What’s Simple, Precise, and Highly Adaptable?

Alan Adler and his coffee invention. And who’s Alan Adler? An inventor extraordinaire who created, most famously, the Frisbee. But also the AeroPress. The AeroPress was born not that long ago, debuting in 2005. Apparently it started with a dinner time question at the Frisbee company’s team meeting, “What do you guys do when you just want one cup of coffee?” I highly recommend reading Adler’s fascinating story. It’s an inspirational story of a quintessential curious Silicon Valley tinkerer.

I learned of the AeroPress only since getting into the coffee farming business. Over a year ago my brother-in-law sent us a link to a Tim Wendelboe how-to video, in which he used the AeroPress. When we were recently at the cafe in Oslo, the barista made our coffees using the AeroPress. According to the World AeroPress Championship website, the event was born with someone asking, “Wouldn’t it be fun to see who could brew the best cup of AeroPress coffee?” “The first competition took place in a small room in Oslo, with only three competitors and Tim Wendelboe as the judge. It was a modest and understated affair.” Read more in “The History of the AeroPress, from Concept to Championships.”

The winner of the 2019 United States Aeropress Championship in August was a woman from Honolulu, Hawaii, Towa Ikawa. Congratulations! In the news article, there was a photo of the finalists, judges, and emcee, and I was struck and pleased by the diversity.

Also mentioned in that news article was the notion of using the AeroPress for cold brew. I finally tried it today using this Perfect Daily Grind article as my guide. Two minutes versus 16+ hours. In my first attempt I learned that I hadn’t ground the coffee finely enough. Adler says there should be enough coffee and it should be fine enough that there shouldn’t be more than 3mm drip-through before you begin pressing. I had more than that. I did a second pressing with the finest grind our grinder could do. The second pressing tasted better, but the first wasn’t bad.

Anyway, if you have an AeroPress, try it out. If you don’t have one, they are only in the $30 range. If I were to get one now, I’d get the new AeroPress Go. Here’s a link to a crazy amount of recipes. Abbreviating a few of Adler’s inventing tips, also apropos for life: learn all you can; scrupulously study; be willing to try things; try to be objective; and persist!

Freezing Bea’s Knees Coffee

I ran another non-rigorous experiment. Again, I wished I had the skill to cup coffee. I had shared a link to an article about “to freeze or not to freeze” coffee beans before. Bea likes to freeze many food items, usually because she can’t eat everything she buys, receives, harvests or makes. There are many legitimate reasons for wanting to freeze foods in order to keep them as fresh as possible. Many items freeze and thaw fine, but some ingredients just don’t come out the same.

Back in early April, I let a half pound of coffee sit & de-gas in its valve bag for four days after roasting, then I double-bagged that bag in ziploc bags and put it in the freezer. My plan was to later defrost it and taste it against a freshly roasted batch of coffee.

A couple of weeks ago, I took that frozen bag out and defrosted it in our cupboard, minus the two ziplocs, but still in the original packaging. I gave it two days. Then I gave my husband a blind tasting of that previously frozen coffee against coffee that was roasted five days prior. The “fresh” coffee hadn’t been immediately packaged in a valve bag, but was just stored in a ziploc bag. For each cup, I weighed the coffee, ground it the same, used the same temperature water (thanks to our OXO Brew pour-over kettle), and used the same type of cups. The last one brewed was hotter, so I probably should’ve controlled for that. But we did also taste when both were cooled.

Both of us felt the (what was revealed to be) “frozen” coffee tasted a bit more fruity or acidic, and the “fresh” coffee had more chocolate favors. Both coffees were still flavorful. This tasting reminded us of how challenging cupping was. You can taste they’re different, but how do you describe it? Back and forth we sipped, concentrating.

In hindsight, I should’ve kept a bag of coffee from the same time and NOT frozen it, as a third tasting.

Layperson’s conclusion/tips: if you want/need to save coffee by freezing it, it doesn’t seem to suffer. Do your best to control moisture when freezing and thawing, e.g., vacuum packing or double-bagging in ziplocs. Thaw the beans before you grind them; they’ll be more flavorful. In my college days, I used to store my beans in the freezer, and I ground beans straight out of the freezer. If you want the best flavor you can still get, don’t do that.

Kill the K-Cup

I wanted to share two articles about the Keurig K-Cup®, and finally actually watched the short video, “Kill the K-Cup,” that came out … oh, four years ago. (I’m often years behind things that once went viral.) I think it’s hilarious.

Before reading anything about the K-cup, I knew it wasn’t a machine or system for me, mostly, because of all the waste. Also, you’re limited to what’s offered, though you can get a reusable cup & fill it yourself, your way. But then you seem to be going against the convenience of the system and the ready-packaged pods, vacuum-sealed in nitrogen to reduce oxidation. And you’ll have to get and grind the coffee, clean the K-cup … bah!

According to The Atlantic article, one out of every three American homes has a pod-based coffee machine. The inventor intended it as a convenience at the office. When using this coffee delivery mechanism, standard coffee is sold at about $40/pound . People pay that and don’t think it’s expensive, but people think Kona coffee is expensive?

These two articles make good points. The long one by The Atlantic was shared by my friend who owns a K-Cup machine (more for his guests than for himself) and seems to hate that he does (even before he read the article).

“The Environmental Impact of K-Cups” (by Home Grounds)

“A Brewing Problem: What’s the Healthiest Way to Keep Everyone Caffeinated” (by The Atlantic)

Cold Brew Experiments

One of the winning coffees at the coffee festival last fall had cold brew to taste, and it was surprisingly good. It’s easy to cold brew. I’ve been curious how our coffee would taste cold brewed. But I procrastinated. I like hot coffee, so I wasn’t motivated. Finally, I did it. The plan was to use the same recipe/technique once with the medium roast and once with the medium-dark roast. Mistakes were made, and I ended up with multiple experiments.

I read up a bit about cold brewing. It’s not iced coffee, or regular brewed coffee, chilled. You brew or extract the coffee by letting it sit in cold or room temperature water for many hours, maybe 12-24 hours. It’s less acidic than a fast hot brew and different flavors can be coaxed out.

I started with this link, and explored around other sites for a bit. The recipe I decided on was a 8:1 water to coffee ratio. 16 oz. of water, 2 oz. of medium-coarse grind. I chose to do a hot bloom, like the start of a pour-over. You boil the water, let it calm down & cool a bit, then pour enough over the grounds to wet them and let the carbon dioxide release for about 30 seconds to a minute. I used 1/3 of the water, 5 oz., for the hot bloom, then added the remaining 11 oz. of room temperature water. I gently stirred the coffee, let it come to room temperature, then I put the lid on. I left it for 18 hours. I gently stirred it once during that time. After that, I poured it through our Hario pour over filter. Then I refrigerated the result. Ta da!!

Then the plan was to do the same thing with the medium-dark roast. This is where things went wrong. I ground the coffee, but forgot to change from the finer grind that I use for a pour-over. OK, that became a different experiment, call it #2. I didn’t use the hot bloom. I weighed what I ground and added 8x the amount of water & closed the lid. I ended up filtering #2 after 10 hours because I figured a finer ground would extract faster.

In another jar, #3, I added the medium-coarse grind and did the hot bloom method. Then I realized I was doing this at 9:15AM. 18 hours would be 3:15AM! #3 got filtered after 13 hours. As I was waiting, I decided to save some of the brew & filter it longer, for a total of 24 hours. So #4 brewed longer, and was also more concentrated since it was no longer a 8:1 water to coffee ratio.

Then I thought I should make a normal pour-over (17:1 ratio, or 12 oz: 0.75 oz coffee) and chill it and compare it to the others. So that was #5.

Five different cold brew experiments in jars.
The five different potions.

How do they taste? I’m not a cupper, so I don’t have the fine palate or vocabulary. They do each taste differently. I found the cold brew more fruity and a bit sweeter than the chilled pour-over. I preferred the medium roast cold brew to the other four experiments where I used medium-dark. (I also prefer our medium roast over medium-dark roast in hot coffee.) For #2 and #3 which were the same except for grind size, I found the coarser grind to taste sweeter, with a dark chocolate flavor. Experiment #4, the longest brewed, was the most fruity, but was the most bitter of all five.

I thought it’d be interesting to heat up my favorite cold brew and compare it to a normal pour-over. I’d also be interested in cold brewing a completely different coffee, maybe African. But, I think I’m done with the cold brew experimentation. I realized that for 16 oz of cold brew, I used almost 4x the coffee I use for a 12 oz. pour-over. And I prefer hot coffee.

Are you now curious to try some kind of coffee experiment?

Addendum: I conducted a blind tasting with my husband. He found #1 (medium, 18 hr) to, by far, be the best (mocha, smooth, fruity). His next favorite was the medium-dark, coarse grind, 12 hour (#3). After that, the chilled pour-over (#5). His least favorite was the 24 hr, med-dark (#4) — he mentioned bitterness & it was the only one he didn’t mention fruity. He also wasn’t fond of #2, the med-dark, fine grind, 12 hour, finding it more bitter and less flavorful than the others.

Addendum #2: I did try heating up the medium-roast cold brew to see how it tasted. My husband and I both found it to taste very different than a hot brew. We were more fond of it as a cold brew than as a hot drink. We also diluted it after a few sips. Maybe our taste buds are too accustomed to a certain taste when it’s hot coffee …

Storing Coffee

How do we store our roasted coffee that we personally drink? We store whole beans in an airtight jar in a kitchen cupboard. We grind the amount we’re going to brew right before the water boils. You want to reduce exposure of your beans to air, heat, humidity, and light. That’s not hard to do.

For more on the topic, here’s one of many articles, How to Store Coffee.

And, here’s another interesting article about “to freeze or not to freeze” your beans.