Specialty Coffee for $20 or less?

Coffee Power, Activated!Time, counter space and budget may all be concerns, but that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying a delicious cup of coffee. Fresh, locally roasted whole bean coffee is a step up from capsule coffee and miles above instant. If you take the time to find a specialty coffee blend that you like, then by all means take the time to properly store and brew it! You will notice your coffee tastes better, without spending extra money. Here are some tips.

Storage

Coffee is best stored in a cool, dry, dark place. Any freezer bag or airtight canister you already have in the pantry will do. After the bag of coffee is opened, use it within 30 days. Try not to buy more than a 30-day supply, even if it is on sale. ‘Waste not, want not.’ The beans harden and eventually become bitter as they go stale. Darker roasts don’t keep as well as lighter roasts because the oilier beans are quicker to oxidize.

Coffee Grinder

If you do not already have a coffee grinder in your arsenal, it is okay to ask the roaster to open the bag and grind it for you. This saves a large investment. Blade grinders are inexpensive but they are not able to make consistent size coffee grounds. An uneven extraction of the coffee can give it a strange taste. Burr grinders are more expensive, but you can always use someone else’s — the grocery store’s, a friend’s or your roaster’s — until your coffee budget increases. Just make sure to mention how you are brewing the coffee because the size of the grind varies for the following preparations.

Cone Shaped Dripper

This style is also called ‘pour over style’ coffee and brand names such as Melitta, Hario and Kelita have become synonymous. The cone can be made of plastic, ceramic, glass or metal. Hot water is poured gently and evenly over the ground coffee in the cone repeatedly until your preferred coffee to water ratio is attained. This method requires hot water, the dripper, a filter, ground coffee (fine drip) and a cup or carafe. Prices start at $3 plus the other necessary items.

  • Pros: Cheap! Delicious. Portable. Fun to make. Easy clean up. Most models make 1-2 cups.
  • Cons: Some models require a very careful directional method of pouring the hot water over the ground coffee to make sure the extraction is even. It will taste watery if this is not done with care. And it only makes a little bit of coffee at a time.

Immersion Dripper

This style is also called the Clever Dripper although there are other brands of immersion style brewing devices available. Instead of pouring the water over the bed of ground coffee and letting it drip through, this cone shaped dripper is filled, stirred and steeps like a French press. Then a lever is released and gravity flows brewed coffee into a cup or carafe. This method requires hot water, the dripper, a filter, ground coffee (fine drip) and a cup or carafe. Prices start at $18 plus the other necessary items.

  • Pros: Cheap! Delicious. Portable. Fun to make. Easy clean up. Most models make 1-2 cups.
  • Cons: Some, but not all, coffees taste better with this method as the coffee grounds are allowed to stay in contact with the water longer as they brew.

French Press

This is also called a press pot, cafetiere, coffee press or coffee plunger. It has a long and interesting history if coffee history is your jam! Of these budget brew preps, the French press tends to be the most forgiving and easiest to learn. Prices start around $7 and it only requires the addition of ground coffee (coarser than drip) and hot water.

  • Pros: Cheap! Delicious. Portable. Fun to make. Available in larger sizes.
  • Cons: Kind of a pain to clean up afterwards. Some people do not like that the filter allows coffee sediment through.

Cold Brew

This method is gaining popularity in the US and is already big in Japan. The benefit to this method is that it produces a cup of coffee with little to no acidity. As the name implies, it is cold brewed and served cold. This is a great budget option for warm weather climates. All you need is a cold brew filter pitcher, ground coffee (medium drip) and cold water. Pitcher prices vary, from about $18.

  • Pros: Cheap! Delicious. Easy to make. Available in larger sizes.
  • Cons: Requires 12-24 hours so you have to plan ahead! Some people do not like that the filter allows fine coffee sediment through. This method requires you to use a larger proportion of ground coffee than hot brews, but the result is concentrated and can be diluted with additional water.

Stove Top Espresso

Say you are in the mood for something stronger, darker and bolder…You can afford an espresso maker! A stove top espresso maker is where most people start their love affair with homemade espresso coffee. These affordable devices are intimidating at first, but once you get the hang of it, it is a very consistent and easily repeatable process. Prices start around $8 and all you need is ground coffee (espresso fine), water and a stove.

  • Pros: Cheap! Delicious. Homemade espresso!!
  • Cons: Tricky to learn at first. Also the espresso coffee grind size has to be very fine and consistent, not a job for a blade grinder.

Barista Snapshot: Jake at SteamDot Coffee

Jake SchmutzlerWho: Jake Schmutzler, Barista

Where: SteamDot Coffee Company, Anchorage, Alaska

What was the first coffee drink you remember tasting, did you like it?

I remember loving the smell and the sounds of my dad’s morning coffee ritual: stoking the wood-stove, boiling water in the brass kettle, grinding K-Bay beans by hand with his Spong while I stayed in bed and the wood-stove heat and steamy coffee wafted up to my loft. But I hated the taste of the stuff.

What do you drink now at home?

I actually don’t make coffee at home. I live half a mile from my shop and coffee is a great incentive to get out of the house in the morning. During the summer, when I’m not in Anchorage, my French press is hard at work every day.

What do you drink at work, if different?

I open the shop 4 days a week so my first coffee is usually tasting the house espresso blend and our single origin espresso of the day. Mostly I like a cortado or a Chemex of whatever we have fresh. Our Columbia La Virgen is pretty fantastic right now. Sometimes I’ll go for a small Americano with a dash of heavy cream, but just a dash.

If you could teach people one thing about coffee, what would it be?

Every step matters. There isn’t a ‘darkest roast’ or a ‘strongest coffee.’ Good coffees are roasted just enough to bring out their inherent positive flavors. They’re roasted so you don’t need to mask negative flavors with cream and subdue bitterness with sugar. Certainly there is a spectrum of coffee flavors, but within that there is a world of subtleties to explore. Black coffee is not one flavor.

What’s cool about the Anchorage coffee scene?

Haha nothing. Well, us.

Nooo, in Alaska there isn’t much of a coffee culture. Kaladi’s has been the biggest thing going for quite awhile [since 1986] but they really offer a different product and cater to a different crowd than SteamDot. It’s exciting to see people come into our shop for the first time and watch their face as they sip a Chemex brew and they realize why we don’t have brewed coffee waiting out all day. Anchorage is unique because we get to give a lot of folks their first single origin, or their first real cappuccino or macchiato.

As a barista what are your thoughts on coffee skills versus customer service skills?

Anytime you go out to a restaurant or a bar or a coffee shop you’re paying for an experience. Part of that experience is the food, the booze, the coffee, part is the service, part is the place; it’s a mosaic. While each aspect takes more or less energy, the whole picture is ruined if any one piece is missing. Which aspect is the most important is going to depend on each customer and what experience they’re after. But why not be a decent person and try every time to pull a damn fine shot? I love coffee and I love talking about it, being rude just makes people go away; I try hard to be inclusive and informative.

Do you ever judge people by the drink they order?

We’re all here to enjoy our own beverages, some folks are more excited about drinks with coffee in them, while others are stoked to enjoy and explore the spectrums of flavors coffee has to offer on its own. I can’t fault someone for enjoying espresso covered in 16 ounces of scalded milk and stiff foam, white chocolate, raspberry and caramel sauce.

Are the espresso shots your dad pulls better than yours?

On our 3-group Strada? Hell yes mine are better. On his La Pavoni? Nope, his mad 2-stroke mechanic skills got me beat on the manual machine. But I taught him everything he knows about espresso!

SteamDot Coffee roasts coffee and espresso fresh in Anchorage, Alaska and operates two ‘slow’ coffee bars there.

photo by Tehben Dean
photo by Tehben Dean

Tech Tip: How to Clean the Nuova Simonelli MDX Coffee Grinder

Nuova Simonelli MDXCaring for your Nuova Simonelli MDX is an essential element of producing excellent espresso, and it’s easier than you think! The MDX features a burr configuration that adjusts the bottom burr instead of the top during calibration, so cleaning it doesn’t mean you’ll need to completely dial in your grinder again. It also has a super simple method for removing the front doser chamber for cleaning, so you can also keep this area in tip-top condition.

In addition to regularly running a product like Grindz through it, you should completely disassemble, clean and then reassemble the Nuova Simonelli MDX every so often to ensure optimal performance. The frequency of this is dictated a bit by how busy your cafe is — many businesses do this weekly, while others do it monthly. You’ll know which is the best schedule for your coffee shop once you start doing it regularly and can gauge how much coffee is building up in the burr chamber.

Recommended tools include a vacuum of some sort and a firm-bristled brush, like the Grindminder; other than that, a little soap and water for the bean hopper and doser chamber keeps everything squeaky clean. For guidance on this procedure and tips on how to care for the grinder once you’ve taken it apart, watch Brandon’s in depth video.

Tech Tip: How to Clean the Nuova Simonelli MDX Coffee Grinder

Brewin’ with Brandi: B52 Latte Recipe

B52 Latte RecipeIt’s not a bomber nor is it a particularly funky pop group from the 80’s. It is, however, a delicious latte recipe inspired by the cocktail of the same name featuring Irish cream and orange liqueurs.

This sobriety-friendly version, however, infuses two Monin syrups (Irish Cream and Mandarin Orange) with espresso and tops it all off with delicious frothed milk. Sound good? Watch Brandi whip it up for us using the Jura Ena Micro One and Automatic Milk Frother!

B52 Latte Recipe

Ingredients

Directions

Combine syrups and espresso together in a serving glass; stir well to incorporate. Top with steamed or frothed milk to taste. Head down the Atlanta highway.

Crew Review: Nuova Simonelli MDX Grinder

Nuova Simonelli MDXWhen we first met the Nuova Simonelli MDX a few years ago, it seemed to fall into the same class as other similarly sized commercial-grade grinders did: It ground coffee quickly, uniformly and easily, so that you could extract a shot of espresso in under a minute from start to finish. But as we got to know it a bit better, we found that some its unique features made it a particularly learned choice for coffee connoisseurs and crafters alike.

First, unlike other grinders that keep the bottom burr stationary and move the top burr up and down during calibration, the Nuova Simonelli MDX does the opposite. The top burr remains stationary while the bottom adjusts up and down during calibration. This means that when you remove the top burr during cleaning, you don’t lose your grind setting and post-cleaning dial-in is a snap.

Next, the adjustment mechanism on the MDX is pretty tight: A smooth moving knob on top of the grinder versus a sometimes-jerky adjustment collar. It’s super simple to dial in the grind using the knob, leaving very little guesswork around where your grind setting is.

Other than that, though, it’s a fairly standard mid-sized commercial grinder — removable bean hopper, stainless steel flat burrs with a ~1100lb. bean lifetime, front doser chamber to capture ground coffee on the fly. In Brandon’s crew review video, he goes over all the Nuova Simonelli MDX’s features and specs, then demonstrates its grind consistency and performance.

Crew Review: Nuova Simonelli MDX Coffee Grinder

Hot Blog On Bog Action: Coffee Your Way

Laila-GhambariWe are all for having fun brewing coffee and tea however you like it — we love how personal/meaningful/medically necessary it is … It can be all things to all people and we don’t judge (except for my not-so-secret campaign to stop the current #pumpkinspicelatte craze but that’s a whole different story). Here’s some inside scoop on coffee, tea, and having it your way.

Interview: Laila Ghambari, Caffe Ladro Director of Education (via Food GPS)
Our coffee friends at local Seattle roastery Caffe Ladro focus on quality. We talked with Laila about how ‘coffee culture is changing and progressing so rapidly’ and how that effects everyone in the chain from growers to customers. She aims to make high quality coffee that is approachable to consumers — without  coffee elitism.

Tea Cupping Versus Tea Tasting (via T Ching)
Tea cupping is serious business. There are rules. Protocol. Necessary accoutrement. Yikes! But a tea tasting is a social get-together where you can break those rules and still have a lovely cup of tea … your way.

Tea Bags Get a Bad Rap, What’s a Solo Sipper to do? (via Drink Tea)
Be kind to yourself. If you drink tea, make it a good cup of tea. Pick loose leaf black tea, green tea, white tea, Oolong, Pue-erh or herbal blends that float your boat and have the right tools on hand for home, work or travel.

Map of Seattle’s Best Tea Houses (via Eater)
We’ve gone to Cederberg Tea House before, see other places Brenna found around Seattle to tempt your tastebuds. Or re-create the tea house experience at home with these goodies.

If you want a daily dose, we spill the beans about National Coffee Day 9/29, a coffee comic strip, cats that need coffee and other items of caffeinated interest on:

Espresso Machine Priming Primer

Espresso Machine PrimingPrime numbers. Prime rib. Prime rate. Optimus Prime. These are just a few of the primes we know and love, but if you’ve ever spent some quality time with an espresso machine, priming is another prime that you’ll learn to appreciate.

The phrase ‘prime the pump’ is often used to describe things not quite so literal (it’s a particularly popular phrase used in reference to economics) but exists for a reason: By adding something to a system, you can facilitate action. In the case of today’s SCG Tech Tip, it’s adding water to a pump to force any air out of it and start the pump processing water from the reservoir or main line to the machine’s internal boiler and related waterworks.

Espresso machine priming occurs primarily with new machines, which don’t have any water in them, but a machine that has had its boiler drained (for shipping or long term storage) or machines that have sat awhile may also require priming.

To prime the machine, you open either the steam or hot water valve in order to encourage the pump to draw water from the reservoir and fill the boiler system. This is the tender way of doing it, but sometimes an espresso machine is a bit stubborn (read: It somehow got air pockets in its water lines, making it difficult for suction to occur) and you’ll have force the issue — literally. Using a tool like an ear syringe or turkey baster, you force water under pressure into the water intake area while engaging the pump; this gives the machine the extra oomph it needs to prime itself.

To learn all you ever wanted to know about espresso machine priming, we asked Brendan to break it down for us in the priming primer! He talks with us about what priming is, how and why you do it, then gives us a few tips and tricks to help the process go smoothly.

Espresso Machine Priming Primer

Crew Review: OXO Gear

Oxo Measuring Beaker SetWhile we each have a deeply personal love for OXO products, much of their awesome gear just doesn’t make sense for us to sell as purveyors of coffee and tea related equipment. Sure, you could be the hardest working manual grinder in the business by utilizing your OXO chef’s knife to finely chop your specialty coffee, but … that’s kind of ridiculous (sorry).

Consequently, we were thrilled to be bringing on a selection of their products, which are more oriented toward coffee and tea preparations: Two different tea kettles, a tea infuser and (our personal favorite) a measuring beaker set. Watch as Teri shows off these fun and highly functional pieces of kit; isn’t it time you experimented with a little mad science? We thought so.

Crew Review: Oxo Gear

What’s Your Signature Espresso Drink? Episode One: The Bob-uccino

spilled milkThe Crew at Seattle Coffee Gear knows what it feels like to spend hours practicing latte art while family members scratch their heads in confusion at so much spilled milk. Sometimes it feels like a lonely life for the home barista on a mission to master espresso drinks. Who is there to understand your triumphs and tribulations? But you are not alone in your caffeinated quest! In the spirit of coffee camaraderie, we offer insight into how other coffee friends use their coffee gear. If you would like to share the recipe for your signature drink, send us an email!

The Bob-uccino

What do you get when you find a La Pavoni Europiccola 8 and a Rancilio Rocky doserless grinder squirreled away in the kitchenette above a remotely located chainsaw retailer? If you are lucky, and I mean VERY lucky, you will get a ‘BOB-uccino.’ This is the best drink in town and nobody knows it! Here’s the secret recipe revealed:

Bob-uccino

Ingredients

Required Equipment

First, you need an Uncle Bob. These are getting harder to come by. I encountered one in the far reaches of Alaska this summer — a crusty old dude on the exterior with a hidden soft spot for a properly prepared cappuccino.

Directions

Froth the milk to your desired consistency, tap and swirl the frothing pitcher to decrease bubbles if necessary. Set aside. Extract the espresso shots. These are perfectly timed, perfectly executed manual shots. It takes time, patience and the skill of a master mechanic to consider humidity, roast date and moon phase (or other factors he will make up and explain to you in all seriousness).

Presentation

Uncle Bob’s preferred glass is not commonly used in the US; it is the Bormioli Rocco Verdi Oslo Cappuccino glass. They are the right size (7.2333 ounces) and proportion for a cappuccino. ‘This allows approximately .321 inches of lip engagement at the rim for full oral satisfaction,’ explains the master.

Taste

The flavor is very special because the milk foam is light and airy while the dark rum adds more depth and caramelization than vanilla alone. Remember our family motto, ‘You can’t drink all day if you don’t start in the morning,’ so try a Bob-uccino this weekend!

SCG | Bellevue – Retail Store Tour

SCG Bellevue Store MapThere’s nothing like a room full of shiny gadgets and an enviable selection of coffee devices to make us happy little clams. With the opening of our second retail store, we now have two places in the Seattle area within which we can commune with coffee gear! Who doesn’t love that?

While we’ve previously posted a few different ‘making of’ videos that show all the work Gail put into our new location in Bellevue, WA, it’s now time to show off the fruits of her labor. Check out this walkthrough of our store, all gussied up in preparation for our grand opening event.

Live in the Seattle area or are planning to visit? Please swing by our new store and check it out. We’d love to have you!