Coffee Break

So life keeps happening… Yet again I’ve taken some weeks off from the blog, and here it is Monday morning again and I have nothing to share.

I thought I had figured out a nice schedule of topics, seemed easy enough to cup coffee once a month, visit a shop once a month, etc. But weekends are family time, and soon the blog went on the back burner again.

I thought my 15 minutes of writing every morning would eventually lead to more blog posts, but instead I spend more time writing a personal journal. Only now, as we enter a new month, am I attempting to write a short blog post during my daily writing time.

Nothing much has changed in my ability to taste coffee over the past year, at least not for the better. I blame my diet, to a certain extent, too much salt and sugar dulling the senses, but I also fight over-extraction on a daily basis. Perhaps I need to start sifting my grounds, but that’s one more step in a process I’ve tried to slim down to only what I enjoy.

I’m also lowering my total coffee consumption, shifting to tea in the afternoon, trying to limit my caffeine intake. I’m not in my 20’s anymore, and with two young children, sleep isn’t what it used to be, so I need to pay more attention to my health and fix a few things before it gets even more difficult.

So I’m on a coffee break, for now.

When time permits, I’ll share photos and stories from coffee shops we visit, but I may not drink so much black coffee for awhile. I might continue to share my thoughts and experiences with minimalism, as we still have a lot of decluttering to do around the house, but again, it’s all a matter of time.

Family comes first, and work has to fit in there somewhere, so I’ll write when I can and promise nothing more. Thanks for reading these wandering thoughts.

Minimalist Moments: A New Morning Routine

I wrote about my morning routine many months ago, around the time that our second child was born, when mindfulness and focus were heavy on my mind.

At the time, I thought I had a solid routine going, but life with two children grew challenging, and old habits ultimately took over. I had not fully internalized my routine, shifted it from schedule to habit, but why?

This routine was not my own.

My old attempts at a morning routine started from looking at what others were doing, comparing my habits to the habits of people I look up to and trying to integrate their success into my life. Like so many other attempts at habit change, it lasted for a little while, and then it fell apart and I gave up.

I realized that my routine needed to come from within, following my passions and filling my morning with joy. So I spent the past several weeks thinking about what matters most, what my ideal morning might look like, and this first installment of Minimalist Moments is the perfect time to share.

My New Morning Routine

Here’s the short version:

  • Wake up early
  • Pour glass of Elixir or cold brew
  • Write for 15 minutes
  • Shower and get dressed
  • Brew morning coffee
  • Make breakfast
  • Wake up the boys (if not already up) and eat breakfast
  • Pour tumbler of cold brew and leave for work

I currently wake up at 6 and make my way downstairs. Fighting the urge to catch up on Instagram before anything else, I pour myself a glass of Elixir (or our homemade cold brew) and sit down in front of my laptop to do some writing.

My goal is 15 minutes, although I could easily spend hours each day, whether I’m working on a blog post or simply jotting down my thoughts in a private journal. I set a timer for 15 minutes so that I know when to finish my thought and continue with my morning. (On weekends I will write for more than 15 minutes. This is my reward for getting up early when I would usually sleep in.)

After my 15 minutes of writing, I’m back upstairs to shower and get dressed. Our 10-month-old is frequently waking up by this point, so I will take him downstairs to play while I make coffee for my wife.

Now that my coffee gear has been limited to only that which sparks joy, the only decision I have to make is which coffee to brew. I brew a single cup in the Hario V60 every morning and tidy the coffee bar before moving on to breakfast.

Once breakfast is ready, I wake up our 3-year-old and attempt a family breakfast before heading out. I usually pour myself a tumbler of cold brew to drink on the way to work, and once I’m in the car my morning is finished and I’m ready to face the day.

It isn’t always easy, however.

This is the ideal morning that I am working toward, and the unpredictable nature of young children can throw off my schedule. Right now my focus is on writing for 15 minutes while sipping Elixir. It’s early enough that the house is quiet and peaceful. No matter what happens throughout the rest of my morning, I have this block of time for writing and reflection, and that’s all I really need.

Coffee Travels: Axum Coffee & Roastery

If you’ve read My Coffee History, you might already be aware of Axum Coffee and the role they played introducing me to pour-over. Until I discovered their shop in downtown Winter Garden, I only drank lattes and other espresso-based drinks. Axum was my gateway into brewed coffee.

Where my journey into brewed coffee bloomed…

This was many years ago, and I had stopped visiting Winter Garden for coffee, favoring shorter drives to Tampa instead. Since then, Axum has grown to three cafes and a roastery. They’ve been roasting for two years now on a beautiful Probat, and I’m ashamed it’s taken me this long to check it out.

One of my goals with Coffee Travels is to spend time in cafes with friends and family, enjoy a good fika together with excellent coffee and conversation. My wife’s cousin was in Orlando for one day, so we used that as an excuse to cart her over to Winter Garden for lunch and coffee.

We started our visit at the main cafe on Plant Street, catching a relatively quiet moment after the lunch rush. I tried their cold brew, opting for still coffee over ice, and it was just what I needed after a hot lunch on a hot day. My wife’s cousin went for an iced americano, while my wife sipped one of their sweet lattes.

The pastry case was stocked with all sorts of delicious goodies, and we picked out a couple mini-cheesecake bites to share. No photos, however, since they didn’t last long enough for me to get out the camera!

Spending quality time in a coffee shop can be challenging when you have two young boys. I spent half the time playing with our 3-year-old in the cute kid’s area: a small table with a toy espresso machine and other cafe-related toys.

The other half of our visit had me carrying our 10-month-old in and out of the shop trying to keep him occupied so that my wife could have a nice visit with her cousin. That’s life with little ones, of course, and all you can do is take turns.

I didn’t mind giving up my time in the cafe, knowing that I would soon get my time at the roastery…

Axum Roastery, 426 W. Plant St. Winter Garden, FL 34787

Axum Coffee‘s roastery is a few blocks down the street from their main cafe, tucked inside the Plant Street Market, an indoor market filled with artisan vendors. Imagine an indoor farmers market featuring all the best local, organic and craft businesses, with a coffee roaster on one end and a brewery on the other.

I love the smart use of limited space, a compact cafe built around the roaster itself. If I didn’t have family waiting, I could easily spend an hour hanging out at the bar, talking coffee and watching the Probat crank out batch after batch.

For old times sake, I ordered a pour-over of their Ethiopia Guji (along with a bag of beans to take home) and enjoyed the tea-like aroma of apricot and white grape. It was a nice coffee, a bit lighter in flavor than most of the Ethiopian coffees I brew at home.

It was nice getting back to Axum after so many years away, and it gave me a great place to start this revamped Coffee Travels series. I’m looking forward to many more cafe visits in the near future, wondering where I’ll go next…

Focusing on What Brings Joy, part 2: Results

Last week I wrote about the process of tidying my coffee gear, using the KonMari method from The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. Since then, I’ve been using my coffee bar every morning, moving things to the sink immediately after use and putting them away once they’re clean and dry.

Every piece of gear has a specific home, and the process of finding and keeping only those which spark joy has inspired me to maintain a beautiful space. I feel more joy when looking at my coffee bar, more joy when using it, and I smile more even when putting things away at the end of the day.

Of course, this makes me want to follow the KonMari method for everything in the house, put my whole life in order! It’s a challenge with young children, but every day when I look at my coffee bar and smile, I wish that every room in the house had the same feeling.

More importantly, this exercise brought renewed focus to my daily coffee habit. The energy I get from our coffee bar every day is eye-opening, and it’s not just the caffeine.

This new energy has inspired me to figure out where I want this blog to go, the answer to the question I’ve been asking over the past couple months: What is The Coffee Minimalist?

The Coffee Minimalist is a look into my personal coffee journey with focus and determination. It’s about seeking out a better palate and better understanding of specialty coffee. And it’s also about minimalism and focus, the drive to fill my life with things I love, things that spark joy.

So what should you expect to find here from this point on?

I will continue posting every Monday, but now I will focus on a series of recurring themes to help keep me on track.

What We’re Drinking will cover a monthly review of coffee (and eventually tea) that we enjoyed recently. Coffee Travels with follow us to a new coffee shop, cafe, roastery or other coffee destination, encouraging me to get out and fika more often.

I’m going to get back to cupping at least once a month with Cupping Corner, either joining in public cupping events or inviting friends to my own tasting. Finally, I’m starting Minimalist Moments. This will be a look at something special that brings joy, a report of my KonMari practice, or deeper thoughts on focus and intention.

This month, of course, skips the usual What We’re Drinking in order to wrap up this initial KonMari series, but starting in August I’ll do a better job of sharing the excellent coffees that pass through our coffee bar. After all, I appreciate each one a bit more now that all the clutter is out of the way.

Focusing on What Brings Joy, part 1: The Process

It’s been a month since I first mentioned my intentions of following the KonMari method to remove clutter from my coffee bar. Having finally finished Marie Kondo‘s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and with a little extra free time last week, I was finally ready to dive in and identify which elements of our coffee bar spark joy.

Next week I’ll present my new, thoroughly tidied coffee and tea setup, but today I’m letting you peek in on the process itself. What did it look like, putting all my coffee gear out in one place?

That’s not everything. I couldn’t actually fit all my coffee-related gear in one spot, the floor being out of the question since our 10-month-old is all over the house, so I broke it into stages. First I focused on brewing devices and tools, then on cupping and espresso supplies, followed by a counter full of coffee mugs. If you follow me on Instagram, you might have caught these messy photos already:

And that’s still not everything! This doesn’t include my collection of coffee books and dvds, my coffee journals, stacks of magazines, several cold brew growlers, Toddy brewers (both home and commercial size), cleaners, teapots, Hario kettle, and of course the V60, glass server, and to-go mugs I used that day.

This is even after selling my big espresso machine late last year, and pulling out our kegerator just this week since we’re no longer kegging our cold brew. I obviously have too much stuff, too much gear for a simple home-brewing bar, so how did the Konmari method help me decide what to keep?

Items that Spark Joy vs. Items with a Specific Function

There is a reason that Ms. Kondo recommends following a specific order when tidying your home. Clothing is first, and since all clothing serves the same basic function, it’s easy to discard anything that doesn’t spark joy. But how do you handle tools with a specific purpose?

My process started slowly, maybe because I haven’t followed her program from the start and thus haven’t developed my ability to discern what brings joy in the most mundane of items. I stood looking at my coffee gear, fighting with my brain which was busy pointing out what each brewing device was designed for, and which had some sentimental value (my first V60, for example), so it took several minutes to really get to work.

There was a noticeable difference in items that brought immediate joy and others with very specific uses. I had to admit that there are brew methods that I just don’t enjoy using. For example, no matter how beautiful the Aeropress looks during an inverted brew, it does not bring me joy and I was only holding onto it because it had a specific design.

While I let go of many such items, with others I am still unsure. I have two sizes of the Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Pot, and I’ve used them on vacation as well as for the occasional last-minute “we need fresh cold brew tomorrow morning” panic. It’s easy to rationalize keeping something when it has such a unique purpose. I put both in the keep pile, but I have a nagging feeling that when I held them in my hands, I knew they were ready to go.

Just some of the gear I let go…

Identifying Goals

This exercise, especially looking at the pile of quality gear that I’m dumping, helped me to evaluate my goals, both with the coffee bar itself and in the big picture.

Why did I have cupping supplies for an entire crew when I only ever cupped alone?

How much of this stuff did I buy in hopes of finding something to blog about?

It comes back to the lingering question: what is The Coffee Minimalist?

By reviewing every piece of coffee gear I’ve collected and narrowing my coffee bar to just that which sparks joy, I’m getting closer to an answer. Check back next week to see the results of this exercise, and perhaps then I’ll have some clear direction on where this blog is heading.

The Best Coffee Maker
by Reviews.com

When I cranked this blog up again last month, I pondered the question: What is The Coffee Minimalist? I had no answers then, just as I had no clear definition for those I met at Coffee Fest when asked what I write about. But as I continue to explore the role that specialty coffee plays in my life, it’s easier to figure out what this blog is not.

And I know this: The Coffee Minimalist is not an expert review site.

Although the early days of this blog included explorations of various brew methods, I think that was just an excuse to collect as much coffee gear as possible. Now I am in the process of slimming down my brewing equipment, focusing on what brings the most joy, and I’ll leave the gear reviews to professionals.

For example, this article on Reviews.com goes into great detail on the best drip coffee makers. It’s an interesting read, even for someone with fair coffee knowledge, and their approach to testing and comparing coffee makers is almost scientific. (I would argue that although many home brewers might use a cheap blade grinder, the inconsistency in particle size would prevent a truly accurate side-by-side comparison.)

While they give top marks to the OXO On 12-Cup Coffee Brewing System (and it’s smaller 9-cup sibling), my inner coffee-nerd was more excited to read about the performance of the Behmor Brazen and the newer model from Bonavita. I wrote about our own Bonavita two and a half years ago, and that machine is still going strong, currently setup at my office so I can brew good coffee where it’s most needed.

Since I started curbing my unnecessary spending, I never bothered to look into the newer models from Bonavita, but this article pointed out a few interesting changes. The current Bonavita Brewer has a flat bottom filter basket, as opposed to the Melita-shaped cone of my older model. While it maintains a single button for operation, there is now a pre-infusion cycle which can be activated by holding down the button until it blinks.

I’ve been handling pre-infusion manually on our Bonavita, turning the machine off after enough water is dispersed over the grounds, then turning it back on after it’s had time to bloom. I also use another trick late in the brew cycle, giving it a little “Rao Spin” to shake up the grounds, which helps dislodge anything stuck to the sides of the cone to create an even bed during the latter half of the extraction.

So I won’t be upgrading our Bonavita anytime soon, but there are certainly more highly-capable brewers available today than there were three years ago. Thanks to the crew at Reviews.com for stumbling across my blog and reaching out with their coffee maker article, and I hope it proves useful to anyone shopping for a better automatic coffee brewer.

Coffee Fest Chicago 2017: Experience

If there’s one thing to take away from my visit to Chicago last weekend, it’s this: no two convention experiences are the same.

I threw together this jaunt to Coffee Fest as if I was planning for a younger me. Granted, my last visit to a convention was two years ago, and I was a different person then, still just a father of one and enough free time to blog more than once a week. Now, hm… am I getting too old for this?

Traveling light, I made my way from the airport to downtown and checked into my hotel. After a brief walk, I arrived at Navy Pier late Friday afternoon with just enough time to wander the floor and catch up with a few friends from past Coffee Fests.

My first impression of the show floor was overwhelming. Everything seemed much bigger than I remember, and this was certainly a larger footprint than Atlanta.

The opening night reception was also different, and I spent the evening playing pool and chatting, meeting some really nice shop owners and baristas and feeling a tad out of place given my position on the sidelines. Even though I started The Coffee Minimalist nearly three years ago, a few long breaks from blogging set me back and I don’t have much to show for years of exploring my passion for specialty coffee.

I did attend Cold Brew U, and took great interest in the equipment and sanitation discussions from the Micromatic rep. As much as I hoped this trip would get me brewing commercial batches and getting our cold brew tap flowing again, I now realize how poor some of my equipment is, due to choosing a consumer-level kegerator. Whether it’s worth the investment to upgrade or whether I should stick to smaller home-size batches, that’s something I’ll have to think about.

I also made it to Tea 101, which proved to be a world of fun. The presentation was outstanding, full of laughs and packed with information. I learned more about tea in an hour than I could have expected, and it got me excited to try more tea at home and curious to check out the tea programs of our local shops.

Saturday after the tea class I had all afternoon to explore the show. I walked, and walked, and walked some more. I must have wandered the aisles dozens of times over the course of a few hours, but I only brought home a small collection of literature and a few samples.

The one thing I kept coming back to was America’s Best Cold Brew, the new competition that Coffee Fest added last fall. The head-to-head format was similar to their latte art and espresso competitions, but instead of a panel of judges, anyone attending the show can taste and vote for their favorites.

I enjoyed sampling a lot of different interpretations of cold brew. There were blends, single origins, flash-chilled, slow-drip, just about everything you could think of. If I didn’t have to catch an early flight home, I would love to have stayed for the finals. Next time, perhaps…

So that’s the recap of my time at Coffee Fest, but what did I learn? Oddly enough, the lessons that hit me the most were not coffee-related.

I learned that I don’t take good photos with a small camera. I opted to leave the DSLR at home, taking my wife’s smaller Fuji instead, but I used it less and my results were not even decent blog material. If I want to have a solid photo gallery from this type of event, I need to commit to carrying the camera I’m most comfortable using.

I also learned that visiting a city alone is no fun at this stage of my life. Although there were plenty of fun things going on in Chicago while I was there, the thought of being a tourist by myself just left me depressed. Next time I need to have my family with me, because everything outside the convention was boring without them.

Finally, I learned that I still lack a clear direction with this blog. While talking to vendors and attendees, the question that always came up was “what do you blog about?” A couple years ago, that was easy enough to answer, but not anymore. My recent blog history is all over the place, and that lack of direction shows in how I approach coffee.

I may not be fortunate enough to work in coffee every day, to develop my palate and hone my latte art skills, but I can still make coffee a mindful part of my routine. I’ve let it slide, thinking often of ways to refocus myself, but it’s time to put my inner minimalist into action and find what’s missing.

Coffee Fest Chicago 2017: Anticipation

I’m heading to the Windy City in only four days…

I still cannot believe I’m going to Chicago for Coffee Fest this week!

It’s been so long since my last visit to a trade show, and so much in my life has changed since then. When I attended Coffee Fest Atlanta in 2015, it had only been one year since my first Coffee Fest, and our son was barely eight months old.

Now I’m gearing up for a return to the coffee community just two days after he turns three. Where did the time go?

Plans for the weekend

My visit to Chicago will be short, so I’m planning my time carefully. The only paid-class I’ve signed up for is Cold Brew U, and I hope to come home with more up-to-date knowledge on the methods and business of cold brew coffee.

I have a few other seminars in mind. An old podcast about tea got me curious to learn more, so I will sit in on Tea 101. I also plan to check out presentations on social media for business and marketing, a few things that make up my everyday responsibilities at work.

Of course, I won’t miss the opening night reception. Some of my favorite coffee friends won’t be there this year, but I’m sure I will see some familiar faces nonetheless.

Hectic Travel Schedule

When I visited Coffee Fest Atlanta, I drove up the night before and home the day after, so I didn’t miss a moment of the convention. A year before, Jamie and I stayed an extra day in New York for a bit of coffee-touring after three full days at the show.

This year is a bit different. I’m lucky enough to make the trip thanks to my awesome family, but I can’t be away from the boys for long (especially our toddler, whom I put to sleep every night.)

So I’m flying up Friday, barely getting to the hall while the registration counter is still open, so other than a quick jog around the show floor, my only activity is the evening reception. Then after a busy Saturday, I pack up Sunday and leave right after a couple of morning classes, before the rest of the show winds down.

It’s going to be a crazy trip, but I’ll be home for dinner Sunday night. Is it worth all the effort to fly up and back, only getting one full day at Coffee Fest? Well, by this time next week I’ll be able to say yes or no, but I’ve got to give it a shot either way.

…at least until they wise up and schedule a winter Coffee Fest in Florida. (hint hint)

Letting go of digital clutter

What do you do when a digital storage drive fails?

What if it’s your primary photo library for a blog or other important personal project?

Do you panic? Worry? Purchase data recovery software?

I had the opportunity to examine these questions recently when my USB drive suddenly quit working. I had been importing photos to my blog library, and Lightroom was in the process of upgrading the library file when everything went belly up. Lightroom crashed, the drive ejected and an error popped up claiming that I removed the drive before it was “properly ejected”.

And that’s all it took to ruin the index file (or whatever it is) that allows my computer to read the drive and know where the files are stored. My USB drive was dead, unable to mount and unable to recover via my laptop’s built-in tools.

My first thought was “what am I going to do about my coffee photos?”

All the images and photos for this blog were kept on this drive, including a good chunk of images for possible future posts. While I keep regular backups of my laptop, I don’t often have the USB stick plugged in during a backup process, so the most recent data I had available was several months old.

In short, all the coffee-related photos from 2017 were lost.

Technically, the photos were still there; my computer just didn’t know how to find them. I could have purchased recovery software that would scan the USB drive and recreate the necessary index files to bring it back to life, but instead, I asked myself how important this digital “stuff” was, and realized that I didn’t need it.

All those old photos from previous blogs? Once they’ve been processed and uploaded, I don’t need to store original copies forever. Hundreds of other photos intended for future topics, most of which I ignored for months? If I’m honest, I must admit that most of the blog ideas are too old and no longer represent my current focus.

Letting go of those photos is allowing them to teach me the one lesson they were meant to provide: it’s ok to let go of digital clutter.

The same is true for a lot of other digital junk that I hold on to for years on end, and I’m curious what clutter is hiding in forgotten drives stored around the house. The principles of minimalism apply to our digital lives just the same as our physical reality. To surround yourself only with the things that bring you joy, consider the impact of a minimal photo library or a focused music collection.

And just as in the home, eliminating digital clutter shifts your need for space, and can open your eyes to just how little you need to be happy.

Catching up on Cold Brew

Before I begin examing my coffee gear piece by piece, following the KonMari method mentioned last week, I need to share what’s been going on with cold brew in this house.

Long time readers know that we drink a LOT of cold brew in our family. For my mom, iced coffee is the only coffee she likes, and for the rest of us, it’s a welcome refreshment in a climate that’s often too hot and sticky for brewed coffee. Two years ago I bought a kegerator and setup a cold brew tap, making 10 gallons of coffee almost every month.

Since then, we’ve never stopped enjoying cold brew, though we’ve had some ups and downs with equipment and brew methods.

Our fridge proved unreliable, and the safety of our kegged coffee was uncertain. One day it became a freezer, covering the kegs with frost and freezing the coffee in the line. The temperature setting was never changed, so I tried using a thermometer to monitor the inside of the unit and adjust as needed.

There was so much fluctuation that I finally gave up. I didn’t feel safe drinking cold brew from a fridge that hovered above 40º F even when it was set for 33º, so for several months our kegerator and commercial Toddy have sat dormant.

With our cold brew fridge on the fritz, I switched back to the home Toddy brewer for awhile. Because we drink so much, I was making a full batch every weekend, filling up four 32oz growlers and hoping it lasted the week. Eventually, it became a chore to process a batch week after week, and there was still the question of health, not knowing if our brewing process was safe enough. Doubt took over when our last batch looked suspicious.

Fortunately, we have a variety of other cold brew gear, so I’ve been brewing very small batches a few times a week. On weekends it’s the Yama tower, weekdays I use the Hario Mizudashi brewer overnight in the fridge, and sometimes we run out and I make an iced pour-over with our V60 iced coffee brewer.

It’s put a lot of variety in my mom’s daily cold brew, since each method has its own unique process and creates a different extraction. Because there is more work involved, compared to the large batches that filled our kegerator, the rest of us opt for hot coffee so that each cold brew lasts at least a couple days.

Needless to say, we miss our cold brew tap.

Which is why I’m headed to Chicago in a couple weeks for Coffee Fest! It will be my first visit to a trade show in over two years, and my main focus is their Cold Brew U program, an in-depth look at everything related to cold brew.

I want to get back to brewing large batches, having cold brew on tap whenever we want it, but I want to learn more about preparation, sanitation, and hopefully get some ideas of what equipment will be more reliable to keep our kegs at a safe temperature.

We will get the cold brew flowing again soon enough, but I’m thankful that I had this excuse to try each of my other brewing devices. I don’t know which brewers will truly spark joy when I begin working through my collection, but at least they are no longer forgotten in the back of the cabinet.