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.

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.

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.

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.