The Story of Alan Adler
Alan Adler—electrical engineer, Stanford lecturer, toy maker, inventor, and founder of Aerobie—spent his first 25-year career developing nuclear reactor controls and aircraft instrumentation systems. In the mid 1970s, he shifted focus to consumer goods, and began tinkering with mechanical and aerodynamic toys. He sold the rights to his first product, a flying disc called the Skyro, to Parker Brothers in 1978.
Adler with an early Aerobie Pro ring.
Adler further developed the disc concept, as well as other toys, and eventually founded Aerobie in 1984. The Aerobie Pro ring was easy to use, flew straight as an arrow, and even broke the world record for distance traveled. Adler developed an obsession for creating easy-to-use products, and focused on toy development for the following 20 years.
In 2004, Adler was commiserating with friends over the lack of good options for brewing a single cup of coffee. A true inventor, and tired of complaining, he set out to find a better solution. He evaluated traditional methods: stovetop, percolator, drip, and cone. After careful consideration, he decided that he favored pour-over versions but was troubled by the 4+ minute brew time. Convinced that longer brew time resulted in a bitter taste, he looked to air pressure to help speed up the process.
The Invention of the AeroPress
Adler developed the first prototype in his Los Altos garage—a room overtaken by large industrial tools, boxes of prototypes, and remnants of half-completed creations. Early versions of the AeroPress were actually very close to the final press on the market today. After a series of positive taste tests, Adler began developing a production-ready prototype immediately.
Adler with various early prototypes, as well as the final AeroPress.
The AreoPress was unveiled, to a bit of initial skepticism, at the 2005 Coffee Fest in Seattle. People were unsure of the low brewing temperature (a recommended 175 degrees), and perhaps unimpressed with the aesthetics. However, every blind taste test created a new fan.
Despite it’s superior brew, entry into the coffee world was not quite easy for Aerobie. “House-ware distributors and retailers were reasonably reluctant to sell an odd looking, completely new kind of coffee maker made by a toy manufacturer,” says Alex Tennant, Aerobie’s business manager.
Adler presenting the AeroPress at Coffee Con SF.
Refusing to accept defeat, Adler turned to the internet and its notoriously fanatical coffee community. He began posting responses to an AeroPress thread on CoffeeGeek, a website with 80,000+ members. The thread is now the largest on the forum, with over 7.3 million views. Sales of the AeroPress took off almost immediately, and quickly became Aerobie’s best-selling product.
Make it Your Own
In addition to its delicious coffee and huge success, the most fascinating thing about the AeroPress is it’s hackability. Innovators have built upon the device, creating supplementary products such as the S Filter reusable filter and the Able Brewing Travel Cap (below).
There are countless recipes and brew methods, the best of which go head-to head yearly at the annual World AeroPress Championships.
Adler with the 2014 championship winners and their trophies.
Hundreds of others have created inventive videos to show off their AeroPress skills. Here are a few of our favorites:
A simple animation.
How MacGyver does AeroPress.
The Sightglass brewing guide.
Adler finds this ongoing thread of innovation exciting, and encourages it wherever possible. However, he still stands by his personal AeroPress method and the current design. When asked if he plans to develop a larger model, his response is that the current press meets the needs of about 90% of brewing occasions. He’s happy to tinker, but less motivated to solve a problem that he doesn’t believe exists.
Best advice from Adler on success with the AeroPress: “Get a thermometer!” The 175 degree water really does make all the difference.