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.

Clearing the Docket:
A Fresh Start for 2017

Welcome back, dear friends, and thanks for visiting after my long absence! I can’t tell you how many times over the past two months that I thought about cranking up the blog again. It was always in the back of my mind, but I committed myself to focusing on life, enjoying coffee and not rushing into this task until I was ready.

Now it’s time. Time to get back to basics, time to refocus my daily routines, time to catch up on all the awesome coffee goodness that I’ve enjoyed during my time away.

So today we’re clearing the docket (to borrow a phrase from one of my favorite podcasts), running through a quick list of highlights, some of which I will explore in depth later on. I’m out of touch with coffee news, and my palate is more underdeveloped than ever, but there are still many things I want to share.

Let’s start with my morning coffee: Ethiopia Guji from Slate Coffee Roasters, part of my most recent Bean Box delivery. Beautiful coffee, but I completely messed up the extraction so it didn’t shine the way it could have. Very bright fragrance, and the aroma was warming in a way I can’t easily describe. I just didn’t have the grind setting fine enough, so my brew time was too short and the cup was under-extracted.

Regardless of my skill, I am taking more care to write in my coffee journal these days, recording each brew (aside from batch brew in the Bonavita) and it’s helping me to focus more on the moment. I’ve been working on the journal for at least a month now, wanting to get the habit in place before I brought this blog back to life. Expect more coffee journal posts in the future once my writing schedule is solid.

Last year I enjoyed the first Department of Brewology boxsets, so when they launched a monthly subscription, I jumped on board. As one of the first subscribers, I received the Colombia Red Honey Gesha from Onxy Coffee Lab! That was worth the price of the box already, but they threw in all the goodies you see here, including a sample of Third Wave Water.

Speaking of, have you caught the Third Wave Water Kickstarter yet? It ends later this week, and they’ve already hit their goal, but there are some really cool rewards and it’s a great way to try it out while helping support their initial growth. Expect a more in depth post about my experience with their product soon. (Short version, if you don’t know about it already: it’s a capsule of minerals that you add to distilled water to create an ideal water for coffee brewing, not just TDS but the right kind of TDS.)

Another item I’ve been wanting to write about is there in the background, the Handground Precision Coffee Grinder. This was a long time coming, but I appreciate the time they took to make it awesome. I am trying to use it more often for my daily brew, and you can expect a full post about my experience in the near future.

What else is on the coffee horizon? There’s our family road trip, in which we visited Journeyman Coffee in Tallahassee, then Revelator and Stumptown in New Orleans, an interesting article on coffee makers at Reviews.com, my new approach to cold brew, and a steady stream of new and excellent coffees via Mistobox and Crema.co. You can also expect occasional thoughts on minimalism and mindfulness as I use my passion for coffee to practice focus and peace.

Thanks again for sticking around, and look for new posts every Monday morning from now on.

No more updates for the foreseeable future

Update: The blog is coming back, and comments are turned back on. Look for something new starting the first Monday in February!

Hey everyone, I’m sorry for the lack of new content last month. As each Monday rolled around, I thought “oh well, one more week without a blog post, I can still get something written for next Monday” but as you see, that never happened. I struggled to write another “What I’m Drinking” post, in which I sheepishly admit to my failings when it comes to taking notes and actually tasting coffee, vowing to do better next time…

And yeah, wash, rinse, repeat, the same script follows month after month.

There is no time for coffee these days. Life has moved on, and while I take a step back from social media (again) and attempt to focus on being a better human, coffee returns to its typical supporting role, where we enjoy specialty coffee not because of the taste but because it is one of the few positive differences we can make in the world. I drink specialty coffee as a way of “voting with my dollars”, knowing that the people at the bottom of the chain, the farmers and their laborers, are being rewarded for quality instead of being pushed for lower prices. I’m supporting small businesses (roasters and coffee shops) instead of shareholders, and that’s important to me.

But I just can’t write about it anymore. The time commitment to take photos and write a blog seems minimal, yet there are far more important things in life that need to be addressed first. I gave up posting in November, and now that December is here I just have to be honest and admit that I won’t be around anymore. I won’t take down the blog and all the archives, but I won’t be adding anything new until such time as I can start blogging again, or I have to make a decision to completely let go and let this domain expire. That won’t happen for nearly a year, so I have plenty of time to think about it.

I want to say thanks to those who’ve supported me, especially with your comments and encouragement, and I am sorry to have let you down in the end.

Coffee is still important to me, and I don’t think that will change unless I make a conscious effort to avoid caffeine for health reasons.

There are plenty of good coffee blogs and news outlets available, and if you’re here for the coffee I highly recommend subscribing to some podcasts. If you’re here for my rare thoughts on minimalism, there are certainly enough people doing a much better job of writing such ideas, and I’m sure you will understand my need to let go in order to focus on what matters.

Thank you for stopping by, please enjoy the archives and continue to support specialty coffee whenever possible.

Edit: Since I don’t plan to check on the blog much after this, I am turning off comments to avoid a huge buildup of spam comments waiting to be deleted. Even with very sporadic updates, I’m getting dozens of comments per day and they just pile up in my spam folder.

Finding Time

I’m reaching a difficult point in the life of this blog, mostly due to life and everything going on around us. I had posts planned out for every week this month, but with little time to spend brewing coffee and even less time for writing and working on photos, I’m in a dangerous position of not being able to post even once a week.

I’ve been here before with every previous blog I’ve put time and energy into, and it’s already happened a couple times in this particular space. The coffee is always there, but my ability to share any real experience grows thin.

So… where am I heading now?

As much as I’d love to take a break, to say “no new posts for a couple months”, I’ve done that before and it never resulted in lots of extra time. I got a couple good reboots with my time away, especially this time last year when I had just cranked up the blog with a fresh look, but geez, that was before son number 2 was even a blip on our radar! How quickly life takes over, right?

I regret not finding time to post something last week, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to share at that point. Right now I’m thinking mostly about time and how much things have changed since my Time Management post just a couple months back.

My morning and evening routines are almost completely gone, and I’ve yet to find a suitable replacement. Without that structure, I’m unable to keep track of where my time goes, and that is perhaps my biggest problem.

So I have one goal right now: find time.

The hours in my day have not changed, nor have my responsibilities increased beyond a handful of extra diaper changes each day. What’s changed is me, my attitude and the way I react to the world. The only way I will find time is by reining in the clutter, the waste, and the mental energy spent on unproductive responses to life.

I won’t let my busy family life become an excuse for neglecting this blog. I may not have many coffee travels or detailed brew notes to share, but I will share the coffee anyway, as often as I can.

And just as a note… Yesterday I brewed the last of our Ethiopia Kochere from Herkimer, almost a month past the roast date. I brewed it in the Chemex with that horrible brown paper filter, and even though the brew ran slow and the coffee was almost 4 weeks old, it still tasted good! It didn’t have that sparkle, and any clarity would be lost on my neglected palate anyway, but it didn’t taste like bad coffee because it never was bad coffee to begin with.

It just made me think that all the variables that can affect a cup don’t mean the difference between a good or bad cup of coffee. The coffee will still be good, maybe not amazing, maybe not everything it could have been, but it will be good nonetheless.

And that’s ok.

Coffee Podcasts:
What I’m Listening To

Gonna be a short post today, but it’s one I’ve been meaning to share for awhile now, all about the coffee podcasts I listen to for news, inspiration, etc. During the 10 days that our new baby was in the NICU in Tampa, I used the daily commute to catch up on a backlog of unplayed discussions, and it helped occupy my mind with positive thoughts. With at least 40 minutes drive time each way, I got within a few weeks of the latest updates before that wonderful day when we finally brought him home.

So much great information flows through these coffee professionals, not just about coffee but about life in general. I have a lot of thoughts from each podcast I listen to, and wish I could jot them all down in this space, but for now here are the highlights:

Cat and Cloud Coffee Podcast

If you’re a regular on this blog then you’ve seen me mention Cat and Cloud many, many times. Chris and Jared are so full of energy and positivity, and they have a natural talent for this format. They’ve been cranking the coffee discussions since July 2015 with a ton of awesome guests as well as great Q&A sessions and some really fun rants.

I highlighted them just last week because of their influence in my journey toward better time management, so it’s not all about the coffee. There is a lot of focus on just being a better human, in and out of the coffee world, and their approach to service is inspiring. Humor is a big part of their attitude toward the world, and I find myself laughing along with them and quoting the funny lines to my wife.

This is a great look into the personality of some long-time specialty coffee professionals who have watched the industry change and grow. They don’t obsess over trends, and while they can geek out on espresso specs, there is an emphasis on simply enjoying coffee and enjoying people and not shaming anyone if their favorite drink doesn’t fit the narrow philosophy of a “third wave” shop.

Opposites Extract

This is a coffee debate podcast by Cafe Imports. It took me awhile to get into the debate format, but now I can’t get enough. I’ve been lucky enough to attend some cupping classes led by Joe Marrocco, one of the hosts, and he always impressed me with his openness and kindness toward others. He is a wealth of coffee information, but presents it in such a humble and human way, and now that I’m getting caught up on this podcast I believe he can argue any side of a discussion with clear, critical thinking.

Meister is the other host, and she is just as knowledgeable and skilled at debate while also being spontaneously hilarious at times. Joe and Meister take turns challenging a different guest each episode in a semiformal debate structure on topics such as traveling to origin, latte art, even fermentation experiments in coffee processing. The debaters have to take a stand on each issue, and their fate is determined by a coin toss, so it makes for some interesting mental gymnastics at times.

None of the issues they discuss are completely black and white, so each debate is followed by more honest discussion of the debaters’ actual views. I leave each episode full of new ideas, new ways of looking at all aspects of the coffee industry. And sometimes Joe talks about his guilty pleasure, an almond milk iced vanilla latte, and I wind up laughing hysterically about almond farmers and the difficult work they do.

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Those are the two major podcasts I’ve been enjoying recently, but since I’m finally catching up and now listening more frequently in the car, I’ve gone digging for more content. I’ve recently subscribed to The Coffee Podcast, which has been running for almost a year now, as well as I Brew My Own Coffee, which has been around even longer. At the time of writing, I’ve only barely started to listen so I can’t share any thoughts yet, but look forward to digging a little deeper later on.

I also want to mention an old favorite: The Audio Cafe podcast was a big inspiration to me a couple years back when I was just getting into specialty coffee, but it’s been awhile since Levi was able to post any new episodes. Still, his archives include a lot of great interviews so it’s well worth a listen.

Blog updates might be sketchy for awhile with an infant at home (our toddler already made it a challenge, now he has extra help, heh heh) but next week I plan to share some thoughts on coffee age/freshness inspired by a recent episode of Cat and Cloud. Until then… Readers: do you have any favorite podcasts you want to share?

Time Management

I don’t write about minimalism very often, despite the title of this blog. Whenever I share my work with someone new, I often get a question about the name, “why coffee minimalist?” It’s easy enough to talk about my influences toward minimalism and how it shaped my life just before coffee took over, but looking through my weekly stories the concept of focus is not very apparent.

The same could be said of my day-to-day life. My mind is all over the place, and I recognize now that I latched onto the “owning less stuff” aspect of minimalism without internalizing the more important tenants of focus, attention, intention and self-care. So today I’m going to share some of my new focus and direction through time management, inspired and influenced by the awesome dudes at Cat and Cloud.

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Morning Routine

I have never been a morning person, so this is one of the best things I can do for myself. Establishing a routine that I can do without thinking, and making a commitment to get up and do it no matter what, has finally freed me from the snooze button. Right now I’m not getting up early enough to do everything I’d like before work, but I’m working on consistency first so that I can push the alarm earlier and add steps later down the road. Here’s how I spend my morning:

• Get up and drink water
• Pour glass of Elixir (or tea, if I run out)
• Quick journal while drinking Elixir
• Make pot of coffee for the house
• Get cleaned up and dressed
• Make breakfast, eat, brush teeth
• Pour a tumbler of cold brew and head to work

I already drink a ton of water throughout the day, but having a glass first thing in the morning helps my body wake up. Then I sit down with a glass of Elixir and my phone, where I use an app to write my morning journal. I’m not big on typing a bunch with the phone, so I keep it simple: things I thankful for, a few short term goals, and my long term goals. Yes, I totally stole that from the Cat and Cloud crew, but it works for me.

When I’m super sleepy and not mentally awake, this is the most challenging part of the routine, but I can take my time, sip my Elixir, and focus my mind. I mentioned last week that Elixir was a big part of my inspiration for establishing this morning routine, and I think it’s due to the unique experience of Elixir helping push me outside my comfort zone into a more awakened state. When I don’t have any Elixir on hand, my backup is hot tea, which takes a few minutes to prepare, but can encourage a similar contemplative mindset.

From there I’m on the coffee bar, weighing out some beans and cranking up the Bonavita so the family has some coffee to start with. I often take a mug back to the bedroom with me so my wife can wake up to the smell of fresh coffee, and I’ll enjoy my own cup during breakfast. Then I always grab a tumbler of whatever cold brew we currently have on tap when I leave the house, just a special extension of the coffee room into my time out in the real world.

Evening Routine

While my morning routine is all about preparing for the day ahead, the evening routine is about reflecting, winding down, and preparing for the next day. The timing may shift depending on when I get our toddler in bed, but once he is asleep I have a simple process:

• Pour small glass of red wine
• Write in my Gratitude journal
• Prepare coffee bar for the morning
• Set out clothing for the morning
• Change to pajamas, brush teeth, go to bed

Even though my morning journal includes a list of things I’m thankful for, I take a moment in the evening to reflect on my day and jot down a few moments that were special. It’s a way to mentally close out the day, along with the glass of red wine, that helps my brain slow down. Focus on what’s good, let the rest go.

Then I’m back at the coffee bar, setting things up for the morning brew. This starts the quiet process of preparing myself for the next morning, and setting out my clothes has the same effect. Once those two tasks are finished, all that’s left is to get ready for bed.

Why this matters

Why all the focus on routine? Because it helps me be a better human.

Time management and structure help me stay focused on what matters most, spending time with family, taking care of our boys and giving them the best version of myself. Both of these routines are still new, and I may have more to say about time management in the future, but for now I hope this inspires you to evaluate your routine the same way the Cat and Cloud podcast inspired me.

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Update: I wrote this post prior to the birth of our second boy, and a lot happened in that time. He is doing well, but the first few days were challenging on many levels. Love and support from family and friends was key in helping us deal with the unknown. The morning and evening routines varied a bit, shifting each day to fit our needs, but they did provide a bit of “normal life” to focus on and helped keep me centered.