Equipment

D.I.Y. Slow Drip Cold Brewer

Everyone’s drinking cold brew. A few companies, like Stumptown Coffee, have even started bottling it to sell at coffee shops and grocery stores.  Popularity is on the rise because the cold brew method prevents certain acidic, bitterness-inducing compounds from appearing, creating a smooth and syrupy finish well-suited for iced coffee. That, and the equipment used to achieve that delicious nectar looks totally badass.

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This is the Yama cold water drip tower. It makes delicious cold brew coffee, but more importantly, it looks like a steampunk meth lab (think Heisenberg in goggles and a top hat). It also costs $295 and takes up a lot of counter space. No, we’re not expecting you to use this at home.

A little searching online got us to Cafe Prima’s DIY Cold brew tower using the Aeropress and just a standard water bottle. We decided to give it a test run.

As you can see by the slow, methodical dripping, this D.I.Y. method is essentially an unholy combination of an Aeropress and Chinese water torture. The brew took a total of 1.5 hours for 330 mL of water to pass through and we ended up with 280 mL of brewed coffee. If you’re interested in why we used 185 degree water for pre-infusion, check out this really interesting article about combination hot and cold brewing.

Sometime in the near future, we’re going to attempt to create a more advanced model that more closely resembles the Yama Brewing tower. Expect more glass, controllable valves, and gnarly wood.

An Obsession with Cups

I think my obsession with table wares and kitchen gadgets came from my mother. I remember we never had any matching wares at home because she would couldn’t resist buying up and collecting more and more. Her excuse was “oh it might break later and then we’ll need more anyways” or “we don’t have enough if guests come over” (which never really happened but every once in a blue moon). Hah!

So, I’ve been kind of doing the same thing my whole life, but definitely not on the same scale as her. We have a couple of vintage tea cup and saucer sets as well as coffee mugs and various dish ware by Fire King. I read that in Japan, there is a coffee shop with all sorts of vintage pieces. Not only do they make a cup of coffee exclusively for you, they also make sure they pick the perfect cup to put it in!

So whats the deal with really expensive designer cups? (J: Feel free to read that in Jerry Seinfeld’s voice. I know I did.) I think that professional baristas, as well as home baristas are buying them up because they are a marriage of form and function. They are like pieces of art that you get to enjoy more intimately because well…let’s be honest. You’re basically making out with it.

J: What? You don’t make out with your coffee? Don’t look at me like that. No, I don’t use any tongue. I’m not a weirdo. Coffee is hot. You could burn yourself!

You wouldn’t serve foie gras on a paper plate. It ruins the experience. Shell out a few extra bucks on some decent cups for your coffee. Or don’t. At work, I drink my coffee in a giant Ninja Turtles mug. Why? Two words. Turtle Power.

Here’s a few of the more popular options:

 

Designer Cups

Illy Artist Collection 

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Straight from the illy eShop: “illy Art Collections are a series of limited edition cups designed by contemporary artists that transform the enjoyment of espresso into an inspirational, multi-sensory experience.  More than 70 international artists have contributed, each creating mini masterpieces of beauty to behold.” (Illy eShop) These cups range anywhere from $40 to $225. A work of art in a vessel that is also a work of art!

 

Terra Keramik

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Used in barista competitions worldwide, these cups are considered to be the crème de la crème of coffee cups. Each are carefully handcrafted and individually signed by master potter and sculptor, Felix Volger. The design is spunky, with nice bright eclectic colors, finished off by a showy, platinum handle and rim. I don’t think this is for everyone though. I think it looks a little outdated and too flashy for my taste. However, baristas swear by its perfect size, thickness and mouth feel as well as heat retention all working together to create the best all-around coffee experience. $40-$45 each

 

Budget and Space Conscious

World Market – Stacking Mugs and Espresso Cups

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Comes in different colors and designs, these cups are a great place to start if you have a limited budget as well as limited space. I have a set of the espresso cups and they have held up really well.  The quality is not superb, but they look nice and modern. Overall, you can’t beat the price at $12.99 for a set of 6!

 

Affordable Quality

Sur La Table – Café Collection Espresso Cup and Saucer

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I bought these in the 2 oz. demitasse and 5 oz. cappuccino. They really caught my eye because of the simple, modern design and solid build weight. I love having heavier porcelain wear. These also retain temperature really well and for the price, its a great place to start a coffee wares collection. $5.95 to $14.95 each

 

Williams-Sonoma – Brasserie Porcelain Cups and Saucer, Set of 4

Very similar to the Sur La Table one, but this one has a lower-profile saucer. It comes in a convenient set of 4 and is available at almost any mall, but I do prefer the design of the Sur La Table’s. It also comes in 2 other styles, one with a blue and one with red band, all for $59.95. Not bad.

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Bodum Glass Double Wall

Bodum has a large assortment of double-walled glassware thats just been really popular over the years. I’ve read that they provide amazing heat retention while still being comfortable to the touch on the outer glass wall. I like that since its clear glass, you can see the different layers of coffee, crema, milk, etc. $15-$25 each

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Setting the Standard

Intelligentsia Black Cat Project

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These beauties were created after 3 years of collaboration with NotNeutral, an LA based design firm. 3 years! Not only is the design fabulously modern, it is also meticulously designed to meet the strict needs and standards of barista champions around the world. $12-$20 each

 

notNeutral Lino Collection

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notNeutral’s description:

notNeutral, in collaboration with world-class baristas, brings you the premier vessels for enjoying everything coffee.

Meticulously designed and tested, the MENO cups achieve a seamless marriage of form and function. The contour of the interior provides optimal fluid dynamics for the perfect pour, while the wide mouth accommodates the drinker’s nose to take in the aroma. The base is thick to retain heat, while the rim has an elegant mouth feel. The graceful profile of MENO is comfortable to grip and rests easily in the palms of the hands.

What a beauty! Prices vary.

 

Coffee is an experience. So much goes into making a single cup, whether its espresso or pour over. The grind, the pour, etc. Why would you spend so much time creating something, and then serve it in something that diminishes the quality of the experience? That would be like putting on a production of Romeo and Juliet with the Montagues in dinosaur costumes while the Capulets wear space suits. Wait…that would be awesome. And hilarious. It would be more like going to see your new favorite movie (Captain America: The Winter  Soldier) in a theatre filled with crying children, sticky floors, and the pungent aroma of fresh hobo urine emanating from the seat next to you. Yeah. That. I get chills just thinking of that.

Anyway. Nice things are more enjoyable in nice packages. There are many nice choices out there that can fit any budget!

Aeropress: Inverted Method + Almond Latte

Leave any comments, suggestions and/or questions below!

Coffee filter was pre-rinsed. I didn’t include exact measurements because I think everyone should have fun experimenting and coming up with their own unique recipe for each roast and style of coffee.

Bookman Bicycle Cup Holder

Sick of people questioning how hipster you are? Worry no more! Bookman has created a cup holder for your coffee that clamps on to the handlebars of your bicycle! (Fixed gear, of course. Brakes are for pussies.)

This easy to use cup holder from Bookman, a company based out of Stockholm that specializes in accessories for bicycles and the urban cyclist, is aptly named, the “Cup Holder” (So meta, right?). All you do is squeeze the two rings together, place the clamp somewhere on the handlebars, and thats it. The two ring design not only facilitates the clamping, but it also accommodates for different size cups. If your cup doesn’t fit, simply flip the cup holder over.  It won’t slip, and due to the spring steel construction, durability shouldn’t be an issue. Its assembled without screws or glue, and its ridiculously easy to disassemble if the need arises.  Comes in black, white, green, and red.

Check out Bookman’s video demonstrating the Cup Holder. Complete with a soundtrack that Ryan Gosling would drive to in a silent, brooding manner.

So if that ironic mustache and iTunes account riddled with Arcade Fire songs isn’t raising your hipster street-cred fast enough, Bookman’s new Cup Holder will help you kick it into ludicrous-speed (because warp speed is soooo mainstream)!

Pre-order yours here.

Thoughts on Pour Over and Ceramic Drippers

Pour over coffee.

A slow brewing method that has gained popularity even in the face of society’s “need for speed”. In a world riddled with the coffee equivalent of fast food joints and pod-fed, automaton, one-touch wonders; pour over has built quite a following in third-wave coffee shops everywhere. The precise measurement of coffee, finding the perfect grind, the temperature of the water, the timing, “riding the bloom”; its all so technical and time consuming.

But is it all worth it? Hell yeah it is.

That collection of tedious tasks makes for one damn good cup of coffee. It unlocks fragrances and flavors you never knew existed in those beans. Citrusy undertones, hints of dark chocolate, that buttery finish.

Try getting that out of a plastic pod.

The equipment you use can be a huge factor in releasing all of those wonderful attributes. Today, we’re discussing ceramic drippers. There’s a lot of them out there. Hario, Bonmac, Bee House…hell, even the coffee chain that shall not be named has one! (I’ll give you a hint. It rhymes with Starbucks.) When we first jumped into the world of pour over, we bought The Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee. We would venture to say that this book is to coffee as Arnold’s Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding is to bodybuilding, but this is open to debate.

The Blue Bottle Coffee Company’s dripper of choice is the Bonmac and the Bee House. They pretty much built their business on pour over, so it would seem logical to follow their lead. We purchased two Bee House units and got to work. Other than two very annoying nubs on the underside of the cone (it was a pain in the ass trying to get them to sit flat on our homemade stand), they functioned flawlessly. We also purchased a Hario V60 to take for a test drive and found that it functioned perfectly as well. They had their subtle differences, and that was reflected in the coffee it brewed.

Hario V60

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The design is elegant, clean, practical and well executed. The V60s wide saucer ledge, coupled with a smaller inner lip allows for easy accommodations for various size cups and dripper stands. The handle and body have a good, firm feel to them, making it feel natural to grab and hold, especially while shaking and tapping the vessel.

The breakthrough in the Hario V60 is its precisely angled design, spiral-ribbed side walls and large exit hole. The spiral ribs extend the entire side walls, which allows the filter to free-float on the dripper. This allows air to escape and the grounds to fully expand. The Hario V60 is always showy with its full, round and dramatic mushroom blooms even with older roasts. So if you’re expecting to wow your guests, whip out the V60!

What makes the Hario V60 a must have in any coffee enthusiasts cupboard is that you can be so experimental with it. Got a dark roast and want a slower pour? Grind finer, lower your temperature and the hole is still big enough to accommodate. Then, take notes. How does it taste? Got a lighter roast? Raise your temperature, grind courser or pour faster. The point is, the Hario V60 opens up the doors for years of experimentation and it won’t let you down.

Well, there is one thing that can let many people down. The Hario V60 requires its own special filter paper and its not cheap!

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Bee House

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The Bee House has a gorgeous design, with its elegantly sloping integrated handle. The vessel itself features the classic wedge shape and is very similar to the Bonmac and Bonmac Pro. The ridges extend about 3/4 of way up the side walls and there are two exit holes. It is also the only ceramic dripper on the market that has ingenious viewing holes to prevent overspill if you’re not using a scale, making it very user friendly.

So what makes the Bee House different in terms of brewing? Firstly, the wedge shape allows the coffee bed to sit lower and closer to the drip holes. Andy Sprenger, two-time consecutive winner of the US Brewer’s Cup, explains:

I maintain the coffee bed quite low in the brewer (Bee House). I think this helps with heat retention and more consistent contact with water to grounds (minimizes high and dry grounds). (Source: Spruge.com)

We believe this is precisely why the ridges only extend 3/4 of the side wall. Pour over is like the espresso drink form of coffee because it is made uniquely on the spot. The large Bee House is designed to brew about 12-20g of coffee, which is perfect for an individualize cup of coffee. Andy Sprenger maintains that although he’s brewed countless cups using the V60 and Kalita Wave, he still gets the

…most flavorful, pure and evenly extracted brews out of a Bee House. (Source: Seriouseats.com)

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So, if you want a consistently good cup of coffee, the Bee House is for you. That is if you can overlook some poorly executed design elements. One being that the small, oval shaped saucer coupled with the larger inner lip makes its less versatile, or even dangerous to use with cups in your cupboard. Its been notorious for committing acts of coffee betrayal by spontaneously toppling over, sending a mass of hot, sticky, coffee lava all over my thighs. If you to decide to build a dripper stand as an alternative to stacking them on top of your cups, you may run into another issue.

Those little nubs you see on the far left and far right of the dripper left us frustrated. Even after sanding out a circular area for the dripper to slide into, we ran into the issue of instability due to those little nubs on the outer edges.

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On a better note, it does fit perfectly over the Hario Range Server and uses easily available wedge shaped filters!

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Other Drippers:

Seriouseats.com gives a really good overview of the major types of ceramic drippers: Hario V60, Bonmac, Bonmac Pro, Bee House and the Kalita.

Our Verdict

What we have found is that no design is truly superior to another. Subtle differences in design create subtle differences in the coffee. Differences that may appeal to some and not to others. Different techniques call for different tools and in the end, its about what works best for you on your journey to find YOUR perfect cup of coffee.

Good Luck!

My Equipment: Espresso (and Modifications)

1. De’longhi EC702 15 Bar Pump-Driven Semi-Automatic Espresso Maker

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This was a gift from my mom two Christmas’s ago in 2012. I did a lot of research before I deciding on this machine, but it didn’t take long for me to grow out of it. The temperature is inconsistent, it has a pressurized basket in the portafilter and comes with a really small steam wand. There are other small things I dislike, but these are my main complaints.

However, to pull good shots and steam good milk on a La Marzocco Strada is one thing, but to be able to do that a piece of equipment that costs only about $200 is a whole other thing. This is the machine that I have now, so I will make the most out of it. I’ve read so many people say that its impossible to make a quality espresso shot/drink with an entry-level home espresso machine, but I wonder if anyone has ever really tried to push this machine to see the limits of its capabilities.

I know there are readers who are like “why even bother?” Frankly at this point, I have no choice because I can’t afford a commercial machine. Here are a few tips for the readers out there who have a home espresso machine and would like to pull shots and steam milk that more closely resembles higher quality, traditional machines.

Modifications:

1. Remove the panerello wand. The wand makes messy large foam bubbles that are miles away from the texture of microfoam. Not only does large bubbly foam has a very unpleasant texture and fails to bring out the best in your milk, microfoam is a must when attempting latte art.

2. Purchase a non-pressurized basket upgrade. Seattle Coffee Gear sells them here. Guide2coffee.com has written an awesome article explaining the differences because pressurized and non-pressurized baskets. The article can be found here.

To summarize the article,

  • Pressurized baskets do most the work for the domestic user. It helps to take the variables of espresso making such as grind size, dosing and tamp pressure almost out of the equation. It has a single small exit hole which creates a high pressure environment in the basket. This pressure forces and water to spread more evenly though the basket which results in a more even extraction. The small single hole also prevents water from flowing too quickly just in case the user has a course grind or too light of a tamp. However, the basket takes too much control away from the user. It prevents a rich full-bodied extraction. If the pros don’t use it, why should home coffee enthusiasts use it either?
  • Non-pressurized baskets gives more control to the user but requires more skill and experience and thus more time devotion. The grind, dosing and tamp needs to be just right but when it is, the payoff is worth it.

 

2. Gino Rossi RR45

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I bought this from an eBay auction for $169.50. I wish I had taken pictures of it when I first got it and opened up the machine. It was caked in 1/8th to 1/4th inch of espresso goop! Its been through a lot from the looks of it, but its a workhorse from what I’ve read. I get really a really nice, even grind and at the finest end, the grind is like powder.

 

3. Counter Culture Coffee Beans

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I’ve just started using Counter Culture. My first bag was Kona, which I really liked for pour-over. I will be using Rustico for espresso!

My Equipment – Pourover

I love espresso drinks, particularly the cortado. To me, it has the perfect ratio of milk and espresso. However, I must say that I’m a little biased in that I could take a straight pour-over, or hand pour, over an espresso drink 51% of the time. I guess I just appreciate the foundation, which consist of the the beans itself. A hand pour allows me to taste the beans and the roast in a smooth way that doesn’t pack such a heavy punch like a straight shot. A hand poured coffee allows me to savor my cup of coffee and making it becomes a really soothing, methodical and perhaps even a spiritual ritual.

1. Hario Buono V60 1.2L Gooseneck Kettle – I love the design. The ridges allow me to measure my water and the handle feels really good in my hand, way better than the Bonavita in my opinion. Boils fast, the holes on the lid allow steam to escape which serves as an indicator that my water is ready. I also really appreciate that the lid is a perfect fit for the kettle, not too tight and not loose enough to pop off while pouring.blog 2 6 copyblog 2 4 copy

2. Bee House Large Ceramic Dripper – I have mixed feelings about this product. I think the design is really aesthetically pleasing and I love the elegant handle, but I don’t know if those make up for other practical design flaws. First of all, its really small for a large size. The large takes a #2 filter. A #4 filter will also work because the bottom of the filter is the same size. Its just taller. Secondly and most importantly, the little notch at the bottom (shown in the photo below) is really annoying. Its designed to prevent the dripper from sliding off of a cup, but it really limits the size of cup that can be used with it. When used with a dripper stand, the notch also serves as a problem in that it allows the dripper to rock back and forth. I will be buying a Bonmac Pro next week, and planning on buying the Hario V60. I want to try them all!

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My first pour, using shitty Gevalia Coffee

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The aftermath

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I purchased everything from Amazon.com and got the cheapest prices compare to physical retail stores and free shipping was awesome. I love Amazon.com!