There’s been a lot of Aeropress talk lately. From what I can tell, the surge stems from the recent championships – the Northeast Regional Aeropress Championship and the US Aeropress Championship. The buzz continued with Able Brewing‘s pre-release of the Aeropress DISKfine filter. (I was a lucky recipient of the one of these pre-production models, for which I wrote a review here.)
In the midst of this surge, I got involved in a conversation on Twitter with a few different parties and somehow ended up tasked with organizing an Aeropress filter throwdown. Clearly I was not thrilled with this.* Cutting to the chase, in addition to the Able DISKfine, I was sent two other reusable filters: another form of steel filter from Kaffeologie and an organic cotton filter from American Coffee Trader.
* This is sarcasm.
I invited two coffee-loving relatives over to help me run through some tastings with these filters and here’s what we found.
Coffee: Kuma Coffee Gethumbwini Kenya.
Ratio: 22 grams coffee to 220 grams filtered water.
Grind: Medium/fine, #20 on the Baratza Preciso
Method: Inverted Aeropress. 20 grams bloom for 15 seconds. Add remaining water. At the 1 minute mark, un-invert onto vessel and plunge with moderate, steady, even pressure for 30 seconds. The plunge will continue until the bed the plunger is completely stopped. This is done to ensure as consistent extraction as possible. Trying to stop the plunge earlier would have been difficult to repeat consistently.
All of this was kept consistent (or as consistent as possible) for all tests. We brewed in the following order: paper, American Coffee Trader cloth, Able Brewing DISKfine, Kaffeologie steel.
Even though this is obviously not a cupping, and only barely a tasting, I decided to use cupping forms if for no other reason than to keep us organized and on point. I went with CoffeeGeek’s cupping form (the second one down, not the Intelligentsia form) because of its simplicity. And frankly I just like the layout for this purpose. There was no scoring, just note-taking.
This Kuma Gethumbwini is earthy and fruity. It tastes like lemons. Not right away, but by the third sip it tastes like you’re sucking on a lemon. In a good way. The mouthfeel is smooth and clean. There’s very little sediment with this filter. There’s that distinct tea-like finish that Kuma does so well.
American Coffee Trader cloth
The aroma and flavor profile here is much the same. Right off the bat, I notice that there is less resistance during the plunge. In fact, more coffee begins to drip through the filter under no pressure compared to the paper. The surface shows a solid layer of delicious oils. The mouthfeel? Wow. It’s creamy and silky and robust. Like a french press but smoother. It really sticks to your tongue, causing the aftertaste to linger in a most pleasant way. Physically, the coffee looks cloudy (thick), but there is minimal sediment.
Able Brewing DISKfine
Image omitted because I missed the focus.
The flavor here is different. What was lemon becomes tart grapefruit with more citrus present. The oil on the surface is much more sparse than the cloth, but slightly more prevalent than the paper. The mouthfeel isn’t nearly as full-bodied as the cloth, but definitely more than paper. There is visible sediment that has a consistent and fine texture. It doesn’t form sludge at the bottom. It just kind of sits there loosely.
Kaffeologie steel mesh
The flavor is back to what we expect: slightly earthy with heaps of lemon. In addition to the oil on the surface, there’s some sediment floating. It almost looks like dust that settled on the surface, but it isn’t. It’s some of the fines that made it through the filter. What’s most interesting is that the sediment is much finer than the DISKfine, but there is more of it than any of the other filters.
We were unable to say with any certainty that the DISKfine filter was the cause of the flavor change. It’s possible that minor differences in brew specs, such as water temperature, plunge pressure, etc, resulted in a slightly different extraction. However, it is also worth mentioning that the relationship between oils and sediment that is present with each filter can theoretically also result in these differences. It would not be unbelievable for these flavor differences to be related to the filter. More testing – ideally blind testing – would be able to verify.
We found that – somewhat surprisingly – the Kaffeologie mesh filter resulted in the highest amount sediment at the bottom of the cup, though it was notably finer than found with the DISKfine. The amount that we’re talking about is not much. In fact at least 2 of us agreed that the amount of sediment is below the amount that would cause one to leave the last trickle of coffee in the cup (a la french press). Bottoms up, we say.
Edit: Kaffeologie explained that while the filter holes are smaller, they are greater in number. Because of this, you get MORE sediment that is FINER in texture.
The American Coffee Trader cloth filter resulted in a VERY oily cup – a good thing! – but also one remarkably low in sediment. I will confess that this was my first experience with cloth filter. I suppose it’s no surprise that coffee through a cloth filter has a much richer mouthfeel but little sediment.
The DISKfine is no surprise. More oil than a paper filter means a fuller flavor and smoother texture. There is slightly more sediment as well, but it is still quite a clean cup. It’s important to remember that even the paper filter results in a bit of sediment. This is probably because it is a simple, thin, single-ply paper compared to the heavier Chemex and Hario V60 paper filters.
The DISKfine is a joy to use. It is stiff enough to feel resilient and sturdy, but not so thick that it is troublesome. It is incredibly easy to clean; just about everything comes off under running water. It’s construction enables it to be sponged gently. That said, I wouldn’t be so keen on too much bending. I’m sure it will crease or kink under enough force.
The Kaffeologie filter worried me right off the bat. Out of the package it was obviously bent a little. Two opposing edges had pretty serious curls. I was concerned that it would be difficult to place atop the inverted press; concerned that it would not cover the entire opening. When brewing, I was careful to ensure this didn’t happen. Afterwards, we took a closer look at this issue. As it turns out, even with the obvious curls, you can pretty much just toss the filter into the cap and screw it on with no issues. The cleaning is also simple, though admittedly not as much as the DISKfine. Running it under water and massaging gently (as per the directions, I didn’t come up with this myself) removes everything.
I like that the steel filters can be stored in the Aeropress when not in use. It’s a minute advantage that simplifies the whole system.
As for the American Coffee Trader cloth filter, again this was my first experience with cloth. The filter was immediately stained a dark brown after the first use. It comes clean relatively easily, but seems to retain a good amount of color and some odors. I rinsed thoroughly immediately after use and put it back in the Aeropress to plunge with just water. Even after several rinses it is still darker than new (which is to be expected), but I am also concerned that it has still retained odor. And of course cloth filters have their own storage guidelines. (Keep them moist!) Unfortunately, all of this means the ease-of-use of this filter ranks lower than the others. It’s a double-edged sword. On the one hand, I’m certainly not against a little extra work to get much better coffee. On the other, the Aeropress is such a simple device that it almost seems counterintuitive to overcomplicate it with a more labor-intensive filter.
My personal favorite for taste is the American Coffee Trader cloth filter. It’s bold in flavor and velvety in texture. If all cloth filters are like this, I think I’ll be getting a Hario Woodneck sooner than I thought. If you’re willing to put in the effort, or if you’re already keen on cloth filters, you’ll likely be pleased.
The Able Brewing DISKfine seems to be the high-strength reusable alternative. The stiffness and strength makes it a solid choice for professional coffee shop use. The flavor is nothing to scoff at. Enhanced oils with still minimal sediment.
The same can be said for the Kaffeologie. In fact, the beauty is the fineness of the steel mesh. The experience is like an amp’d up DISKfine. More oils with finer sediment. The trade-off is structural integrity. I hesitate to make a definitive judgment since only time will tell, but for repeated daily use (i.e. in a coffee shop) you may be better off with the DISKfine.
I realize this is sort of a cop-out summary, wherein I all but refuse to pick a winner. Nuts to you, I say. These are three products that I will happily recommend, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. I can’t exactly play favorites if they each excel in different ways. If you want my real suggestion, I say order all three and have yourself a throwdown.
You can purchase these filters at the links below.
Able Brewing (coming soon)
American Coffee Trader
Thanks to Prima-Coffee for helping with this throwdown.
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