Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Kickstarter: Stagg Kettle EKG by Fellow

"Shut up, and take my money."

I've been waiting for for an electric kettle, for about 7 years now.  Here's what I was looking for (and not finding):

  • Variable temperature control
  • Gooseneck with good pour control
  • Hold temperature function
  • No plastic whatsoever inside
The Bonavita (see below) that's so ubiquitous is practically perfect in every way (forgive me, Mary Poppins). It's got everything I wanted, except for one thing - it has plastic inside. Not much, mind you.  Just a bit where the plastic handle bolts on at the very top, well above the water line.  There may also be some on the underside of the lid, but I could be wrong on that one (I played with a friend's Bonavita last spring).  But, steam condenses, and falls back into the water. Hence, plastic in my hot water.

I decided a long time ago, that I wouldn't compromise on that issue (although, I actually did, but more on that later). It seems like every year or so, some study shows yet another ugly plastic compound has been found that'll make your baby grow an extra nostril or something.  So, I wanted only inert materials touching my coffee or hot water.  Stainless steel, glass, high-fired ceramic, and until I find out otherwise, silicone are all acceptible materials.

I really liked the Bonavita.  It's a great kettle, but it's not cheap.  And, I figure that for $85 (or more, depending on current Amazon prices), I wanted it to be RIGHT.  And no matter how many kettles I looked at, they all seemed to have some plastic.  I was also willing to spend more than that, if it met all of my requirements.

So then, Fellow (the maker of my beloved Duo Coffee Steeper), released a stovetop kettle called the Stagg. And it was seriously cool.  Awesome ergonomics with a counter-balanced handle, perfect pour control, no dripping, and a wonderful thermometer built right into the lid.  The reviews were extremely positive, but the lid was plastic, and people didn't like that aspect.  So Fellow released a metal lid in response to the feedback (I love responsive companies!), and they also released a copper version. I found myself tempted.

I seriously considered it, but my cast iron already lives on my stove.  And I really didn't want another thing that would live on the stove and get in the way.  Plus, it didn't offer the temperature control that I was looking for, that can be found in electric versions.  So I asked them, and they told me they WERE planning to offer an electric version.... eventually.  So I waited. And waited. And waited.

And I was rewarded.  This thing is perfect.  It meets my requirements in every way.  I can't wait. October 2017 will be a very sweet month (well.... if it really releases on time. But given how late most Kickstarters run, I'm not really expecting it).  It also looks extremely likely to get the funding they need. As of 2 hours after launch, they are 50% funded.  I expect that they'll fund within a day or so, if it takes that long.

PS. I do own an Aeropress. That's the only time I've compromised on the plastic.  I just don't use it very often.  I even found a glass lid that fits my Duo.

Monday, September 5, 2016

When the reviewers are wrong! WRONG, I tell you!

I came across the following article, and I found myself disgruntled:

Here's the thing: making coffee, especially with manual methods (and seven of the nine methods are manual) takes practice.  And no one recipe will suit everyone. Some people (and I'm one) prefer their coffee on the weaker side. Others like it strong.  Some like their coffee full of dissolved particles, and others like a perfectly filtered cup (a "clean" up in coffee lingo). Some people like light-roasted beans, and others like their beans dark. Some like their coffees brewed with finely-ground beans, others medium, and still others like their coffee made with coarse grounds. Flavors, and strength are all dependent on a bunch of variables. Temperature of the brew water, the freshness of the beans, the grind size, the timing on the brew, etc.

The reviewers simply followed the manufacturers instructions. With any coffee-brewer, the instructions are meant to be a starting point.  If your coffee is weak, then you have many options: add more grounds, use a finer grind, or brew for a longer period of time.  You can try hotter water (though the closer you get to boiling, the more bitter it will be).

Here's what they said about the Sowden Softbrew:
As much as we loved this coffeemaker, it just didn’t win the people over. When following the manufacturer’s instructions we got a weak pot every time. While we appreciate the sleek design and the fact that some tinkering could produce us a better cup, it didn’t stand up next to the other brewers. Here’s what our tasters thought: “Strong aroma, weak flavor.” “No flavor.” 
At least they did some tinkering.  But... the fact that they thought it was weak or lacking flavor means they didn't tinker enough. One of the characteristics of immersion brews like the Sowden (and the Duo, and French Presses), is that they are less filtered. They allow the coffee oils into the cup and tiny particles (sometimes too many of the latter, forming sludge in the bottom of the cup), which means they have more flavor (or perhaps different flavors) and mouthfeel than many other kinds. And, like any brewing method, they can be adjusted to be stronger or weaker, depending on preference.

Disliking the Sowden because the included recipe produced weak coffee, is like disliking a stove because you didn't like the pancake recipe you just tried.

I admit it, the Sowden is one of my favorite brewers, and the fact that they didn't like it was annoying, and I know I shouldn't care.  But, they complained about a percolator, too. I don't particularly like percolated coffee, but I bet that if I found someone who liked their coffee similar in strength to my own preferences, and who knew what they were doing, they would probably produce a good cup with a percolator.

I like the Chemex (their top-rated brewing method), but even that takes practice to get right.

Sigh... I can't help but wonder how the results would have turned out, if they'd done a blind cupping, and the coffees were produced by people who specialized in that particular brewing method?

I was also suspicious of the placement of the two automatic coffee makers.  Is it any wonder the fancy (and very expensive) coffee maker placed second, and the Mr. Coffee far down the list?  Maybe the fancy one really IS better. But did the reviewers know the price of the two automatic coffee makers before they tasted the samples?  Were they expecting better brew from the expensive one, because it must make better coffee, because it's 10x the price of the cheap one?

Yeah, I suspect confirmation bias.

Either way, when you try a new method of brewing, expect to play with it awhile, before you get it right.  Vary the water temperature, the brew time, the amount of grounds, how fine or coarse you grind them.  If you do that, you'll get a good cup out of just about any brewing method.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Review: Stumptown cold brews

So, a couple of years ago, I actually answered a Stumptown Coffee consumer survey, regarding my preferences for a pre-packaged coldbrew coffee. They've had it available for sale for awhile now, but I could only get it via mail order, not something I was willing to do.

Much to my surprise, I stumbled across it last May, in my local organic foods co-op.  

Yeah, I snapped it up.

The carton on the right is a frappuccino-type drink, with coffee, sugar, and cream.  It's FAR better than Starbuck's bottled frappuccino (which is what I drink when I'm traveling with my coffee-hater, as cold brews are much less aromatic than hot coffee). It's less sweet than Starbucks, but because the coffee isn't bitter to begin with, it doesn't have to be.  

The bottle is simple, black, cold brew.  Kivi tried to drink her half, by adding some simple syrup to it, and some cream, but she just didn't care for it. I thought it was pretty good, myself.  I too, didn't like her doctored version, so I just drank it black.  It was smooth, and not bitter, but did have some slightly sour notes.  Definitely worth having, when unable to brew your own.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

So fresh is best. But HOW fresh??

Saw this article at the Fellow products website:


The idea is that very freshly roasted beans - in the first 3 or so says following roasting - make for a worse cup. But if you wait too long, you wind up with a stale, bitter brew.

Right after roasting the beans are still releasing lots of carbon dioxide, and if you brew during that time, two things happen - lots and lots of CO2 is released all at once (it can really froth up as you wet the beans), and an uneven extraction occurs.

CO2 is released naturally as time passes - nearly half is released in the first 24 hours.  This outgassing is why many brewers "bloom" their coffee at the beginning of the brewing process. Blooming is pretty easy; you wet the grounds with just enough water to get them fully damp, and then let them sit 30-90 seconds before proceeding with the brew. The length of time is due to personal preference and brewing method.  When you do this, the beans really froth up, much in the same way bread dough does during the rise.  The advantage is that releasing the CO2 during the bloom limits the amount that dissolves into your coffee. It's like taking a sip of unsweetened carbonated water - the flavor is quite bitter.  It apparently also helps to get a more even extraction, though I wonder how such things are measured.

What I find odd, is that not long ago, the conventional wisdom was "the fresher the better."  There was even a famously-failed kickstarter (though 3 years later, they are still posting updates) for a machine that roasted, ground, and brewed the coffee all within a few minutes.

I kind of wonder what is up with this.  Did someone genuinely figure out something new, despite the fact that coffee has been popular for a thousand years?  Or is it just a trend, and folks are jumping on the bandwagon? Confirmation bias?

I have my own theory; I suspect that espresso - which sets many coffee-making trends - might be partially responsible. I don't think (correct me if I'm wrong) that the espresso-brewing process allows for blooming.  Could it simply be that non-bloomed brewing methods make for a worse cup when using very fresh beans, but that methods that do allow for blooming can result in an excellent cup, even if brewed and roasted on the same day?