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First, I've a few personal constraints:

  • I have to drink decaf (was in hospital because of caffeine).
  • I'm traveling a lot, so no grinder, no scale, I rely on store ground coffee.

Typically I buy the Lavazza DEK:

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When at home, where I have a scale, but no grinder, I have tried to follow a few recipes from competitions. I've also tried to follow James Hoffman's "Ultimate Aeropress recipe", all with that coffee and they all taste bitter and thin.

I managed to make very nice coffee with it but it always takes very little water and very short steep time. All these recipes that call for a lot of water and long steep times taste awful with that specific coffee.

My guess is that it has to do with the grind which is just not compatible with these recipes.

When it comes to grind size, for example the James Hoffman recipe says "ground at the finer end of medium"... but what is 'medium'? Is there a real scale for this? How can I know where the coffee I buy stands when it comes to grind size?

Or, is it possible that the pre-ground coffee has an inconsistent grinding size? or could it be that decaf has to be brewed differently?

2 Answers 2

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These are good hypotheses. These topics depend on personal taste so I'll include personal experience.

First, let me say that I find the AeroPress manufacturer's (current) instructions to produce excellent coffee -- tastier and more easily than all the other brewing recipes I've tried, including James Hoffman's. Please do try theirs!

paper filter
1 scoop fine drip grind coffee
1/4 cup 175°F water
stir 10 seconds
press
to taste: add 3/4 cup water for coffee or 3/4 cup milk for latte

Honestly I do not know why people go to great lengths to do slow brewing, upside down brewing, and other dances. Longer brewing, more water, and/or hotter water are expected to cause bitter "overextraction."

Notes:

  1. Their instructions now say to add water up to (1), which is 1/4 cup. This "bypass brewing" approach tastes better to me than their older recipe which said to add water to (2) [1/2 cup], and it tastes a LOT better than pushing all the water [1 cup] through the AeroPress.
  2. In their FAQ, they point out that the tawny crema might come out bitter. In my experience, AeroPress hot brew has somewhat bitter crema while the (awesome) AeroPress cold brew recipe has crema that I like.
    So try this: Press the water through the AeroPress, then press the air into the sink and taste the crema that's comes out through the cap. Keep it if and only if you like it.
  3. The FAQ also recommends using paper filters because those always won their taste tests over metal filters and they filter out diterpenes which raise your bad cholesterol levels.

About your other hypotheses:

  • In my limited experimentation, AeroPress is relatively insensitive to grind size and water temperature (because of the immersion method?). I don't find a scale is needed; I just put 1 level scoop of beans in the grinder at a "fine" grind level or 1 rounded scoop of beans at a "medium" grind size.
  • Decaf coffee can taste great. Really! But you have to find beans that you like, just like with caffeinated beans except there are fewer choices. I get good results from small roasters, possibly because they take more care to tune the process and timing for each batch. Trader Joe's and Starbucks "reserve blends" have also been OK.
  • I have no experience with LaVazza DEK coffee. The freshness might matter a lot since pre-ground beans are oxidizing faster.
  • The Coffee Folk website has a coffee grind chart with photos to help explain. They describe "fine" as "slightly finer than table salt" and "medium" as "most pre-ground coffee" "a consistency similar to sand." Either is probably good, but go with their "fine" size if you can.
  • If you can get a grinder and whole beans, that ought to improve the taste a lot. Get a burr grinder. Even an inexpensive one should be OK. There are also hand-operated burr grinders, which are inexpensive, quiet, portable, and better exercise :-)
  • I'd really expect pre-ground coffee to have a consistent grinding size. If it looks evenly ground, that's good enough. In contrast, a blade grinder produces widely inconsistent grinds ranging from dust size to whole beans that didn't get cut at all.
  • In my experience, decaf does not to be brewed any differently.

Update: You can keep beans (esp. ground beans) fresh longer in a vacuum-sealed container such as a Zwilling "Fresh & Save" bag. An AirScape canister also works but it's bulkier.

So packing coffee gear for a trip means: AeroPress Go, Zwilling vacuum pump and bag, pre-ground beans (or buy the beans while traveling).

Disclosure: I have no material relationship with these companies.

Good luck!

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    James Hoffmann's recipe is not bad, it's just targeting a different kind of coffee. He's trying to describe how to make specialty light-roasted coffee, which generally tastes sour when under-extracted, so his recipe is designed to produce a relatively high extraction ratio. He says in his video that you should use a coarser grind with a larger amount of coffee if making dark roasts, and he also recommends a lower temperature, all of which produces a lower extraction ratio (coarse grind and temperature) but with a similar strength (more coffee to compensate for lower extraction).
    – Kevin
    Aug 26, 2022 at 4:46
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I manage to make very nice coffee with it but it always takes very little water and very short steep time. All these recipes that call for a lot of water and long steep times taste awful with that specific coffee.

There you have it, that's the great thing about the Aeropress, you have very good control over all the parameters like temperature, time, or water volume, so you can make the coffee the way you like it best.

Personally, I use the inverted method because it gives me greatest control over steep time, and I use water at only 90 °C and stir while steeping for 60 s, or 90 s for "weaker" coffees (old, pre-ground, monsooned ...). Other recipes (e.g. 100 °C water or 80 °C with long steep times) don't work for me either.

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