Year End Recap: Coffee Edition
My dad was a newspaper journalist, so growing up coffee was a constant. It was likely I would either hate the stuff, or need it like oxygen by the time I was fourteen. In my twenties, as the third wave of coffee swept over the US, I got fairly obsessed with “good” coffee, fancy brewing methods, and exotic locales. But even a mediocre cup of diner coffee at the right time can be perfect; so, coffee is just as much about the time, place, and ritual as the thing itself.
Last year I probably did more experimenting than this one, along with subscribing to get beans from Yes Plz and Trade (the former of which is operated by Tonx himself, who more or less invented third wave internet-based coffee delivery.) But I did acquire some new gear this year that I wanted to inventory and talk about a bit.
The Current Gear: Brewing
Aeropress & Fellow Prismo
I’ve been big on the Aeropress ever since I became aware of its existence. While nothing will ever duplicate a real espresso machine in terms of pressure, taste-wise the Aeropress gets close. A worthy upgrade to the out-of-the-box Aeropress is a permanent filter like the Fellow Prismo, which also includes a pressure activated valve that allows back pressure to build more highly than it would otherwise. The result is a smoother, easier extraction and—in my experience—a cleaner brew. At $30 it’s not cheap, but it improves on the Aeropress significantly.
Hario V60 Dripper
Coffee made with the pour over method, done right, tastes “fresh” and immediate; for me, it makes it easier to find the notes the roaster or the grower might provide. In short, it makes tasty coffee with minimal setup.
The V60 is sort of the gold standard, and at $20 it’s worth adding to your arsenal.
Hamilton Beach 12 Cup FrontFill Deluxe
I know. When you’re making bulk coffee, you can probably spend more—and you’re likely to get a better quality machine. (This one has started to separate at the seams in places, and the silver plastic trim is peeling.) But after owning many drip coffee makers of varying prices, I just can’t see why you should pay more than $70 or so. This thing makes coffee in mass quantity, has an auto setting so it can run on its own before we’re awake, and keeps coffee warm for two hours.
If you buy a 12 cup coffee maker and have issues with the taste, the problem is the method-bulk brewing and holding at temp-and not the gear.
The Current Gear: Grinding
Hario Skerton Pro ceramic coffee mill
Manually grinding coffee in tiny batches is one of those insufferable affectations that yields absurdly good results. If you’re like me you will feel kind of like a knob the entire time you’re grinding your single cup of coffee, but like a master barista when drinking it. The Skerton Pro is sort of the mid-priced recommendation for the novice, and it’s been a fun introduction into manual. It’s got a quality ceramic conical burr, a comfortable crank, and even a sealable container underneath if you want to grind extra to save for later.
Hario is sort of the Sony of coffee enthusiast gear. Their stuff is reasonably priced, and has that thoughtfulness that’s typical of lots of Japanese-made hobby gear (think Snow Peak, Tamiya, etc.) The Skerton Pro, for instance, includes this little removable rubber foot that holds and levels the grinder while you use it. So clutch. Highly recommended.
Cuisinart DBM-8 Supreme Automatic Burr Mill
We replaced our Krupps blade grinder this year with this Cuisinart. It’s easy to use and does a good, consistent job. My only real complaint is that since it’s electric it generates tons of static. Opening the grind chamber sends tiny coffee particles everywhere, and there really isn’t a good solution. But the grind is super consistent and the hopper will store almost an entire pound of coffee. It seems to seal fairly well also, and as long as you grind those beans in a timely fashion it doesn’t seem like taste is affected. It’s also automatic, so you can set it to grind up to 18 cups at once and just walk away.
I honestly feel like the burr versus blade thing might be one of the least important factors in getting a good cup of coffee, but this is still a good machine and is nice to have. If you have a workhorse Krupps or Braun, I’d just keep going until the wheels fall off.
The Current Gear: Beans
Yawn Coffee Advent Calendar
My wife got really into advent calendars this year, and bought at least two for every member of the household. One of mine is this one from Yawn, and includes a little pouch of beans to brew every day. I can't tell you how much I've enjoyed it. Each pouch includes some tasting notes along with a recommended brewing method and recipe, and so far it has all been very good.
Literally anything roasted by New Harvest in Providence, RI
When we blew into New England last year—land of some of the absolute worst coffee I have ever had in my entire life—we were relieved to find New Harvest. This is enthusiast coffee that isn't too precious to also have interesting seasonal drinks, and they offer classes for pros and amateurs. New Harvest reminds me a lot of Counter Culture in my home state of North Carolina in that a large part of their business is in outreach and community-building around coffee. Go to their website, cover your eyes and order literally any roast and you will be over the moon.
Borealis Roasters in Bristol, RI
Borealis is another local roaster in Rhode Island. They operate two cafes (one of which is our every-other-daily, and the other is one of the most beautiful cafe spaces I've ever seen), and offer some single origin stuff. The roasts are always solid, but it's the cafes themselves that keep us coming back. There are a couple of world class baristas working at Borealis that just pull great espresso. Also they roast and care about Yirgacheffe, which is probably my favorite coffee variety.
Ok, go drink some coffee now.