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.