Tagged: coffee

Coffee and Indoor and Outdoor Music

Seasonal creep

It’s when someone tries to hurry along the next season when we’re still in the midst of the current season. Some examples include Back-to-School sales in July, Christmas decorations in October, and Valentine’s Day swag right after New Year’s Day. I’ll even add registering for spring classes in the second week of the fall term.

I’ll admit that the weather this summer has been downright pleasant, temperatures in the low 80s with very low humidity, which hasn’t resembled the sultry summers of late. But yesterday, August 15, it was downright autumnal. Not only was it chilly enough for me to wear a sweatshirt when I saw the Boogaroos at the free outdoor show at the South Street Seaport last night, there were other signs of autumn:

  • There were NFL football games were playing on the big screens at bars across the city,
  • At one of those same bars, I saw a sandwich board easel advertising Oktoberfest beers,
  • On Thursday, I was handed a beer list that included four pumpkin beers,
  • Yesterday afternoon, I swore I saw NYU students beginning to move in to some of the dorms along Washington Square.

I really hate fall, despite the pleasant weather in September and early October. It signals the end of my lighter-than-normal workload, the end of softball season, long bike rides before more difficult to schedule, greenmarkets approach the end of their flavorful harvest, everyone is watching football, and I revert to wearing long pants. But before summer gives way to fall, here’s a few events still going on before it all ends in about two weeks.

Sadly, because the semester is about to start and I have work to do, I’ll probably miss all the outdoor stuff. Dang!

Why It’s Worth Overpaying for Coffee

Coffee Brewing

As much as I love getting a bag of freshly roasted specialty coffee, it is painful when you take a 12 ounce bag of coffee to the counter, hand the cashier a $20 bill, and save for being asked if I need it ground, getting nothing back in change.

Thrillist’s Dan Gentile had Lorenzo Perkins, a coffee instructor at Cuvée and executive council member of the Barista Guild of America, brew and taste ten different “second-wave” brands of coffee. For those who are smart enough to avoid knowing these three “waves” of coffee, here’s a brief primer.

  • First-wave coffees refer to your father’s canned coffee, such as Maxwell House, Folger’s, and Chock Full o’ Nuts. My parents drank Taster’s Choice for most of my childhood and switched to brewing Peet’s in a press pot only about ten years ago.
  • The second wave refers to more specialized brands such as Starbucks, Peet’s, Seattle’s Best, and Lavazza. I’m not sure where a brand like Illy fits in, which is served at theaters, museums, and other institutes of culture, but it comes in a can, already ground fine.
  • The third wave refers to the hand-picked coffee beans that are directly sourced from a single farm with the occasional blend that has been carefully “curated.”

The coffees in each wave also vary in price. Whereas a single sixteen-ounce can of first-wave coffee costs about five dollars at the grocery store, a one-pound of second-wave coffee will cost about a dollar per ounce. As I mentioned, third-wave coffee costs about 50% more, and it’s not unusual to pay about twenty dollars for a twelve-ounce bag.

Are you Down to Brew?

Are you Down to Brew?

Perkins’s tasting and his findings redeemed my silly spending habits: it’s worth overpaying for coffee. He found that Starbuck’s coffee, which I used to consider to be pretty good and will settle for while on the road, smells “gnarly” and tastes “smoky, but not ashy… actually kind of endearing,” and upon having the initial smoky flavor subside, it tastes “very bitter and astringent, but not in an unpleasant way.” For the longest time, I used to be a Peetnik, a subscriber to Peet’s delivery service. I always liked their coffee, but having become accustomed to fruity, third-wave coffees, I can’t drink it anymore. Perkins found that the coffee did have a nice “dark chocolate” aroma. But it let him down in the flavor department. He said it tasted like a cigar, “not a great cigar, more like a Philly. But there’s some sweetness — bittersweetness, but still sweetness — despite tasting super dark.” He also noted that “the darkness would lend itself well to cream,” reaffirming my belief that most people drink coffee as a delivery vehicle for milk and sugar.

Perkins also sampled a third-wave coffee, from North Carolina’s Counter Culture. Here, he noted an aroma of “green pear and cucumber” that seems more familiar to those of us who have been to coffee tastings, known as “cuppings” in the barista world. And the flavor was more suited to hand-picked beans, noting that it was “really juicy and acidic, with a peachy flavor and lots of sweetness.” Doesn’t that sound better than a cigar from the local bodega?

And if you’re wondering if he liked any of the first-wave coffees, he did appreciate the venerable Chock Full o’ Nuts, although he thought Maxwell House tasted “like death.”

I’ll raise a cup of Stumptown’s Burundi Kayanza to that!

Pour Over Iced Coffee

Although I much prefer cold brew for hot summer days, there are days that I cannot wait fifteen hours to brew coffee. I need coffee right now, and I’ll settle for iced coffee. If you’re unsure about the differences between cold brew and iced coffee, let’s distinguish between the two as follows:

cold brew
coffee brewed with cold or room-temperature water for an extended period of time, between twelve and fifteen hours, and then diluted with ice water.
iced coffee
coffee brewed hot at a higher concentration and then served over ice cubes.

I prefer the sweet and complex flavors you get with cold brew. It’s much easier for me to identify the coffee’s “notes,” such as vanilla, caramel, chocolate, etc. It also lacks the bitterness of hot brewing, but you do you have to wait about half a day to extract those flavors. However, when you’re out of cold brew, and the mercury is hovering around 90°, as it is today, pouring hot coffee over ice cubes will do just fine. Also, there’s been backlash against the cold brew craze, which exploded on the coffee scene about four years ago, and some are returning to pouring hot coffee over ice cubes.

The folks at North Carolina’s Counter Culture coffee produced a video for making iced coffee.

Their recipe, posted on their website, uses 30 g of coffee, 335 ml of hot water, and 165 g of ice. I adapted their recipe to brew two small iced coffees, using a Chemex with the following measurements:

  • 40 g of coffee: Bella Vista (Antigua, Guatemala) by Tonx
  • 450 ml of 195° filtered New York City tap water
  • 220 g of ice

While I was glad that I had chilled coffee without resorting to buying it from the local coffee shop, for at least three dollars a pop, I’m glad there will be cold brew tomorrow.

Kaffeologie S Filter

Over a year ago, shortly after joining the Aeropress coffee brewers cult, I bought a permanent, metal filter for my Aeropress from Kaffeologie. At the time, they were selling a version of their S filter that was stitched on one side and supported by a metal ring on the other. It turns out that was a flawed design because after a few uses and cleanings, the stitching broke and the mesh filter began to peel back. It was disheartening to order this filter, anxiously await its arrival, only to have it break after three days.
Kaffeologie S Filter (old design)

In April 2013, I posted a review on Amazon about the filter, and someone from Kaffeologie who saw the review sent me a replacement. But it wasn’t just another flawed filter. This one had been redesigned with two steel rings to keep the mesh secure. After using it off and on for several months, I can report that this new design is a tremendous improvement because it still works. The rings do in fact offer greater support, and the mesh is still intact.
Kaffeologie S Filter (May 2013 Redesign)

Apparently, the staff at Kaffeologie actively searches for dissatisfied customers. (They found me on Flickr last night.) They also took the time to send me their redesigned filter, free of charge. Color me impressed.

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Tonx Acquired by Blue Bottle Coffee

Earlier today, the coffee-by-mail outfit that supplies half of my coffee beans announced that it is merging with Oakland, California–based Blue Bottle Coffee. Tony Konecny, Tonx’s co-founder and namesake, posted the announcement on the company’s blog.

As Tonx has grown we’ve added friends to the team, assembling top talents in green coffee sourcing, coffee roasting, software development, design, marketing, and customer service. One thing we lacked though was a dedicated production facility that would allow us to continue growing and improving. Getting there meant either raising a serious wad of venture capital (no picnic!) or finding a partner in the industry that shared our values and ambitions.

With Blue Bottle, we have found a more established company that still has an innovative startup culture, continues to evolve, and is dedicated to improving people’s experience of coffee on an ambitious scale. And they have resources we could only dream of.

Blue Bottle coffee has had a presence here in New York City for a few years, primarily through a coffee shop and roasting facility in Williamsburg.[1] Although I appreciate the dedication to their craft, they lack the quirkiness and personal touch of Tonx. They strike me as just another Bay Area–business that takes itself too seriously.

Waiting in Line @ Blue Bottle Coffee

With Tonx, I got both great coffee and a measured sense of excitement when our beans arrived. Whenever we received our biweekly box of Tonx, a ritual ensues at our place:

  1. We play a guessing game: “Africa or Latin America?”
  2. We read the card that describes the coffee.
  3. We read the charming note that the staff writes about our silly coffee obsession.
  4. Finally, we brew two batches: one of the newly arrived shipment and one of whatever beans we have left. With these two batches we can appreciate the new beans.

Even if the new subscription program remains just as good and quirky as Tonx, it won’t be the same with the Blue Bottle label. I liked that mail order was the only way to get Tonx coffee. it felt like something special.

The tasting notes to Tonx biweekly coffee, from Cotecaga in Rwanda, roasted on March 23, 2014.

The tasting notes to Tonx biweekly coffee, from Cotecaga in Rwanda, roasted on March 23, 2014.

With Tonx going under the Blue Bottle name, I may as well get coffee from any other “third-wave” coffee roaster, such as Ritual, Heart, Stumptown, or Counter Culture that all do mail-order. Or, better yet, I’ll just get it from one of the local roasters, such as Coffeed, Sweetleaf, or Cafe Grumpy.

Forgive me if I sound like a guy whose favorite band just signed to a major record label because nobody likes that guy. As a fan of their company, I’m happy for the folks at Tonx to see their success. They have come a long way in three years, and now apparently, their success has led to this acquisition. As a consumer, mergers and acquisitions are almost universally bad for us, with a diminished product, higher prices, or both. I hope that this one will be different, but I don’t see how it can be.

Also, it looks like Blue Bottle bought out Handsome Coffee, another Los Angeles–based roaster. I blame this on the Dodgers losing two out of three to the Giants this past weekend.

  1. They also had a short-lived shop in the Rockaways and continue to operate one in Chelsea.  ↩

Aeropress Competition in Peru, Sponsored by USAID

The folks behind the World Aeropress Championships were actively posting on their website about several different competitions. One of those competitions is in Peru.

Looking at their promotional graphic, I noticed that one of the sponsors listed was USAID: the United States Agency for International Development, a Cold War–era program, started by the Kennedy Administration, to promote economic development. This agency is a part of my never-ending research, but I only studied it in its early years. I’ve haven’t kept track of their activities after 1970.

The agency remains active and, among many other programs, has been promoting coffee industries throughout the world, particularly in Latin America. They’ve also kept the same model of partnering with American corporations to create markets for coffee producers in Latin America.

And here they are sponsoring a regional competition for coffee brewers in Peru.

K-Cup Coffee Cartel

There are many reasons to hate those K-Cup coffee machines. First, the machines are expensive. Second, the refills are expensive, and thus, the coffee it makes is also expensive. And for the elevated expense, you get coffee that tastes like crap krap.

One way to make being locked in to the K-Cup system more palatable is to use third-party refills that cost significantly less than those sold by Green Mountain.

But according to Techdirt, Keurig is aggressively combating the spread of cheaper refills.

In a lawsuit filed against Keurig by TreeHouse Foods, they claim Keurig has been busy striking exclusionary agreements with suppliers and distributors to lock competing products out of the market. What’s more, TreeHouse points out that Keurig is now developing a new version of their coffee maker that will incorporate the java-bean equivalent of DRM – so that only Keurig’s own coffee pods can be used in it.

The Keurig CEO has confirmed the new DRM-locked machine. He also called it a “game changer” presumably because instead of “giving away” the coffeemaker and charging for the refills, as you do in the established “razor-and-blades” model, Keurig intends to profit from the coffeemaker and the refills. This is how in bad CEO parlance, the “game” has been changed.

Of course, you can save yourself a ton of money and get better coffee at home with any number of coffee makers, like a Chemex or an Aeropress that don’t have DRM or even require electricity.

That’s truly game changing!

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Coffee Everywhere

One of my favorite coffee places in the whole world is Cafe Dulce in LA’s Little Tokyo district. In true Southern California fashion, this gem is in a mall, specifically the Japanese Village Plaza around 1st Street and Central Avenue. They not only serve the best pour over coffee I’ve ever had, so much so that I ultimately became a Chemex loyalist, but they also bake some of the most creative donuts south of the Pearl District.

Tanabata Festival - Nisei Week 2012

On my recent trip over the holidays, I noticed Cafe Dulce was selling a five-pack of single-serve, portable pour-over packs. These are made by an Arcadia, California–outfit called The Humble Cup. Each single-serve pack consists of a sturdy paper filter that sits on a cup. To brew, you pour hot water into the filter, similar to a Hario-style dripper. It includes locally roasted coffee, finely ground for the paper filter.

I brought a pack home and brewed a cup yesterday to stave off jet lag.

The Humble Cup Comes

Brewing a cup is the same as a pour-over, except that you need to constantly keep pouring due to the filter’s small capacity. Because you’re not weighing and grinding coffee beans, the process is considerably quicker. However, because your coffee is already ground, you’re sacrificing freshness. The instructions recommend starting with a small amount of water, presumably to allow the coffee to bloom, and then pouring about another six-to-eight ounces of hot water. I didn’t measure the water like I do with the Chemex, but I eyeballed it to a little less than the volume of my usual cup.

The coffee was a tad stale, undoubtedly due to the coffee being pre-ground, but it held up well. The Humble Cup’s developer, Leon Li, insists he wanted to use good coffee, and it shows. The coffee was a pleasant departure from burnt, dark roast coffee that one endures with Starbucks VIA. The Humble Cup five-pack I bought came with three different single-origin coffees: El Salvador, Colombia, and Ethiopia. I drew the latter in my first brew and found it having a pleasant chocolate flavor to it with hints of citrus. (And here are the official cupping notes.)

Along with a pack of mixed nuts and a hand-sanitizer bottle, I’m adding a Humble Cup to my travel backpack.

Also, let me know when it comes to New York, as it is currently available only in Los Angeles.

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

Coffeed is Coming to Hunters Point

According to the local blog not run by an ideological nut, my favorite coffee place is opening an outpost in the new nearby park.

The owners of a popular Long Island City cafe will be opening a waterfront concession in Hunters Point South Park in January March. The new establishment will be called ‘LIC Landing by Coffeed’ and will be operated by the same eco-friendly team that owns Coffeed at 37-18 Northern Blvd.

Consider me excited.

It’s hard to have a favorite coffee place because I’m a home brewer, and my relationship with coffee places tends to consist of only shopping for beans or sipping the occasional espresso drink. As the owner of our local coffee king, Sweetleaf, said to me: the real coffee nuts (I’m paraphrasing) just brew at home. In other words, I don’t go to coffee shops lest I risk serious hyper caffeination. 

IMG 1045

Coffeed is one of those places I fantasize about going to, but as it is currently on Northern Boulevard, a very heavily trafficked thoroughfare in Queens, going there requires a fairly “exhilarating” bike ride. And there’s not even a bike rack. Consequently, I don’t get there too often. Coffeed not only serves coffee, but they roast it in Queens. And it’s good, certainly worth the $18 a bag they charge this coffee dork. Ask for a brewed cup, and it’s terrific. Want something less bitter? They’ll do a Hario pour-over, like just like any premium coffee shop does. But the unique thing about this place is that they have my two favorite brewing methods: the vacuum press for hot coffee, and the Japanese-style ice brewer for cold brew. I dream of having these contraptions but the thought of spending almost $100 or over $200, respectively, for something that is almost entirely glass makes me nervous.
My Broken Bodum Santos Siphon Coffee Maker
And with good reason. I broke my Bodum stovetop vacuum pot two years ago.

Did I mention they’ll serve sandwiches, smoothies, and beers? Bring on the fancy beans and brews.

(Via LIC Post.)

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Like Opinions, Everyone Has One: My Aeropress Method


Belinda was nice enough to buy me an Aeropress for Christmas. The Aeropress is hardly a new invention, and its affection among coffee nerds is nothing short of fanatical. But to the less obsessed coffee drinker, the Aeropress is a strange contraption. It looks nothing like mainstream coffee brewing machines, such as a Mr. Coffee dripper or a Keurig single-server. It is very inexpensive, costing only about thirty dollars. It requires no electricity: to brew you need only hot water, freshly ground coffee, and a cup. You need a filter, but you get about a year’s supply when you buy your very own Aeropress.

Despite its simplicity, the Aeropress is an extremely divisive coffee machine. Obsessive coffee drinkers love the Aeropress for the same reason that a casual coffee drinker may not like it. It comes with a very poor set of directions. The printed pamphlet (PDF) instructs you that for every scoop of medium-coarse coffee, add 175° Fahrenheit water to the corresponding mark on the side of Aeropress chamber, stir, plunge, and add water to taste. The resulting coffee is pretty good, but it lacks the finesse of a barista’s touch that you get with, for example, a four-minute pourover.

There are countless recipies floating around the Internet for brewing with the Aeropress. Some vary the ratio of coffee to water. Others use water as hot as 210° or as cool as 165°. Others even flip the damn thing and brew "inverted." Almost everyone has a preferred method. For example, there are more Aeropress recipes on a website of professional brewing techniques than any other method. There’s even a World Aeropress Championship, and the winners, most of whom are from Nordic countries, share their winning recipes. You could also lose entire days on YouTube watching total strangers brew coffee with a piece of plastic. Other than using bottled or filtered water and freshly ground coffee from a burr grinder, there’s no such thing as "best practices" with the Aeropress.

After nearly two months of experimenting with various methods for brewing with an Aeropress, I have settled on a method that works for me. It might not work for you, but that’s because you’re not me and with the Aeropress, you really have to develop your own technique.

Me and My Aeropress

Aeropress Prep

  • Aeropress, right-side up.
  • Medium-Fine grind on my trusty Capresso Infinity burr grinder. I use the notch corresponding to the second-finest of the "Medium" settings when using the paper filters. (I prefer to use the second-coarsest of the "Fine" settings when using the Kaffeologie S Filter.
  • 16:1 water to ground coffee: With 320 ml of water, I use 20 grams of coffee grounds.
  • Freshly drawn, filtered water heated to 95° Celsuis (203° F)

I add the grounds to the Aeropress and then some hot water to begin the bloom. Using the rule-of-thumb method of 2 ml of water for each gram of ground coffee, I pour very slowly over the grounds trying to wet them all. I let the bloom "develop" go for thirty seconds.

I then slowly pour the remaining water, again circulating the water around the brewing chamber. I stir with the Aeropress paddle for ten seconds and then quickly insert the plunger and allow a vacuum to keep the brew in the chamber for another ten seconds. I then plunge slowly, for about twenty seconds, just until I hear the "hiss" of the brew extracting.

Total brewing time is about two minutes. With this method, I get a ten-ounce cup of full-bodied brew. There’s a small amount of bitterness at the beginning and other more complex flavors afterward. Delicious!

If you don’t like it, develop you own technique. You’ll be in good company.

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