A Tea Lover in a Coffee World: Review of High Tea on an Alaskan Cruise

premium teaThe end of May and the beginning of June are not only the beginning of the camping and backpacking season for many people, but they are also the start of the summer vacation season. While many people in the greater Seattle area travel to warmer climes, another popular vacation destination is Alaska. After all, Alaska is considered part of the Pacific Northwest, albeit a very far northern part of it. In fact, a few of our other crew members have already made the trek, so I decided it was my turn and booked myself on a cruise. Besides, in addition to getting to explore the beautiful scenery, I thought it would be a great chance to check out the coffee and tea scene up north.

Before I left on my trip, a few of my co-workers gave me some advice on things to do while traveling. One of the most important pieces being to make sure to see if my cruise ship offered high tea on of the days during the trip. Once I was onboard, I glanced at the schedule and was excited to find that there indeed was a high tea planned for the next day and made a note to attend.

tea treatsTo my surprise and delight, the tea was far fancier than I expected. Arrayed on at least two-dozen, if not more, platters were hundreds of sweet and savory teatime goodies. These treats included sandwiches made with smoked salmon, cucumber, prosciutto, turkey and roast beef combined with either cream cheese or mayonnaise. In addition, there were a variety of muffins, breads, éclairs, brownies, cookies, cakes, tarts and fruit. There was even a snack that was new to me for teatime – biscuits and gravy! Behind this gigantic spread of food were six beautifully hand-carved watermelons and an ice sculpture of a windmill. In short, the display was stunning.

With so many different snacks available, it was difficult to take them all in, let alone decide which ones to sample. After much deliberation, I ended up picking up a salmon sandwich, cucumber sandwich, éclair, fruit tart and a chocolate covered strawberry. All of which were very tasty. The tea served, although good, wasn’t quite as impressive as the food. The tea was a pretty common brand that you could likely find at your local grocery store. However, I did pick up a little secret for others that also prefer to have premium teas at teatime. You can bring your own tea and brew it at your table. Hot water is readily available at every table, so all you need is your loose leaf tea and an infuser. The beauty of this approach is that you can use whatever travel brewer you prefer, be it a tea filter, a small tea infuser or travel tumbler. Even without this remedy, the high teas were definitely worth revisiting. There was one held at the same time each day of the cruise and some even had different themes, such as a cupcake tea.

Alaska Wild TeasWhile I wasn’t able to go to high tea every day, I did get a chance to check out some local Alaskan teas while I was on land. The brand of teas I stumbled upon is, not surprisingly, called “Alaska Wild Teas.” These teas are not “true teas” but are rather tisanes made out of a blend of wild Alaskan herbs, fruit and berries. Even though they aren’t true teas, they sure are tasty! The teas come in flavors like blackberry, blueberry, cranberry, raspberry, wild rose and strawberry, and can be served hot or cold. I even brought some back home with me to continue to enjoy and share with friends and family.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the trip and it was interesting to sample and learn about teas from another part of the country. Will you be traveling somewhere exotic this summer that will also allow you to partake in local coffee or teas? Let us know about your experience in the comments.

(Not so Scientific) Experiment: Brewing Tea in the Bonavita Immersion Dripper

Immersion DripperEarlier this week we showed you how to make coffee on the Immersion Dripper, and now you can learn how to make tea on it. That’s right, tea! While a lot of our gear is designed with coffee in mind, there are a number of products that can also brew tea perfectly as well. Maybe tea and coffee aren’t so different. Perhaps the two camps can even finally make peace with each other and agree that both beverages can be equally delicious in their own way. Okay, that might be going a little too far, but at least they can share the same gear!

To be honest, it actually hadn’t occurred to us to brew tea this way until one of our viewers asked if it was possible. However, as you have probably learned by now, we love playing crazy chemists and jumped at the chance to try out this experiment. Besides, the fact that the Immersion Dripper has that valve on the bottom you can open and close (or turn on and off) that we like so much, made this product seem like a pretty good choice for steeping tea.

The setup for preparing tea on this dripper is basically the same process for brewing coffee. Place a filter inside the brewer and pre-infuse with hot water to dampen the filter and heat up the cup. In fact, since we are using loose leaf tea for this experiment, we think the filter will work much like a tea bag, but better since we are using full leaves and not tightly constraining them, and keep sediment from getting into our brew. Next, we combined Rishi Masala Chai tea with boiling water in the Immersion Dripper, let the tea steep for the desired time and sampled a cup or two. To see how the tea turned out, watch as Dori and Chris perform this experiment!

 

(Not so Scientific) Experiment: Brewing Tea in the Bonavita Immersion Dripper

Crew Review: Bonavita Immersion Dripper

Bonavita Immersion DripperIf you have just joined the fabulous world of coffee (welcome!) or are just getting into specialty brew methods, we have just the thing for you. We’re talking about the Bonavita Immersion Dripper, which is kind of like a pour over and a French press combined. What makes this dripper unique is that it has an on/off (or open and closed) switch that opens or closes the valve on the bottom so you can immerse the coffee as long as you want.

To use the Immersion Dripper, turn it off by closing the valve on the bottom of the base, and then prep and load the dripper like you would a pour over. A few things of note are that you don’t have to get your grind perfect, which is why we think the dripper is a good choice for coffee beginners or people who just want no muss and no fuss when making their coffee. Likewise, unlike on a French press, if you go toward the finer side with your grind, the filter will prevent a bunch of sediment from leaking into your brew. We also like the fact that you can set your pour over up anywhere, and don’t have to balance it on a cup while you’re brewing and throwing coffee in it, since with the valve closed nothing will leak out.

Once you have everything set up, you can pre-infuse the coffee, let it bloom for about a minute, and pour the rest of the water in the brewer. Just as you don’t have to picky about your grind, you don’t have to have a specific pour for this dripper either. You don’t even need to have a gooseneck kettle or make sure the water stays in the center like on other pour overs, you can just dump the water in however you desire. Next, you let the coffee steep as you would with a French press. When you reach your preferred steep time, you do not plunge as you would on a French press, but slowly open the valve to release your tasty brew into your cup.

Ultimately, we really like this pour over, since you can play around with your steeping time and easily spilt a couple cups all with little to no mess. Watch as Dori and Chris brew up a cup of or two on the Bonavita Immersion Dripper, we weren’t kidding when we said pour overs are kind of their thing.

Crew Review: Bonavita Immersion Dripper

(Not so Scientific) Experiment: Cappuccinatore on the Intelia Focus

Intelia FocusWe love the fact that the Intelia Focus (also known as the black version of the Intelia) is energy efficient and has vibrating finger guard to quickly and painlessly send our beans down the grinder chute. However, we’ve long wondered if it is possible to use a cappunccinatore on this machine to froth your milk as you can on its stainless steel brother and the Intelia Cappuccino. Don’t get us wrong; we do like the panerello that comes with this machine, since it does allow for slightly more controlled milk frothing. Yet, since the Intelia Focus is superautomatic machine, there are some of us that wish the entire process was automated.

For people who aren’t familiar with the cappuccinatore, it is a hose-like attachment that travels from the milk frothing pitcher with your milk to the milk frother inside your machine. The milk is then sucked up from the container, frothed in the machine and finally dispensed in your cup. Before we tested the cappunccinatore on the Intelia Focus, we wanted to see how well it worked on a machine the cappunccinatore is built for, so we started our experiment on the Intelia Cappuccino. The milk this little frother produced was surprisingly hot, around 173 degrees Fahrenheit according to our Fluke temperature probe. After this impressive result we decided to repeat the experiment on the Intelia Focus. Since the Focus has the same internals as the Intelia Cappuccino, we had a good feeling about how this test would turn out. As expected, the cappuccinatore did indeed work on the Focus. We were surprised to find that the temperature of the milk produced was considerably cooler, however, coming in at about 140 degrees Fahrenheit on our thermometer. We’re not sure why there is such a huge difference in temperature, but were excited to that our experiment worked, since having more options is an always an advantage. Check out our video with Gail and Brendan to see how the cappuccinatore works on Intelia Focus for yourself.

(Not so Scientific) Experiment: Cappuccinatore on the Intelia Focus

SCG Portland Store

SCG Portland StoreIn case you haven’t heard, we’re in the midst of another big build. You probably did hear about the one we did last September for Bellevue, and hopefully you’ve even gotten to visit our beautiful store. If not, it’s a great excuse to come visit the greater Seattle area. Of course, we hear attractions like the Space Needle, Pike Place Market, the fantastic scenery and coffee on every corner make good reasons too if anyone needs any further convincing.

Yes, that’s right, we are opening a SCG Portland store in Oregon! This will be our third retail location ever and our first store outside the state of Washington, which is pretty exciting. We’ll leave it up to you to determine if we were kidding last year when we said we were going to take over the world.

The grand opening of our Portland store will be on Saturday, June 28th, so Gail, Jim and their four-legged helper Scooter are busily constructing some of the hardware in our shop. One of the big projects they are currently working on is creating an even bigger event bar than the one we currently have in Bellevue. At 12 feet long, the event bar in Bellevue is already pretty good-sized, but Portland’s is slated to be even bigger – over 16 feet long! In fact, everything in our Portland store is bigger. The store itself is about 1,200 square feet bigger than Bellevue, totaling 3,200 square feet of retail space, making it our biggest store to date.

In addition to the event bar, Gail and Jim are building a variety of fancy display cases for products and preparing the space for the installation of these items. Stay tuned for more information on our grand opening celebration and for updates and videos on how our new Portland store is coming along. In the meantime, check out this video to for a glimpse of Gail’s plans for the store.

SCG Portland Store: Update #1

Crew Review: GSI Outdoors

GSI OutdoorsHappy Monday fellow campers! In case you forgot, this weekend is Memorial Day weekend, and while we’re excited about the extra time off, we even happier that it is the unofficial kick-off to camping and hiking season. After all, just because you’ll be spending more time outside doesn’t mean you’ll have to give up your caffeine habit. In fact, we think that coffee and camping go to together pretty well. There are a slew of products, such those produced by GSI Outdoors, that allow you to take or make your coffee wherever you go!

GSI Outdoors GrinderWith this lightweight and compact gear that is conductive to backpacking and camping, you will be able to brew up nearly any type of beverage you prefer. For instance, there is the Commuter Java Press, which is like insulated thermos with a French Press inside. However, instead using a rod, the press component of this carafe is plunger with a filter built in, so your brewed coffee ends up inside the middle channel. The other unique feature of this press is that, unlike regular French presses, there is a gasket as part of the filtration system, which will help keep your grounds from leaking in around the edges of the screen. GSI Outdoors has also created a cute little percolator like device they call the Stainless Mini Expresso Maker that brews espresso. It works much like the Bialetti. You put the water in the bottom, the grounds in the filter basket, but instead of brewing the espresso into a top portion, the espresso comes out the spigot and into the matching cup. There is also the Collapsible Java Drip, which is a silicone drip coffee maker that compacts down to the size of a Frisbee-like disk. It’s nice our people enjoy Chemex-style brewing since it allows you to bring it on the road and the lid won’t melt so you can use it as a trivet for anything hot. Finally, there is the Java Mill, a hand grinder that collapses down for storage. Surprisingly, this grinder actually has conical ceramic burrs that you can adjust so you can get the grind fine enough for Turkish coffee or coarse enough for French press.

All of these products are made from recycled materials, so things like your old yogurt containers have now been transformed into something you can use for years to come instead of sitting in a landfill somewhere. Thus, while you are out enjoying the environment, you are also helping save it for future generations. With all this great gear don’t be surprised if people in nearby campsites start wandering over for coffee or if people accuse you of glamping (glorified camping). Watch as Gail and Brendan prepare for an SCG camping trip and test all of these delightful products out.

Crew Review: GSI Outdoors

SCAA 2014: Todd Carmichael

SCAAIn our past of couple posts you may have noticed there’s a lot to love about the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) event. First of all, we have the opportunity to drink as much coffee and tea as possible, and try a variety of new roasts and flavors. Second, we get to visit with some of our favorite vendors and chat with them about new gear and ideas, as well as get to see them demo some of their equipment. And, last, but certainly not least, we get to meet new people in the coffee community and get to learn about their products and story.

As we made our way around the Event floor, we were luckily enough to encounter Todd Carmichael, who is a celebrity in the coffee industry. If you haven’t heard of Todd, he is the CEO and Co-Founder of La Colombe Coffee Roasters and has visited a number of developing countries to source coffee responsibly and sustainably. He is the host of the Travel Channel show, “Dangerous Grounds,” which captures many of his quests, sometimes into dangerous or exotic areas, for great coffee on film.

We are able to chat with Todd a bit about some of his latest projects. His most recent is creating a pour-over manual siphon with temperature profiling abilities, which he developed for the U.S. Brewers Cup competition (the contest celebrates manual coffee brewing). While this little gadget is a mouthful to say, Todd calls the device “The Dragon,” and indeed this siphon appears to be a force to be reckoned with. Todd explained that the advantage of the Dragon is that it provides you with the ability to “profile” coffee like you do when you when roasting, except with immersion brewing. Unlike normal pour over brewers where the temperature starts high and then goes low, the Dragon allows you to change the temperature of the brew at the time you desire. This additional control over when the temperature drops allows you to “dig in on different layers” of complex coffees and get whatever flavor you are looking for, whether it be citrusy, sweet, etc. out of the coffee.

The coffee Todd prepared for us was excellent. It was very perfumy, with hints of sweet, citrus notes; almost like candy. Apparently, we weren’t the only ones impressed by the Dragon, as Todd went on to place second in the Brewer’s Cup. To learn more about the Dragon, check out this video of Todd’s demo.

SCAA 2014: Todd Carmichael

SCAA 2014: Coffee Kids

Coffee KidsAs a retailer of espresso machines, coffee makers, grinders, accessories and of course coffee, we clearly rely heavily on others in the coffee community. Since we would not be where we are today without the hard work of numerous people around the globe, we feel it is only to appropriate for us to do what we can to give back to the people who have helped generate our success. Thus, Seattle Coffee Gear is committed to charitable giving in the coffee communities that need it most. To facilitate this process we donate to Coffee Kids, a non-profit organization that supports coffee-farming communities in Latin America to contribute toward a better quality of coffee by investing in projects and education, food security, health care, capacity building and economic diversification. We have chosen to work with Coffee Kids due to the multi-pronged approach mentioned above and we appreciate the resources and expertise they put into reaching community goals.

At the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) event, we were excited to come across the Coffee Kids booth, and chat with their Development Director, Elisa Kelly, who to learn more about their organization. Elisa explained that Coffee Kids was founded in 1988 by Bill Fishbein, and was originally started as a sponsor a child program, which is what inspired the name “Coffee Kids.” However, after a few years, Fishbein realized that the company’s dollars could go further if they were put into the hands of the community. As a result, he changed the company’s model, and Coffee Kids now focuses on funding projects at the base of these coffee families and communities, and putting the terms of development in their hands. These types of projects help ensure that coffee famers get the correct price for their coffee so they can continue producing quality beans. In addition, the programs provide farmers with the ability to start or expand their own small businesses so they can make a living and put food on the table year round. Clearly, Coffee Kids is doing great things to improve the lives and livelihoods of coffee-farming families. Check out of video to hear more of Elisa’s insights about the company.

SCAA 2014: Coffee Kids

SCAA 2014: Hario Beam Heater

HarioAs we mentioned a few weeks ago, to us, Hario means happiness (the true meaning of the word is “king of glass”). And nothing makes us happier than fun new coffee gear to play with! Thus, we made sure to make our way over to the Hario booth while we at the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) expo. As we expected, Hario had a ton of great new products on display. We’re big fans of science and are always interested in creating experiments of our own, so our two favorite products that are new to the United States market are the Hario Beam Heater and the Hario Next Siphon.

Luckily, we had Kris Fulton from Lamil Coffee (a California based coffee house) to explain the beam heater to us. One of the main advantages is that the heat it emits comes from a really high-powered halogen lamp, which comes with a dimmer switch that allows you to have more control over the heat coming off the lamp as well as the direct heat on the coffee. To show us how the beam heater works Kris demoed it with the Next Siphon, enabling us to learn more about the siphon as well. Siphon brewing as become pretty popular in the past couple years, since not only does it produce a great cup, but it is also neat to watch and is sure to impress your guests. So we put our “scientist hats” on and watched Kris brew us on a cup of coffee. Although the process does look like a science experiment, we were happy to find that this brewing method is not as complicated for the barista as it sounds.

Basically, using a siphon brewer is all about pressure. Once the water in the bottom chamber of the siphon gets to the right temperature, you use the rubber seal at bottom of the top chamber to create a vacuum that draws the water from the bottom chamber to the top chamber. When all the water is in the top chamber, you introduce the coffee to the hot water. The next step is to give the coffee a stir to fully incorporate it and then let it sit for a certain amount of time. After the coffee sits for the desired length of time, you turn off (or remove) your heat source and break the seal you created earlier. This causes the vacuum between the two chambers to suck the coffee down into the bottom chamber. As the coffee is being sucked down, the ground coffee is going to be filtered out by the metal filter. Thus, at the bottom of the carafe you will have fresh brewed coffee and at the top of the carafe you will have ground coffee. The resulting coffee, according to Kris “has the full-body richness you get from a full-immersion brewer like a French press combined with the clarity you get from a percolator like V60 or a pour over.” In other words, it is delicious! To learn more about both of these products, and to see them in action, watch as Kris shows them off in this video.

SCAA 2014: Hario Beam Heater

SCAA 2014: Sowden SoftBrew Coffee Maker

Sowden SoftBrew Coffee MakerThe classic clean lines and simple brew method of the Sowden SoftBrew Coffee Maker made us instant fans of this brew method when it first came onto the market a few years ago. Besides, the coffee maker isn’t the only product we love, we also enjoy the timeless look of the Penrose SoftBrew Tea Maker and the mini 12 oz. Coffee Maker on days when we don’t want quite as many cups of coffee. What makes this low-tech approach to coffee so different? The SoftBrew filter is 185 microns in diameter with about 200,000 holes in it, and likely one of the finest filters around. As a result, it separates the grinds from the coffee well so the pour is very clean and there is very little sediment in the pot. This extra-fine filter also means you don’t have to be as precise with your grind, making it a great way for coffee neophytes to learn about and appreciate the mighty bean.

Since brewing coffee (and tea) is such an individualized process, we like to learn how other people brew on their coffee gear. Over the years, people have given us a variety of different tips for brewing on the Sowden, from everything on how to heat the water to how much coffee to use. In addition, we’ve conducted a few fun experiments ourselves, such as cold brews, iced teas and even using different milks. If course, we also like hearing what our vendors recommend, especially since they use the product on a regular basis. As such, while we were at SCAA we stopped by the Sowden booth to visit our vendor for the brand, Michael so he could show us what approach he uses. Besides demonstrating his preferred method for brewing on the Sowden SoftBrew Coffee Maker, Michael filled us in on a little of the brand’s history. Check out the video to learn the secret behind the SoftBrew name and see this little coffee maker in action.

SCAA 2014: Sowden SoftBrew Coffee Maker