If you’ve ever used an AeroPress or been given a passionate demonstration of one by a loving coffee lover, you’re likely to have wondered where the heck the thing came from.
Here’s this tiny plastic tube that looks like a cross between a juicer and a bicycle pump, and somehow it’s taken the coffee industry by storm—becoming one of the most beloved ways to brew coffee amongst coffee lovers around the world.
In this article, we’re going to look at Alan Adler—the Stanford University mechanical engineer who invented the AeroPress, and at 84 years old is still innovating at the company.
Alan Adler: The Man Who Invented The AeroPress
Alan Adler is a Stanford University mechanical science engineering professor and inventor. Born in 1938, he holds over 40 registered patents.
He’s also credited with having lectured at NASA, Princeton, Caltech and other respected institutions.
A passionate problem solver, Adler’s first famous creation came in the early 1970s and was totally unrelated to coffee: the Aerobie Pro Ring.
Alan is also the first person to admit that he’s not the impassioned coffee enthusiast many specialty coffee lovers make him out to be.
While he’s affectionate of the coffee community and is thrilled to have been able to create something so beloved by true coffee aficionados, he considers himself a casual coffee drinker who simply saw an opportunity to make coffee faster and better, and pursued it.
Aerobie: The AeroPress’s Older Sibling
While teaching engineering at Stanford Special Collections in the seventies, Adler became fixated on the aerodynamics of the popular flying discs available on the market.
He noticed significant limitations inherent in disc designs and believed he could optimize the concept to be more effective.
Over the following 8 years, he researched, prototyped, and revised multiple iterations of a design for a better flying disc—and he succeeded.
Stanford professor Alan Adler named his invention the Pro Ring and proceeded to prove its capabilities by using it to break the Guinness World Record for the farthest-thrown object.
In the wake of that success, he founded Aerobie in 1984, which went on to develop countless additional sports and recreational innovations.
How The AeroPress Coffee Makers Came to Be
Fast-forward 20 years to a slightly older but no less brilliant Alan Adler, taking notice of how his cup of coffee slowly brewed as the hot water trickled through the coffee grounds in his pour-over filter cone.
Brewing coffee this way was not only time-consuming, it also produced rather bitter coffee.
Alan became inspired. He reasoned that if he could reduce the brew time with filters, he’d end up with a less bitter cup of coffee.
But he appreciated that the pour-over brew process kept coffee grounds out of his cup—even when using finely ground coffee.
Coffee produced in a French press was faster to make, but inevitably contained a lot of coffee grounds and failed to stop the extraction process before coffee became bitter.
Creating a Better Maker
He envisioned a new kind of coffee maker that would tick all these boxes and hypothesized that it wouldn’t even need to be a complicated device.
He believed leveraging air pressure could be the key, and started work on the first prototype of the invention that would become the AeroPress coffee maker.
The Eureka Moment
The coffee industry had no idea what it was invented.
When Adler succeeded in brewing his first cup of coffee with his AeroPress invented prototype, he was blown away by how delicious it was.
His coffee-loving friends called it the perfect cup of coffee.
So Adler called his business partner at Aerobie, Alex Tennant, over to his garage to try a cup for himself.
When Alex’s enthusiasm exceeded his own, Adler decided to put focus on creating a commercial version of AeroPress – the coffee maker invented.
Made Instant Success
Just one year later—a far cry short of his development time on the Aerobie Pro Ring—the original Aerobie AeroPress was announced and launched for sale.
It was a resounding hit.
Coffee lovers were taken aback by how smooth AeroPress brews could get, while quickly producing an ideal single cup of coffee, ready to drink.
Aero Press Recipes and the Inverted Brew Method
It wasn’t long before eager consumers and coffee enthusiasts all over the world had gotten their hands on the affordable, durable, compact device and began experimenting with it.
Because of its unique brew method, an unprecedented number of variables could be tweaked to the brewer’s liking without compromising the ability to effectively brew coffee that makes AeroPress coffee.
Recipes were created, shared, tweaked, and shared again. We’ve written several articles about them worth checking out.
The device was so versatile, it was eventually discovered that flipping it upside down and using it in what’s become known (and loved) as the inverted method was not only possible but strongly argued as an entirely superior way of using the AeroPress.
The World AeroPress Championship
The AeroPress generated so much affection, buzz, and creativity that in 2008, the first World AeroPress Championship was held in Oslo, Norway.
Today the Championship is officially endorsed by AeroPress itself and sees competitors from 60 countries convening in a single location to showcase their recipes and love for the humble coffee maker that is now a global phenomenon culture.
Growth and AeroPress Go
In 2017 Alan Adler completed the sale of Aerobie and formed AeroPress as an independent company.
With the original product still selling extremely well, the company began developing an even more robust and portable version of the device.
In 2021, the AeroPress Go became the first significant redesign of the AeroPress since its launch 16 years earlier.
Adler is known to have had a direct role in its development and final sign-off on the design (which actually led to a series of delays due to his perfectionism).
Today the original design is branded AeroPress Original and sold side by side with its younger, smaller variant.
Meanwhile, Alan Adler is still actively involved at the company he founded after casually creating a cultural revolution in the world of coffee.
What a legend.