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.

Focus on what brings Joy

Last week I mentioned the need to spend more time drinking coffee outside the home, experiencing more of the cafe atmosphere. This has been on my mind a lot lately, as I attempt to figure out what I’m doing here, what I’m trying to accomplish with this hobby and this passion for specialty coffee.

I’ve written several times about paring down my coffee gear, trying to be more focused and disciplined, but outside of packing up a few rarely-used brewing devices and selling my big espresso machine, I haven’t made real change in the way I approach coffee at home.

As a result, I’ve set aside coffee time and again, taking long breaks from blogging. Every time I pick it back up, I struggle to nail down a clear goal. Soon life takes over again, coffee becomes a chore, and I put my passion on the back burner.

Method Matters

Recently I’ve been reading Marie Kondo’s inspirational book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Her approach to clutter is focused more on what items you want to fill your space, rather than looking only for stuff you can remove. It’s all about finding joy and surrounding yourself with the things that add to your overall happiness.

So far I haven’t been able to practice her method in its entirety; it’s best suited for individuals, not easy to tackle on the family level. But as I ponder the principles behind the KonMari method I realize why I can’t get past this internal struggle over coffee as a hobby.

I have always approached my coffee gear with the goal of identifying things I don’t need. I never started by figuring out what aspect of coffee brings me joy.

A Change in Perspective

By looking for what sparks joy in my daily coffee, I am changing the way I view this hobby and exploring what it means to say that specialty coffee is my passion. Too often I brew a mediocre cup with no love of the process, so am I really adding joy to life?

This is my big challenge with a home coffee bar, and it begs the question why I have a home coffee bar in the first place. Half of the largest room in our house is devoted to coffee, and we spend time in the “coffee room” every day, yet I don’t feel joy when I look around.

So I’m going to apply the KonMari method to our coffee room, retrieving from storage items I previously “decluttered” and putting everything out where I can see it. Everything will be in play, from the smallest Aeropress accessories to the EK43 currently dominating the space. I will explore each item individually and fill our coffee bar only with the tools that spark joy.

This is just step one.

The other half of this transformation is spending more time exploring the specialty coffee scene and looking for joy outside the home. I’m not ready to give up on coffee yet, but it’s time to find the exact role it will play in my life.

Coffee Travels:
Foundation Coffee Co. – Tampa

During my periodic absences from the coffee scene, the growth of specialty coffee has been astounding. The list of shops I want to visit continues to grow, yet I have less and less time to go coffee-touring.

Well a few months ago, before my most recent blog-departure, my wife and I spent a weekend in Tampa, and I finally made it to Foundation Coffee Co.

I had been to Foundation’s original Riverview shop nearly two years ago for a throwdown, back when I was trying to build my latte art skills. They opened their second location in Tampa last year, and I’ve been drooling over their photos ever since.

Foundation’s Tampa Heights shop is a coffee nerd’s dream, from the retail shelf full of high-end coffee gear, to the beautiful black Linea PB, to the rack of Yama towers rigged on a pully that travels up and down the 2-story interior brick wall.

The menu is fantastic, of course, just what you’d expect from a third-wave shop fueled by passionate people. I enjoyed a generous pour-over (Colombia, brewed in a GINO dripper) along with a gluten-free chocolate donut that didn’t last long enough for a photo, and we took some cold brew back to our hotel to enjoy the next morning.

Although I had seen many Instagram shots of their interior (and exterior) design, spending some time in that space made me appreciate it even more. Natural elements such as plants, rocks, and water features encourage a feeling more akin to a Japanese garden than a big city coffee shop.

The best part of our visit, however, was time spent with our friend Marie, whom we hadn’t caught up with since she and Dawn sold The Library Coffeehouse a few months earlier. I enjoyed spending an hour or more just sitting and talking about life and coffee, and it left me wishing I could spend more time drinking coffee outside the house, sharing it with friends and experiencing more of the unique atmosphere that every good coffee shop creates.

I may give that some more thought soon, and hopefully I’ll get back to Tampa for another stop at Foundation.

What is The Coffee Minimalist?

When I put the blog on hold until May, my expectations were rather optimistic. I thought I would sneak in some writing time every weekend before the kids woke up, get several posts written and scheduled to stay ahead. I thought I could throw together some video and bring new life to this oft-neglected space.

As I begin writing this in the playroom, watching our 8-month old crawl back and forth, I realize how foolish my expectations were. Life is not the same as when I first started writing about coffee. In fact, it’s remarkably different from even the more recent periods of regular blogging.

So right now, I’m thinking back to where I was when this blog began, both in family life and in coffee, and how much things have changed since then…

Then: September 2014

I was a new father, our first son only three months old when I started The Coffee Minimalist. I may not have been getting much sleep, but aside from the occasional diaper change or walk in the stroller, my responsibilities were few.

I had more energy to devote to hobbies, and we were still in the early discovery era with specialty coffee. New coffee gear was steadily trickling in, and I was keeping up with the industry by reading every trade magazine I could get.

There was so much free time, I could dabble in home-roasting and practice cupping on a regular basis. We traveled as a family and visited coffee shops wherever we went, and our infant son didn’t mind if we sat for an hour to enjoy the cafe atmosphere.

Now: May 2017

Two and a half years later, things are very different. Our oldest is only a month away from turning three, and his younger brother is constantly on the move. Laundry, cooking and other household chores have substantially increased as our family grows, and sleep continues to be a precious and rare commodity.

Our coffee bar has evolved as well, but after a couple of years of constant growth, we’re moving back to the basics. Visits to coffee shops are a bigger challenge with two boys, and with more family time spent at Disney, there are no specialty shops in our vacation destination of choice.

I have a stack of coffee magazines that never get read, and my cupping bowls are used only to measure beans. It’s been over two years since my last trade show, and with less time to listen to podcasts, I’m even behind on my favorite coffee shows.

So I’m left asking myself “What is The Coffee Minimalist?”

What am I doing here? What are my goals, and what do I hope to learn from writing this blog? Where does specialty coffee fit into my life now that family time is so important?

I don’t have any answers to these questions yet. I believe there are bits and pieces of the puzzle hidden in previous posts, things like time management, routine, focus, and a limited brew menu. It’s a matter of eliminating the noise and pulling together what is important to create a clear picture.

If I can keep up with weekly updates, perhaps I will start to find what I’m looking for. Thanks for joining me on this journey.

There’s still coffee

Today was supposed to be a look back at our recent visit to Foundation Coffee Co. in Tampa, but life happened and now that I’m faced with too few hours to sleep, let alone write a proper blog post, that post will have to wait for next Monday. Instead, let me share a quick thought…

No matter what is going on in your life…

No matter how little sleep you get…

No matter how bad the traffic is…

#theresstillcoffee

That’s my answer to stress lately, my bright spot anytime I start to feel overloaded. No matter what happened today, tomorrow morning there will be coffee. My new morning routine puts coffee at the front of our day, so even though it’s far too late and I’m sure to be dead tired tomorrow, I look forward to putting on some music and brewing each cup of coffee for our family.

And that’s all I need to make a positive start each day, regardless of what the world puts in front of me.

There’s still coffee, so just breathe, focus, and brew.

Finding a new morning routine

It’s been a week since I shared my need for routine. As I watch the sunrise while writing this, on the last day before Daylight Savings Time hits and we lose an hour, the importance of routine could not be more obvious. Throughout the week we’ve struggled with a teething infant and short blocks of sleep disrupted by cries of misery loud enough to wake the dead (ok, maybe that’s a bit dramatic…), yet I’ve continued to get up at the same time every morning and work through a routine that builds positive energy.

After several days of putting these steps into place, I think I’ve found my groove, but time will tell and adjustments may be necessary. It’s all about focus and repetition: the same alarm clock, the same journal, the same time at the coffee bar brewing in the same device. Any changes will be gradual, but this is where I’m starting:

• Get up and drink water
• Sip glass of Elixir while writing morning journal
• Brew coffee for my dad to take to work
• Get cleaned up and dressed
• Put on music and brew coffee for my wife and myself
• Write daily coffee journal
• Make breakfast, eat, get ready for work

Weekends are similar, but with a more relaxed schedule after that initial morning journal, and I opt for a quick espresso while writing for this blog. The most important part of the routine is waking up at the same time everyday and following those first few steps regardless of how I feel.

Some changes from my old morning routine:

I no longer brew a pot of coffee at home. In fact, I took the Bonavita to work to use when we have a meeting, and instead I brew a single V60 for each of the hot coffee drinkers in the house. (My mom only drinks iced coffee, so it’s all cold brew for her.) I enjoy focusing on just the one brew method, and the V60 was my first love, so using it a few times every day brings joy.

All coffee is ground with the Handground coffee grinder, which adds another element of focus and dedication to manual coffee brewing. I only use the EK when grinding coffee to take to work, and sometimes grinding by hand can be difficult with especially hard beans, but it’s become part of my morning and gives me a sense of accomplishment.

To set the mood, I selected music to accompany my morning coffee ritual: In Rainbows by Radiohead. I usually start at track 4 or 5, skipping the more active opening songs, and it brings back early coffee memories. When my wife and I spent our vacation in Seattle in 2010, we discovered Espresso Vivace and started visiting every evening. This album was always playing in those late evening hours, so hearing it always takes me back to that time and place.

I also strive to record my coffee journal almost every day, at least the one cup I brew for myself. I need to take more time and practice writing slower, as my handwriting is nearly illegible, but I’m building the habit and getting close to finishing my third Moleskine journal. Hopefully soon I will have some better journal entries to share.

It will take months of practice to get where I want with morning coffee, and I’m only a week in, but I believe this is taking me in the right direction. Focus, dedication, mindful routine… this is part of my own sense of minimalism, and it makes home coffee brewing more purposeful every day.

Stay Home…
Getting back to basics

Our toddler likes classic emo music.

He refers to it as the “Stay Home music”, because that’s the title of the American Football song that he’s been falling asleep with for nearly two years now. The steady rhythm, repetitive patterns and soft vocals just hit the right spot, and what began as something to put him to sleep on long car rides is now a nightly routine.

I need routine in my life. Some months ago I shared my experiments with time management, a morning and evening routine that I had just begun. While I tried to maintain momentum, changes at home and early days with a toddler and infant in the house eventually wore me down and the routines faded.

And yet again, this blog went on hiatus when I couldn’t keep up the weekly posts. I blamed it on lack of sleep, not enough hours in the day, but a big part of my struggle is lack of routine. I need my own “Stay Home music”.

So instead of writing a half-assed attempt at “what I’m drinking”, in which I lament my pitiful palate and lack of mindful practice tasting coffee, I decided to be completely honest: I’m just not tasting coffee these days. I’m drinking it out of habit, and I always say it tastes good, but my ability to discern flavor has atrophied to the point where all coffee tastes the same.

It’s time to get back to basics, time for a fresh start. Throw out everything I think I know about coffee brewing and just focus on flavor, brewing and tasting coffee, one day at a time.

And to make this possible, I need to get my routines back. Over the next week, I will begin a new morning routine, starting with what I know worked in the past, but adding in some quality coffee time each day. To set myself up for success in the wee hours, I’ll establish a new evening routine to help wind down and prepare myself for the next day.

I’m going back to my goal of brewing only in one device (Hario V60), while also sticking to our Handground coffee grinder for each cup. Perhaps I’ll find a piece of music to accompany my coffee ritual and help guide my focus, the way that “Stay Home” guides our toddler to sleep each night.

Check back next week, as I hope to share the details of my new morning routine once it’s all figured out.

Coffee Travels: New Year 2017 I-10 Road Trip

It’s a long way from central Florida to the far west side of Houston, Texas, even longer when you have a 5-month-old and a 2.5 year old along for the journey. So when it came time to plan our Lunar New Year trip to visit my wife’s family, I split the drive into as many stops as possible.

Or maybe it was just an excuse to visit coffee shops that weren’t right off the interstate…

New Orleans, Louisiana

On the way out, we spent two nights in New Orleans so that we could spend a full day exploring. Our hotel was just a few blocks down from Revelator, and Stumptown was also in walking distance. We didn’t get to any of the more unique New Orleans cafes, sadly, due to the logistical challenges of pushing a stroller around a busy city, but it was nice to visit a couple big names we don’t have back home.

Revelator Coffee Company was our first and easiest stop, thanks to a sleepy infant content in his stroller. The interior was sleek and industrial/modern, typical of other Revelator shops I’ve seen (Atlanta being the only other one I’ve visited in person), and I was able to take a few photos since the kids didn’t demand much attention.

A delicious hot chocolate kept our toddler happy while I sipped a pour-over, though at this point I’ve forgotten which coffee I had. This was our second visit to a Revelator cafe, and I always go in with really high expectations thanks to that one amazing coffee I picked up during my visit to Coffee Fest Atlanta a couple years ago.

Our other New Orleans stop was several blocks in a different direction, Stumptown Coffee Roasters. By that point in the day, the kids were tired, so I barely snapped a photo of the sign and didn’t take the camera out once inside. It was a bit late for hot coffee, but I got a free batch brew with the beans we purchased to take to family, and we indulged in a RTD (ready-to-drink) cold brew we hadn’t previously seen: coconut milk!

The interior was typical Stumptown, all warm and inviting, part of the ground floor of the Ace Hotel. Their pastry case had some delicious homemade granola bars and other savory goodies, and I wish I could have tried more of their cold brew options, as it is a cold brew focused cafe. One more reason to return to New Orleans for a proper coffee tour once the kids are a bit older.

Slidell, Louisiana

On our return trip, we skipped New Orleans and spent our first night in Slidell. Starbucks was our interstate coffee of choice (breakfast, too, most of the time) and I spotted this beauty in this otherwise unknown corner of Louisiana. I knew that Starbucks bought the Clover, but I had never seen one in a cafe. I had already ordered prior to noticing the single origin menu, but I learned to pay more attention in the future. (More on the Clover later, as I did get to try one in Tampa after this trip.)

Fortunately there was good coffee waiting for us at our next stop…

Tallahassee, Florida

Another brief stop on our way out of town, this was our second visit to Journeyman Coffee, but the first in which I took photos. Jason has a great setup, sharing space with the Miccosukee Root Cellar, and it’s worth a visit for good coffee and conversation. They were slammed when I popped in that Saturday, so I grabbed a Chemex to go and an iced mocha for Jamie.

I always enjoy seeing a tight bar setup, and the Journeyman crew brew some excellent Counter Culture coffee in an efficient space. One of my favorite things on their menu, is the friendly invitation to discuss your coffee wants and needs:

That wraps up our New Year road trip. It’s really just a small bit of coffee thrown in an otherwise crazy family travel schedule, but it was fun nonetheless. Despite my lackluster photography and total lack of notes (did I get the Nicaragua or the Colombia? Hm…) this exercise got me excited to go coffee touring again. There’s so much good coffee out there, we just have to find it.

The End of an Era:
Coffee Travels Photo Show

When I started this blog in September 2014, one of my favorite specialty shops was The Library Coffeehouse in Tampa. They featured heavily in My Coffee History, a short series of posts exploring my journey into specialty coffee, and for a long time it was the place I went to talk shop. One of my very first posts was about my photography show, “Coffee Travels”, which hung on their walls for over two years until early last month when they sold the business.

Now their space is occupied by The Vine Baking Co. but I have yet to check it out. I imagine it might feel strange to be in a place where I spent so many years taking coffee photos, enjoying Dawn’s delicious homemade food while chatting with Marie about espresso prep and the local coffee scene, which has exploded since then. It would be like visiting an old house after someone else moved in; the walls still remember our old life, but everything else has moved on.

So it does feel like the end of an era. I’m happy for Dawn and Marie as they move to a new chapter in their life, and we enjoyed a good chat when I went over to Tampa to pick up my photos. It had been so long since I attempted any serious photography, and so long since I visited their shop since their morning hours often didn’t fit the times I would be in Tampa, so I had almost forgotten some of the photos on display.

Espresso from Japan, an affogato from Korea, a rosetta from Denver and a small heart from New York, plus a paper cup with a logo I created just for the show, as well as a selection of some of my favorite scenes from Japan… it was an interesting split between coffee and travel photos, and now they sit in my office waiting for a new home.

The departure of a cozy shop that played so heavily in my coffee upbringing just reminds me how quickly the retail landscape can change. Several new shops have popped up in Tampa since the day I hung these photos at The Library, and I still haven’t made the rounds to all of them. I really need to get out the camera and spend a day coffee touring like we used to do. Perhaps one day soon…

Introducing Handground
Precision Coffee Grinder

As I mentioned last week in what I hope will be the final “re-launch” of this blog, one of the cool coffee things to happen during my absence was the arrival of my Handground Precision Coffee Grinder. This much-anticipated manual coffee grinder is the end result of a long development process involving coffee professionals and enthusiasts from all corners of the globe (read their full story here), and it is becoming my go-to grinder for rather unexpected reasons.

First things first… If you haven’t heard about Handground yet, here are the basic points:

• Ceramic burrs
• Side-mounted handle
• Full range of grind size with easy adjustment
• Large 100g capacity
• Tight burr tolerance for more consistent grind
• Elegant finish and iconic shape

I’m a big fan of the large capacity and 40mm burrs. In the past, I had traveled with a smaller grinder and it did ok for the occasional Aeropress, but this can handle enough for a full pot of coffee in our Bonavita. And I haven’t tried this yet, but traveling with the Handground could mean better coffee while still using a hotel coffee pot. (Need to carry filters, though, as most hospitality coffee is now filter-packed.)

Like any other hand coffee grinder, portability and travel are potential highlights for most users, and Handground has excellent features to make travel brewing more minimalist than ever. Hash marks on the side can be used for measuring coffee in place of a scale, with each mark representing around 10g on average. The included recipe magnet gives common weights for popular brew methods, showing how many hash marks get you in the ballpark. It might not be geeky enough for some, but it’s as I like to say, close enough for jazz.

The recipe guide is arranged in a circle, with the inner track representing grind size, from 1 to 8 with additional steps in-between for a full 15 settings. Cute icons highlight six of the most common brew methods, from espresso to french press, and right out of the box I’ve found their suggestions to be solid.

The best part about the adjustment ring is the ability to adjust without taking the grinder apart. My previous hand grinder required me to turn a small knob hidden on the bottom end of the burrs, and there was no indication of where I was in the range so it was nearly impossible to dial in. Handground solves that problem perfectly.

Now, one of their biggest claims is more consistent particle size. They even have testing data posted on their website, and the graphs show a pretty strong peak, with most of the coffee falling within a narrow range. I’d say that’s really good for a hand grinder, though my initial impression was skeptical when I saw the few large particles among the rest. It’s not really fair to compare with my primary grinder, of course, since it’s a commercial machine with legendary consistency, and the proof is in the pour.

While the larger particles are easy to spot, the fines are less fine than that of my big grinder, so a large 50-60g Chemex doesn’t get clogged so easily. The results are good, though I’m still learning to adjust, since I am more likely to under extract than to watch the timer continue to climb while coffee struggles to escape the bottom of the cone.

My only point of contention is the difficulty of grinding, which is the same as I’ve experienced with any other manual grinder. Sometimes you’re going to hit a bean that is harder, or at a certain angle in the burrs perhaps, and it’s just going to require more oomph to get through it. This requires holding the grinder still with your other hand, and in this case the grinder is so large that keeping it steady has proven more difficult than I anticipated. The rubber gripper on the bottom doesn’t really help on my butcher block coffee bar, so grinding is a bit of a workout.

But, this is one of the reasons I enjoy it, and one of the reasons it is becoming my everyday grinder.

Grinding by hand requires focus and patience. Trying to grind too quickly, or doing so without paying attention, makes it more of a struggle in the end. So for me, grinding my morning coffee has become a moment of mindfulness, something we desperately need in a world of distractions.

So despite the occasional challenge, I recommend the Handground Precision Coffee Grinder for anyone who wants more focus and mindful practice in their daily coffee routine. I have challenged myself to use it exclusively for all pour-overs at home this year. I’ll share more experience later, including a look at the cleaning process, which is supposed to be quite simple.

Readers: do you use a hand grinder? If so, is it only for travel, or do you also use it at home?