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.