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Archive for the ‘Coffee Makers’ Category

I have a confession to make: I haven’t owned an automatic drip coffee maker, or consumed automatic drip coffee (at home, in both cases), in more than a decade.

Sure, I drink “drip” coffee at our shop.  Technically, our FETCO Extractor is a drip brewer.  Of course, any similarity between that machine and a home drip brewer is coincidence.  Or imagined.  I also occasionally make “drip” coffee at home with a manual pour-over cone, but this method is at best a kissing cousin to auto drip, as it requires good technique and is really a PITA, truth be told.

So in the last decade, there has been no automatic drip brewer worthy of gracing my home countertop.  I usually drink espresso at home.  And when I do make something other than espresso, I have at least a half-dozen better devices at my disposal, ranging from a French press to the Royal balance brewer that Jack Nicholson made famous in the movie The Bucket List.  I never needed, or wanted, an automatic drip brewer.

Until this week.

This week, we started stocking the Technivorm drip brewer.  Anybody who has shopped for a high-end home drip machine lately knows about Technivorm.  Handmade in the Netherlands, it is the only home drip brewer endorsed by credible organizations such as Cook’s Illustrated (who accepts no advertising), and the Specialty Coffee Association of America (full disclosure: there may be one or two other brewers endorsed by SCAA, but none that I would have for a variety of reasons).

Even though we stock something, it doesn’t necessarily mean that I want one for home.  Don’t get me wrong – whatever we stock, I try to make sure it’s best of class, but I just don’t need absolutely everything we sell.  I’m here to facilitate your needs, but they may not match mine.  And so I thought it would be with Technivorm – lots of people told me they wanted to buy one, but I couldn’t imagine owning one myself.

Then they sent me a red one.

Our home coffee bar, starring Red Technivorm. Yeah, I need a bigger home coffee bar.

Truth be told, I ordered the red one with the skid we got in last week.  It was a limited edition, and I bought the only one left in the United States.  Honestly, I expected to sell it for Valentine’s Day.  I didn’t expect to be smitten with it myself.  It’s the same thing as the silver ones, just red.

In the end, I had to have it.  Part of the reason is that red is my favorite color.  Partly, it’s because I know there will probably never be another one like it available in the United States.  But neither of those reasons are sufficient for it to warrant precious real estate on my home coffee bar.  No, the real reason I wanted it is that it makes damn good coffee.  Being red was just icing on the cake.

So now I’ve had some opportunity to experiment with it, and I’m to the point where I can make coffee at home that’s indistinguishable from our FETCO-brewed shop coffee.  (This is not just my subjective opinion – I’ve brought home the instrumentation to physically test it.)  My observation is that Technivorm makes excellent coffee right out of the box, following the manufacturer’s instructions.  For 99% of people, that will be good enough.  I, of course, felt the need to press the envelope, and have developed some techniques to put that coffee just over the top.

Here is my guide to making the world’s best drip coffee at home in 6 easy steps:

1. Buy a Technivorm

If we’re talking auto drip machines, this is the only one worth having.  Yeah, you can do pour-over a lot less expensively.  But if you value cleanliness and convenience, this is your only real option.  Not to mention clean cup – the usual substitute for drip is a French press, which is a great method, but you will always have sediment in that cup.  The Technivorm cup is clean, which is great for many highly nuanced coffees.  I know Technivorm is a little pricey, but take comfort in the fact that they have a great track record of durability, a great warranty, and you will save a ton by buying less coffee out of the house.

2. Use More Coffee

Technivorm instructions call for “6 scoops” to brew a full pot.  The scoop they supply yields about 10 grams per scoop, so that’s about 60 grams per pot.  No matter what I did (within reason, and some things outside the bounds of reason), I couldn’t get the total dissolved solids over 1.2% with just 60 grams (1.4% is the target).  No, what I’ve found is that you need 85 grams.

3.  Use a Finer Grind

In addition to more coffee, I’ve found that a finer grind than most people’s auto drip grind is required.  On our Bunn grinders (the kind they have in the supermarket), there is a setting for “drip”, which is slightly finer than the “auto drip” setting.  This setting works pretty well.  Obviously, you’ll need to experiment, but the answer may wind up being “finer than you initially think”.

4.  Use a Gold Filter

Paper filters taste bad.  Period.  I have read all kinds of reviews from all kinds of coffee people making recommendations about which paper filter is least bad.  Invest $30 and get yourself a gold filter.  It’s not as convenient at paper, but it makes a better cup.  And it’s better for the planet.

5.  Agitate at the Beginning of the Cycle

Technivorm has a nice spray head.  Best in class, I would have to say.  But it’s no FETCO Extractor with Cascading Spray Dome, and a basket large enough to bathe a small puppy.  So it still helps to stir the grinds in the first 20 seconds of the brew cycle.  I use a chopstick.  Beyond the first 20 seconds, there is no need to continue agitation.

6.  Use the Funnel Shutoff to Increase Extraction at the End of the Cycle

As you see the last of the water leave the tank, shut off the flow control on the brew basket, and let the water hang in the basket for about 30 seconds.  This increases the TDS about 0.05%.  Doesn’t seem like much, but it’s a difference you can taste.

Now, tips #2, 3 and 5 are a bit of a double-edged sword.  The problem is, following my guidelines, you are pushing the limits of the Technivorm basket.  Be careful not to overflow it, cause that’s a mess.  I recommend you work your way up on the amount of coffee, and work your way down on the grind size till you find the edge yourself, for your setup.  Because I did my experimenting in a shop with a concrete floor and a floor drain.  I wouldn’t want to jump into this too fast over my wooden kitchen floors.

Your mileage may vary, of course, but these are some concepts to help you get absolutely everything out of yout Technivorm brewer.

http://www.muddydogcoffee.com

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I’m talking about my parents, of course, and how they make coffee.  No method is too labor intense, no device too archaic.  And, not suprisingly, the apple has not fallen far from the tree.

We visited the folks at the Pennsylvania farmstead in between Christmas and New Year’s, as those of you who

Heres the Muddy Dog herself, down on the farm.  Who said a dog cant smile?  That is literally a sh_t-eating grin - I saw what she was eating right before the photo.

Here's the Muddy Dog herself, down on the farm. Who said a dog can't smile? That is literally a sh_t-eating grin - I saw what she was eating right before the photo.

placed orders that week now fully realize; of course, I needed to bring coffee.  So as I was getting ready to turn out the lights in the roastery Christmas eve, I assembled a couple boxes and gathered up every roasted bean I could find in the shop to give away to my family.  All the Friends & Family trimmings that the walk-in customers have come to love (walk in and buy a couple pounds, and I throw in a bag of trimmings for free!).  All the unsold bulk coffees.  All the retail finished goods.  Everything.  All told, I boxed up about 35 pounds of coffee (mind you, I had been concentrating on depleting the inventory for about a week at that point).  I was determined to start 2009 with absolutely no inventory – a gesture that my accountant loves.

Upon arrival, my brothers descended on the boxes like a pack of ravenous wolves.  Still, my parents were left with a pretty amazing array of coffees.  And we drank a lot of them over the week.  And as interesting as all those coffees were, it’s how they were brewed that was more interesting.  All those who think you need fancy new technology to make great coffee, prepare to be amazed.

Those who know me know that I have a hard time starting the day without a simple, straight espresso.  Mom and Dad have no fancy espresso machine.  Nor do they want one – no space in their kitchen.  So we went old school: moka pot.  For the uninitiated, a moka is how most Italians in Italy make their coffee at home (at least the ones I know).  The device is simple, just three pieces.  A bottom vessel to contain the water, a filter basket shaped like a funnel, and a pot to catch the finished coffee.  The principal of operation is simple, too.  Fill the bottom vessel up to the pressure relief valve.  Fill the basket with finely ground coffee, in this case our Classic Italian Espresso, strike it level, do not tamp.  Assemble the pot.  Place onto a heat source.  As the water heats, the air above it heats.  As the air heats, it expands, pushing on the water.  The only place for the water to go (path of least resistance) is up the funnel, through the coffee, into the pot.  It makes a really good, stiff coffee.  You don’t get the same oil emulsification (crema) that happens at 9 bars of pressure, but it’s still damn good.  And cheap, and simple, and easy to store in the cabinet.

Moka pot, and espresso blend.  That stove was new sometime in the 70s.

Moka pot, and espresso blend. That stove was new sometime in the 70's.

Heres what it looks like apart.  This is a plain, old, aluminum Bialetti brand moka.  We sell a fancy stainless steel version, as well as the aluminum classic.

Here's what it looks like apart. This is a plain, old, aluminum Bialetti brand moka. We sell a fancy stainless steel version, as well as the aluminum classic.

Basket filled, struck level, no tamp, ready to assemble.

Basket filled, struck level, no tamp, ready to assemble.

Elixer of love...

Pure Magic...

Still, a little tedious if you have a crowd, which we did at times.  In that case, we drag out the old vacuum pot.  Yeah, we could have used the percolator, but as I established in a post last summer, that one actually takes some skill to use well.

Vac pots date back to the mid 1800′s, purportedly invented by a guy named Napier, a maritime engineer.  Principle of operation is the same as the moka – bottom vessel for water, top vessel shaped like a funnel, with funnel rod extending to bottom of water vessel.  In between there is a filter of some sort.  Water heats, air heats, air pushes on water, water follows path of least resistance up funnel and mixes with ground coffee in that vessel.  Only difference in this case is that you keep it on the heat as long as you want the coffee to steep.  Then remove it from the heat.  As the bottom vessel cools, it creates a vacuum (this is, basically, how a canning jar works, too).  The vacuum sucks the brewed coffee through the filter and into the pot.  Done.

Vac pots were hugely popular before WWII.  Restaurants had huge gangs of them.  They were in every household, in numerous brands – Cory, Nicro, Sunbeam, and more.  All types of filter mechanisms.  At one time I had a collection of them, but I try not to pack rat and sold them all except one or two.  Even today, they are available if not popular.  Bodum makes the most mainstream of them, the Santos.  The device in the movie The Bucket List was a vacuum pot (the Royal), a different configuration but same principle.

Here's Mom's Vac Pot. She's clumsy, so stainless is how she rolls. I think this one is a Nicro, but not sure. It uses a Cory glass filter rod, probably not original.

Put the filter rod in, then add the coffee.  A bit of technique - heat the water a little with the pot unassembled, then put them together.  Its more viscerally satisfying to seethe thing work as soome as you assemble it, and you can start timing your agitation, otherwise youre waiting for the water to heat, in which case I get distracted then the next thing you know its been gurgling for who knows how long.

Put the filter rod in, then add the coffee. A bit of technique - heat the water a little with the pot unassembled, then put them together. It's more viscerally satisfying to seethe thing work as soome as you assemble it, and you can start timing your agitation, otherwise you're waiting for the water to heat, in which case I get distracted then the next thing you know it's been gurgling for who knows how long.

Assmebled, water starting to move into upper chamber.  Stir a little as the water rises to get all the coffee wetted.

Assmebled, water starting to move into upper chamber. Stir a little as the water rises to get all the coffee wetted.

Let it steep, on the heat, for about three minutes

Let it steep, on the heat, for about three minutes, then remove from heat and watch the vacuum work almost immediately

Its done when the grinds are sucked dry.  remove the upper vessel and serve.

It's done when the grinds are sucked dry. remove the upper vessel and serve.

My favorite coffee of the week was the Mexico Organic Dry-Process Nayarit.  I’m a sucker for a good natural.

Even if you don’t use these methods every day, it’s fun to experiment with them and inexpensive to buy the equipment – look on eBay to get what you need.  They work great, they give you infinite control, and you’ll feel good about mastering a new technique.

http://www.muddydogcoffee.com

WWJD (What Would Jim Drink today?): I’m working on a couple new blends for a potential new coffee shop customer.  The dark house blend is a variation on the Christmas Blend theme.  I’ll keep you posted.

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Rhymes with CHORE. In fact, shares the same last four letters.

I went to Spago when it was the hottest thing going, when it met my guiding restaurant selection criteria of “there can’t be more that one”. Was that 20 years or so ago? It was spectacular then. I wondered about old Wolf when I saw the proliferation of WP Express in airports around the country. It seemed to me that the celebrity chef was probably selling out by putting his well-known likeness on substandard food offerings. All food venues in RDU airport are served by the same contractor, i.e., the sandwich you buy in WP’s is the same as Starbuck’s, is the same as Hudson News. etc.

Well, Wolf has sunk to a new low. Seems he’s now in the coffee business (click HERE then look at coffee) – yeah, right. At a hotel I stayed in this week, my room was graced by a shitty ten-dollar pod coffee maker,

WP Coffee Maker - You Gotta Be Kidding

WP Coffee Maker - You Gotta Be Kidding

bearing the likeness of none other that the photogenic chef himself. The hermetically sealed pod claimed to contain a “Sumatra Estate Coffee”. The accompanying blurb was priceless, “Wolfgang’s own recipe…” Since when is there a “recipe” for an Estate coffee?? What shameless pandering to underinformed audiences. How does he sleep at night?

I couldn’t bring myself to actually try it – no need. Pathetic.

http://www.muddydogcoffee.com

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Traveling in Boston this week… stayed at a nice hotel near the water… room was equipped with a Melitta All-In-One pod coffee maker.  So I thought, what the heck, may as well give it a try.

So I warmed up the machine and apprehensively opened the hermetically sealed pod.  Smells like coffee.  Kind of.  But what do I know about pods?

Placed the pod in the basket… so far, so good.  Closed it up, pushed the button – squirt!  Looks like a little pre-infusion.  A few seconds later it pulled about 6 ounces in ten seconds.

I brought the cup to my nose… not much aroma to speak of.  Now a taste… verdict is….  YUCK!  This stuff is pure swill.

So it’s settled.  Pods really are just stale coffee.  The Melitta really is a POS home appliance.  Not worth your time or money.

http://www.muddydogcoffee.com

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Last week we visited my parents on the farm in Pennsylvania. It might be more accurate to say that we drove through the wormhole that miraculously transported us back to the 1970′s, before cable TV, satellite, and the internet. Yes, it’s fair to say that my folks live the simple life. Which is kind of nice for a week or two.

And their simplicity extends to their kitchen. Microwave? Yup, the one I bought them in the 80′s, gets used only to thaw giant roasts. Dishwasher? What do you think those things are at the end of your wrists? Coffee maker? Percolator, of course. And not one of those new-fangled, electric percolators from the 70′s, either. This bad boy is a 1940s or 50s aluminum model – nothing to consume, nothing to break.

Naturally I showed up loaded with lots of different coffees for them, so over the course of the week I had the opportunity to taste them made by a prep method that I never use myself. Turns out the percolator is capable of making a nice cup of coffee. It does require some skill, but the old perc pot definitely gets a bad rap these days. Contrary to popular belief, the percolator doesn’t necessarily boil the coffee, though it could if you’re not careful (and boiling is bad because bitter volatiles are extracted at high temperature). The way it works is that the water is heated, which heats the air above it, pushing on the water and forcing it up the tube to the top of the basket. The trick is to keep the heat low, and pay attention to the steep (perc) time.

Interestingly, my parents also have a drip maker (dad prefers the simplicity). In cupping the same coffees prepared by both methods, side by side, I have to admit I prefer the percolator. The drip coffee maker robbed the beans of their nuance – while I could identify each blend, the drip method was a “great equalizer” or sorts. All the coffees tasted disturbingly similar out of the drip machine.

So I encourage all of you to dig out those old percolators and give them a try – you might be pleasantly surprised by the results!

http://www.muddydogcoffee.com

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