tastes great with NIDO powdered milk as creamer, the voyaging standard.
The pod fails to produce the AeroPress neat hockey puck of grounds. Rather, cleanup requires that the majority of wet grounds be shaken out of the pod before the screen gets a long rinse under the faucet. This is not ideal for a boat like Moli, where fresh water is a finite resource.
A solution to this problem comes from The Boat Galley written by cruiser Carolyn Shearlock. In her review of the American Press, she recommends drawing a bit of water into a plastic container and rinsing the pod in that. Her photo below.
A Note on Bitterness
Far too many brewers claim to produce the world’s bestest cuppa without bitterness. This is bunk as no filtration system can target the removal of a particular flavor, and those that claim to remove bitterness typically remove much else besides. What one wants in a cup of coffee is the bean’s native bitterness balanced against all the other flavors on offer. One of the advantages of the American Press is that the only thing it pulls out of the brew is particulate. All the flavor remains.
As hinted above, getting the right grind consistency takes some practice as does knowing how to fill the pod. I’m a great fan of highly extracted coffee, and so am easily tempted into the double sin of pulverizing the beans and then attempting to pack the pod as one would for espresso.
The plunger knob seemed perfectly sized as a pod tamper, after all.
But such micro-aggressive tendencies are a mistake as the pressure required for filtration is massive and the beverage produced could power the houses of a small town weeks. Again, a medium grind and two-plus tablespoons do the trick.
Another issue is that the pod is small and filling it without spilling grounds is a delicate, two-handed operation on land. At sea, this is a big mess recipe.
One workaround is to use a container that allows the pouring of grounds into the pod.
So, how does the American Press stack up against our objectives?
The American Press is an elegantly designed brewer that makes a knock-your-socks-off cup of Joe. Though not designed for the marine environment, it is simple and durable enough for extended voyaging. Keep an eye out for future improvements that incorporate adventuring requirements.
The press can be purchased from the It’s American Press website, and all the usual places, for $79.95.