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.

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.

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?

My Minimalist Coffee Setup

At least a month has passed since I began my French Press challenge, and there were some definite ups and downs along the way. Here’s what I learned while trying to master this brew method in the sloppiest and least scientific way possible…

1. I can brew a solid cup of coffee without a scale or timer – As I got further into my challenge, I quit using a timer or scale, not even to measure the beans before grinding. I treated every variable as “close enough” in order to see how consistent the results could be without that scientific precision favored by coffee geeks (like myself). As long as I didn’t sip the last, sediment-filled sludge at the bottom of my mug, the brew was comfortably good, and depending on the particular coffee, even delicious. That said…

2. I still don’t like metal filter brews – My biggest gripe with the French Press is the same I would have with any non-paper filter, whether it’s full immersion or otherwise. I just don’t like that sediment, and if I try to finish a mug brewed in a French Press, that last sip is going to make me gag and reach for something else to drink. I got around this, mostly, by always leaving a little coffee in the bottom of my cup, but I really do prefer a paper filter for every coffee I drink. This experiment caused me to drink more French Press coffee than I ever have, and thus confirm my personal preferences.

3. Good coffee can taste great regardless of the brew method, however… Paper filters can produce a cleaner and clearer cup, showing more of the delicate characteristics of specialty coffee. While I confirmed that technique alone can produce a good, even great cup of coffee, the flavors of this brew style was always muddled. Flavor was there, but without any brightness or clarity, and I missed my favored brew methods as the weeks dragged on.

I spent a lot of time over the past few weeks thinking about minimalism, cutting down my stuff, trimming the unnecessary coffee gear and wondering what I would choose if I wanted to brew as simply as possible.

Honestly, there’s not much of a contest for brew method. I’ve been a V60 fan since day one. It was my first piece of coffee equipment, and after spending the last couple years brewing countless cups at home, I’ve formed a decided preference toward this type of cone. I can use it for both hot and iced coffee. I can brew a small or large mug, even push it to 40g in the filter when I want to share a single batch.

So that’s the brewing device, but what else makes up my minimalist coffee setup?

Scale, kettle, grinder of course, and I do prefer to brew into a glass server rather than directly into the mug. It helps me to see the flow of coffee and judge any necessary grind adjustment.

v60-2

With those few things, I could easily let the rest go. No more Chemex, no more Aeropress (travel doesn’t leave much time for brewing coffee anymore), no more French Press… ok, I will always have a batch brewer for making a pot for the family, so the Bonavita stays. But for most of my hot or flash-chilled iced coffee, the V60 does the job.

And what makes it minimalist isn’t the design or the number of items. It’s knowing that I have enough.

And from that place of contentment I can better focus on the coffee itself.

Owning up to an
Excessive Hobby

As a follow up to last week’s post about the danger of being a gear-head, I have a confession…

I have WAY too much coffee stuff!

I talked about my habit of diving head first into my hobbies, focusing on collecting all the best gear even when I run out of time to enjoy it, but I don’t think I’ve been entirely honest with just how far I went. There is enough coffee gear in our house to open a tiny cafe.

dsc_6145

Dozens of coffee mugs, half a dozen cold brew devices and at least as many pour-over options. Three V60 cones, three! Why? Not to mention the “prosumer” espresso machine with multiple accessories including four different milk pitchers and a full range of latte mugs in multiple styles. Ancap, Cremaware, notNeutral, am I missing anyone?

I could serve coffee to a dozen customers at a time, as long as not too many ask for the same size drink at once.

But why do I have all this stuff? Because I was so into my coffee hobby that I forgot to stop and smell the beans. I have enough cupping gear to host a public tasting event, but I cannot say that I’ve honestly tasted any of the excellent coffees that came through our door over the past many months. I brew them, I drink them, I enjoy the taste of a good, specialty grade coffee, but I never just sit and taste.

I was too focused on becoming good at a craft, and that’s my biggest confession today. When I upgraded to a high end espresso machine, my focus was not on the espresso. My focus was on latte art. I wanted to get good at latte art, and I bought a machine that could steam milk while pulling the espresso shot so that I could replicate the cafe experience.

And then I had a lot of fun, until I got too busy to keep up with the rest of it. Cleaning became a hassle, and I quit turning the machine on because I would spend just as much time cleaning up as I would pouring drinks.

dsc_6144

That’s what finally hit me: this is not a cafe, and I’m never going to get that kind of experience at home.

I could work for just one week in a coffee shop and get more real experience than I would get from a year of home brewing. I know the basics of latte art and I can still pour (it’s a bit like riding a bike, you never forget, you just get sloppy) but I will never develop the muscle memory to pour a tight rosetta unless I’m pouring hundreds of drinks a day. Two drinks a day isn’t going to get me there.

So I’ve decided to pare down my collection, starting with the big one… I’m going to sell the espresso machine.

My family loves brewed coffee so much that we will never benefit from a home espresso setup. Now that I’m honest with myself about why I bought an espresso machine in the first place, it’s easy to let go. Without the big machine taking up space on the counter, I can declutter our coffee bar and make the experience of brewing more enjoyable.

I may let go of other gear as I focus more on the coffee and less on the cool brewing devices. This is just a promise, a public commitment to remove what’s unnecessary and free up more energy to experience what’s in the cup.

Because that’s what matters most, and I’ve been missing it.

Coffee Gear vs. Technique

It’s easy to be a gear-head, no matter what your hobby or profession may be.

I’ve been guilty of this for many years. When I was a musician, I had enough gear to host a rock band in my bedroom, and recording gear to capture the tunes. With photography, I had a backpack so full of lenses that I neglected to actually take photos because it was too troublesome. (My wife once yelled at me to either take her photo or stop lugging around a heavy backpack for no reason.)

Then a couple years ago, when I started learning to brew coffee at home, I fell into the same trap. I focused on what gear I would use, wanting to try every brew method available and often salivating over the hottest new espresso machine or pour-over cone. It’s a habit that’s been going strong until a couple months back, when I heard something interesting on the Cat and Cloud Coffee Podcast.

It was during their awesome interview with Tonx, when he brought up the obsession most of us have with gear, how the focus in most new cafes is picking out their espresso machine. Where would we be if our first thoughts were about the coffee program and training good technique, instead of what color our custom grinders are going to be?

fp-1

Ok, I’m paraphrasing a bit. It has been several weeks since I listened to that particular episode, but the feeling stuck with me, and it’s something I’ve been wanting to discuss. I felt guilty for the investment I’ve made in certain pieces of coffee gear when I lack the time to really enjoy them, and I started to wonder how I would train somebody else to make good coffee at home.

I thought back to some early posts on this blog, my brew guides to the V60 or Chemex, and the laundry list of equipment I put forth as necessary. Scale, kettle, pour-over stand, timer, grinder… ok, that one is pretty key, but I asked myself this question:

Can I brew a delicious cup of coffee without using scales, timers, or fancy pour-over spirals?

And if I wanted to teach a friend or family member how to brew their own coffee at home, how could I do it with a minimal amount of equipment and hopefully use things they already have?

fp-2

The French Press Challenge

Thus enters a piece of gear I haven’t used in years: our Bodum French Press. I’ve had this brewer for over 15 years, a souvenir brought home from my time in Norway. I wasn’t a coffee drinker back then, but tasted a few cups brewed in friends’ apartments, always with a French Press, so I got one for myself hoping to bring some of that experience home.

Over the years it saw many attempts, usually with pre-ground coffee or beans chopped up by a blade grinder, and while I had yet to experience a true cup of specialty coffee, I knew I didn’t like this brewer. There was always a lot of sediment in the cup, and not knowing any better, I’d pour a cup and leave the rest in the brew chamber, extracting whatever was left of the already spent grounds until it became undrinkable.

I always thought it was the device, and staunchly avoided French Press coffee once I became a coffee drinker.

So why is it on my coffee bar now?

My goal is to brew the best cup of coffee I can, using the French Press. It’s the one brew method non-coffee people are most likely to have in their home, its full-immersion style doesn’t require additional filters or special kettles, and its limited volume makes it possible to brew without a scale and still get the right extraction.

fp-3

If I’m going to teach a non-coffee geek how to brew good coffee at home, this is where I’ll start. I might recommend a burr grinder, but otherwise no additional investment beyond great coffee.

For this challenge, I’m brewing our morning coffee in our French Press. I started out by measuring the total amount of water our press would hold, used that to calculate the right amount of coffee for a good extraction, then brewed a few times using the scale to confirm the math.

The results were surprisingly delicious. It still had the silky mouthfeel of a metal filter, but the flavor profiles of each coffee came through, along with a strong body. Soon I abandoned the scale for the water, still weighing my coffee before grinding, but eventually I started to brew with no scale at all.

I’ve found that most coffee scoops, like the ones that came with my BeanSafe containers, give me something close to 10g each, so I can measure out 5 scoops and know it is in the range of 50-52g (close enough for jazz). If I want to brew less, I simply adjust the total water visually, using ~40g of coffee and filling the chamber only 80% to the top. It’s not exact, and every cup may be a little different, but this is home brew, not a cafe.

As long as it tastes good enough for my wife, and I can make delicious coffee with minimal equipment, I’m happy.

Readers: what minimal setup would you recommend for a non-coffee pro to brew at home?

Cold Brew Gear:
Yama Glass Cold Drip Tower

I believe it’s every coffee geek’s dream to have a Yama Tower in their collection. After seeing various slow-drip cold brew devices in use at a handful of shops, admiring the beautiful design and presentation, I took the plunge and bought the Yama Glass 6-8 Cup Cold Drip Maker during the Thanksgiving week sales last year. But since it was too tall to fit on my coffee bar, I didn’t get it setup until just last month.

Now after a couple weeks of anticipation, I finally brewed our first batch of slow-drip cold brew coffee, using one of my recent favorites: the awesome Kenya Riamute Kiambu from Zeal Coffee Roasters. I went into this prepared for a learning experience, full of uncertainty of how to manage this unique brewing method. It’s not as easy to judge the effect of variables over such a long extraction, but the end result was better than I expected.

The cup was bright, full of character but still smooth and balanced. My biggest surprise was the aromatics, which hit me in the face with each sip. Honey and cantaloupe melon dominate the senses, with a hint of acidity that reminds me of a tangerine. I’ve been digging this coffee in the V60, but this was a brand new experience that lingered on the palate.

Yama Tower

Now as far as the brewing process, there is still a lot I’m not sure about. I was brewing 62.5g of coffee at the same grind setting I use for a 30g V60 pour-over. A standard ratio would have been a bit over 600g of water, but everything I read said to add 500ml to account for loss, so I wound up with 1103.5g of water and ice at the start of the brew cycle.

Not all of this made it to the coffee grounds, as I had to stop the brew for clean up prior to leaving the house for a bit, but I didn’t take time to measure what was left. Nor did I get an accurate yield since I stole half of the coffee after the first few hours in order to share with family while there was still a lot more brewing ahead. But my overall brew cycle was around 5 hours, and the best cup came from the second half after it rested overnight in the fridge.

Yama Tower

Another first for me, I tried out our cocktail shaker just to have a bit of fun. I was inspired by the presentation of various cold brew drinks during our visit to Seattle, and had been waiting to shake things up at home. This will be another learning experience, trying to figure out the right balance of ice and coffee and how to best pour the resulting foam, as most remained in the shaker on my first go, but it was refreshing nonetheless!

Yama Tower

I’m happy with the new addition to our coffee bar, and while it may only be a weekend indulgence, the Yama Tower is well worth the investment. There are so many amazing coffees passing through our house. It’s nice to experience them in as many ways as possible, and the Yama Tower definitely provides a cup unlike any other brew method I’ve tried.

La Marzocco USA
Headquarters & Cafe

One of my favorite things about coffee touring is the excitement of discovery, stumbling into an awesome cafe without previously looking it up and planning a visit. It doesn’t happen all that often, mostly because I like to plan ahead, but that is exactly what hit me when we turned the corner past a warehouse in Ballard sporting a huge La Marzocco sign.

It was our final day in Seattle, and we had just enjoyed an amazing brunch at Portage Bay, followed by a stroll around the locks so our toddler could watch them raise and lower the boats. Our day complete, we were heading toward a road that would take us south, when I jumped out of my seat like a kid who just spotted a toy store. Without any prior expectation, I found myself walking into the Seattle headquarters of La Marzocco, possibly the most famous espresso machine manufacturer in the world.

We were greeted with a friendly smile and welcomed inside for a tour, which took us through their welcome area showcasing the current lineup, a lab where training was currently underway, and the wall of history. Our host Carolyn walked us through the company history, highlighting many of the key moments in espresso technology over the past 80+ years and how La Marzocco came to Seattle. (Did you know that Starbucks originally brewed on the Linea Classic? The importers responsible for bringing La Marzocco machines to North America had to convince the company to manufacture the Linea in Seattle, just to keep up with demand during the huge Starbucks expansion.)

Once Starbucks shifted to fully automatic machines, manufacturing returned to Florence, and Ballard became the hub for all machines sold in North America. I enjoyed seeing firsthand the workbenches where technicians were unpacking and testing every machine by hand, and the rows of bins filled with parts was pretty impressive.  Here are a few more highlights from our tour:

Surprisingly, I didn’t walk out with a new espresso machine for the coffee room, but we did leave with directions to the brand new La Marzocco Cafe

Located in the KEXP Radio building near the Seattle Center, the La Marzocco Cafe & Showroom is a new concept built to showcase the diversity of specialty coffee by featuring a different roaster each month. But it’s more than just the coffee! Each “roaster in residence” has the opportunity to rearrange the bar, retrain the staff, create a new experience and an expression of their approach to cafe culture. Pretty cool!

During our visit, the cafe was serving G&B Coffee, and they followed the “order anywhere” philosophy consistent with the iconic LA coffee company. I was excited to try their almond macadamia iced latte, after hearing about it via the Cat & Cloud coffee podcast, and my wife went for the turmeric tea, which I kept calling the “Turmeric Situation”.

La Marzocco Cafe

For the curious consumer or would-be home barista, the showroom includes a home espresso lab, where visitors can get a close up look at each of La Marzocco‘s home machines. They offer classes and demos as well, and I regret being too shy to ask the baristas if I could try one out.

La Marzocco Cafe

Our time at the cafe was brief, and I only wish we could visit month after month to see what each new roaster does with the space. It’s definitely a must-see for any coffee lover making a pilgrimage to the Pacific northwest.

La Marzocco Cafe & Showroom
472, 1st Ave N
Seattle, WA 98109

La Marzocco Cafe

That wraps up our visit to Seattle! Three days wasn’t nearly enough time, and I only got to visit each shop once, but I’m thankful that my family enjoys coffee touring with me. I hope to make it back in a few years when the kids are older and can enjoy the cafe culture with us. Until next time, Seattle. Until next time…