It’s approaching two years since I got my Hario “barista station” set-up, a major upgrade from a haphazard brewing system cobbled together when I finally started drinking coffee about two years prior. Now a true coffee
geek aficionado, I was recently looking to enhance the experience, reaching out locally and beyond, eventually acquiring a handful of new products to try. One item was impressive (but not for me), another interesting for occasional use, and two (at very different price points) of major value—one daily, and one somewhat seasonally.
Let’s start with the new product I’m using most: the Baratza Vario-W Grinder. I still have great affection for my Hario Coffee Mill Roman N, and it was a fun part of my morning ritual since the 2012 makeover, but the Vario-W has streamlined the grinding process while providing lots of opportunity for experimentation. And it’s also improved the quality of my coffee flavor.
With the Hario, to get enough grounds for two cups of coffee, I was doing a minimum of 130 full rotations on the hand-grinder, a somewhat exhausting task. Plus, while it was possible to change the grind size, the process was never precise. In contrast, going from the manual Hario to the electric Vario-W speeds up the process and adds great precision. A lever on the right side of the grinder goes from 1 to 10 (fine to course) while a left side lever (I rarely touch it) micro-adjusts from A to W, resulting in a whopping 230 grind settings. Best of all, Baratza (based in Bellevue) made this a weight-based grinder. There are three programmable pre-sets of grind weight output, so I keep ample beans in the hopper and simply press the desired weight and start buttons. The grounds collect in a plastic container; sometimes they stick to the plastic, making the transfer to the pourover dripper more challenging and a bit messy, but that’s just a minor quibble.
On the subject of beans, I’ve jumped into the home-roasting game as many do: with a popcorn popper. A garage-sale enthusiast (and fellow roaster) gifted me a Wear-Ever Popcorn Pumper, then showed me how to outfit it with a can-turned-chimney. There’s lots of information online about roasting with a popcorn popper (the challenge is finding a suitable popper, as the Popcorn Pumper is no longer made, with used ones selling as coffee roasters on eBay and going for $20 minimum), and it’s fun to experiment with different types of green coffee beans. One drawback of this economical solution is that the popper can only roast limited amounts of beans at a time (I find that 74 grams is ideal, as the output is about 62 grams, which is how much I want to make two rounds of two cups of coffee), but fortunately roasting time is fast. My last session, Ethiopian beans took about 4-1/2 minutes for the first round of light roasting (up to a minute less for subsequent rounds, as the machine was then already hot), while Colombian beans benefited from another minute or two to achieve a medium roast. Consider that roasting could be seasonal, partly because colder weather (you do this outside) isn’t ideal for getting the machine up to a warm temperature, and also because it’s not fun to do it if you’re freezing.
Pourover is my much preferred method of brewing and drinking coffee, but I play with an AeroPress on occasion, particularly when I have darker beans I don’t especially like. I’ve largely given up on French press, as I find the result a little sludgy. That said, during a recent trip to Raleigh, I discovered the new Impress coffee brewer. This one-cup-at-a-time brewer consists of a 2-piece nested press, plus a silicone heat-resistant lid. It’s reminiscent of a French press, providing some of the oil that many people like from the process, but with less of the sludginess. I still much prefer the cleaner result of a pourover, but others will like the Impress for multiple reasons: It’s easy to use, easy to clean, convenient, and perhaps best of all, the double-walled cup keeps the coffee hot for a surprisingly long period of time.
[Speaking of cups, at the recent Specialty Coffee Association of America conference in Seattle, I met the makers of JOCO coffee cups. Based in Australia, their glass cups are colorful and stylish, and ideal for coffee drinkers on the move. The glass holds the heat pretty well, and the various sizes provide versatility. On the downside, there’s an initial silicone smell from the holder and cap that come with the new product, and the drinking slit in the silicone top doesn’t provide as much portion control as I’d like. It also has a little leakage issue. Still, it’s a fun cup, and the green company also offers suggestions on how to use the cup’s package; for example, it’s great for storing coffee beans.]
Last on the list is the new Nespresso VertuoLine. I’ve long been pessimistic about these single-serve machines, despite knowing friends who tout their convenience (I’d miss the ritual) and the variety of flavors (which is of little interest to me). But the VertuoLine, which makes both espresso and coffee, intrigued me, especially its claim to produce crema when making coffee. Amazingly, it does. It must be something related to the centrifugal technology that spins each individual capsule 7,000 rotations per minute. That said, the flavor isn’t quite the quality I seek from my coffee. (Even if the grounds in those capsules were high quality, they’re not going to be as fresh as buying newly roasted beans—or roasting beans yourself.) And in addition to the large footprint that would consume much-coveted counter space, I’m still concerned about the environmental impact (and cost) of the single-serve capsules.