Good news: Based on the overwhelmingly positive response to the Fortnight of Coffee, we’ve decided to extend it another six months. Ah, just kidding. We received more than 400 photos in response to our Show Us Your Coffee contest: latte art, morning espresso pulls, campfire percolators, an espresso mint mojito, a crazy lego piece, delicious-looking pancakes, many remarkable pour-over kits and even a few oddballs. So… who won the damn thing?
Know your espresso
By definition, espresso is a relatively simple: 1 oz of coffee beverage made from 7 grams of ground beans, brewed under 9 bar of pressure, at roughly 200 degrees F. Plus or minus. To give you some context, the highest-pressure showerheads top out around 100 psi — not quite enough pound force to make it rain crema. Espresso is both brewing process and beverage invented by the Italians (c. 1884), its name implying speed and singularity of purpose. Our friends at La Colombe Torrefaction were kind enough to meet us one morning during the Fortnight to make the battery of espresso beverages. They were as good as they look. And none of us slept that night.
Everything you need to know, nothing you don't
Espresso is so the new moonshine. But these latter day at-home concoctions don’t run through slipshod copper stills or spend time fermenting in claw foot tubs. Instead, amateurs and connoisseurs across the globe utilize beautiful, complicated and completely legal kitchen countertop machinery to whip up and drip out high-grade buzz that people pay good money to sip.
Novices looking to break into the shot pulling biz, though, will find that buying the proper equipment is an intimidating affair, complicated by ever-escalating price tags and more mechanical nerdery than a bus full of mathletes with erector sets. Rest assured, the right espresso machine for you is out there, and Eliot Ness isn’t going to forcefully confiscate any of these puppies any time soon. Because he’s dead. Follow our guide on buying an espresso machine and you’ll have all the schoolin’ you need to pick an ideal home setup.
A brief, rational treatise on going without
If I were to drink caffeine my torso would explode. My cardiologist, who I can only assume double majored in pre-med and “buzzkill” as an undergrad, told me if I didn’t avoid nicotine use (not an issue), moderate my alcohol intake (I had to look up what that meant) and completely curb caffeine intake, I’d end up re-staging the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique scene in “Kill Bill”, in which I would play both Uma Thurman and David Caradine. What I’m saying is it’d be coronary suicide to caffeinate myself.
Drink coffee, go really fast
Coffee and cycling go together like beer and brats. It may be because the local coffee shop is the ideal spot to hook up with your buddies for a ride, or because you want to get a quick jolt so you can drop them at the county line sprint. But the simplest explanation lies in the data, which strongly suggest that caffeine improves performance for endurance athletes — cyclists, triathletes, runners, you name it.
Enlightened java drinkers disdain the typical automatic coffee machine on the shelves of your local big box retailer for one simple reason: it lacks control. It turns out that getting the best possible results from those beans — yea, those ones, which some jittery seed worshiper pressed into your hand while swiping your Amex with the other — requires a lot of precision. Heating water to the proper range, between 195 to 205°F, is the first step in releasing the flavorful oil from the beans, but the average electric drip machine only hovers around 180°F. Carefully regulating the distribution and timing of hot water over the beans is equally important.
Hitting this narrow target has led demanding drinkers to sacrifice convenience for the exacting rituals offered by various pour-over methods — or to blow junior’s tuition on barrista-made alternatives. But thanks to a new breed of re-engineered automatic machines, that trade off is no longer necessary. Learn all about these best-of-both-world-brewers after the break.
How they drink, what they think
Coffee is the 2nd most valuable traded commodity after oil, employing 25 million farmers and coffee workers in over 50 countries according to some sources. The U.S. market is worth 22 billion annually alone by some estimates, with over 79% of the population stating they’ve had a cup in the last 12 months.
Given the global nature of this precious brew, our Fortnight of Coffee has tried to address every aspect of the subject, ranging from its natural origins and the art & culture behind it to the various gear and methodologies that have evolved to make it. But there’s still one gaping hole left to fill: the variety of roles (both major and minor) it plays in peoples’ lives.
Here, we’ve gathered together a series of brief interviews with a 16 leading men, whose ranks include actors, authors, athletes, chefs, designers, editors, and founders. Chances are, you’re already familiar with some of their life’s work. Read on, and learn about their own personal coffee habits and how it compares with yours.
A Sip of Summer
Some like it hot, but for the cold brew enthusiast, there really is no substitute. Steeped for a minimum of 12 hours, cold brew coffee is known for its naturally sweet flavor due to a a cold-water seeping process that results in lower acidity. Not to be confused with iced coffee (brewed hot, then cooled), cold brew has a cleaner flavor, can taste chocolaty with a velvet texture and even tames the boldest of beans. That said, it’s not boring — just different. Some have a difficult time swallowing the two-week shelf life and the fact that the bean per brew ratio makes it expensive, but the it’s the flavor that wins them over, every time.
And so, your loyal bean scouts are once again here, reporting for duty. After numerous taste tests, what some might consider cruel and unusual job hazards and sleepless nights in and out of caffeine delirium, we bring you the five best cold brews around. Each is ready-to-drink poured over ice, or can be diluted with water, cream and sugar, or your favorite other social lubricant. Undergoing the rigors of journalism calls for self-sacrifice, occasionally. But, for you fine folks, we did it. No sweat.
Despite being from Seattle, land of Starbucks, Seattle’s Best, Tully and more than a handful of artisanal brewers, I didn’t come by my coffee habit honestly. The bitter drink didn’t cross my lips during college, despite the frequent all-night cram sessions wrought of a sporadic (home) work ethic. Coffee would have certainly improved the 12-mile bike commute in the cold Seattle drizzle at 0525, timed to maximize sleep, yet arrive before NROTC drill practice.
Officer Candidate School (OCS) introduced me to new depths of sleep deprivation — short sleep periods combined with intense physical activity turned us into zombies shuffling along. Military formations became an exercise in intense concentration, especially after I fell asleep standing up, only catching myself, and the platoon sergeant’s unfavorable attention, short of smashing my face into the parade deck. It never occurred to me to get a cup of Joe at the mess hall; the Bunn was situated directly in front of the area where the staff sat, a place to be avoided for danger of unwanted haranguing from the collective hyenas bent on finding your smallest flaw.
We Don't See Nothin' Wrong With a Little Bump and Grind
You like the line at your favorite coffee shop? Ok, besides the cute barista, you can do better: start by grinding your own beans, then check back with Gear Patrol for other suggestions for stepping up to the big leagues. The journey from coffee hack to ambrosia connoisseur begins with freshly ground java in your French press, drip, or espresso machine. A quick primer first, and then on to our top 10 picks.
Coffee table, meet coffee book
Left unattended, the ubiquitous coffee table quickly becomes a gatekeeper of everything from last October’s cable bill (you paid that, didn’t you?) to the feet of undisciplined friends and family. We know you run a tighter ship than most and appreciate how a well-placed read can stimulate conversations faster than a triple shot. Here’s a crop of coffee-themed books worthy of displacing Ansel Adams or your decades-long dedication to the Maxim Hot 100.
Great outdoors, great coffee
Something about sitting atop an unexplored peak to watch the sunrise while enjoying your favorite coffee just feels right. Maybe it’s the sub-freezing temperatures and obligatory wind chill, or it’s the all night trek catching up with you. With that in mind, we’ve got the best tried and true methods for brewing your favorite coffee for you next adventure, be it a weekend of car camping or a full blown backcountry expedition.
A Coffee Roaster’s Memoir
I was in the back room bagging up some breakfast blend when I heard shouting from the café. At that same moment, I smelled smoke and knew that my batch of Sumatran had caught on fire. I dashed to the roaster, flicked off the gas burners and closed the vent. I knew the routine. This had happened before. The cloth and rubber belt had broken, the drum stopped rotating and the beans ignited inside, fanned by the air being sucked in through the vents. Now my hope was that the flames didn’t make it into the chimney and light up the chaff that had no doubt built up inside. If that happened, we’d have to evacuate the café and call the fire department.
These are a few of our favorite things
One of my favorite things to do on a Saturday is roll out of bed at 5:30 a.m., grab a camera and my jacket and drive 48 miles from LA to a business park in Irvine. There, on any given Saturday, hundreds of cars worth millions of dollars gather for Cars and Coffee, a special event where two common denominators create a mood of friendship, relaxation and shared passion.
Watch closely now
If you need proof of coffee practiced as an obsession, art form and science, this quick video — a “how-to” on making a cup of espresso — is exhibit A. Intellegentsia Coffee in Venice, California can come off as a little pretentious at first; but what you’re really seeing is an unabashed expertise in truly great coffee. “We take every single step in the chain, from seed to cup, as seriously as possible”, Kyle Glanville extols. We believe him.
Coffee for the man on the move
Instant coffee belongs to the category of cultural food relics, the type of product introduced at a World’s Fair, perfected with the help of military research, and eventually relegated to the pantries of grandmothers everywhere. It’s a food item for people at the fringes: too old, too tired, too time-strapped, cookies for breakfast, sweatpants all day. Coffee purists will swat it from your hand. But we’ve all got a little stash just in case, don’t we?
Because the beautiful thing about instant coffee is that it’s cheap, fast and the lowest-volume solution for getting a coffee fix on the move. We surveyed the market to find the best instant coffees readily available in grocery stores. We weren’t looking for something that stacks up to a cup of Zambian Ljulu Lipati from Intelligentsia, but we did want a close approximation to freshly brewed coffee.
We've Bean Reading
Feet up, couch bound with a good book in one hand and a hot cup of coffee in the other is a reader’s rite of passage. Those co-mingling aromas of parchment and fresh grounds are undeniably intoxicating. Any favorite book can be heightened by the pairing, but it being the Fortnight of Coffee and all, we decided to filter some new picks in a sort of meta-coffee vein: five first-rate reads to further your knowledge of one of the world’s most popular drinks.
Unique beans, unique brew
When you’re drinking coffee named after a mesh wire size, you’ve reached that level of serious entanglement that some might call obsession. Stumptown’s Panama Duncan Estate Mesh 15 ($23) embraces its intimate small-batch story in the way that really serious (and expensive) products should.
We need your help, Coffee-heads
If you haven’t been snoozing, you know we’re right in the midst of a Fortnight of Coffee, our two-week study of
addiction that life-affirming beverage. But we can’t do it alone. Too much caffeine. Not enough time. Loved ones troubled by our shaking hands and fast-talk gibberish. So we’ve got a proposition, the net-net of which involves a shot at a Bonavita BV1800TH Coffee Maker: Thermal (pictured right). That’s enough brewing power to go from take-out dweeb to caffeinated honcho faster than you can say, “coffee is for closers only.”
Specifically, we’re looking for you to snap photos of your daily coffee experience and send them our way. What works: your home coffee maker or setup, favorite coffee beans, the cute barista at your local coffee house, the cup of Joe on your daily subway commute, the Probat parked in your garage, mind-blowing latte art, even a regular old cup of black coffee at the diner. What doesn’t work: tea.
To enter, simply hashtag photos on Instagram or Twitter with #GPcoffee and include @gearpatrol in your comment so we can find you (follow us while you’re at it). Or just email shots from your phone or computer to coffee [at] gearpatrol.com. If you need a little inspiration, check out some submissions from our Show Us Your Beef contest.
Throughout the Fortnight, we’ll be sharing coffee photo submissions on GP, and we’ll announce a winner on Twitter the first week of March. The winner gets the official title of Brewmaster along with the Bonavita. What are you waiting for? Fire up the camera app and show us the crema.
Hot coffee, un-burned crotch
Life seems to get difficult quick if you can’t bring your coffee with you; but if you spill, your treasured drink can become a mortal enemy. Nobody wants that. The solution is a great travel mug — one that keeps your coffee hot, your sips accessible and your crotch free of searing pain and disappointment. Finding the best mug for your cup holder (or mesh slot on your favorite backpack) isn’t as easy as you’d think, but we’ve gone ahead and done it anyway, because hell, it’s the Fortnight of Coffee. Here’s five great mugs, ranging from 12 to 17 ounces, for the backcountry hippie to the sharply dressed office warrior.
Better your inner barista
Let’s face it: the average North American spends less time contemplating the beans behind his morning motivator than it takes his barista to scowl disapprovingly. To open his eyes and shed a little light into those dark waters, the GP team delves into the differences between single origin and blended coffees. Our goal? To arm you with information on micro-lot farming, blend aging and why that cup tastes the way it does. It’s all about being informed and maximizing enjoyment in your every-morning drink. So put on your scholar cap, pour yourself a cup and read on to explore the methods used to turn those remarkable beans into a masterpiece.
In Search of Higher Grounds
Where did that coffee in your hand come from? We profile the major coffee growing regions of the world, helping you make an informed decision when it comes to Brazilian versus Indonesian, Colombian versus Monsoon beans from India. Grab a cup and study up.
Knowledge, Caffeinated Lore and Tools of the Brew
It’s frosty out there, but we’re fired up for February. For this month’s issue (previously Beef and Bond) we’ll be turning the collective braintrust to the wonderment of cupped lightning. The entire team will be doning our coffee aprons as we deliver up a piping hot pot of pretense-free knowledge, caffeinated lore and the best tools of the brew. Instant to drip, pour-over to cold brew, prepare yourselves for our dark roasted crash course for the budding enthusiast, serving mid-February.