AeroPress Extraction Test

Though you may find it hard to believe that any coffee maker created by the guy who reinvented the frisbee could possibly produce anything worth drinking, the Aeropress has already reached cult status amongst the coffee geeks of the world. In fact, this $20 plastic plunger has created a whole new level of ritualized brewing and even global competition.

But what of the brewing method itself?

When it comes to the AeroPress, your type of coffee filter you choose to use is one of, if not the most, important components of your brewing method. Pairing the correct filter with the best grind defines the extraction of your coffee and as a result, the final taste.

Pro tip: Check out this earlier post on the relationship between extraction and taste

Much of the Aeropress’ popularity is due, in part, to its remarkable versatility. While there are countless brewing methods, there‘s also the benefit of being able to try out a range of filters which each produce a different cup of coffee. A simple Google search for “Aeropress filters” will guide you through paper, metal and mesh. Each filter type yields a different flavour, mouth feel and brings out different characteristics in the coffee. It is the difference between these filters that we will cover here. Let’s jump in.


Paper, mesh and metal filters - How do I choose?

Aside from the obvious difference in what they are made out of, there are also four influences on your brewing method to consider when it comes to choosing your filter type. Namely: health, cost, taste and cleanup.

Health

Unfortunately for the metal fans, in this category there is a hands down winner from the outset. This is due to a chemical compound found in coffee known as cafestol.

What is cafestol?

Cafestol is a profoundly strong stimulator of your LDL cholesterol levels and is found in the oily part of your cup of joe.

What does this mean for you? Well, if you have ever had concerns about your cholesterol levels, we’ll leave you here with your paper filters. Why? Because cafestol is almost entirely absorbed by paper filters and doesn't end up in your coffee cup. A metal or mesh filter, however, allows all of the oil to pass directly through your brew and into your body.

Health winner: Paper filter

Taste:

Unfortunately for the health conscious, when the oil is removed from the brew, it can also be argued that much of the body and taste of the extraction is removed, thus resulting in a thinner tasting coffee.

If you prefer a richer, full-bodied brew, you may choose to stick to the metal which provides more ‘fines’ in your coffee than a paper filter which holds back all of the oily goodness.  

Taste Winner:  this writer is handing the medal to the metal.

Cost:

While a paper filter may be the healthier choice for your cholesterol levels, the same can’t be said for the health of your wallet or the environment.

A reusable metal or mesh filter not only enhances the oil viscosity and  the texture of your coffee, It is also far cheaper over time. One metal filter can be used for many years if looked after properly, whereas a 350 filter pouch of paper filters will last six months if you use only two per day. Plus, all that wasted paper has to go somewhere.

Cost winner: Metal or mesh

Cleanup:

While the metal filters simply need a bit of a rinse and to be properly dried, they do arguably take more time than the paper filters which are simply fired into the garbage once you’re done.

Though the time difference is negligible when you consider that your Aeropress ritual takes no longer than 5 minutes overall, a metal filter may add a minute or two extra for correct cleanup. After all, there’s no point having a metal filter if you’re going to have to replace it every two months because it wasn’t properly cared for.

Cleanup Winner: Paper


Paper, Metal and Mesh filters: a closer look at each

While the four factors above may have narrowed down your choice, let’s take a closer look at all three options.

Replacement Paper Filters for Aeropress

While your Aeropress will have come with a packet of filters, while you’re learning new methods and riding the excitement of owning such a superb piece of coffee-creating wizardry, you will be powering through filters.

Here are some features of the paper filter:

  • This packet of Aeropress paper filters will be  enough for six months if you only use two filters per day.
  • As we have already discussed, this paper filter will eliminate coffee oils, reducing the cafestol or coffee cholesterol levels.
  • These filters withhold the fines in your brew leaving a cleaner coffee.
  • Paper filters go straight in the bin - no cleanup required!
  • This is your best filter type if drip coffee is your usual choice of brew.
paper filter

Able Brewing Metal Filter

The metal filter reigns supreme as our personal coffee filter of choice. Here’s a few reasons why:

  • This disk allows more of the rich oily goodness into your cup, brewing a fuller bodied coffee
  • More fines and oils mean this brew is not only richer but stronger too
  • If you usually head straight for the espresso, give this filter a try
  • These filters can be used for years with proper care and cleanup
  • Metal filters are zero waste and 100% environmentally friendly
metal filter for aeropress

Metallic mesh filter

If you’re looking for a compromise between the straight metal filter and the paper filters, the mesh filter could be the happy solution.

Here’s why:

  • The fine mesh of this filter means you can get away with a finer grind without actually letting all of the fines into your drink (phew, that’s a lot of fines.)
  • Oils are still able to pass through the filter, giving you the clean brew of the paper filter with the strength of the metal filter brew
  • These mesh filters are guaranteed for the life of the product, however don’t be fooled by cheaper versions as they have been known to rust and lose their coating over time.
mesh filter for aeropress

Paper, Metal, Mesh - The final showdown

While it is all well and good to know the features of these filters in theory, how did they stack up to a taste test? We attempted to replicate the filter experiment first outlined here.

The contestants

  1. Aeropress original paper filters that came with the Aeropress
  2. The Able Brewing metal disk for Aeropress
  3. The Kaffeologie S-Filter, Metallic Mesh Filter for AeroPress

The brewing process

We decided to use the same brewing process as N. Agca, employing the inverted AeroPress method using 12 grams coffee with a grind size between filter coffee & espresso. Our bloom was also 45 seconds using 75g of water at 88 degrees Celsius. We also allowed a 45 second steep at 85 degrees Celsius, as in the original experiment.

200g of water was used and we pressed at 1 minute 30.

The parameters

For our experiment we chose to use three Aeropress’ side by side. They were poured and plunged in order for consistency across the experiment. We chose a Hawthorne Coffee Roasters 100% Organic Certified and Fairtrade blend characterised by a toasted almond finish with a medium roast profile.

Image Source: Driftaway Coffee


So how did the three filters stack up when tested?

The result

Though the filters performed mostly as expected, there were a few surprises.

The Paper Filter

The flavour undertones here felt somewhat scraped by the paper, producing a clean, thin cup that was more fresh than rich.

The Metal Filter

Here you’ll find all the body you’ll need. Strong with a smoother texture rather than the almost watery mouthfeel of the paper filter.

The Mesh Filter

We would liken this to the result a French Press would produce. Here you’ll find a unique balance between the richness of the metal filter with the oil able to pass, but no stray coffee grind ending up in your cup, as is common with the French Press.

Winner: For a balanced cup with the strength of the metal-filtered brew and the clean finish of the paper-brewed, the mesh filter was the stand out winner.

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As you can see, the beauty of the AeroPress lies not in its ease of use, though this is a great benefit, but in its versatility. Not only can you vary the recipe you use, the brewing method or time, but also the extraction method.

It no longer matters which type of coffee you prefer or how you like to drink it (no milk or sugar people - come on!), there is a brewing method to suit your taste. With the ability to swap and change filters to your liking, what’s not to love? Mix it up a little. Try a new filter or test them all!

No matter how you like your coffee, there is guaranteed to be the perfect way to brew it with the Aeropress.