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.

What I’m Drinking:
October Coffee Highlights

“If you don’t write it down, it didn’t happen.”

This pearl of wisdom was spoken by Joe Marrocco during the first cupping class my wife and I attended at Coffee Fest in New York, now almost three years ago. Back then I was just getting into specialty coffee, learning everything I possibly could, and although we weren’t taking notes during our introductory class, those words stuck with me.

Yet, here I am… no notes, no journals, nothing… just vague memories of a month filled with excellent coffee, which I can in no way hope to describe. That photo up top, the Kenya Mugaya from Kuma Coffee? That was over a month ago and I couldn’t tell you anything about it. I remember enjoying it, and that was around the time I started to move away from French Press and back to my favored pour-overs, but what did the coffee actually taste like? I don’t remember.

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The same goes for this Ethiopia Guji from Square One, my most recent delivery from Mistobox. One of many Ethiopian coffees we tried last month, it was used up after a handful of batch brews in the Bonavita, and anything truly special was lost on my continually declining palate. Nice design on the bag, though, and one of my favorite things about Mistobox: trying new roasters for the first time.

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My other full-bag monthly subscription, Crema.co, delivered this excellent selection from Onyx Coffee Lab. Probably the one coffee that stood out the most, this Ethiopia Hambela Buku was bright and fruity, brought memories of previous Onyx roasts that blew me away and left me wanting more.

But even a coffee that stuck in my head is now left to the most generic descriptors, and I know there was more going on in the cup. Remember when I used to taste coffee? Remember when I got out the cupping gear and slurped my way to more specific flavor notes? Family life grew too busy for such an extensive coffee hobby, but I need to find a better way to enjoy the beautiful beans that allows time for focus.

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I know, we really did drink almost nothing but Ethiopia last month… But this Yirgacheffe Banko Dhadhato from Vashon Coffee Company really shined in my October Bean Box, so I brought in a full bag to get a second (and third, etc.) taste. It was beautiful, what you might expect from any good Yirg, and it may have been my wife’s favorite among our morning batch brews.

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Last time I shared the very first Box Set from The Department of Brewology, and this was the second edition, featuring The Barn Coffee Roasters from Berlin. It may be the first time I’ve had coffee roasted outside the US, and I loved the information cards included with the bag, English on one side, German on the other.

The coffee was a special microlot from Guatemala, a washed Caturra produced by Misael Rodriguez. It was interesting, very clean and crisp, but complex such that I could not pick out any specific flavor notes. I found it highly enjoyable, but it was a perfect example of how badly I need to practice tasting coffee. After all, I’m competing once again in the Flight of Fancy contest from Populace Coffee, and that starts this week! (more on that later…)

So it’s time to start writing stuff down.

I need to get back to my daily coffee journal, and I need to taste more coffee with other people and calibrate. There is hardly any point in sharing these bags of coffee with you, dear reader, when I have almost nothing to say about them due to my own lack of care in preparation and taste. If I’m going to continue writing about coffee, which I do enjoy, I need to record my thoughts and impressions daily.

Perhaps by next year I will have a new system in place for taking notes, but for now I’m going to make it as simple as possible and just start. Readers: do any of you take notes about your coffee experiences? If so, I’d love to hear what details you choose to include and what you focus on the most.

Sudden Coffee:
Instant Specialty Coffee

Instant coffee… did you ever think you’d see those words on this blog? I didn’t, at least not until I listened to a recent episode of the I Brew My Own Coffee podcast where they interviewed two-time Finnish Barista Champion Kalle Freese about his breakthrough product: Sudden Coffee.

Suddenly (ha!) instant coffee became quite interesting. I had to try it out, so within a week I was greeted with a simple satchel holding eight tubes of instant specialty coffee.

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I won’t go into the full story behind Kalle’s coffee journey (listen to the podcast for more details) but I love his breakdown of instant coffee and why it is traditionally horrible. You take the absolute worst beans, the ones nobody else wants, roast them, then brew it for maximum extraction. It’s all about the numbers, creating a product with the lowest possible cost, and there’s no room for quality in the recipe.

Specialty coffee can’t compete at that price level (nor can farmers, pickers, anyone at origin make enough to improve their lives) and it’s easy to write it off as a market not suited to quality. Nobody buying a can of instant crystals from the store is going to accept or even understand the price of a great cup of coffee, but that’s not what Sudden is about.

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Sudden Coffee is about making specialty coffee accessible even in situations where it would otherwise be impossible to brew a quality beverage. For Kalle, it’s his grandmother’s house in the middle of the forest. For others it may be at the office, at a hotel, or even at home when the baby is finally sleeping and I don’t want to crank up the grinder, just in case.

Sometimes it’s a coffee emergency, as happened with one of our tubes last week. Our cold brew tap had just run out, and my mom needed her morning iced coffee. I poured a tube of Sudden Coffee into her cup, added 8oz. of cold water, some ice, and she was good to go. There were no grounds to clean up, and my mom was able to rush out the door without waiting several minutes for me to brew a quick iced pour-over. Best of all, the coffee was excellent!

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Our first shipment of Sudden Coffee featured my favorite coffee origin, Ethiopia, roasted by 49th Parallel in Vancouver. This Biftu Gudina was bright and floral, balanced, with a certain roundness that I can’t quite describe. I tried multiple hot brews at home, finally settling on the lowest temperature of 140º on our Bonavita Electric Kettle once I realized that I’m not extracting anything, just diluting and reheating the already brewed coffee.

The experience in the cup is somewhere between a full-immersion and a pour-over. It has the heavier body of a French Press, but without the lingering sediment, and I was consistently met with an unexpectedly clean finish. I had high expectations after listening to the podcast, and I’m happy those expectations were met.

Sudden Coffee definitely has a place in our lives, especially with the unpredictability of raising two kids, so I jumped on their subscription service so that we’ll always have some on hand when needed. This will be my go-to when traveling, and I look forward to having a quick solution anytime I get an unexpected coffee craving.

You know, when I want some coffee… all of a sudden! (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

If you’re curious and want to see how instant specialty coffee can taste, any of the Sudden Coffee links in this post are referrals which offer you $10 off your first order! Check it out.

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.

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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.

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.

What I’m Drinking:
September Coffee Highlights

We drink a lot of coffee in our house, and I’ve always done a poor job of representing each bag that lands on our doorstep. My mind is more focused on everyday life at the moment, still adjusting to the new addition to our family, and trying to pare down my excessive collection of stuff. It’s not fair for me to attempt an honest coffee journal about any one brew.

So today I’m introducing a new monthly feature I like to call “What I’m Drinking”. It will take the place of my previous coffee journals, for the most part, and I won’t have a lot of details for some coffees but I want to share them anyway. Good coffee should always be shared, so let’s get started…

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Guatemala, Antigua, San Josué
Greenway Coffee Company, via MistoBox

The timing of this delivery was funny, as I had just sent my mother-in-law home to Houston with a couple bags of Patriot Coffee roasted here in Florida. A day after she left, MistoBox delivered this bag of beans from Greenway in Houston, as if we were in some sort of coffee exchange program.

This fully washed coffee had a rich aroma and plenty of subtlety in the cup. I didn’t make any brew notes (a common problem recently) but I remember enjoying it best in our Bonavita brewer. Since most of these coffees landed during my French Press challenge, a full batch in the Bonavita was often the only cup I tried with a paper filter. Thus, I didn’t necessarily find the level of clarity that might have been available, but that’s a discussion for another day.

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Guatemala, Luz de la Noche
Theodore’s Coffee Roasters, via Crema.co

Another Guatemala, this coffee was dramatically different from the San Josué from Greenway. This was my first coffee from Theodore’s and it really got my attention with a bouquet of fruit and florals the moment I opened the bag. I was surprised to learn this was a washed coffee as well, as the fragrance and aroma were so fruity I would have assumed it to be a natural.

I couldn’t resist trying this coffee outside of the French Press, so I put it through our Yama tower to see if that fruitiness would shine in a slow-drip cold brew. It had a bright acidity, and probably would show a more delicate side if brewed as a pour-over. One of my favorites from Crema.co, I hope it is still in season when my Brew List cycles back around.

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Ethiopia Kochere
Herkimer Coffee

and

Costa Rica Hacienda Sonora
Conduit Coffee Company

These were my two favorites from last month’s Bean Box and I had to order a full bag of each. The Ethiopia from Herkimer was everything I want in an Ethiopian coffee, beautifully fruity and delicate, the kind of cup I could just sit and smell for hours. It made me extra happy to enjoy coffee from one of the few shops I visited during our Seattle trip earlier this year.

Our other selection was the Costa Rica from Conduit. Aside from Ethiopia, I approach most origins with neutral expectations (even though I’ve had excellent and greatly varied coffees from all over the world), so I brewed up our original sample with no special experience in mind. This Costa Rica really hit me as one of the sweetest coffees I’ve tasted this year, juicy and delicious even in the French Press.

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Ethiopia Kilenso & Kochere blend
Slate Coffee Roasters

Saving the most unique experience for last, this may be the first blend I’ve had in a long time. When I saw the Slate Box Set partnership with The Department of Brewology, I had to jump on it. Not only did it come with all kinds of cool treats, the coffee promised to be outstanding, as beans from Slate usually are.

But unlike their single origins I’ve enjoyed in the past, this is a special blend of two different Ethiopian coffees, a washed Yirgacheffe and a natural Sidama. The pairing of two very unique coffees from one country brings an experience with the balance blends are designed to achieve, but without losing the bright character of each region. This was beautiful coffee, and I hope to see more experiments like this in the future. They succeeded in highlighting the best of both blends and single origins in one 12 oz bag.

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Those were the highlights on our coffee bar last month. I hope you enjoyed this abbreviated look at our monthly coffee addiction. Remember, if you’re thinking about a subscription and want to try one of the services mentioned here, the links to MistoBoxCrema.co, and Bean Box are referrals that offer some savings for first time customers!

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.

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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.

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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?

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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?

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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.

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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?

Coffee Age & Freshness

I love a big bloom.

At least, I did for a long time, before I knew any better. Thanks to the guys at Cat and Cloud for opening my eyes to the signs of coffee that is, believe it or not, too fresh to drink! Just look at that photo up top… huge bloom, looks like a chocolate muffin ready to pop, and as an enthusiastic home brewer obsessed with pour-overs a big bloom was a sign that I was doing something right. It was exciting, fun to photograph, and made me say “check it out: super fresh coffee, it’s going to taste amazing!”

Oh 2014-era Matt… so much to learn…

The photo you see above was pulled from the archives, back in the early days of this blog when I was still focused on home roasting and had more time to devote to this hobby. I was brewing up a Chemex of a Brazil Santos that I roasted the night before, and I remember being impressed with the bloom. Now I realize that it’s a sign of coffee that needs more time to degas, but back then I assumed it was a good thing. A big bloom was something to strive for, and coffee should be as fresh as possible for maximum flavor.

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Yeah… not so much. I’ve spent a few years now brewing coffees from all different origins and roasters, and I’ve seen the bloom mellow out as beans age. And as that bloom mellows, the coffee settles into a beautiful place where it can just be itself, without so much CO2 fighting to get out.

Here’s the basic premise that I got hooked on: freshly roasted coffee is good, so the closer a coffee is to its roast date, the better it’s going to taste.

As the Cat and Cloud guys mentioned in their podcast about age, this is a problem the specialty coffee industry created for itself. In order to differentiate locally roasted craft coffee from the bags you find in your favorite grocery store, freshness is the easiest data to compare. You can buy a bag of name brand coffee in the store with a “best by” date, or you can support your local roaster and get something roasted yesterday. Which one is better?

Of course, the fresh coffee is better (often for reasons other than age), but you should wait a few days before breaking into that bag.

Chris Baca gives his ideal window of coffee flavor at 5-14 days, and based on my experience I have to agree. Whenever I manage to bring home a bag within 1-2 days of roast and brew it up right away, I always found myself disappointed in everything but the bloom. As life got a little crazier, I stopped rushing to try each new coffee the moment it arrived. Suddenly I was brewing the first cup 5-7 days off roast and it was more enjoyable, more balanced, more consistent even.

And while I remember looking at coffee that was 2 weeks old and thinking “man, I should have enjoyed this sooner”, I stopped putting so much importance on freshness and just tried it. When we’ve been slammed with multiple bags in a short period of time, something always sits in the cupboard for a couple weeks before it gets used up. Maybe there is some loss of brightness, but it’s still really good coffee, and unless you taste bad coffee every now and then it’s easy to become a coffee snob.

Bottom line: brew your coffee at least 5 days off roast and you’ll be good.

This makes coffee subscriptions even better, since shipping time takes a few days depending on where you live. Most of my deliveries from Mistobox and Crema.co arrive 2-3 days after roast, and even Beanbox gets coffee from Seattle to Florida in about 3 days. I used to think that was time lost, that I was a couple days behind, but now I’m just that much closer to enjoying each coffee near its peak.