Archive for the ‘Tips’ Category

My Technivorm, at home. Yeah, I need a bigger coffee bar.

A customer bought a Technivorm from us yesterday, and asked how *I* use my Technivorm at home.  As I typed my response, I realized that others may be interested in my approach, as it’s a little “unusual”.  Here’s my notes to him:

1. Preheat carafe w hot water
2. I use 75-80 grams pretty finely ground coffee. The scoop with the
machine is 10-11 grams. 7 rounded scoops should be magic.
3. Ok, I use paper filters. There, I said it. My reason is that 80 grams
exceeds mfg recommendation, and gold filter is slower than paper, risking
basket overflow the way I use the basket (keep reading). Plus paper is just
so convenient. The Melitta filters I gave you are the best I’ve found.
4. I use 1 liter (8 cups) cold water, not the full 10 cups. I like my
coffee at about 1.4% total dissolved solids, and this procedure yields
that TDS (I’ve measured it). Since the basket can’t hold much more coffee,
and 10 cups w full basket results in 1.3% TDS, I cut water back to 8 cups.
Most people seem to like their coffee at 1.2 to 1.3% TDS.
5. I start with basket switch closed. Let brewer run till basket is almost
full of water, then open the basket switch to the middle position. Then
cover the basket with its cover to minimize heat loss.
6. I move the basket switch to closed at the end of the brew cycle so it
doesn’t drip on the counter. Probably not necessary if you are patient
enough to allow it to finish completely and or empty the basket right away
– I’m not.
7. Immediately cap the decanter after brewing or decant to thermos.
8 you will not hurt the brewer if you leave the switch on.

Now, full disclosure, I just like my coffee stronger than most, and the
procedure above mimics the result of my $5000 programmable shop brewer.
You could use Technivorm with mfg instructions and get perfectly good
coffee. My procedure just kicks it up a notch. YMMV.


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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.


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#10.  Stop Drinking Coffee as a Water Substitute.

Much as we want to sell coffee, it’s not the right beverage for every occasion.  If you’re thirsty, drink water.  If you’re at a pub in London, hoist a pint.   If you’re having dinner at a fine restaurant, have a glass of wine.  Every beverage has its time and place to be savored.  When you want to relax with a warm beverage, or a little pick-me-up, drink coffee.  Savor it.  Enjoy it.  Look forward to it next time, in between water, wine, beer or other beverages.

#9.  Lose the Condiments

We spend a lot of time watching people prepare their coffee.  Most people (90%+ by our observation) don’t even sip their coffee without adulterating it with cream and sugar.  To drink better coffee, you must be able to taste it.  Commit to drinking your coffee black for a month as a first step on your journey to great coffee.

#8.  Be an active, not a passive taster.

Most of us eat every day.  Some things we like.  Some things we don’t.  When asked why they prefer one thing to another, many people are challenged to describe exactly how something tastes.  Taste, don’t chug, and THINK about what you’re tasting.  Chocolate?  Fruit?  Flowers?  Wood (not so silly – think about chewing on a toothpick)?  Cardboard?  Seriously.  THINK about it while you taste.

#7.  Choose Your Cup.

Different beverages are served in different containers because they make sense.  Wine glasses are shaped to allow your nose to capture the bouquet and have a stem to prevent warming the beverage with your hands.  Shot glasses make sense for whiskey because a larger portion is just too much.  Coffee, on the other hand, is served in all kinds of  containers.  Paper.  Foam.  Stainless steel.  Thermal. Ceramic.  The list goes on…  Find your favored serving container and stick with it.  For regular coffees, it’s hard to beat a pre-warmed ceramic cup about 5 or 6 ounces in size, preferably one that tapers down slightly at the top.  The shape allows you to capture the nose of the coffee.  It is a good size to allow you to savor the beverage through various stages of cooling.  It feels good on the hands.  If you must go disposable, opt for paper – foam imparts off flavors to the beverage.

#6.  Just Say No to Swill.

When you taste obviously bad coffee, stop drinking it.  Period.  Yes, toss it (after cooling) on one of the office plants.  Complain to the server, in the long run you’re doing them a favor.

#5.  Buy a Grinder

The single best investment you can make in equipment is a decent grinder.  Buy yourself a good burr mill and toss the old $20 blade grinder.  You can buy a decent burr mill from us for $100.  I don’t even want to hear that you think that’s expensive.  For the pleasure and longevity it will deliver, it’s a bargain.

#4.  Buy a French Press

The second best investment you can make in equipment is a nice press pot.  Simple, inexpensive, easy to use and infinitely controllable.  Bodum makes the best workaday press on the market; stick with the classic Chambord model.  And never buy a press smaller than 0.5 liter – making coffee is a non-linear process, and it’s hard to get a really good result with a single cup press.  Save the extra coffee if you must and use for iced coffee.

#3.  Find a Great Local Roaster.

When you go to a great restaurant, you place your trust in a professional sommelier, right (even if it’s just to have gather the selection in the cellar)?  A great local roaster will be knowledgeable about  seasons, origins, processing, roasting and more.  They will enable you to experience the world of coffee in ways you never knew possible.  Obviously, we think we fill the bill for central Carolina people.  Regardless, find a good local roaster and develop a relationship – it’s symbiotic, and fun.

#2.  Be Adventurous.

Don’t stay in your same old rut.  Try new origins.  New prep methods.  Taste things you think you’ll hate, and taste them roasted and prepared several different ways.  Never stop exploring.

#1.  Buy the Best Beans.

Think about the difference between a fish taco from a street vendor in Mexico, and Coq Au Vin from a French bistro in Paris.  They are completely different, yet both may be the best example of that particular thing that exists.  Best doesn’t necessarily mean most expensive.  It means beans with a known pedigree, selected with purpose, that are freshly roasted (within 2 weeks).   We hope you’ll consider buying from us.


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We’ve had some inquiries lately, altercations even, over the topic of bulk packaging.  Or more to the point, bulk discounts.  I feel compelled to say a few words on the topic.

The essence of the question we get from retail customers is, “can I buy in bulk and save money?”  I promise that we are not insensitive to your need to manage your family’s budget.  We know times are tough, and we have our own family budget management program, too.  We understand, really we do.  But our answer, quite simply, is that we would rather work with you in other ways to save you money.  Please allow me to explain.

The primary objection we have to selling bulk quantities to retail customers is that you don’t use that much coffee, that fast.  Period.  Coffee is a fresh food.  I know that you might not have been told that before you met me.  But it’s true.  Buying bulk coffee is an awful lot like buying bulk lettuce.  Great on day one.  Not so good a month later.  We have a brand to build and protect.  What we don’t want is you drinking month-old coffee, forgetting how good it was on day one, and making your repurchase decision based on the taste at day 30.  Or serving it to a guest whose only experience with us is the month-old coffee you offer.  No, this does neither of us any good.

To be completely candid, operational efficiency is an issue, too.  It takes quite a lot of volume to achieve efficiencies that are better than bagging one-pounders – we’re pretty good at that, and the bags themselves aren’t that expensive.  Bulk buyers are institutions that use a lot of coffee (think 100+ pounds per month), and order it reliably.  They are anchors of any inventory management plan.  Retail customers buying 5 pounds of beans three times a year, well…. honestly, not a big motivator.  More trouble than it’s worth, actually.  We’re not Sam’s Club.  That’s one of the reasons our customers love us.

So we’ve established that for a number of reasons, we think it’s not a good idea to sell you bulk beans.  That doesn’t mean we can’t get you great, fresh coffee at a price point your budget will love.

The best way to save money is to take advantage of our weekly specials.  Every week, we send out a blast email with all kinds of specials.  You can sign up for our email list in the box at the top right corner of this blog; we do not share your email with anyone else, and you can opt-out at any time with one click.   Sometimes we feature a new arrival.  Sometimes it’s something I fancy.  There’s always the Roastmaster’s Choice, which is me picking from inventory for you (and I have been known to give you exactly what you want, if you ask, and I have it in inventory).  We also run coupon codes at least once or twice a month that you can apply to anything we sell.  Or email me, and I’ll make you a deal, I swear.  But let’s make it something you love, and in a quantity that you can use in a week or two.

Another possibility is that you get together a few like-minded friends and start your own coffee club.  If I knew you were going to buy two five-pounders every month, and split ’em up such that your portion was used up in two weeks, well, now we’re talkin’.  Drop me a note and we can make that happen.  I can even bill you each separately.

We would love to hear your feedback and suggestions on this topic – please leave a comment!


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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.


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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Last night I made some granola bars.  This morning, I wanted to get to the roastery early, so I grabbed some of the granola off the baking sheet, put it in a Pyrex bowl, and off to the shop I went.

I like to share, so I put my granola out to share with customers who stopped in for coffee.  You would think I was feeding them caviar, the way some them raved.  And a few people asked for the recipe, so here it is:

Preface:  There’s not really any right or wrong way to do this.  It’s grains, nuts and seeds, with some fat and sweetener.  Roughly 8:0.6:1, grains:fat:sweet, or thereabouts.  The only “trick” to it is that your “dough” should be sticky enough to make into a doughball without crumbling.  Also, big chunks tend not to bind as well, so chop big things into smaller pieces.  Improvise your own recipe based on this one.

Preheat oven to 350F

2 cups rolled oats
1 cup flax meal (so if you don’t have this, I would pulverize nuts into a powder instead and substitute)
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup finely chopped cashews (I like the salted ones, then I don’t use any more salt.  If you use unsalted nuts you may want to add a teaspoon or so of salt)
1 cup shelled sunflower seeds
1 cup raisins
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup honey
1 stick butter, melted
I also added about a 1/4 cup of apple syrup we got as a gift from somebody who went to Canada.  Completely optional.  But dried apples (chopped) would probably be nice in these bars.

Mix the dry ingredients, then the wet into the dry.  Mix thoroughly.  Grease a large baking pan (I use an 11 x 13 b/c it’s the largest I have – a little bigger would be better).  Spread the dougn evenly and pack it down as hard as possible (use something big and flat to press on it).  Should be 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick.

Bake for 20-30 minutes till brown (it will be really soft while hot – just make sure the edges are browned, and don’t mess with it while it’s hot).  Remove from oven, lower temp to 200F, and allow to cool for 20 minutes or longer.  Cut into desired serving sizes.  Break up portions and place on a flat baking sheet (parchment paper aids cleanup).  Pop back into the 200F oven.  For a moderate crunchiness (“al dente”) bake another three hours.  For really crunchy, bake longer (5 hours).  I time things such that I put the oven on timer and put them in when I go to bed.  So they bake for a few hours, then stay in a cooling oven for a few more.  Consume within a week or two, or freeze (I don’t bake them dry enough to store at room temp indefinitely)

Incidentally, you can make dog treats much the same way – equal parts grain and flour, a few eggs and a cup of melted peanut butter.  Follow the same procedure for baking, but dry the hell out of them so they store at room temperature – 8 to 10 hours in a 200F oven.   Then you can gross out your kids by eating dog treats.


WWJD (What Would Jim Drink today?): I’ve had a craving for Mexico Oaxaca Pluma don Eduardo for several days now.  So I whipped up a pump pot this morning before the customers started arriving.  Hopefully by next week I’ll be trying it on my new Fetco ECO brewer (yay!) – better coffee, and better for the planet (although I felt the teeth nip my butt with the bite it took out of my wallet – it ain’t easy being green!).

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I’m not talking about Pocket Flan, although that is a good idea (you laugh?  One word: Gogurt.)

No, I’m talking about the coffee flan at the new Tasca Brava in Raleigh.

We had some old friends from up north drop in unexpectedly yesterday.  So I called Bistro 607, one of my favorite restaurants, to see if they could squeeze us in – only to find they were no longer there!  Turns out Juan Samper bought the place to open his new Tasca Brava, a true Spanish tapas restaurant.

Those of you who know me well know that it’s nearly impossible for me to be satisfied with a restaurant.  This is usually due to the fact that whatever geography is represented, I’ve probably been to that place and ate like a local.  Kind of like Tony Bourdain, only without the camera crew, the after-dinner smoke and the foul language.  Well, OK, with the foul language.  We all have our issues.

But I do have a weakness for tapas, and I’ll give any of them a try at least once.  The problem with most tapas restaurants is either, a) they suck, b) the plates are too big, or c) both.  Red Room has been my reigning fave for the past few years, ever since the place on 9th St. in Durham closed.  Red Room has problem b).  Oliver’s Twist, Zelly & Ritz… problem a).  So my expectations were low.

But when we walked in, the first thing I saw were coffee bags for sale.  Karma was talking to me, baby.  As he seated us, I asked Juan, the owner, where he got his coffee.  Since I knew he didn’t get it from me, there was only one answer that would be acceptable.  And he gave that answer.  He roasted it himself.  BANG!  Cosmic connection.

The meal blew me (and all of us) away.  Our tapas were perfect.  Four people, nine or ten tapas, a bottle of wine (what did you pick, Myles?  It was fabulous), and still room for dessert.  Could it get any better?

Two words: Coffee Flan.  That’s right.  Rich, creamy and caffeinated.  Wow.

So I did sample Juan’s espresso.  It’s good.  I don’t feel threatened, though.  Too much like illycafe for my tastes.  I invited Juan to the shop for a little roasting, blending and brewing session.  We’ll see if he takes me up on it.

Just say no to chain restaurants.  Visit Tasca at 607 Glenwood.


WWJD (What Would Jim Drink today?)  I was a bit of a coffee fiend today, which believe it or not, is unlike me.  I started the day with a pump pot of Christmas Blend, which I shared with my high-powered work team from Duke’s business school – they are helping me out with some MBA consulting.  Every one of these people is the the smartest one in the room.  If I was a little more self-aware, I would be intimidated.  Then this afternoon I had a craving, swear to God, for acidity.  So I brewed up some Kenya.  That scratched the itch – you gotta love a coffee that is unrepentingly bright.

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Talk about embarassing.  Seems the coffee guy was pretty much out of coffee this morning.  This is not a usual occurrence, as you might imagine.  Typically my counters and dining room table are covered with small bags of origins I’m cupping and blends in progress, at a minimum.  But last weekend we had some dinner guests, so I cleaned up and composted everything (including the bags!), giving me a fresh start to do it all over again in some period of time.

Apparently one week is insufficient to replenish the household supply.  At least this week was insufficient.

So when I realized the espresso grinder was empty this morning, an urgent search ensued.  The only coffee I turned up was a little bag of Organic Breakfast Blend that was hiding behind the espresso machine, dated 22 June 2008.  Whatever.  In it went.

Turns out this blend, even at 6 weeks old, makes a passable espresso.  Not brilliant, not the best I’ve ever had, but better than 90% of coffee shops, for sure.  It definitely had a little of that “old coffee” thing going on in that it was a little difficult to dial in for a long pull and the crema production was off, but it wasn’t formulated for crema production.  It has a little more brightness than my ususal espresso blends.  Not Cafe Fiorre bright, but you know it’s there.  But still rounded and nicely balanced with a little chocolate and a pleasant, lingering aftertatse.

I am sad to report, however, that this blend is not superior for fighting a red wine-induced hangover.  Ugh.


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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!


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One of the questions we hear most frequently is, “What type of coffee do you recommend?”.  That’s always a difficult question to answer, for two reasons.  First, I don’t know your tastes.  It’s like wine for me – you could give me the very finest chardonnay on the planet, the best one ever made, the one to which all others will be compared, and I wouldn’t like it.  Because I don’t like chardonnay.  (But if you tell me your taste in wine, I’ll tell you your taste in coffees!).

The second reason it’s a difficult question, and the reason for this post, is that I’m not sure how you will brew it.  Brewing method should influence your coffee selections.  I’ll speak broadly to the most popular methods and coffees here to make some recommendations.  I’ll cover drip brewing last.

Espresso prep – this covers both traditional espresso machines, but also and perhaps more importantly Superautomatics.  Supers include the “grind & brew” types that can be found in places like Williams Sonoma, under brands like Saeco and Jura.  Espresso, done correctly, is one ounce (or two for a double) of water at 195-205F, extracted through 7 grams (14 grams for double) of finely ground coffee, at 9 bar pressure, in 25-30 seconds.  All variables except grind should be fixed; if your extraction is too fast (most likely), grind finer, too slow, grind more coarsely.  In any case, espresso is a marvelous technique, but many coffees (most, perhaps) don’t lend themselves to this prep method.  The reason is that espresso amplifies flavors – in the case of many specialty coffees, a pleasant acidity by other methods becomes too bright.  In addition, many origins by themselves lack the compexity you come to expect in espresso.  So in selecting beans for espresso prep, look for espresso blends, which are often formulated with big, earthy and less acidic beans like Sumatra and Brazil.  Other earthy, lower acid coffees are nice this way, like Java, some Indian, and various aged coffees.  My favorite single origin espresso is usually Brazil.  Avoid light, bright coffees – Most Africans, especially Yirgacheffe and Kenya are out.  Fruity Centrals like Costa Rica are often not great as single origin espresso.  I understand that people use Supers for the convenience, then add water to the espresso for volume, resulting in an “Americano”.  Frankly, I’ve never had an Americano I liked (and I have tried, believe me), so it’s hard for me to make any recommendations on that – I don’t think it can be done well.

French press, or press pot, is probably my favorite all around prep method – the press is simple, inexpensive and versatile.  It also works in the days following a hurricane or an ice storm, as I vividly recall from Floyd in ’99 and the great ice storm of ’02.  Makes one a very popular neighbor, indeed.  Most coffees are good in a press, some are just great.  About the only coffees I don’t like pressed are espresso blends.  That said, there are a lot of controllable variables in press preparation – proportion of coffee to water, water temp, grind size, steep time – that can change the flavor profile drastically.  Coffees that I avoid in a press are ones that are highly nuanced, with lots of floral qualities – some (but not all!) Panamas and Ethiopians, for example.  Coffees just made for the press pot include traditional Mocha Java blends, and big, bold coffees like Sumatra or most French roasts.

Vacuum brewing is a method not many people use, but more should.  Vacuum brewing used to be common (50 years back), with brands like Cory and Sunbeam dominating the market.  Today, Bodum makes an inexpensive vacuum brewer called the Santos.  Vacuum brewing is a bit of a chore, especially cleanup, but is worthwhile, especially on days where you have a few extra minutes to prepare your coffee (Sundays, in my house).  Vac brewing lends itself to coffees that benefit from a “clean”, sediment-free cup, and ones that have exquisite nuance.  It’s the only way I’ll brew La Esmeralda, for example.  I love Kona in the vac pot.  Another positive aspect is that there is not a coffee I can think of as being unsuitable for the vac pot, just ones that may not be worth the trouble (the big, bold coffees fall in that category for me).

Finally, drip brewing.  The most often used method, it is also (in my opinion) a grand compromise.  I must confess, I have a drip brewer at the shop for testing purposes, but there is no drip brewer in my home.  Sure it’s convenient, but it’s hardly ever really very good, unless you’re using a Technivorm brewer or something in that class of machine.  If you do drip brew, at least ditch the paper filters and go with a gold filter – paper robs coffee of essential oils necessary for flavors.  Also, measure the brew water temp with an instant thermometer to make sure it’s hitting at least 190F (195-200 would be better).  So you get the point that I’m not a huge fan, but nonetheless it is used extensively, so we’ll make some recommendations.  The “middle of the road” coffees work well here – most South and Central Americans, like Colombia, Guatemala, etc.  There’s probably not a bad coffee for drip brew, but don’t expect lots of nuance in the cup.  I probably wouldn’t buy very expensive coffees for my drip brewer.

If you ever have specific questions or want recommendations, please drop me a note or give me a call at the shop.




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