April Coffee

In March I visited Boston for a meeting of the American Physical Society. The conference hosted roughly 10,000 physicists for 5 days, talking about new and exciting research. When I wasn’t steeping myself in science, I percolated through the city to find great coffee.

Mar19_GHow_front-01.jpegMy favorite this month has got to be the Kenyan from George Howell. On top of having a really impressive shop (more on this in my Boston review), they have been roasting and innovating in the specialty coffee world for a long time. This is their “flagship” coffee, and I can see why. I mostly drank this as a pour-over (15 g coffee to 270 g water, medium-fine grind), but had great experiences making some pretty potent Aeropress shots (30 g coffee to 250 g water, very fine grind and short time until press). The pour-over really brought out the darker berry flavors while the high concentration, short-time Aeropress recipe emphasized its citrus notes. I wish I had more of this coffee…

hdr_00073_0-01Gracenote cafe was one of the better places I stopped in Boston. The coffee I had at their tiny service counter was fruity and delicious, and I planned on taking that taste home when I picked up these beans. I must have grabbed the wrong bag though, because these tasted much darker and spicier than what I had at the shop. What a delightful mistake! Not to say that these are dark roast, but they definitely fall on the less citrus and fruity side. I loved these as a strong pour-over (15 g coffee to 200 g water, medium-fine grind), and they ended up being my preferred “first coffee of the morning” bean. The mouthfeel and mildness made for a satisfying, gulp-able brew.

The third sample this month doesn’t come from Boston, but rather Toronto. I got a little unlucky with the other cafes I tried in Boston. I ended up running out of time to explore and I didn’t want to bring back beans I thought were just “ok”. I hope that’s alright.

hdr_00071_0-01I finally got around to visiting Library Coffee near the Ontario College of Art and Design in downtown Toronto after being urged by friends for some time. I had an excellent long black and decided to bring back some slightly more challenging beans. These are a honey processed Ethiopians, and when done right there is a really nice fruit-tea flavor in there. I found them to be a bit sensitive, so be careful over-extracting. The result is still nice, but going a bit lighter on the extraction really lets the delicate flavors shine through.

As always, I hope you enjoy these coffees as much as I enjoyed picking them. While the window to get this batch is closed, there is still plenty of time to get on the list for May!

March Coffee

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I’ve been travelling a lot in the last month, which means the March coffee club review is coming a bit late. But this also means I’ve managed to source some nice coffee along the way!

In February I visited New Orleans, which from what I’ve read, doesn’t have the biggest specialty coffee scene. This couldn’t be further from the truth! …with a small caveat. It’s likely a visitor is going to stay closer to the tourist areas around the French Quarter, and aside from Spitfire Coffee, I had a hard time finding anything that great. However, if you are interested in exploring the neighborhoods surrounding the small pocket that is the French Quarter, there are plenty of great spots to check out.

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This month I’m bringing back beans from Mojo, HEY! and Stumptown (which I know is not a native NOLA roaster), and by subscriber request, they skew to the more traditional, dark-and-chocolaty flavors.

The Stumptown is a sweet and syrupy Ecuador with a bit of a grape or plum. I’ve really enjoyed this as a pour-over. I found it hard to over-extract, so would recommend 17 g of a-bit-finer-than-usual grind with about 300 g of water. For me, this took a little longer to percolate than usual, but I was happy with the results.

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I brought back some Mexican beans from HEY! and this was the darkest, heaviest of the bunch. It’s toasty and chocolaty, but easy to overdo it (maybe because it’s a natural wash). I had the best luck with a coarse grind in my French press. As long as you don’t leave it too long (start around 3 minutes), 15 g beans to 250 g water seemed good.

 

Feb19_mojofront-01Finally, Mojo had a nice Uganda available. It reminded me a lot of the HEY! beans, but a lot easier to get right, and a lot smoother. While the HEY! beans were heavy on the chocolate (or maybe cacao to be a little more specific), the Mojo had a bit more spice to it. I was happy with my typical pour-over recipe of 15 g coffee (medium-fine grind), with 250 g water.

I hope you enjoy tasting these coffees as much as I enjoyed finding them! While the shipping period for these ones is now closed, there is still some time to sign up for April. This month I went to Boston for a physics conference and just so happened to taste some of the best coffee I have ever had.

If you are interested in the coffee scene around New Orleans, I will be posting a bit of a travel report (including some breweries and veggie restaurants) in the next couple weeks.

PS. You might be wondering what that yellow bag is in the back. Apparently The South traditionally likes to add chicory to their coffee, so I figured I ought to try it. I can say definitively, that I do not like to add chicory to my coffee, so I won’t be sending any of that out. In the spirit of scientific discovery, even a failed experiment can be a learning experience. So before I give up on the chicory, the roaster recommends trying it as a cold-brew. Results to follow…

Travel Mugs

Life is full of choices. As in all things, what may be right for you may not be right for some. With this in mind, we will take the good, take the bad, and then we’ll have…  A guide that breaks down the things to consider when buying a reusable coffee mug.

Note: The following links bring you to the Canadian Amazon, and by purchasing items through the links, I get a small cut. To be clear, I’ve tried to find the best offers available on Amazon, the cut comes out of Jeff Bezos’ pocket, and it helps support the site. However, if you’d like to support the site directly, consider joining our Coffee Club over on Patreon and letting us send you some great coffee.

Summary / Best in class

I hate when pages force you to scroll through a bunch of crap to get to the one summary you are looking for. In the following sections I will elaborate and justify below, but here is your summary!

Lingering Taste

Ceramic // glass + non-rubber lid

Insulation and leak-proof

Double-walled stainless steel or ceramic

All-rounder

Ceramic body, screw-on lid with flip-mouth. Nice.

The Details

Lingering Taste

Unfortunately, your coffee is going to have to be in contact with the cup. My experiences lead me to believe that glass/ceramic are best, stainless steel is ok, plastic is bad, rubberized parts are horrible.

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A ceramic-lined travel mug I would recommend.

This kind of makes sense. Plastic and rubbers, no matter how good, will leach a bit of material into your drink – at least at first (trust me, I am a polymer physicist). This, however, is a small effect compared to plastic and rubber’s ability to hold on to flavors. I have a bunch of travel mugs I would love to use, but no matter how much I wash them, I can’t get the taste of stale coffee out of them. Coffee is composed of many different molecules, including some pretty difficult to remove oils. If you reuse Ziplocks and Tupperware, you are likely familiar with the anguish of washing an oily bag.

While keeping plastic out of the body of the cup is most important, the lid also plays a roll. Keeping plastic out of the lid, though, is very difficult, so you may have to bite the bullet. On the other hand, my lovely sister managed to find a cup with a bamboo lid (with minimal rubber, only for the gaskets). I have been very impressed with this type of lid so far, and would consider it your best bet.

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Glass walls will minimize taste retention. This is your best choice.

As far as body material goes, stainless steel is better than plastic, but only by a bit. The majority of cups will be made of stainless steel and these will range in prices greatly. The flavor retention, however, will not. If you end up going with steel, it is very important that you rinse your cup (or better yet, wash with soap) as soon as you are done with your coffee.

Insulation

While the flavor retention of a cup is absolutely critical, the importance of insulation will depend from person to person.

The best insulation will come from a double-walled cup, and the best material here will be ceramic. That said, I’ve used some extremely impressive stainless-steel cups that keep your coffee hot for hours, and the glass/wood cup I recommended above will stay warm for a good hour or so. That’s more than enough for me, since I finish my drinks fairly quickly.

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Great for insulation, not so great for lingering taste.

As with the above discussion, body is the most important, but the lid will also play a roll. This almost completely rules out glass since the only lids you tend to see with these are friction-fit, gasket varieties. These are fine, but you will lose a lot of heat here. If insulation is critical, you will want to look at screw-on lids. If insulation is the most important thing to you, I would highly recommend the Contigo double-walled stainless steel.

Leak-proof

The best lid is a lid with no holes at all. But if you plan to drink through the lid, you will have to accept the possibility of leaks. Fortunately, most cups have reasonable lids for basic-use situations. Where it gets dicey is when you want to throw the cup in a backpack or purse. The above guideline for insulation also doubles for leaky lids. Friction-fit lids are going to be the least reliable, since they only need to be pulled at to be removed. Your best option will be a screw-on lid with rubber gaskets.

 

A flip lid is a nice compromise between leak-proof and cleanability

The mouth of the lid will also be important here, and again, this is where the Contigo (see above) does a great job. It has a “vacuum sealed” button valve that lets you drink from the top. Unfortunately, these can be difficult to clean. Other options (like the ceramic mug) will have a slide-mouth. This is going to be the worst option for leaking, since you are now introducing more moving, sliding parts that can easily open with an accidental bump. A nice compromise is the snap-on, flip-style opening. It will be both fairly secure and very easy to clean.

 

Conclusion

Like most things, your choice of cup will come down to what you value most. In this guide I’ve tried to direct you to the best, most cost-effective options available. There are a lot of other options that you can choose from, and those might be the correct choice for you. I encourage you to use this guide as, well, a guide, and predominately a tool for identifying what qualities to look for in a cup that suits you best.

New Orleans #2

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It’s been a few days since we arrived in New Orleans. We’ve managed to visit a few really good coffee shops, take down a couple really good cocktails, and only found ourselves on the wrong side of one (1) hangover.

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What really stands out to me is the contrast between their classic, indulgent architecture which has lasted for hundreds of years, and the hanging-on-by-a-thread damage that a lot of buildings have sustained. It sort of feels like I’m witnessing the last days of something great, though I know the people won’t let that happen.

I’ve also noticed, and this makes a lot of sense, that cold brew is very big here. Our first specialty coffee stop was Spitfire Coffee in the French Quarter. This is the big Mardi Gras, tourist-y neighborhood, so I would imagine rent is very high. Spitfire makes due with a small closet which seats four at the most. Not a problem, since you really want to be walking around this area. I don’t recall anything about their beans, but I do remember it being subtley sweet and very chocolately, something hard to accomplish with anything but a true cold-brew process. The barista working had a lot of good suggestions when it came to specialty coffee, and was legitimately excited to tell us about his favorite spots.

For the rest of the afternoon, we slowly made our way across town into the Garden District. We stopped in a few bars and a few parks along the way. Most notably, a writer-themed bar called Backspace and Louis Armstrong park,

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The Garden District, as you may imagine, was lovely. It is on the other side of town from the French Quarter, and as such, much cleaner, and much more relaxed. Now by cleaner, what I mean is that there is less trash strewn about and the houses appear newer and in better condition. That doesn’t mean it lacks things like residential chickens, because it most certainly has those.

Our coffee stops in the Garden District included Cherry Coffee Roasters, and Mojo coffeehouse. Both pulled really nice espresso blends, and offered many single-origin beans to take home. Mojo was pretty busy when we went, but the barista serving us was quite pleasant and… possibly Australian. We spent more time at Cherry, taking a bit of a break from all of the walking. It was much less busy here, and we had the opportunity to chat with the only barista working that afternoon. She suggested we check out the Bywater and 9th Ward neighborhoods for their waterfront parks and generally artsy-ness.

We spent the whole day out, and saw a lot of street performers along the way. Two highlights; a band called Holy Locust (they are on Spotify) and this group of brass players on Frenchmen street.

 

FYI, the first beans being sent out for the March coffee club have been picked, and they are from Mojo. I am really looking forward to sharing these with y’all. If you’d like to try some, join the club over on Patreon.

 

cafes1NOLA

 

 

New Orleans #1

Andrea and I left Hamilton at 5:00 pm on Friday after grabbing some American dollars and road beans from Durand. We decided not to obsess about the time we left since we would be driving through the night no matter what.

I’ve been fantasizing about a long, non-stop drive since discovering Dream Whip, at the recommendation of Dave at King West books. The idea of crossing the country, and having as much time and space as you’d like sounded ideal.

Part of this fantasy included having a nice coffee early in the morning among strange, foreign scenery, far away from anything familiar. I’m currently writing a guide to making coffee outside and figured this would be an ideal time to test some things. I packed my kettle, camp stove, and French press and planned on stopping somewhere off the highway to watch the sun rise.

Our first coffee stop was in Ohio. We were just getting the kettle filled with the water we brought when I realized I had forgot gas for the stove.

Plan B was to ask for hot water at rest stops and gas stations. Part of the article was going to focus on where and how to get the resources you are missing. It turns out getting hot water is exceedingly easy. Provided you are satisfied brewing at a rest stop rather than the edge of a cliff, all you really need is a cup, your brewing device, beans and a hand grinder. Typically you can get hot water for free anywhere coffee is sold.

Only one person charged us for water. We met a strange, drawling charecateur of a man at 3:00 am in Kentucky, off a forgotten exist, far from the highway. His station was next to a boarded up Motel that oddly still had “Open” sign. After paying, he kept us at the register for a while as he relived the story of a murder-suicide he witnessed two nights ago right at this spot.

Getting back to the highway, we were diverted to a winding, single lane dirt road that seemed to go on forever. There were no lights except from the occasional, distant farmhouse. Part way along, we came across a small group of deer making their way to the other side of the road. We would meet nearly a dozen before we made it back to the I-65 South.

We took our one and only simultaneous break at the edge of Kentucky and Tennessee at 6:00 am. We parked in the back of a truck stop, locked the doors and had an hour nap. Andrea’s car is a late-era Grand Marquis, so the back seat was essentially a double-bed. Waking up with the sun that day was one of the most beautiful things I’ve experienced.

We got moving again by 7:00 am, and after a few more coffee stops, we arrived at our AirBnB at 7:00 pm local time, right as one of the many pre-Mardi Gras parades was ending.