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?

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Grinder Review: OE Lido 2

So, I've read a LOT about Orphan Espresso's Lido 2. People rave about the grind consistency, the stepless adjustment that makes fine-tuning your grind easy, and the quality of the product.

So, eventually my curiosity overcame my sticker-shock ($175 for the grinder, plus an add-on lid for the hopper, and shipping brought the total to $205), and bought it. My husband and I each get an "allowance" of discretionary spending each month, and this meant I got only a partial allowance for FOUR MONTHS.

Do I like it? Yeah, I really, really do. It's a glass and metal grinder that feels like a precision machine.

And, it's a beast.

It's heavy, weighing 3.5 pounds (about 1.5 kilograms), and at 13" tall, it's about the size of one of those pepper grinders that waiters wield over your salad at places like Olive Garden.  And it just feels sturdy and well built.

It's a great size for gripping between your thighs to brace it when sitting, or if you are standing, I use the "swirl" motion they suggest - you brace the bottom of the grinder agains your thigh, and turn the crank to grind, while swirling the body of the grinder in the opposite direction.  Despite its size and weight, the ergonomics are the best of all the hand grinders I've used.

One huge plus is that the burrs are much bigger than the ones in my other grinders, and the mechanical advantage is kind of wonderful. I haven't counted the turns, but it takes about 1/2 the time to grind the beans for my daily cup.

So, since I value consistency, I'll do my usual pros and cons:


  • Most consistent grind I've seen so far in a hand grinder.
  • Beautifully designed and sturdy. 
  • All parts are replaceable should something break.
  • Very large burrs cut the grind time in half
  • Easy to adjust.
  • Cleaning and maintenance tools, and a stand are standard.
  • Ergonomics are really good.
  • Expensive - $175.
  • Doesn't come with a lid (but you can buy one separately).
  • Heavy and bulky. You can travel with it, but I wouldn't want to.
  • Sometimes a bit hard to get the grind started (something that's a problem in nearly all hand grinders, and this one is actually somewhat better than most).
  • Steel (not stainless) burrs, so could rust (very very unlikely, if you treat it as the company recommends, plus steel stays sharp longer than stainless does)

To adjust the grind, you loosen/unscrew the locking ring (the narrow silver ring, just above the wider silver ring, just above the glass catch chamber), and twist the wider ring/catch chamber to loosen or tighten the burrs.  Then you re-tighten the locking ring.  I STILL wish the vertical lines/marks had numbers, but the reason they don't, is that you can actually twist the adjustment ring more than one full revolution.

Not shown in the picture is an add on - a lid for the top of the grinder that was actually designed for their Lido 3 (an all-plastic model with a folding handle for travel, which is about the same size of the Lido 2, but a good pound or so lighter).  I HATE it when beans jump out of the hopper, and while the hopper is tall and narrow enough that jumping bean bits are rare, it was still worth it to me to spend the few extra dollars to get the lid.

The grinder does produce static, not something I've had to deal with before (the burrs are steel, rather than ceramic, so that might be the difference).  I simply put the water in the microwave to heat, grind the beans, then let the grinder sit until the water is ready. The static dissipates during those few minutes. Some folks sprinkle a drop or two of water on top of the beans in the hopper just before grinding (and those who do it says it works great), but that seems like a bad idea to me. These are steel (not stainless) burrs and could rust, and even though they get conditioned by the coffee oils from the beans, I don't want to introduce more moisture if I can avoid it. I also backed a coffee sieve on Kickstarter, and I suspect that the water droplets could well interfere with that process, causing the fines to stick to stuff.  So, I use OE's suggestion to let the grounds sit for a few minutes until the static dissipates on its own.

Does the grinder produce a better cup of coffee?  Yes, it does.

I can't rule out confirmation bias, though - I mean, I want it to produce better coffee, given that I spent so much money on it.  ALL grinders produce some inconsistencies: boulders - overly big chunks that manage to fit through the burrs without getting chewed up, that impart sour flavors, and fines, the powdery particles that over-extract, producing bitter flavors), and the Lido 2 is no exception.  But, it does produce the most consistent grind by far, and I think I detected a legitimate improvement in my cup of coffee.

Finally, a note about Orphan Espresso. They are a small-business, and started out by restoring vintage coffee grinders, and got so intimately familiar with what makes a good grinder, that they started designing their own.   Their grinders are so good, that they were featured on NPR: The Search For The Perfect Cup Of Coffee Can Be Such A Grind(er)

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

App review: Bloom Coffee Timer (iOS)

Apologies to the Android owners out there. I know there are excellent coffee timer apps for you but as I have an iPhone, it's hard to review the Android offerings. If anyone wants to write a guest post with an Android coffee timer review, let me know. :-)

Anyway, a few years ago, when I started making coffee by hand, I realized that regular timers were kind of sucky - there are multiple things to time, sequentially - the bloom time, the brew time, etc. Having to reset the timer several times was a pain. Most often, I used the native timer on my phone, but it wasn't any better - just more convenient, because like everyone these days, I'm a slave to my phone.

So, before a camping trip, I downloaded every single freebie coffee timer app available at the time.  I think I downloaded 7 or 10 different coffee timer apps. And when I had a spare moment, I played with each app.  When I found it wanting, it got deleted.

And I hated them ALL.  They sucked. Every. Last. One.

The people in the surrounding camp sites probably wondered what was up - constant dinging, and lots of muttering, and the occasional swearing.

I wanted one that would allow me to either program my own series of timer (like ... you hit start, then 90 seconds later, it dings, then 1 minute later it dings again, then one minute later it dings again, then 2.5 minutes later it dings for the final time). The freebies either didn't allow me to program my own, or edit pre-set timers, or I couldn't figure them out within a few minutes of playing.

That's actually a pet peeve of mine - if a phone app is hard to figure out - then someone screwed up. They should be intuitive, and if they aren't ...? Seriously, if someone who spent a year at Best Buy being paid to figure out how to use various smart phones and write how-to manuals for the Blue Shirts, can't figure out how to use a simple timer app, then the app was badly designed.

Anyway, I took to Google, and came across the recommendation for Bloom. It wasn't free. It was actually kind of expensive ($2.99).  But, it does everything I wanted. It had plenty of preset timers depending on the brewing methods.  It allowed me create my own, or edit the existing, and well, I've used it nearly every day since I bought it, several years ago.

So ... highly recommended.

Final note:  The coffee-hater in my life and I share an Apple ID, and he was quite ... put out to find coffee apps (of all things!) on his phone. It was kinda amusing. The bazillion games he tries out wind up on my phone, so I figure fair's fair. Every few months, we spontaneously have a "What's this app?" session to figure out what to with the apps the other person picked out, that auto-downloaded to the other phone. Yes, I know how to shut off the app sharing function - but I don't want to.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

How the MU Alumni Center, Starbucks and Burger King turned me into a coffee snob

MU Alumni Center

This is my coffee story.  All coffee hobbyists have one.

I don't remember a time that I didn't like coffee.  As a child, my father made instant coffee (Taster's Choice) every morning, and drank it black. He let me taste it when I was a smallish child, and I liked it right away. Dad told me his mother gave him coffee milk to drink.

 I actually remember that first taste, so I'm thinking I was probably around 5 years old.

I didn't drink coffee regularly when I was growing up, and it wasn't until I went to college, and had to drag my sleepy butt to class that I started drinking it regularly.  Cafeteria coffee. I drank it happily.

A dear friend and her boyfriend gave me my first coffee maker, a little Krups 4-cup machine, and there was this little kitchen store within walking distance of Knox College that sold - gasp - Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee. Yes, I started splurging on good coffee before I even turned 22.  I didn't own a grinder, so I'd have them grind it in the store for me, and I loved flavored coffees - my favorites were chocolate, Irish cream, and vanilla flavored beans.  I drank my coffee black.

I did have one bad experience with coffee. In my sophomore year, I'd stayed up until 3 AM studying for my Spanish final, then was up at 7 AM for the final at 8:00. I was so tired, I drank 3 cups of coffee with breakfast, and promptly wound up with terrible caffeine jitters during my final.  From then on, I went to bed by midnight before finals, finding that a good night sleep and the ability to think clearly worked better anyway.

Then, I graduated, and not knowing what else to do with myself, I decided to go to grad school at the University of Missouri-Columbia, and Mizzou is where I met my coffee-hater.

I wasn't brewing my own coffee much by then. This was in the early 1990s, and Starbucks was spreading like mad, and coffee was available all over the place at the University of Missouri.  So, I just bought coffee at places like Burger King, McDonald's, gas stations, convenience stores, and Brady Commons.

But, I was noticing an unfortunate trend.  Coffee was getting more and more bitter.  I now know that roasts were getting darker and darker as Starbucks gained in popularity.  So, I was rejecting more and more coffee from more and more places as they started emulating Starbucks.  And I stopped drinking it black as a response. Cream and sugar made those bitter coffees drinkable.

Then, the turning point came. I tasted my first fabulous cup of coffee, and I've been searching for that perfect cup, ever since. I was covering an event at the Mizzou Alumni Center in my capacity as the newsletter editor/Program coordinator for the Molecular Biology Department.  I tasted their coffee, and it was so fantastic, that I risked caffeine jitters, and drank two more cups.

And remember when Stella Liebeck sued McDonalds for coffee burns?   Like everyone else, I mocked her, and our lawsuit-happy culture (it wasn't until many years later that I learned all the details of her case, and changed my mind - she was RIGHT to sue them).  But then one day, I stopped and got a McDonald's coffee on my way to a summer school class.  I didn't drink it right away - I was in a hurry, so I waited until I was in class, probably 10 minutes later, before taking a hefty sip.

It burned my tongue so horribly that I leaned forward and let it pour out of my mouth onto the desk, rather than allow it to burn my throat all the way down. I shocked my classmates, who initially thought I was vomiting. Several jumped up and gave me napkins, and when I explained, someone handed me a water bottle to cool my tongue. Fortunately, this was before class started, though the professor was there - he just watched the situation with raised eyebrows.

I mopped up, but it was such a bad burn, that I couldn't taste anything for three days. I wasn't exactly sympathetic to Stella's lawsuit at that point, but as a result, I started having second thoughts as to the frivolity of it. That remains the hottest coffee I've EVER had.

Burger King continued to serve my favorite easily-available coffee. Their BK Joe was wildly better than Starbucks, and I drank it regularly.

In 2010 everything changed. BK switched to Seattle's Best coffee (owned by Starbucks).  It went from being decent coffee, to a harsh, dark, bitter brew, that I found undrinkable. McDonald's coffee, which had cooled off since the lawsuit, was no better.

So, I decided to start brewing my own coffee again, and it was an attempt to get another cup of coffee like what I'd had at the Alumni Center.

I started out with a Melitta coffee dripper. But I didn't think the coffee was that good, plus I was starting to have second thoughts about brewing in plastic.  So I bought a ceramic Melitta instead.  But the coffee it produced wasn't better.  I decided it was the shape, and the flow rate, so I bought a Hario V60, which has a much bigger opening at the bottom, and takes a true cone-shaped filter (rather than a flattened cone).  Then that became my work brewer, and I used a Chemex at home. I've gotten rid of the Melittas.

Funny story about the Chemex - it was a Christmas present from my inlaws, but when my parents saw it, their eyes lit up - evidently my grandmother (the one who fed my father coffee milk when he was a child) had been using a Chemex pot for years when my parents first started dating.

Next I started experimenting with grinders.  I noticed that when I got the beans ground at the grocery store, or at Caribou, that the coffee tasted OK for about 3 days, then it went bitter on me. I discovered that a truly good cup of coffee required that the coffee be ground right before brewing - that by grinding in advance, you expose far more of the coffee oils to oxygen, allowing them to go stale far more quickly than whole beans do.  I'm on my 5th grinder now.

Then I moved on to coffee storage.  And the list goes on. :-)

I married my coffee-hater in this building, in the room blocked by the tree, actually.
Memorial Union at MU.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Gear Hack: A new lid for my Duo Coffee Steeper

Back in January of 2014, I backed a kickstarter for a coffee brewer called the Duo Coffee steeper, and I love the darned thing with a passion. It's my favorite coffee brewing method of all time, and I've used it nearly every day since July of 2015 when I received it.

The one (and only) thing I'm less than enthused about is the lid. It works fine. It's functional, looks good ... but it's made of plastic, something I avoid using with hot liquids. For coffee brewing, I really just want stainless steel, glass, ceramic, and if necessary, silicone. You know, ingredients that have stood the test of time, and are safe. Inert.  

The problem with plastic, is that every few years, we hear about yet another nasty chemical being released into our foods. Besides, I think things often taste funny in plastic.  The lid of the Duo is the only piece of plastic that touches coffee in the whole thing.  If you make the full amount of 24 ounces, coffee touches the underside of the lid.  And regardless of the amount, condensation collects on it, and drips back down.  Now, the lid is made of one of the better plastics, food-safe, BPA-, and phthalate-free, and all that.  But, it's still plastic.

I started playing with ideas almost immediately - lining the lid with a sheet of stainless-steel foil, but I never did figure out how to adhere it. Besides, I don't really want glues near my food, either.

This weekend, I was planning to take my inner brew chamber/lid to the nearest Goodwill or even Bed Bath and Beyond to see if I could find a lid small enough to fit, even if it was intended for a different use  Then I started looking around at home to see what small lids I already had. The lid of the asparagus steamer? Nope. Too big.  Then it hit me - the red silicone-and-glass lids of our Pyrex storage bowls (smallest, two-cup size) might be about right, and I have an extra one (after I broke a bowl).  Bingo!!

And because of the silicone seals, it actually stays on just as well as the original lid.

The only thing I might need to worry about is that the lid will actually seal, and as water condenses on the inside, it will cause a bit of a vacuum, so I may need to drill a tiny hole through the silicone to allow pressure to equalize.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Hermetically sealing a coffee cabinet (living with a coffee-hater)

Duct tape, corrugated plastic, scissors and a level.

As many of  you know, my husband/best friend is a coffee-hater.  Not only does he not like the taste, but he also hates the smell (I know, right??).  As everyone knows, marriage is a balance and a compromise, and it takes work, sometimes.  We figure things out as we go along. I try to minimize the coffee smell as much as he can, brew after he leaves for work during the week, and he disappears into the basement (where his office is) for an hour every weekend morning so I can have my coffee.

About a year or so ago, my husband started getting into cocktails in a big way, and the cabinet that held our modest liquor collection quickly became too small. We turned our buffet into a bar, and my daughter said, "You know, Mom ... you should take take over that cabinet - and use it for coffee stuff."  I suspect she had an ulterior motive - she LOVES coffee, and she'll say just about anything to get me to brew it more. Either way, it struck me as both convenient, and I needed SOME place to put my stuff.  Plus - it is protected from exterior walls (it's a cabinet under our peninsula) and light, and it should help contain the smell. It worked great for a long time, but then it didn't anymore.

I can't be sure what changed, but Chris started to detect coffee smells whenever he opened the  drawer above my coffee cabinet.  No surprise, really - there was no separation between the cabinet and the drawer - whenever the drawer was opened (it's where we keep the foil and sandwich baggies and parchment paper and stuff), as it basically opened the cabinet to the kitchen.  For years, I'd kept my grinder double-bagged and in the plastic bin with the coffee beans, but since I got the Lido 2 grinder, it's just too big to do that conveniently. So it sits toward the front of the cabinet. It's got a lid, but it's not exactly hermetically sealed.  The tipping point may have been the AeroPress, which I only use occasionally - which because it's plastic, absorbs coffee odors, and no amount of hand washing or trips through the dishwasher gets rid of the coffee smell.  I suspect it was the combination of the Lido being added in January, and the AeroPress in April that did it.

So, this spring we bought a sheet of corrugated plastic (the stuff that sign shops use) for $10, and some white duct tape (Gorilla brand).  I took my coffee and equipment outside, and got to work. I had enough of the corrugated plastic to make two barriers, but only needed one.  Took careful measurements: 16 3/4" x 17", then trimmed it until it wedged into place as close to drawer hardware as I could get it.  Then I tested it. Did the drawer work freely?  Was it high enough up to accommodate my tallest coffee gear (my Lido 2 grinder)?  Yup, good to go.

Lido 2 grinder fits below. Drawer rolls freely above.

Next I used the level to make sure it was as even and flat as I could get it.  Looks good.  Then, I braced it in place with small pieces of duct tape, and tested with the level once more. Still flat enough to suit me.

I used small pieces of tape to hold it in place.
Finally, I used long strips of tape to to seal the gap surrounding the corrugated plastic.  This was a heckofa job. I had to squeeze my arms and shoulders into that space, and getting the tape to release from my fingers without ripping it back out was a pain.  Finally, the coffee-hater had a great idea, and made me a tool - a small strip of scrap corrugated plastic about 6 inches long. I folded each strip in half, sticky-side out, and inserted the piece of plastic inside, so that I could shove the fold right up into the bend between walls and ceiling. It went much faster after that. I sealed the corners with smaller pieces of tape.

The finished separator - the drawer is above that ceiling.
Here's the cabinet, refilled.  My husband reports that the only time he can still detect coffee smell, is when he shoves his face into the open drawer, and sniffs for it. He said it wouldn't have bothered him at all if he hadn't had his face basically in the drawer.  So ... I call that a success.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Living with a coffee-hater

"I would just tell him to pull up his big boy underpants, and just deal with the smell." 
-- a coworker of mine.
As most of you know by this point, my husband/best friend HATES coffee, and not just that - he hates the smell.  It's been an interesting challenge over the years, keeping my coffee habit hobby from impacting him.

I've had quite a few people (usually in discussion forums) tell me I should just tell him to put up with the smell, and that I shouldn't bother with my coffee-minimizing efforts.  I think people assume he's just being whiny, and that it's just not that bad.

But... I have to wonder - where is their empathy? I mean, haven't any of them ever experienced a smell that was so invasive that it made them feel sick?  I have (overuse of body sprays do that to me). And I know how I would feel if my partner decided that he was going to fill my house with a smell I hated, every single day of the year. Seriously, it would be NOT OK, if Chris introduced a hobby that I loathed, and made no effort to accommodate me, and then had the temerity to say, "suck it up, Buttercup."

And when that coworker mentioned Chris's big boy underpants, I was was bothered by her words, not just because she was so dismissive of someone else's discomfort, but because she so obviously and openly looked askance at the way I dealt with my husband.

So, I just tell people this:  "Just as I have the right to have coffee in my own home, he has the right to not have to smell coffee in his own home."

When we moved in together, I packed away the little Krups 4-cup coffee maker my college roommates gave me for my birthday one year.  I was no longer using it that much, anyway, preferring the convenience of fast food and convenience store coffee.

I decided early on not have hot coffee in the car with him - it would cause his sinuses to produce copious quantities of goo, and he'd cough like crazy. I've wondered for years if he might be allergic, but coffee (in small quantities at least) when added to foods like chili or brownies doesn't bother him in the least.  If we were driving late at night, and I needed something to keep me awake, I'd buy cold Frappuccinos at convenience stores. Cold coffee is much less aromatic, and while he doesn't much like being in a confined space with it, it doesn't usually make him cough, so it remains a workable solution for travel.

I rather liked Burger King's coffee, and was still drinking it almost daily on my way to work, until 2010 when they switched to Seattle's Best, which I don't like at all (it's really bitter and harsh). That is what led me to start brewing my own coffee again.  If they hadn't switched away from their earlier BK Joe supplier, I would probably still be drinking it, and not writing this blog.

I have one thing going for me - coffee smell is volatile. Within an hour of coffee being consumed, the smell is undetectable, even by his sensitive nose.

Storage has proved the biggest challenge.  I double-bagged my beans. When that didn't contain the smell (fresh beans are smelly!), I bought a plastic storage bin (like the kind that goes under your bed) to put my double-bagged beans in that.  That helped a lot.  I also kept my grinder in a plastic bag, inside the bin (it had fresh bean bits all over it, so of course it was a source of smell).

My plastic Melitta coffee brewer that sits on a coffee cup tended to stink of coffee even when it was clean, and I was starting to get leery of using plastic with hot beverages, so I switched to a ceramic version.  Inert materials like glass, ceramic, or stainless steel don't smell of coffee after they've been washed.

Besides double-bagging, used coffee grounds had to be kept outside, and not emptied into the kitchen compost next to the sink. So, I found a little compost bucket that I kept right outside the kitchen door.  But, it had no lid, and Chris could smell it when he sat in the hot tub, 6 feet from the kitchen door. So I bought a new compost bucket, with a lid. That worked.  The compost piles aren't far away - only a few feet away around the corner of the house, but the grounds in the actual piles don't have enough smell left bother him.

During the work week, I make coffee during the week, after he leaves for work.  And on weekends I banish him to the basement while I make my coffee (his office is downstairs, so he goes and plays on his computer, or watches TV). I close the door at the top of the stairs, and that keeps the smell from getting to him... Mostly.  And when it's above 60F outside, I have a cute little cafe table, where I brew outdoors. It's kind of fun - like having a tea party or something.

He also listens to me talk endlessly about coffee even though he has no interest, and he geeks out with me when I get a new grinder to try (he was quite impressed with the Lido 2, which I let him play with before I contaminated it with beans). Like me, he's a tool whore.  He even encourages me to take our daughter to coffee shops with me, seeing it as a bonding experience (which it is).  He even wishes he liked coffee, and thinks it would be fun to share the hobby.

And every once in awhile, he comes across a mention of a particularly good coffee roaster, and gets it shipped to me as a surprise.  And that's especially sweet.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

My first creditable Latte ... well, my first ever Latte, really.

Made my first latte this last April.  Granted, the coffee concentrate produced by the AeroPress, isn't technically espresso, but it's the best I can do at home (for now).

I frothed the milk with the Bodum - I picked it, because the carafe is glass, and I can warm the milk in the microwave.  The lid/frothing apparatus is plastic, so I don't warm the milk very much (not that it matters that much, I suppose - the AeroPress is all plastic, and the water I use for that is MUCH hotter).  But I was quite satisfied with my latte.  And my daughter occasionally asks for lattes now, so these tools will get regular (if infrequent) use.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Hello Darkness, my old friend....

I've come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence

Gawd. I love Simon and Garfunkle.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Coffee Shop Review: Seattle Coffee Works

Visited a friend in Seattle earlier this spring, and he directed my daughter and me here, while he entertained my husband (the coffee-hater).  I'm so glad I got to do it - I told the barista to make me two different coffees, and to use the brewing methods he thought best for each one (Chemex for one, Hario V60 for the other).  The barista was great, the coffee was great, and the ambiance was great.

Kivi and I sat back and watched. It's a weird experience watching someone make coffee for me, using the methods that I myself might use.  He did encourage us to take our coffee black, to really experience the flavors, without the masks of cream and sugar (I know, I know). I did as he suggested (well I did doctor one of the cups, toward the end) though Kivi did go ahead and add it to hers.  There was a LOT of coffee - enough for both Kivi and I to have about 4 cups (8-ish) ounces each.  We got done at 4pm, which is an hour AFTER my daily coffee deadline.  Both of us were wired, and I resigned myself to sleeping poorly that night.

I do call bullshit on one thing though - one of the other baristas suggested that their coffee was so lightly roasted and hence so acidic, that it would likely curdle any cream/milk added to it.  I brew with almost nothing BUT light roasts, and it's never curdled (except when the cream was a bit off, but that's a different issue).  And, their coffee didn't curdle the cream we added.  I can only wonder at the acidity she's experienced, that her claim could be so.

While I was there, I picked up some new toys and some beans:  An Aeropress (finally!), a cool airtight storage can with a 1-way valve on the bottom (kind of a brilliant design actually, as CO2 is heavier than air), and an 8-ounce bag of Panama Suarez Geisha beans.

The "E" refers to storage - I vacuum pack my extra beans in 4-ish ounce increments, and label them with a letter. Then the label from the original packaging goes in the top of the Airscape canisters, so I know which beans are which.

Damn... I really wish they'd been packaged in a 12- or 16-ounce bag. I ran out WAY too fast.
Anyway, we had an absolutely LOVELY time.  

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Raising a coffee drinker, part 2

Kivi has loved coffee since before she could walk or talk. Despite her baby demands, I really didn't give her coffee regularly until she was maybe two years old, and then it was just the "drippies" (the last swallow of coffee in my mug).

When she was about four, I'd sometimes give her a "cup" of coffee in a shot glass.   Somewhere along the way, I got her a couple of espresso mugs - cute cat and dog cartoon-themed ones, but they eventually got broken.  We picked up an enameled metal one at a state park, and another porcelain one from Caribou.  They hold about 2 ounces, and I'd just spoon some coffee out of my own mug for her to share. I never gave her "coffee milk," just smaller amounts of regular coffee, exactly the same way I took mine, slightly sweetened, with some cream in it.

2-ounce espresso cups

When she was 10 or 11, she graduated to a six-ounce "hot chocolate" mug.  I'm not sure what makes it a hot chocolate mug, but whatever. This marked the first time I started brewing extra coffee to accommodate her.
6-ounce hot chocolate mug

When she was 13, she got a 10-ounce mug for her birthday:

10-ounce mug.
Alas, the blue mug got broken, so she got a new 10-ounce mug when she was 14 (her current age). This one is a nod to our family's nerd-roots:

10-ounce mug (front and back)
I've told her she'll get a 12-ounce mug when she's 16, and a 16-ounce mug when she's 18.

For the last few years, I've also saved disposable coffee cups/lids from local coffee shops, and rinsed them out for a second use. If we were running late and she didn't have time to finish her coffee, we'd transfer it into one of the disposable cups, and she'd take it with her.  Neighbor kids and parents were a little surprised to see a kid walking to the bus with coffee (and probably judgmental, but they never said anything to me). Kivi told me that after a few months, a couple of the older kids started bringing coffee to the bus stop, though in larger quantities than I gave her.  I detected a hint of jealousy in her tone.

It's been a strange journey. Kivi's dad is a coffee-hater, so this is something she definitely got from me. I'm glad we have this shared love - it gives us, ahem, common grounds, during the sometimes turbulent teenage years.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Belated Mother's day: I've got a coffee plant!

The kids* got me a coffee plant!  I am absolutely delighted and tickled by this gift.  Now, that said, I live in Minnesota. Coffee grows near the equator, at high altitudes.  My house is also TERRIBLE for plant growing. It faces north, and the east and south sides face a steep hillside. The west side gets some sun, but mostly, it's shaded by the neighbor's trees.  

But, coffee doesn't like direct sun - rather it likes bright but indirect light. So, as long as the weather stays above 50 or so, it can live on my front porch, on my little cafe table (where I sit and drink coffee on the weekends).  And for the winter, it'll go to Chris's work, where he has a window with adequate light.  And, I really love the irony - sending my coffee plant to be cared for by my coffee-hater.

I've read that after 5-7 years, an indoor coffee plant will sometimes flower and produce enough berries to perhaps make a cup of (usually not-very-good) coffee. How cool would that be???

First things first - it can't get big enough to produce berries in the cute coffee cup the seedling was in. So I transplanted it to a pot that's got plenty of room for it to grow. I suspect it'll have to be transplanted again, to get it big enough to flower, but I'll worry about that when the time comes.  So, here it is, in its new pot:

*My stepkiddo Garrett and his wife Leah, who is a pretty awesome daughter-in-law.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

70/30 Water and tap water comparison

So, I did two brewings - one with 70/30 water, and one with regular tap water.  Instead of 26 ounces of water, I did two batches of 14 ounces each (red teapot had tap water, and brown teapot had 70/30 water).  I then ground a little more coffee than usual (nearly 6 TBS, instead of 5), and split it between the two brewers.

I brewed using my normal Duo parameters (40 seconds of bloom, add the rest of the water, wait one minute then stir, wait another minute and stir, then wait 2.5 minutes, and halt the brew cycle) in both brewers.  The Sowden Softbrew (black pot on the left) is an immersion brewing method very similar to the Duo Coffee steeper.  In both, the grounds soak in the brew water for a prescribed amount of time, and then the water either drains from the grounds, or you lift out the filter basket, removing the grounds.  There are differences in the end result between the two methods, but they are the closest I've got to the same brew method.

Anyway, one coffee was definitely better than the other, but here's the embarrassing part.  I lost track of which coffee was which.

Ah well, I'll just have to do it again tomorrow.

Friday, May 27, 2016

70/30 Water for coffee. That's parts per million.

Hey, take a look at this:

It's a recipe for water that's supposed to be good for brewing coffee:  Water containing 70 parts per million of bicarbonate, and 30 parts per million of magnesium sulfate. 70/30 water.  

Now, I'm blessed with tapwater that's pretty good for coffee, despite being very, very, VERY hard.  As in, off the scales of my hot tub test strips hard.  Somewhere over 250 parts per million hard (the test strips stop at about 250 ppm), and that's AFTER the water softener does its job.  (I know the instant it is out of salt, because my dishwasher starts sprinkling powdered chalk all over my clean dishes).

So, for years, I've wondered if distilled water would be good for brewing coffee. Distilled water is "thirsty," because it's a better solvent than hard water.  Then I came across the above URL and I knew I had to try it.

Because you are working with such tiny quantities (as in 1/100ths of a gram), you have to make solutions first.  Twelve grams of magnesium sulfate (Epsom salts) dissolved into 1000 ml of distilled water, and 14 grams of baking soda dissolved in 1000 ml of distilled water, and you have the solutions needed to make 70/30 water.  Once you have that, you add one teaspoon of each solution to 1000 ml of distilled water. 

That's pretty soft.  We'll see if I like it.

Also, after using 2 liters of water out of the gallon of distilled water, I wondered how many liters a gallon holds.  I used a unit conversion app on my phone to find out... but then I saw this:

3.78 liters in a gallon
That's right. After removing 2 liters, I still had 1.78 liters.  I actually poured it into a measuring container - yep. The company producing that gallon really measured quite precisely, and really did have 1.78 liters left over.  I pretended it was 1.75 for math purposes.    That jug now has 1.75 teaspoons of each of the solutions in it. And tomorrow, it's becoming coffee.

Oh, and what's with the expiration date. Distilled water expires???

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Storage: Experiments in storing coffee

I decided to try a methodical coffee storage experiment. I'm using 5 different kinds of storage containers (plus one extra as a control), each with 33 grams (the exact amount I use each day to make coffee for Kivi and myself) of VERY fresh coffee, that was roasted yesterday (I wanted coffee roasted today, but I'll do that in the next iteration of this experiment).

See the code on the sticker?
YYWWD (2016, week 21, Day 2 (Tues)
Here's what I did:  I got 4 each of 5 different kinds of storage, and packed the coffee in 33-gram increments in each. I'll open the first batch after one week, two weeks, three weeks, and four weeks, to see how well they keep the coffee fresh over time.

Very fresh coffee is still outgassing CO2 from the roasting, so the air-tight containers should pressurize, and the ones with valves should allow it to escape.  Anyway, here are the containers:

Container 1: 3-ounce glass spice jars with a metal screw-on lid. They held 33 grams of coffee beans easily, with only little headspace.
I got the ones with a metal lid. There is no rubber seal, so hopefully they are airtight.

Container 2: 3-ounce acrylic spice jars with a bale-top and silicone or rubber seal.  These barely held 33 grams of coffee (I had to hold the lid closed, shake the jar slightly so that coffee would work its way into the recessed lid, then latch it closed).


Container 3: 4.25 oz/125 ml Fido bale-top canning jar with a rubber seal. These held 33 grams of coffee easily, with more headspace than I'd like.  Fidos are well-liked in the home-fermenting world, because they allow CO2 to escape when pressure builds high enough, without letting any air back in (i.e. if air was allowed back in, mold would grow on the surface of the ferment, and that rarely happens with the Fidos). (we got a better price than what is shown here - shop around).

Container 4: Prepara Evak Mini containers - they shrink down to the surface of the coffee, and allow CO2 to escape. They also have a valve that prevents air from getting back in.  33 grams filled them about 1/2 way or thereabouts. They are very well-liked among coffee enthusiasts.


Container 5: One quart Waring Pro vacuum bags (ignore the asparagus - it was a much better picture than of an empty bag).  Don't bother with the Ziploc or Freshsaver versions of these bags. You'll be lucky to get a second use out of them. The Waring Pro bags will last 20+ uses, if handled gently.  I used two bags for each week: one I intend to remove accumulated CO2 as it ougasses, revacuuming every day or so until the outgassing stops, the other I'll leave puffed up.  In my current storage methods, I remove the excess CO2.

My intent is to do a cupping each week, to see how the beans survived the storage methods over time. My daughter will mix the samples (assign a code to each), so that when I evaluate the taste of the coffee made from the beans, I will not know which sample is which. I'll take notes on my findings, but will not look at the results until all four weeks are complete.  

I intend to repeat the experiment every month for 4-5 months, using the same coffee each time. Each month I will vary the time past roasting.  This month, the coffee is roast+1 (i.e, I packed the samples one day after roasting).  Hopefully next month I'll test roast+0.  This should measure the effect of the CO2 outgassing (40% of the CO2 is lost in the first 24 hours) on storage.  Eventually, I intend to attempt (somehow) to add CO2 to the beans if they are older, to prevent the beans from being packed with any O2. But, we'll see.

The coffee came from Peace Coffee, a fairly large Twin Cities roaster. They are big enough that I'll be able to get this same coffee month after month (though they cannot guarantee that it will come from the same batch of green beans, but I can't control for everything), but small enough that they have the flexibility to work with someone like me who only wants 2 pounds of coffee, and think my geekiness is totally cool.  Only drawback is that their roastery is only open 8am-4pm Monday-Friday (in other words, during working hours, 50 minutes from my home).

Update: The next morning, I got more bags, and vacuum-packed four more samples, and froze them. In the past, I'd decided that freezing beans made them taste funny, but due to recommendations from someone online, I decided to throw freezing into the mix.