Category Archives: Coffee & Tea

Une Tasse Savoureuse de Cafe

Look, we know that we spend a lot of time with fancy high-end machines like the La Marzocco GS/3 or the Rocket Espresso R58 Dual Boiler, but we’re not ashamed to fess up that our deepest appreciation for coffee has always come from the more than capable spout of a French press.

It’s lo-fi, fast, easy and you can take it anywhere — just like us! We have had a few people ask for tips on making the best pot of french press coffee and so we decided to record the method to our madness here for posterity, etc.

There is a growing movement toward single-serve press pot coffee in the cafe industry, similarly to what you see with individually potted tea, and there’s definitely an art and science around that as well — how much coffee, what temperature the water, how long it should steep, etc. Like all things, you can probably get as obsessive about this as you’d like, and there’s going to be differences across the board; the process outlined below is what works for us — if you have differences in opinion/experience, we definitely want to hear them!

Water Works

We could spend a few days debating which type of water to use, but the most important element is to choose water that you think tastes great by itself. Definitely filter out any chemicals like chlorine or fluoride that might be in your tap water, but if you’re working with a highly mineralized water supply, we totally recommend sticking with it. That could just be our preferences talking, however, because we dig the flavor minerals add to the end product. Regardless of your water source, set the kettle on before you grind your coffee, as you want the water to sit a bit after boiling to reach the ideal temperature. We think bringing it to a boil and then allowing it to sit for a couple of minutes works well.

The Grind’s the Thing
You’re probably sick of hearing us chastise you about your cheap grinder, so we’ll stop nagging and just tell you this: As with all things coffee, the more uniform the coffee particles are, the better the flavor. French press is no different than espresso in this regard — consistent, uniform particle size is essential, it’s just the particle size that’s different. You’re going for a coarse grind, and if you have a metal mesh filter on your press pot, your grind should be a little bit coarser than if you have a nylon one. Uniform and coarse grounds = no muddy sludge at the bottom of your cup.

The Measure of a (Wo)Man
Now that you’ve got your freshly ground coffee and your water’s on the boil, measure out 2 rounded tablespoons for every 6 oz. of your press pot’s brewing capacity.

Islands in the Stream
There really is no end to the cheesy puns we can spin utilizing bad song titles, but feel free to challenge us. Now, your water’s just below boiling, your coffee is in the pot and it’s time to pour. The key here is a steady stream that thoroughly moistens all of the coffee. Your water level needs to take into account the space required for the filter, so leave room at the top. Stir up the grounds and water to release the “bloom.”

Steeped in Tradition
Now it’s time for a little patience — but not much! — as you allow the coffee to steep. This can take anywhere from 2 minutes for a smaller pot to 4 minutes for one of the larger ones. We dig multi-tasking, so use this time to warm our cups by pouring in some of the excess water we boiled. Let the warm water sit in the cups until you’re just about ready to filter the coffee, then toss it and wipe any lingering droplets out so that’s it’s nice and warm and dry for your perfectly brewed java.

Take the Plunge
Slowly and steadily, depress the plunger — too fast and you could let some grounds escape (resulting in the aforementioned mud) or you could end up spilling some over the side. Once you’ve fully depressed the plunger, serve the coffee into your warmed cups, taking care to keep the lid and plunger stable as your pour.

Sip and enjoy!

Coffee, Live and Direct

If you’ve been reading our blog for awhile, you know that coffee is the 2nd highest traded commodity in the world, which certainly translates into its high impact — both negatively and positively — on the communities in which it is grown. Generally, a farmer sells to either a distributor or a large roaster, who then resells to smaller distributors for direct sale or to retail locations, which then finally sell to you. Each participator in this chain is leveling some profit margin on top of what they paid, so $1.25/pound paid to the coffee farmer ends up as your $12/pound bag of coffee in your home.

The idea of fair trade is often bandied about with regard to several commodity goods, and fair trade establishes a minimum price that, despite market fluctuations, participants will pay for a specific product. Many large scale roasters are taking a different tack: Going directly to the source itself. Perhaps in the past they were working with a distributor who would levy a profit on top of what they paid to the farmers and the costs of importing. The roaster may have been paying $4.00/pound for the beans, but the farmer was only seeing $1.25 of that, so a movement toward direct trade is burgeoning amongst larger roasters such as Intelligentsia in Chicago, Stumptown in Portland or Counter Culture in Durham.

What is direct trade? Well, instead of dealing with all the middle men that add cost onto a pound of coffee, these roasters are developing relationships directly with farms themselves. This means they can contribute to an increased quality of life by paying a higher price that doesn’t affect their overall retail price. It also means they’re able to understand at a more detailed level the quality and origin of the coffee they’re roasting and selling. This gives them the ability to delineate between single origins and to perfect blends based less on generalized bean profiles and more on an understanding of the agricultural product, its environment and how it’s processed.

China Millman wrote this great synopsis of the specialty coffee movement toward direct trade. It urges us to be cognizant of what we’re buying and who we’re buying it from — especially in the context of the current international financial market reset. To skimp and save is on everyone’s minds, but it might just be more about spending wisely than not spending at all.

It’s important to keep in mind that beyond flags, borders and politics, this planet is more interconnected than we sometimes give it credit and something as simple as coffee can make a huge difference in the lives of families on the other side of that planet. To stop and make a choice to do business with someone who is cognizant of that connection and choosing to shift the economic and power balance out of the hands of brokers and into the hands of farmers is a powerful decision that will make every cup of that coffee taste all the better.

Recipe: Coffee & Cardamom White Chocolate Biscotti

This recipe sounds absolutely delicious! The creator states they’re a little on the cardamom-side, so if you dig that, you’re going to love these — and they taste great dipped in coffee. This recipe yields about 50 small cookies.

Ingredients

  • 2 eggs
  • 200 g sugar
  • 1 tbsp cardamom, freshly ground in a mortar and pestle
  • 1 tbsp ground espresso beans
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4-500 ml flour, spelt is fine if you’ve got it or use regular all-purpose
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 100 g white chocolate, coarsely chopped

Directions
Heat the oven to 180C/355F. Mix the eggs, sugar, cardamom, coffee and salt. Add 300 ml of flour, and the baking powder. Add the chocolate. Gradually add more flour if the dough is too sticky to handle – don’t use so much
that it gets crumbly, but it needs to be firm enough to be shaped.

Form ropes, about 2-3 cm, and place on a lined baking sheet.

Bake at 180C/355F for about 20 minutes. Remove the sheet, and when the ropes are cool enough to handle, cut them diagonally into biscotti and place them back in the oven at 100C/210F for about 20-25 minutes to dry out.

Zombie-Proof Film Developing

It’s important for all of us to take a step back, assess our particular activities in life and try to plan around how to handle them in the midst of a zombie attack. You might think we’re joking, but we’re not.

First on our list is to make sure that, should said zombie attack take place, we’ll still be able to develop the film from our trusty 35mm SLR camera. After all, how else will we be able to fondly look back at fighting off zombies and putting our loved ones out of their crazed misery if we don’t have any snapshots that document the experience? Sure, most of you might use digital cameras these days, but we have a special throwback love for SLRs that will probably never die — zombie infestation or not.

So you can imagine our glee upon reading about the chemical reaction qualities of instant coffee and vitamin C and how they can be used to develop film. Sure, we generally leave instant coffee related items off this blog because they’re comparatively gauche, but we have to admit that any aforementioned zombie attacks may separate us from our beloved espresso machine(s) and we might have to rough it a bit. Thankfully, now we have a handy guide to refer to whilst developing our bloodcurdling film.

Maui Coffee — Back on the Map?

We all hear about the fabulously delicious Kona coffee, grown on mostly boutique plantations located on the Big Island of Hawaii, but a renaissance in Maui-grown coffee has begun, with MauiGrown Coffee’s record-setting 2009 harvest.

The plantation in western Maui is cultivating four different types of coffee plants: Typica, Red Catuai, Yellow Caturra and a Maui-specific strain called Mokka. Once the holy land of pineapple and sugar, the commodity trends for these products have suffered quite a bit, making room for the reintroduction of coffee agriculture on Maui. Visitors to the island can arrange for a tour of the plantation, or just taste the different blends that are served up at the company’s store, located in Lahaina.

News from the Front: Gail at The International Home & Housewares Show

We sent Gail out on a little recon this past weekend, to the International Home & Housewares show in Chicago. Here’s what she’s reporting back:

Delonghi: Charity Auction
Delonghi had a few artists design different front panels for a limited edition Artista machine — only 5 of each design will be made. They plan to auction these babies off on eBay, with the proceeds benefiting Oxfam International. We’ll post an update here with photos and details once this goes live.

Hourglass Coffeemaker
We wrote about this machine last week, and Gail had a chance to meet with this group at the show. No samples yet, but it is one of only two products at the show that are made with BPA-free plastic.

Handpresso in Color
One of our favorite gadgets for delicious espresso on the go, the Handpresso team has now added different colors to their available models, plus they’ve developed a travel pack that includes a thermos for hot water, 4 demitasse cups and a carrying case — we’re looking into adding some of these to the store.

On Chicago, and Her Cheap Date Ways
“I did go to a pub called Dublin last night and experienced quite a few characters. It was one of the local hang outs. Does that count?  One guy bought a round for the bar, myself included. He was well lubed up.  I had already had one beer and was quite full from that, so I was a little disappointed I didn’t get to choose my second poison. I hadn’t had much food all day so wandered out for chow.  It was interesting and Chicago is pretty cool.”

The show ends tomorrow, so we’ll post a follow-up later this week with Gail’s final notes on the show and possibly photos of the grand event.

Crew Review: Capresso Coffee TEAM

Any drip coffee lovers in the house? If you’re looking to swap out an older drip coffee brewer and are interested in a high quality grinding-and-brewing combo, Capresso’s Coffee TEAM is an awesome solution. You can program it to freshly grind and brew your drip coffee in the morning, so you’ll be lulled out of sleep by the softly wafting scent of java creeping out of your kitchen. Well, it’ll be either the scent or the sound of the grinder, but we’re all about accentuating the sumptuous here. In this video, Gail shows us the Coffee TEAM and brews up a delicious cup of coffee.

Stumptown Takes on the World

Well, maybe just New York City — but if you ask any of its residents, that is the world.

Portland’s Stumptown Coffee Roasters founder, Duane Sorenson, is expanding their artisan roasting business from it’s Pacific Northwest roots directly into the heart of the city that never sleeps. As coffee lovers, we know that the complexity and diversity of flavor in coffee rivals the oft-lauded wine, but it’s an appreciation that hasn’t transcended coast to coast. Sorenson wants to change that by introducing the Big Apple to freshly roasted coffees and changing their perception of what coffee can be.

They’re one of our favorite roasters in Seattle and so if you’re in the NYC area and interested in expanding your coffee palate, definitely check them out.

Coffee, The Hard Way

It’s 1999, we’re in a crowded London disco sipping on the almost revoltingly medicinal cocktail rage that’s sweeping the British club scene: Red Bull + vodka. Sure, the energizing-yet-woozy effect balances well with the surreal lighting scheme and the pounding drum and bass, but we only needed one head-to-head with that high sugar and caffeine concoction to give it up for good — we had no love for ourselves the morning after.

But we liked the idea — you know, a little bit of a pep in your step balanced by vodka’s ability to smooth out the wrinkles — so when we read about Bendistillery Spirit’s coffee-infused vodka, Cofia, we thought it might be right up our alley. They’ve taken their delicious vodka and blended it with hazelnut-flavored coffee beans to create an award-winning flavored vodka that has a bit o’ caffeine and sugar, but nothing close to the heart-race-inducing levels you’d find in an energy drink. If it’s anywhere near as tasty as their Crater Lake Vodka, we can’t wait to sip it over ice.

International Sipping Tips

If you love coffee as much as we do, you make some time to hunt it out in any city you’re traveling in so you can experience that culture’s unique approach to the delicious brew. Since we’re in Seattle, we have tons of options, but few really excellent cafes with skilled baristas serving up espresso in a talented and thoughtful way — but that culture is slowly changing (we hope!).

So when we ran across this article, which gives recommendations on the best coffee drinking cities in the world, we were quick to bookmark it for future reference. While we wish we had the time and money to make a grand tour of it, when we do end up in Vienna or Buenos Aires, we’ll definitely refer to these tips to make the most of our java experience.