Tagged: coffee

How I Use Less Plastic at Work

One way to reduce plastic—and paper—waste is to bring your coffee cup, such as the KeepCup.

A couple of weeks ago, the Climate:Fwd newsletter from the New York Times posted reader Jasmyn Trent’s tips for using less plastic at work. The tips were sensible and, for a lot of people, I presume that these could be pretty easy to implement.

The tips included bringing a set of reusable utensils to keep at your work space, bringing a spoon/stirrer and a mug for your cups of coffee, keeping a tote bag around for shopping trips made during the workday, and getting a reusable water bottle to avoid using water bottles.

Not only did I find her suggestions useful, I noticed that I already have adopted the majority of her recommendations.

Like her, I work at an office that allows me to easily adopt these tips. Although I do the majority of my work at home, I do work at an office a couple of days a week. This office has a refrigerator and microwave oven, making it easy for me to bring in my lunch. It also has a kitchen sink where I can easily wash out my utensils and dishes.

Since I had already been exercising these recommendations, I wanted to share the tools I used for not only using less plastic but also for generating less trash.

TOAKS Titanium Spork

Ms. Trent’s suggestions to bring from home a set of utensils is a good one. I have been using this spork as an two-in-one utensil for my lunches since 2014. It’s great because it works for most any kind of food that requires a fork or spoon. That’s why they call it a spork, right?

KeepCup Reusable Coffee Cup

The ur-cup for the fussy coffee hipster crowd. I have had one of these since 2014, and I don’t know how I haven’t yet broken it. The price is a bit steep—a 12-ounce cup costs about $20, but it’s outlasted all the less expensive thermal mugs I’ve bought over the years. However, unlike most thermal mugs that vacuum seal, you can’t throw this cup into a bag and it not spill. Curiously, on more than one occasion, when I’ve brought the cup to a coffee shop for some drip coffee, it was on the house.

Lifefactory 16-Ounce Glass Water Bottle

This too can seem expensive at first but compared to all the other water bottles I’ve bought and used over the years, this one has outlasted all of them. Of course, the different materials for bottles have different advantages and disadvantages. A glass bottle is both heavy and likely to break, compared to plastic and metal. These bottles come with a silicon sleeve that has protected the bottle from breaking when I’ve dropped it. By far the biggest advantage is that it won’t change the taste of your water and you can wash it forever. As long as you don’t break the bottle, it’s one that you won’t have to throw out. I can’t say the same about all those plastic and metal water bottles of the past.

Tom Bihn Synapse Backpack

Tom Bihn sells dedicated grocery bags, but since I regularly travel with a backpack, I just stash my purchases in my backpack.

I noticed that a lot of these items are pretty expensive. A $200 backpack, a $20 water bottle and coffee cup, and a $10 spork seem indulgent. But remember that the aim here is to reuse things, and I find it harder to throw away things that were costly, especially if I find them useful on a regular basis.

The above links to Amazon are affiliate links. If you buy something through those links, I will earn a commission fee.

7-Eleven Cold Brew, Reviewed

Earlier this summer, 7-Eleven introduced their own cold-brewed iced coffee beverage and priced it at the aggressive price point of 99¢, plus tax. (This is an introductory price, and it will cost $1.69 when the promotion ends.) If you take the long-view, it shows how far cold-brew has come since it was appropriated by third-wave coffee shops to create a sweeter, less acidic iced beverage. Cold brew is now literally as ubiquitous as a Slupree.

I ordered a 7-Eleven Cold Brew last week at the Greenwich Village location, on West 3rd Street, and sipped it as I walked to Washington Square Park. In my mind, there was a poetic irony of having a mass-marketed beverage at a neighborhood associated with bohemian coffeehouse culture. However, I then noted that the coffee at those places wasn’t particularly very good and that the bohemian days were over a half-century ago.

The beverage itself comes in two variations: one black and one mixed with some type of milky, fatty liquid. I pour the black cold brew into a cup of ice, paid my $1.08 using Apple Pay and headed out towards Washington Square Park in the blistering 90°F heat.

My initial reaction to the beverage was the smell. Unlike what craft, third-wave coffee roasters use, 7-Eleven appears to be using a dark-roast coffee. I could smell the roast, and it was as strong and off-putting as opening a can of Maxwell House. I didn’t grab a lid or a straw—because I’m not an Earth-Killing, Straw-Sipping Monster—and drank it straight from the cup. However, I wanted to know what the coffee tasted like without the smell, so I held my breathe as I took a sip of the coffee. The result wasn’t too bad. There was some light chocolate flavor, but it lacked any real tartness—no cherry flavors—that good coffees, in my opinion, balance between those flavors. It was reasonably pleasant, although a bit overly bold, as it they were really trying to extract coffee flavor out of their coffee ground. It’s not traditional iced coffee, but it’s not especially Good Coffee, either.

I’m not going to bemoan this as a sign of the death of cold brew or Good Coffee or as some wide-ranging cultural landmark. This is unlikely to get a critical mass of coffee drinkers who pay $4 for a cold brew coffee from a tattooed barista to switch to getting one at 7-Eleven. The beverage available at 7-Eleven is different product than what is available at the local coffee roaster, but it’s nice to offer not-too-fussy coffee drinkers another option.

As I’ve said before, it’s worth overpaying for coffee.

7-Eleven Cold Brew
Once you get past the over-roasted aroma, it’s actually not bad.

Booze News You Can Use: How to Ease a Hangover

The NY Today morning newsletter, published each weekday by the New York Times, is filled with stories that of interest to readers in the local area. There are bulletins on local events, stories that connect to local history, and some profiles of area people in newsworthy situations, in addition the weather forecast and updated on local mass transit conditions. Yesterday, they published a guide on how to ease a hangover.

The advice they got from a local nutritionist and wellness manager runs counter to various commonsense remedies. When we crave food to soak up the alcohol, our bodies are really asking for carbohydrates to raise our blood sugar. When we go in search of a bacon-egg-and-cheese sandwich, it’s not the grease that is helping us recover but the salt that we’ve lost since taking the first drink. And, to get rid of that debilitating headache, drinking electrolytes, such as those founds in coconut water and energy drinks, should help. And as we’ve all figured out, your best friend when you’re hungover is water.

But conspicuously missing from these remedies is coffee. At no point does caffeine appear to help, other than curbing the headache you get from caffeine withdrawal, a sure sign that you’re an addict.

Counter Culture Teaches You to “Refine Your Grind”

The folks at North Carolina’s Counter Culture Coffee posted a video showing you how to grind your coffee. As you know, your coffee maker determines how fine or coarse your coffee grounds should be. Usually, directions for grinding your coffee have vague descriptions. One such description, “it should be fine as kosher salt,” frustrates me because kosher salt varies in fineness. Believe me, I’ve checked.

Thankfully this video clearly shows you how fine your grind should be for the following brewing methods, from finest grind to coarsest:

According to the video, I’ve been grinding my beans too fine for my Chemex (or what they call a “Large Pourover”). I wonder whether that is because I don’t “pour and pause” like I probably should. Usually, time is short in the morning, and I just bloom for half a minute and then slowly pour the rest of the carefully measured water. That’s the only way I can account for their extended brew time. Their method says it should take about four to five minutes, while my method results in something closer to three and a half minutes.

And if you need a grinder, here are five that I’ve owned or have wanted to own:

  1. Small manual handheld grinder: Porlex Mini
  2. Larger manual handheld grider: Hario Skerton Ceramic
  3. Budget electric grinder: Capresso Infinity
  4. Entry level electric grinder: Baratza Encore
  5. Premium electric grinder: Baratza Virtuoso

Regardless of your brewing method or coffee grinder, you should experiment until you get the brew you like. There’s no right or wrong way to make your favorite coffee.

The above links to Amazon are an affiliate links. If you buy something through those link, I will earn a commission fee.

Starbucks Reserve is the New Budweiser Select

Not quite two years ago, I learned that Starbucks was introducing a high-end line of stores known as Starbucks Reserve. At the time, I thought it was an exercise in brand disassociation:

For years, Starbucks has become more or less the default coffee shop in most of the world and certainly in America. However, there’s been competition coming from cafes that feature baristas with fancy hats among other accoutrements. That’s right, instead of serving coffee that has been “roasted within an inch of its life,” as The Awl’s Matt Buchanan refers to it, Starbucks will serve single-origin, small batch coffees that will be prepared by hand.

Indeed, the Reserve stores disassociate themselves from other Starbucks stores by largely “banishing” its green mermaid logo in favor of a more refined-looking star logo with an “R.”

Last month, I found one of these Starbucks Reserve cafes, located in the heart of NYU–New York, on the southwest corner of Mercer St and Waverly Place. Like the Green Starbucks-branded location a few blocks away on West 4th Street, the place was packed.

Starbucks Reserve at 10 Waverly Place, New York City

It also felt a lot like every other Starbucks location I can remember as it included a lot of what you see at each location: the drip pourers of their Verona Blend, the warm food offerings, and the same point-of-sale experience you’ve probably had at every other Starbucks location (Apple Pay, FTW!).

But unlike the Green Starbucks, this Starbucks Reserve location featured brewing equipment not seen at any shopping-mall location: a siphon pot, Hario pourover cone, a Chemex, and the infamous Clover cup-at-a-time machine.

IMG 6691

Each method was available for the featured coffees, but the price varied according to the process. I inquired about a siphon pot but didn’t order it because it cost $10. The Chemex was a little bit less, and the Clover method was $5. Feeling more thrifty than picky, I opted for the $5 Clover-made cup.

The coffee came in a cup bearing the star-and-R logo and feeling heftier than other paper, coffee cups. The heftiness, I realized, was from two layers of paper, with a layer of air in between, that was designed to act as a heat shield, replacing the need for Java Jackets.

IMG 6370

The coffee, however, tasted exactly as I remember Starbucks coffee tasting like. The roast overpowers any flavor the coffee might have had. The cup-at-a-time brewing method only made that unpleasant flavor all the more noticeable. Think of the taste less as Starbucks Reserve than Starbucks Plus. It reminds me of what Budweiser did with Budweiser Select: all the “flavor” of a Bud, just more intense.

If you drink Starbucks, you’ll feel right at home. The difference in the Reserve stores is that they use a lot innovative brewing methods made popular by indies over the last decade. But Reserve tastes like plain Starbucks, except you’re paying $5 for a Clover brew or $10 from the siphon pot.

Starbucks Reserve
With the crazy markup for the artisanal brewing methods, you’re better off visiting an indie.

Competitive Craft Coffee, Reviewed

Who doesn’t like a good movie or a good cup of coffee?

One of my rituals of long-distance air travel is to rent one of the 99¢ movies of the week from iTunes. Usually, there’s a mainstream, fiction film—sometimes good, often terrible—but there’s always a reliable supply of independent and documentary films.

Before my recent flight to Los Angeles for the holidays and the subsequent weeks, I rented the documentary Barista (Rock Baijnauth, 2015). The competition follows five baristas from the Los Angeles area as they make their way to the 2013 National Barista Championships in Boston.

To an esoteric coffee snob—that’s me!—I was already familiar with barista competitions that take place all over the world. In fact, I was fortunate to meet and learn a couple of things from Erin McCarthy, a World Champion who ran the coffee cuppings at the Counter Culture Coffee Lab in Chelsea some years ago and, in my estimation, singlehandedly brought respectability to the basket filter well after everyone jumped on the cone-style filter bandwagon—both the two-dimensional cones and the 3D cones found in the Chemex and Hario manual drip methods.

The competition is fierce. It’s fascinating to see how contestants are judged not only on the coffee they brew—an espresso, a latte, and a personal signature drink. Each contestant engages in a kind of performance art and is judged on presentation technique and technical skills. Much of the competition reminded me of academic or professional conferences, where each contestant is firmly associated with an institution. In the barista world, each is identified by name, coffee shop, and city, not unlike academics who are judged by their institution and its recognition well before anyone listens to their presentation.

In the documentary, five baristas were representing three cafes: Intelligentsia in Venice, the Portola Coffee Lab in Costa Mesa, and G&B in downtown LA. The heavy representation of Los Angeles area baristas is likely due to the filmmakers working in their own backyard, which not only skews the prestige of the Southland in the coffee world, but it also creates a dilemma when only one of their profiled contestants makes it to the final, six-person round of the national Barista competition.

Despite the gravity of Good coffee permeating throughout the film, the documentary is compelling because its subjects are so relatable. Each is clearly passionate but none articulates a holier-than-thou attitude about their craft. (Perhaps, profiling LA-area baristas instead of those from San Francisco or from Seattle was done for this reason.) The film makes a humorous attempt to outline the three waves of coffee and the significance of competitions to the professional development of each barista. To most people, coffee is as pedestrian—and complimentary—as milk and sugar, and very few people can understand how one kind is distinct from another. However, because the contestants are so passionate and driven about their artistry and chemistry for brewing extraordinary coffee, it provides the necessary ingredients for a wonderful film.

A compelling profile of five Los Angeles-area, third-wave baristas competing in the national Barista championship in Boston.

The above links to Amazon are an affiliate links. If you buy something through those links, I will earn a commission fee.

Kaffeologie is Now a Coffee Roaster and a Delivery Service

Remember Tonx?

Tonx was a coffee-subscription service started by Tony Konecny, where he roasted a coffee each fortnight and shipped to your home within a few days. It was a great way to sample a bunch of different coffees, and each gently roasted, single-origin selection was consistently some of the best coffee I ever drank. Part of my regard for the coffee was because it was sooo easy to open the box, grind and brew the freshly roasted coffee, and sip a cup until I exhausted each twelve-ounce bag. My Tonx would last about nine-to-ten days, which meant I consistently had to scavenge for coffee to make it to the next delivery. In the end, I cancelled my subscription when Tonx was acquired by Blue (“Booooo”) Bottle.

Today at noon, Kaffeologie has entered the coffee delivery service that appears a lot like Tonx (and countless other third-wave, single-origin services). Previously, Kaffeologie designed and manufactured mesh filters for a French Press pot and a permanent, steel filter for Aeropress. Pivotting to this new business, they will roast each Monday in time to ship on Tuesday, which should reach customers by the weekend.

For their first roast, occurring on Monday, December 14, they are offering five single-origin coffees on their own and three blends made from those five coffees.

  1. La Maria Colombia + Deri Kochoha Ethiopia = Dear Diary
  2. Oreti Estate Kenya + Cheri Station Ethiopia = It’s Your Birthday
  3. La Maria Colombia + Oreti Estate Kenya = Diner Booth

You can also buy a “flight” of three coffees consisting of each blend plus the two single-origin coffees that comprise each, for a few bucks more.

The pricing is also similar to Tonx. Tonx charged $19 per 12-ounce bag, including shipping and handling. Kaffeologie is charging between $18 and $21 for what appears to be a similar quantity. (The site doesn’t indicate how much coffee you’ll actually receive, other than explaining that it’s enough for a cup a day over two weeks. Also, a twelve-ounce bag is a standard quantity for a “fussy coffee” like their offerings)

Unfortunately, I’m not in a position to try out Kaffeologie as they roll out. I recently bought a lot of coffee from Sweetleaf, a roaster that is few hundred paces from my bed, and it will take me a while to exhaust my supply.

A Ton of Coffee, Literally

A Ton of Coffee, Literally

I didn’t buy a full ton, as is depicted in the above photo, but I did get a five-pound bag. That’s enough to distribute in small bags as Christmas gifts to friends and colleagues and to fill my own cup each morning over a few weeks.

But once I exhaust all that Rio Vista Guatemala from Sweetleaf, I’ll sample a Kaffeologie flight and report my experience.

The above links to Amazon are an affiliate links. If you buy something through those links, I will earn a commission fee.

Like “Good” Government, “Good” Coffee, Categorized

As a semi-regular reader of The Awl, I am ashamed to have missed Matt Buchanan’s taxonomy of New York City’s “Good” Coffee shops from this past July. I didn’t find it until yesterday, after reading Buchanan’s more recent piece on how Good Coffee shops are “rediscovering” the gallon-at-a-time, drip coffee makers that you ordinarily find at bodegas, diners and McDonald’s. No wonder everyone hates us fussy coffee drinkers.

A Ton of Coffee, Literally

A Ton of Coffee, Literally

In his list of “Good” coffee shops, which he apparently updated in time for publishing the “by the gallon” article, Buchanan quips that as recently as seven years ago, there were “no coffee shops” in New York City until some refugees from the west coast arrived.

Having relocated to New York from California in 2001 likely explains why I was soooo late to the third-wave, single-origin craze that informs all of my public and private thoughts on coffee. And I can assure you, that getting good coffee in the early 2000s was next to impossible: Oren’s Daily Roast, Jack’s Stir Brew, and the flagship Joe’s Coffee on Waverly all kept us satiated until better beans arrived from California, Oregon, and Washington, by way of Central America and Africa.

The list is spot-on. I share Buchanan’s distrust of specific coffee shops that get lumped in with some actually good coffee places. Or, perhaps I can’t seriously regard trendy and perpetually crowded places, such as La Colombe, Think Coffee, the evil Blue Bottle, and the instantly everywhere chain The Bean. As a form of public validation, it was also nice to see some places near my stomping grounds rank high on his list: Joe’s Pro Shop and Third Rail are both in downtown Manhattan, and BÚÐIN, Sweetleaf, and Propellor are in my beloved Newton Creek neighborhoods.

Everyone who reads Buchanan’s list will undoubtedly note a glaring ommission, and, in that vein, I submit Rex on Tenth Avenue and 57th St as the only coffee place near Lincoln Center, Columbus Circle, and St. Luke’s–Roosevelt. The only alternatives are the seven Starbucks locations near there: 60th and Broadway, 59th and Columbus Ave, 58th St and 8th Ave, 57th and 8th Ave, 57th and 9th Ave, 57th and 10th Ave, and… who cares?

But a list of like this, of places where someone else brews and pours your coffee, is almost meaningless to a “True” Coffee Drinker. We all brew at home, anyway.

Chilled Coffee Wars

We’re about a week away from solstice, but in New York City, it’s finally hot and muggy enough to stop craving hot coffee in favor of something chilled. I’ve written in the past that I much prefer making cold brew to brewing hot coffee over ice cubes. About a week ago, I noticed that two very prominent third-wave coffee roasters have chosen sides in this debate.

Counter Culture Coffee, out of Durham, North Carolina, favors pouring hot coffee over iced cubes to make their iced coffee. They insist that the immediate cooling process “locks in flavors and aromatics that other iced coffee processes allow to escape.” You can see their method in this video.

I’ve used this method several times, but as I’ve noted in the past, I generally only do this when I am pressed for time.

Portland, Oregon’s Stumptown, on the other hand, is a big proponent of cold brewing and discourages their customers from pouring coffee over ice cubes. In a recent blog post, they advise against brewing drip coffee over ice. They warn that “it will taste watery and bitter, and you’ll lose clarity and sweetness.” Instead, they recommend cold brewing: “making true cold brew takes time – about 16 hours, in fact – but it’s well worth the effort.” Their support of this method is likely due to their offering cold brew in bottles and nitrogen-propelled cans. If you can’t wait, they, of course, offer ready-to-drink bottles and cans.

However, they’re not entirely against the diluting hot coffee over ice. One method they recommend is using an Aeropress.

Brew Guide Aeropress Hero

That makes sense because it allows for longer brewing time, and the pressure used to brew with an Aeropress seems to extract more flavor than pour over alone.

At any rate, the fact that two first-rate, third-wave coffee roasters suggest competing methods for brewing iced coffee seems to confirm something I learned from touring bourbon distilleries over the past eight years.

There are countless ways to enjoy your coffee, and it’s your call on how to enjoy it. Even if you’re adding booze.

The above link to Amazon is an affiliate link. If you buy something that link, I will earn a commission fee.

How Many College Grads Does it Take to Make Five Pourover Coffees at Once? None

I'm guessing this tech entrepreneur dropped out of college, as is their want.

I’m guessing this tech entrepreneur dropped out of college because that’s how they roll.

A few weeks ago, at the Jacob Javitts Center, one of every New Yorker’s least favorite favorite places to go in Manhattan, technology website Engadget staged the 2014 Expand Expo. It’s the poor man’s Tech Crunch Disrupt. The expo included a number of half-baked projects, more suitable for Kickstater, and a few very well-realized products, such as a personal LTE hotspot that is very reasonably priced. And there were a ton of virtual reality games, none of which seemed all that interesting.

One of the better products I saw there was the Pour Steady. It makes five cups of pourover coffee at a time. The brewer goes through all the steps of making a proper pourover, including wetting the filter, allowing the grounds to bloom, and pausing between each pour allowing hot water to thoroughly pass through the grounds.

It’s just another startup innovation that promises to deprecate human labor.

Update: Some of Pour Steady’s creators actually did finish their college degrees. Juan regrets the error.