Saturday, April 30, 2016

IF I were to have an automatic coffee maker, THIS would be it.

Image credit:

This baby is made from glass, steel, aluminum (in the outer frame only), hardwood, with the tiniest bit of silicon, and one tiny piece of medical-grade food-safe plastic.  It uses a Chemex pot, and dispenses water at 202F.  The hot plate keeps the coffee warm at 170F.

But... the price is, shall we say, prohibitive.  $570 at the current moment.  And, due to living with a coffee-hater, (and not enough counter space), it doesn't really have a place in my current home.  Someday, I'm going to have my own coffee shack (sorta like the, ahem, person-caves you see around) and then ... maybe.

Introducing ... Betty Brown

... Or rather, the Brown Betty.

This will be my new teapot for heating water for my coffee.

I considered buying another teapot exactly like my red one.  But I wondered if there were something better. I came across the Brown Betty, and while the "perfect shape for brewing tea" matters not at all to me, it has other things to recommend it:

  1. It's supposed to be a little heavier than my red one, and that means more thermal mass, and better heat retention.
  2. The spout is supposed to be better for pouring. Non-dripping spout would be pretty nice to have. Hopefully it lives up to the hype.
  3. It's made of red terra-cotta clay, which is supposed to retain heat better than white clay stoneware. Hope it's true.  
  4. I was able to buy an extra lid for it.  Given my penchant for breaking teapot lids, this is a major selling-point.
I'll let you know how it pans out when it arrives.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Tea kettles and Teapots - which one to get?

When I broke the captive lid-tab off of the lid of my previous teapot, I started doing research. What was I looking for in a water-heating method?

It must be made from inert materials. This is non-negotiable.  I will be heating water in it, nearly to the boiling point in it, every single day, sometimes more than once. So: Stainless steel, glass, or ceramic. A small amount of silicone is acceptable.

In other words, NO PLASTIC.

Yeah, yeah, there are food-safe plastics ... Maybe.  It seems like every year or two, the news reports that yet another compound in plastic has been found to be harmful.  So, I try never use plastic with hot foods or beverages.  I use plastic all the time for cold or room-temperature foods, but not hot ones. This makes finding a good travel mug difficult, but so be it.

It also means that even as tasty as the coffee that comes from an Aeropress is, it will never be my every-day coffee brewer.

I've been totally drooling over the Stagg Kettle from Fellow:

The reviews suggest that it's a dream to work with, that the counter-balanced handle is wonderful, that the spout give perfect control over the pour.  Then, there is THIS:

The lid has a built-in thermometer!!  The thermometer has a dangly bit inside that drops the sensor into the water itself. This almost sold me on the Stagg, even though as a stove-top model, I'd have to pay attention (with the microwave, after some experimentation, I just set the timer and walk away - then fetch it when it dings).  I'd also have to store it - and I have enough items that live on the stove already.  Not my desired method.  And... the lid is plastic.  I've heard rumors that they are working on a metal lid, but it's currently plastic.  Not my cup of tea (ahem).  So, between it being a stove-top model and having a plastic lid, I decided not to get it.   

I emailed them to ask for an electric version (much easier to store than a stove-top model), preferably with variable temperature control, and they said they are thinking about doing something like that.  Cool.  

I've been looking for an electric tea kettle with variable temperature control, and I've had my eye on the ever-popular Bonavita for years now:

It's widely considered the best of the electric tea kettles, and I had an opportunity to use one at a friend's house, and it's really is pretty great.  Spout is good, and gives excellent control over the pour. The temperature controller is super easy to use. It heats water very quickly. The problem? The handle is plastic. That's fine on the outside of the kettle, but where it pierces the metal body to bolt on - there's a lump of plastic inside, near the top of the kettle. Steam and condensation will allow plastic to touch water.  I haven't found any other tea kettle with absolutely no plastic inside.

So, I I decided I'll wait for an electric all-metal version of the Stagg, and in the meantime, I'll continue using a ceramic teapot.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Goodbye to old friends (AKA breakable coffee equipment)

I don't know if I'm just a klutz, or if breaking coffee equipment is something that happens to everyone, or it's a combination or something. But last weekend, this happened:

Notice the little pebble in the foreground? And the big white spot on the lid?
And ugh... ignore the hard water deposits.
Totally my fault. The lid wasn't seated properly - just sort of balanced on the top, letting steam vent from the teapot, and I moved too quickly. The lid fell off, and bounced pinball-style off the edge of the ceramic sink (that's when the little tab parted ways with the lid), then off the open dishwasher door, before skittering across the kitchen floor.  I checked my Amazon orders - I've been using that teapot to heat my water for coffee for three years. Damn it.

I immediately threw a temper-tantrum (in a 47-year-old that takes the form of some wailing, shouting and a whole-lotta f-bombs).  You see, this is the THIRD teapot lid I've broken.  

The first one (and it was a birthday present, too!) fell off when I was pouring.  The second one (another gift!) wasn't technically coffee equipment - rather it was for displaying pretty tea as it steeped - but the lid fell out of a cabinet when I was groping up there blindly because I was too lazy to get the stool).  

Before buying the red teapot, I actually researched them and decided to get ceramic because a) it should hold the water temperature longer while I brewed coffee (not in the teapot, though - that's just for heating and pouring the water) and b) more durable.  And it was - I dropped the lid several times, and it never broke until now.  I also chose that teapot because it had a captive lid - the opening is D-shaped with a little tab on the lid so it wouldn't fall off when pouring. The captive lid is a huge plus, as that's how I'd broken my first one.  Captive lids CAN fall off (like when they aren't seated properly and you're rushing around), but you practically have to turn them upside down before they will.

Not only teapots - but coffee pots aren't safe. My first Chemex pot - the smallest 17-ounce one (and another gift!) - fell off the knickknack shelf that runs along the top of my kitchen. At least that one wasn't caused by me being klutzy - it just fell off for no apparent reason.  That one was particularly sad as that's the coffee pot I was using when I brewed my first GOOD cup of coffee. It wasn't in use, which is why it was residing on the knickknack shelf, and I had graduated to bigger capacity Chemex - my teen likes her coffee too, and rather than share, I just made more coffee. But, even borosilicate glass breaks when it falls from 7 feet up.

I could have glued the tab back on, but that would put glue in contact with my hot water (via steam and condensation), and that's unacceptable. The teapot still works fine, but I have to remember to hold the (hot as hell) lid on as I'm pouring, and since the tab broke off, I've already dropped the lid while pouring once.  

So.  When I bought my Duo Coffee Steeper almost a year ago, I ordered an extra glass carafe in case I break the first one (haven't yet).  I've ordered a new teapot, but that'll be a different post, I think.

But, I will tell you this:  I got one with an extra lid.

Goodbye, my old friend.
The aftermath of the dive from the knickknack shelf.

There it is... before it dived off.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Grinder Review: Porlex JP-30 Stainless Steel Coffee Grinder

This is my third grinder - bought in the spring of 2014 as my main grinder to use at home. It got daily use for nearly 2 years, and is still going strong.

  • Like the Hario Mini, this is small enough to grind directly into an Aeropress.
  • Fits nicely in your hand, and is tall enough to make it somewhat easier to grip between your thighs.
  • Nice crank arm length.
  • Outer body is all stainless steel, making it a durable choice for travel or everyday use.
  • Easy-to-adjust grind mechanism (see below) - you twist a little clicky bolt on the bottom of the top chamber.  
  • Slightly better-than-average grind consistency

  • Crank arm flies off for some people, though I never found it a problem.
  • Like many small grinders, it is a little awkward to grind with it.
  • No way to "remember" your settings for different grinds, other than by counting clicks. Not a big deal if you don't plan to adjust it.
  • Only slightly-better-than average grind consistency, and given it's price point ($40-$70 depending on the direction the wind is blowing, but usually around $50-$60), I'd really like it to be better. 

See the white nut on the bottom? That's what you twist to adjust fineness.
Note: if you install it upside down, it doesn't click. 

As I said before, this was my every-day grinder for nearly two years. I was happy with it, but wanted to try out the monstrous Lido 2, which kind of blows the Porlex out of the water (as well it should, given how expensive the Lido is). Currently I have it set to a fine grind, for use with my only occasionally-used Aeropress.  It actually does a far more consistent grind when grinding in the finer ranges, but it's a bit of a workout to grind a couple of tablespoons of beans with it.

The upper chamber holds about 6 TBSP of beans.

I do recommend this one - pretty highly.


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Kittens and coffee do not mix

This happened back in February of 2013, when my Juniper was an older kitten (that obnoxious age when they are nearly full-grown and have the size and strength of an adult cat, but the mentality of a kitten).

You want to know a GREAT way to start the day?
  1. Brew a cup of coffee, sit at the table to catch up on FB on the laptop, and allow your kitten up onto your lap for a morning cuddle.
  2. Then, allow (when not looking) said kitten to reach her dainty paw into your coffee cup and pull it over onto herself.
  3. This will create a coffee river that showers onto the kitten, who will divert and divide the river onto each of your thighs and hips, creating pools of coffee on the kitchen table, the cell phone, the floor, and both chair legs.
  4. This will wake you up nearly as well as actually DRINKING the coffee.
  5. The kitten will look up at you as if to say “Huh. So THAT’s what will happen. Who’da thunk?” Then run off to track sticky coffee water all over the house.
  6. Clean up mess, and change jeans, underwear, and sweater

The aftermath.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Birthday Present: Darling Coffee T-shirt

My daughter gave me my birthday present today, and I LOVE it.  Reminds me of an event that actually happened to me, when my then-kitten Juniper pulled a cup of coffee over onto the two of us. I'll post about it next week. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Bean Review: J&S Beans Part II

I sent J&S Bean Factory the following query today:
I bought a cup of your Obama blend on Sunday (pour-over), and it was
good enough that I was able to drink (and enjoy!) it black. But when I
got it home, I found that I didn't like it as much. I was wondering
about about your coffee:water ratios - What your ratios are, and what
temp your water is?

And they answered me within a couple of hours:

So glad to hear that you like the Obama Blend straight up like that. ... Anyway, for our pour over servings we use:
-- a heaping scoop of a 1/4 cup of FINE ground coffee-- 16oz of water at about 185 degrees.
If your grinding your own beans ask us to show you how fine we do it for our pour-overs and we'll gladly give you a little sample. Otherwise if your having us grind them ask us to use the grinder we use for our pour-overs, it can be a tad finer than the usual grinder we use for a normal paper-cone grind setting. I hope this helps! And I hope you still find time to come in and let us make you a pour-over even once you've mastered it for yourself.
There you have it, guys - some awesome customer service. Even if I don't wind up liking the beans for home use, I'm sure others will.  And I definitely want to see people head their way (and, as I said in my review of the shop - there were plenty of regulars there, and I can see why).

And this weekend, I'll try a pour-over using their instructions.  :-)

Grinder Review: Hario Coffee Mill Slim Grinder, Mini

This was my second grinder - bought it early in 2012 to keep at work.

  • Great price point - $20-ish for a decent little grinder
  • Small size - only makes enough for one or maybe 2 cups of coffee, so good for travel
  • Convenient adjustment mechanism (you twist a little clicky-nut at the bottom of the hopper)
  • Hopper is small enough that you can grind directly into an Aeropress.
  • Handle comes off for storage and to put beans in the hopper
  • Lid
  • Comfortable to hold in your hand
  • Average grind consistency

  • Small size - If you're grinding for multiple cups, you might have to refill the hopper and empty the reservoir.
  • No way to "remember" your settings for different grinds, other than by counting clicks. Not a big deal if you don't plan to adjust it.
  • Too small to grip between thighs very well, and ergonomics when just holding it in your hand are a little awkward (but better than bulkier ones).
  • Handle flies off while grinding for some folks, but I never found it to be a problem.
  • Average grind consistency
All in all, a fine, inexpensive little grinder that produces the typical grind consistency of inexpensive grinders.  A fine choice for someone just getting started with grinding their own beans.

Check out Coffee Brew Guides pages on this grinder (including their DIY modifications):
When my Kyocera got lost in the mail, I ended up sending this one to the person who'd bought the grinder from me.  She sent me a pic of using it to grind for her Moka pot. :-)

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Bean Review: J&S Bean Factory's Kona and Obama blends

Both of these beans are medium roasts, and while I enjoyed the Obama Blend (tongue-in-cheek blend of Hawaiian Kona and Kenyan beans) when I visited the shop, I haven't been thrilled thrilled with the beans when I brewed them myself.  So much more bitter than light roasts, though I do enjoy how much easier it is to grind the beans.

As usual, I'm generally not a fan of medium or dark roasts (though there are occasionally exceptions). I wonder what I'm doing wrong, as I did like the coffee while in the shop.  I think I'll email them to ask about temperatures, and bean:water ratios.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Mug review: my new favorite

I bought a new coffee mug when I was on vacation, and it's my favorite, ever.

It holds about 16 ounces of coffee (perfect for my morning cup).  I love the aesthetics of the bean-shaped vessel, and the mostly black exterior and the lovely red (my favorite color) interior.  Because the top is narrower than the body, it holds heat better, and it directs coffee aroma at my nose in a rather delightful way.  The shape is comfortable to hold, and is rather wonderful to wrap your hands around.

The only thing that could be improved? A bigger handle that allows more fingers inside it.  I literally put my fingers through every single mug like it in the store until I found the most comfortable one.

I got it at a little gallery on Whidbey Island, WA.

26184 State Route 20
Coupeville, WA 98239

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Gear hack: Soaking filters in vinegar

One problem with using reusable metal filters, is that those of us who live in areas with hard water (Minnesota, I'm looking at you) sometimes find that the finest metal filters clog with hard water deposits.

One of my favorite immersion brewers is called the Sowden Softbrew, and every month or so, I'd soak the filter in vinegar to ensure it continued to allow coffee to flow quickly through the filter when it was time to remove the grounds.

But... it takes a LOT of vinegar to fill the brewer enough to get all of the filter submerged.  To save vinegar, I put a glass into the filter, then poured vinegar down the spout until the level was high enough.  Leave it overnight, scrub it clean in the morning, and we're good to go!

Coffee Shop Review: J & S Bean Factory, St. Paul, Minnesota

1518 Randolph Ave 
Saint Paul, MN 55105 
Telephone: 651-699-7788

After finding J&S Bean Factory on a list of the top 10 coffee houses in the twin cities, I decided to give them a try. They're located in a sleepy, mostly residential area in St. Paul. Decor is meant to look a bit shabby (with areas of plaster ripped away to expose the brick beneath), with bright colors, and local artwork on the walls. A back room separated from the seating area houses the roasters.  It's more of a typical coffee shop, and less of a coffee bar.  Good place, though.

There were a couple of cafe tables out front, and limited seating inside. I'm guessing they've only got room for 25 or so folks, and if they really did have that many, it'd be crowded and loud. But the weather was nice, and they also have a really big outdoor seating area in the back that easily doubles their capacity. We sat out back, and it was quiet and breezy.

They only had three coffees ready-to-go, but cheerfully offered to make me a pour-over of the coffee I really wanted to try - the cheekily-named Obama blend. Created when President Obama took office, it's a blend of Hawaiian Kona and Kenyan AA beans.

The coffee shop seems to specialize in medium and dark roasts - when perusing their coffee bean selections, I noticed that none were light roasts, and their website seems to support that. I tend to not like dark roasts, but the occasional medium roast can be yummy, so I figured they'd have something to suit me (and the Obama blend was quite good).

One thing I really liked - they had the usual branded mugs for sale, but also sold hand-made mugs made by local potters as well. They sold a very modest selection of coffee equipment (one grinder, and one cold-brewer), and several nice sweatshirts and T-shirts.

I figure I'll always try two drinks when I go to a coffee shop - a cup of coffee that I'll drink black if it's good (and with cream and sugar if not), and a latte for my daughter.

The latte:

It was quite good, very frothy, and the espresso was surprisingly smooth, and less bitter than many. I tasted it without sugar, and again after my daughter sweetened it. It was a very creditable latte. And I love the milk froth art.

The coffee:
I had a pour-over of their Obama blend. It was a good coffee, very fruity, and to their very great credit, it wasn't too strong - rather it was just right. I find that many coffee shops brew with too much coffee, resulting in an overly strong, concentrated cup.  This tasted like I had brewed it myself.

The rest: 
My daughter brought her friend Michaela along, and since M isn't a coffee-drinker, I got her a cup of hot chocolate. The hot chocolate was nothing special - obviously just on the menu for the kids that accompanied parents into the place.

We ordered veggie tamales and a donut to share, and the tamales were great.  When we were ordering the tamales, I described them to the girls as "corn mush surrounding some yummies on the inside," which caused one of the baristas to crack up: "That's totally what tamales are!"  We dropped one of the tamales on our way outside, and a white-haired guy (the owner?) got us another one, which was awfully nice, since it was totally our fault. 

No one would accuse them of being apolitical. 
Coffee shops have a long tangled history of political unrest.

As I drank my coffee, I looked around the outdoor seating area, and noticed that many patrons were sipping from J&S mugs, while I had a disposable cup. I realized that they were regulars who brought their own mugs. That's always a good sign, when it's obvious that they've got folks who meet there regularly.

After checking the roast dates, I bought a half-pound each of the Kona coffee, and the Obama blend. I'll review those separately after I've brewed them a few times.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

How to pursue social justice, without also being a judgmental jackass?

I'll admit it - I lean toward social justice.  On the other hand, I try not to be a jerk.

I don't go to Starbucks due to their crappy C.A.F.E. program, (let alone their bad coffee) ... but I do buy their Frappuccinos or Double-Shots at convenience stores when I'm traveling.  (For those that live with a coffee-hater - cold coffees are much less aromatic, and less likely to bother a coffee-hater)

I don't like the environmental impact of Keurig and other pod-machines, but think they are brilliant for doctor's office and car dealerships that used to rely on keeping the coffee hot for a loooooong time (tricking you into taking a sip of the undrinkable swill it had become). And there ARE some people whose lives just don't allow for hand-making a cup of coffee.

I shop at Amazon, and I like my iPhone.  I like my conveniences.  So, I get it - no one is perfect, least of all me.

That doesn't mean I won't judge folks' actions - I am human after all, and to judge is a very very human trait - but it does mean I'll try not to be a condescending jerk about it.

I will try to write about things as fairly and as non-judgy-pantsy as possible. But, I'm sure to slip up. Let me know when I do, Ok?

Spring Cleaning - first outdoor brewing

Part of living with a coffee-hater, is trying to only brew when my husband isn't around.  But weekends can be problematic, and I'm not about to give up my morning coffee on the weekends.

Winter weekends, (in Minnesota!) I banish him to the basement and close the door to minimize the smells that get to him. His computer/office is there, so it's not like he's locked in a dungeon or anything.  But whenever it's above about 60ºF (16ºC), I brew outside.

Today was the first weekend morning that was warm enough, so we did some spring cleaning. I had Chris (the husband/best friend/coffee-hater) hang my daughter's Christmas gift to me - a darling coffee-themed wind chime above my little café table:

Kivi swept away the leaves, and I wiped seven months of dust off the table and chairs.  And... here it is, our first coffee-party of the year:

Yes, Juniper considers herself part of the coffee party.

Here's the view from the table. Pleasant and breezy, and semi-private despite it being our front porch.

Kickstarter: Origin coffee brew stand

Unfortunately, I found out about this one AFTER it had funded. I'm going to try to get one once it (if it?) goes on sale after the backers have received theirs.

I think this is elegant and neat.  Do I need it? No. But the elegance and functionality is great.

Advice to coffee shop owners - Neat article

Handground - a crowd designed AND funded hand grinder that I was unable to back on Kickstarter (but wish I had), published this on their blog: Forty-eight ways to surprise and delight your customers today.

Neat article. I've experienced a good coffee shop, where the baristas talked to me, and not just to take my order, and it was pretty great.  Not likely to get kind of treatment at any of the big coffee shop chains.

Grinder Review: Kyocera Advanced Ceramic Coffee Grinder

This was my very first grinder. I bought it back in 2011.
Not sure what makes this "advanced," but this is a decent grinder.  It doesn't produce particularly consistent grinds, nor particular inconsistent grinds, which I think is pretty normal for inexpensive manual grinders. Not shown is a little screw-on-lid for the lower chamber, should you grind too many beans, though that's not a selling point for me, as I only grind enough for one brewing at a time.  

  • $35-ish.
  • Nice size.
  • Handle stays on, and is a nice length.
  • Newer models may come with a lid - do your homework.
  • Can screw onto a narrow-mouth canning jar (I haven't tried it, though).
  • Average consistency grounds.
  • Ergonomics are a little awkward. Too big to hold in your hand conveniently, too small to grip between your thighs to hold it steady.
  • No lid.  Bean bits jump out of the hopper.
  • Adjusting the coarseness of the grind is inconvenient.  You unscrew the bolt that holds the handle on, lift up this little toothed thing, twist the shaft to loosen or tighten the grind, put the toothed thing back on, then the handle, then screw the bolt back on.  Lots of trial and error, but that's not a big deal if you don't intend to change the settings.
  • Average consistency grounds.

Honestly, if you like the looks of this grinder, I'd consider getting the Hario Ceramic Coffee Mill Skerton. It looks to be exactly like this one, but has higher ratings (actually, they have same rating - 4.3 out of 5 - but double the number of people have rated it), is about $6 cheaper at the moment, and has a LID.

Interestingly, I sold this grinder to a friend of mine who intended it to live in her camper for weekend trips.  It's the first and only package I've ever had go missing.  Opened an investigation and everything - evidently the box got crushed, and the parts separated from each other. The USPS sent me the mailing labels from it with an "oops, sorry" note.  The irony? The friend it was going to is a postal carrier.  I felt so bad, I sent her my second grinder after I upgraded it.


Friday, April 15, 2016

Kickstarter: Coffee Brewing Pipe

New on kickstarter! It's a new ... crack pipe .... bong  ... er, brewing pipe. For coffee. 


It's pretty.  It's copper (which I have a thing for), and it's totally clever.  

But... I hate the idea of drinking coffee out of a straw. And traveling with a torch is also not my thing. And ... what's the black part at the end of the straw? Is it plastic?  Hmmm....

So, not for me.

But, I kind of love it, anyway. I especially love the gradated filter. You rotate it around the bottom of the pipe depending on how coarse your grind is.

Star Trek People Drinking Coffee (and Tea).

Why yes, I am a Star Trek fan. Why do you ask? See:  Star Trek People Drinking Coffee (and tea)

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Coffee Storage Review: Vacu Vin Coffee Saver

I've spent the last several years trying to figure out how to keep my coffee beans fresh for longer than about a week.  I love trying different coffees from all over the world, but they went stale within a week or so, and then I was stuck drinking bitter, stale, mediocre brew until I ran out.

Coffee's enemies:  Heat, light, moisture, and oxygen.  I needed something that would address moisture and oxygen. Heat and light aren't a big deal, as my house doesn't get hot, and my coffee is stored in a light-tight cupboard.

My first experiment, back in 2011 was the Vac Vin Coffee Saver:
Pic shows grounds being stored in the VacuVin.
Terrible idea - grounds go off faster than whole beans, plus
more grit is available to get caught in the seal.
I love the Vacu Vin company - I've had great luck with their wine savers, and pumping out the extra oxygen seemed like a no-brainer.  The kit comes with an extra-big air pump, which makes pumping out the air much faster than with the standard size that comes with the wine stoppers.  Great choice on the company's part. I had the taller canister pictured, plus a shorter one about 1/2 the height (bought separately) that I kept at work.

But... it didn't take long before I was dissatisfied.  Often, I'd open the canister, and discover that the vacuum had been lost overnight.  I'd find other storage for my coffee, put it through the dishwasher, then after a few days, it'd happen again.

The best advice I got, was to run a bead of cooking oil (I used a cotton swab) along the two layers of the seals, and that worked pretty well, for a time. After about 2-3 weeks, a piece of grit would get caught in the seals, which let air leak back in. So, I'd brush out the seals, and re-oil them.  That level of maintenance isn't the end of the world (I make my coffee using only manual methods), but sometimes the oil would keep it sealed reliably for a few weeks, and at other times, just a few days.

And ... my week of fresh coffee before it started tasting bitter and stale wasn't prolonged, not as far as I could tell.  It's better than storing them in an open bin. It is probably even better than storing them in a mason jar on the counter, as the Vacu Vin is darkened - like built in sunglasses for your beans. But beyond that? Nah.  After a year or so, I gave the canisters to my brother.

Note: I've seen comments online that suggest that storing beans in a low-pressure container will cause the oils to migrate out (be sucked out??) of the beans, and make them go rancid sooner.  As far as I can tell, that's just speculation, with little basis in fact. My beans didn't get the slightest bit shinier or more oily-looking when stored in the Vacu-Vin.  I just didn't find that it kept them any fresher than any closed jar.

Kickstarter: Rafino

I like Kickstarter.  It's fun, and when you receive your goodies a few months (ahem, years) later, it feels like Christmas in June.  Anyway, I came across the Rafino, which is basically a coffee sieve, to remove the fines, and catch the boulders so you can re-grind them.

I backed it at the Barista Plus level, because I WANT ALL THE TOYS. If you are a tool whore like me, here's the project on Kickstarter:

Cathy's Cobbled-together Coffee Liqueur (AKA two buzzes at once)

So, do you slavishly follow the recipe, the first time, at least?

I don't know whether to say "yeah, me too!" or "yeah, me neither!" Mom taught me to follow the recipe as written (the first time at least), and often I do.  But when I look at lots of different recipes for the same thing, sometimes I cobble them together into a sort of mix-and-match roulette. Franken-recipes!

That's what I did when I decided to try my hand at making my own Kahlúa-type coffee liqueur.
Did I want to cold-brew in alcohol (nice and smooth!)? Or use regularly-brewed coffee? (the traditional way!)  Howabout some cinnamon and star anise, vanilla, or turbinado-simple-syrup?

Hmmm. I don't like cinnamon in coffee, and star anise sounds off-putting, and I don't have any on hand. But turbinado goes nicely in coffee, and while I don't generally like flavored coffees, vanilla sounded good.

So, here you have it:

Cathy's Cobbled-together Coffee Liqueur

1/2 pound fresh coffee beans <--this makes it stronger than Kahlúa. Vary according to taste.
1000 ml of a decent rum (Zaya is a delicious one, but not cheap)
Vanilla bean (or a couple of teaspoons of vanilla extract)
1 cup turbinado sugar
1 cup water

Start with fresh beans, and either grind them yourself, or have them ground for you on the day you plan to make the coffee liqueur. I used a fairly coarse grind, like what you'd use for a French press. A coarse grounds should be easier to filter out later.  For what it's worth, I used a manual grinder to grind 1/2 pound of coffee, and it was a total slog. If you've got an electric grinder, use it. Place the grounds in a 2-liter or 1/2 gallon jar.

If using a vanilla bean, split it length-wise, and dump it in with the grounds, along with any of the tiny loose seeds.

Add the rum, stir, and put the lid on the jar. Let it sit for 12 or so hours, stirring occasionally.  You may weigh the grounds down if you'd like.  They'll float at first - just give it a gentle stir every so often. Eventually they'll get booze-logged and sink.

After the coffee has infused for 12 hours or overnight, strain the grounds out of the rum.  This is messy work, so work over a tray, or in your sink, or something along those lines to avoid a mess. There are lots of ways to get the grounds out, but here's what I did: I triple-strained the grounds. But, really, you should quadruple-strain it.  That may sound like more of a hassle, but really, it won't be. I jumped to an overly-fine sieve too soon. Filters clog, so using progressively finer filters saves you some frustration.

Strain 1: First, pour the brew through a large, not-particularly-fine-steel mesh strainer into a bowl, then gently press the grounds to extract as much fluid from them as you can. Reserve the vanilla bean, and compost what remains (the grounds, not the fluid).

(Also, if any of you guys know of ways to get more booze out of the grounds, I'd be grateful if you'd let me know. Lots of alcohol is lost in this first straining with the coarse grounds. I played with dumping the grounds on plastic wrap, rolling it up, and squeezing the coffee out the end of the roll, but it was kind of a mess.)

Strain 2: Pour the liqueur though a finer mesh metal strainer. Something like what you'd find in a tea ball or a fine mesh spoon.  I didn't actually do this step, but I wish I had.

Strain 3: Pour the coffee through a really, really, really fine metal coffee strainer. I used the one that came with my Sowdon Softbrew coffee pot. It's made from an extra-fine metal sheet, with laser-etched holes ... which promptly clogged, so I had to slowly rotate the filter, letting the rum drain through a cleaner area.

Strain 4: Pour the coffee through a regular paper coffee filter or a re-usable fabric filter.   If you don't remove as much particulate matter as possible before this step, the paper filter will clog up reeeeeally fast, and it will be an exercise in frustration, and you'll end up discarding many paper filters (and wasting a lot of expensive rum).

Make the simple syrup as the final filtering is happening (you'll fill the filter and do other things until  it's ready to be topped off ... again .... and again ....and again). Place the sugar, reserved vanilla bean and water in a pan, and cook over medium-low heat until the sugar is dissolved. Let it cool to room temperature.

Just before you add the room-temperature simple syrup to the coffee, remove the vanilla bean, and add vanilla extract if using. Add half the simple syrup to the liqueur, and taste to see how you like it - but I didn't think it was sweet enough, and used all of it. Make and add more syrup, if desired. Bottle the liqueur, then let it age for a few weeks before enjoying.

Notes: I started out with 1 1/3 bottles of rum - about 1000 ml.  After straining out the coffee grounds, I found that I had only about 700 ml of liqueur, which means I lost about 300 ml when I discarded the grounds (After adding the simple syrup, it ended up about 1000 ml).  That's about 10 bucks of rum wasted (?).  Some of the recipes I read suggested using just barely enough of a neutral spirit like Everclear to make a concentrated brew, and then adding it to the rum. I think I'll try that next time.

See that groove down the side of the funnel?
Good thing it's there - it prevented a vacuum from forming,
which allowed the liqueur to drain quickly

A friend gave me a heads up - I think this liqueur is probably fairly high in caffeine.  My normal coffee-brewing ratio is about 65 grams of coffee per 1 liter of water.  Because cold (or room-temp) water is a less-efficient solvent than nearly boiling water, it's typical to increase the amount of coffee-to-water ratio when making a cold brew.  On the other hand, alcohol is probably a more efficient solvent than water.  One shot of Kahlúa has about the same amount of caffeine as 1/4 of a cup of coffee. I used 227 grams of coffee grounds per 1 liter of rum.  I'm guessing each shot of this is closer to one full cup.  But... I'm just guessing.

Either way, my friend made herself a couple of White Russians, and then couldn't sleep afterwards - buzzed on booze and caffeine at the same time.  So you may want to save drinks made with it for lazy weekend afternoons.  It's also wonderful on vanilla, chocolate, or (what else!) coffee ice cream.

Speaking of coffee-liqueur drinks, here are my favorites:

White Russian
1 part cream or half-and-half
1 part vodka (I use Tito's)
1 part coffee liqueur

Put some ice into a tumbler, dump the vodka and liqueur in, and swirl a bit. Top with the cream.  For what it's worth, this is a variation - normally you use two parts vodka, but that's too spirit-forward to suit me.

Toasted Almond
1 part cream or half-and-half
1 part amaretto liqueur
1 part coffee liqueur

Put some ice into a tumbler, dump in the liqueurs and swirl a bit. Top with the cream, and enjoy.

Note: I originally wrote this back in December of 2014 in a Facebook note.  I've updated it here.