The coffee traveler: Trailside / Road Warrior brewing kit.

Sunrise-Coffee_John's-Persp

Morning coffee payoff

As we all know, fresh and wonderful coffee makes any morning better, but there is a special appreciation for a fine cup in places where it would seem the most difficult to produce it.  A remote campsite in the wilderness, or a hotel room (with its powdered coffee packet, ugh!) both raise the appreciation level of being able to produce a “no compromise” coffee morning.  Below, we’re going to give you ideas of what we like, along with links to the Amazon listings for more detail.

All coffee brewing can be broken down into three components, heating water, grinding coffee, and brewing coffee. Our travel kit components are exactly the same for either mode of travel, except for the method of heating water.  Usually we keep all components on hand, because it’s easy to do, and you never know what the road/trail will present.

So, we’ll start with heating the water.  Your water should be just off-boil when you present it to your ground coffee, and how you get it there really doesn’t matter.  If you have a microwave in your hotel room, you’re set.  In a pinch, you could use the little mini-pot that a lot of rooms have just to produce hot water, but not to brew (however, I’m pretty sure the water coming out of those is not quite as hot as you would like).

In any case, if you have access to an electrical outlet, it pays to toss an immersion water heater in your pack, similar to the one below, for about $14.  You might want to consider buying two of these because if you ever plug one in without first putting the coil into water, it goes zzzzt!, and it’s gone forever.  And that’s your only rule in using one.  Otherwise just put it in your cup of water, plug it in and wait for your water to boil.

Immersion-heater

Trailside, your options for heating water are endless, and depend on your own camping style.  Our ultra-light backpacking days are behind us, so we just pack one of these little propane stoves in the car, for about $25.  It is a little bulky, but it sits on a table just fine, has a stable burner, and uses little propane bottles available about anywhere.  Even if you are hotel traveling, with one of these in your trunk you can pull off on a side road or park and brew some outstanding coffee whenever you want.

propane-stove

For grinding we use a small hand grinder, even if we have access to an outlet.  You can use a little electric blade grinder if you want to, but it’s a little heavy for a suitcase, and the hand grinder will always work whether you have electricity or not.  Here is the one that works for us – at about $23:

grinder

For brewing, we always include the tried and true “#4 pour-over cup” for under $7.  With these little jewels, you can make two cups of coffee at the same time, and whether you’re doing a two cup power-up for yourself, or making a cup for a friend, this is perhaps the best, cheapest way to make wonderful coffee that there is (for more on pour-over brewing  check over here).

dripper.jpg

Make sure you have some #4 filters, similar to these, at about $4 for a hundred.

filters

The other brewing option that we like is the aeropress, which can give you an “espresso like” cup, and gives you complete control over steeping time.  At about $32.  This is a fantastic little coffee brewer and there are tons of You Tube videos and blogs on how to use one.

aeropress

So, adding up the numbers we get a very respectable travel coffee kit for under $40 up to about $80 if you need to buy the stove, and want to go the aeropress route.

By the way, there’s nothing that says you can’t use these same set-ups at home.  Brewing with any of these kits will beat, hands down, any expensive, froufrou coffee appliance that you can buy.  And if your electricity ever goes out, your coffee kit will get you through until the lights come back on.

Happy trails!

John

Sunrise-Coffee

Roasterjohn

john@darkhollowcoffee.com

“Brewing wonderful coffee isn’t that complicated, it just seems that many people want to make it so.”

Doing Pour-Overs (like a boss!)

We’ve been talking about pour-overs a lot lately, and right here we’re going to do it some more. How do you know the right quantity of beans to a cup, steeping time and all that other froufrou stuff?

Some “instructional” videos make the pour-over process seem so exacting that at some level you must be thinking “it’s not worth it” especially in the morning when you just need to function. Well, I would like to take a moment to dispel some of these ridiculous ideas and have you doing pour-overs like a boss!

#1  You don’t need expensive equipment.

We’ve seen some beautiful pour-over cones in a variety of materials from porcelain (about $18 each) to stainless steel (about $85). And while they can make a nice presentation, I would only buy them if I had a restaurant or café where that is important. The most basic plastic cone (about $7 for a #4) makes equally incredible coffee and is virtually indestructible.

One recommendation we do make is to get the larger #4 cone because with it you can either make one or two cups. With the smaller #2 you can only make one.

#2 You don’t need a lot of time

We’re going to say six minutes, tops. And about 3.5 minutes of that is heating your water in the microwave.  Of course, if you prefer a teapot or something like that, it’s totally cool, but the microwave is really fast.

#3 Pour-overs don’t need constant supervision

Go do something else while your water is heating to a boil (about 3 ½ minutes for a 12 oz cup). And if you don’t get back to the microwave the second it dings, no problem. Our studies show that your water will hold a very acceptable brewing temperature for up to about five minutes.

#4 Super precise measurement is not the secret of a great pour-over, as some would have you believe.  

Yes, of course, within reason, but when I see people weighing out precise amounts on a digital scale I just have to sigh. Here’s what we do. Grab a handful of beans, throw them in the grinder and make your coffee. This advice has many (many) cups of coffee behind it, and ultimately points to a good starting point of between .32 and .40 ounces of coffee per liquid (8oz) cup. The point is, just get started with whatever is a medium handful for you, and if your cup wasn’t strong enough, then go for a bigger handful next time. After a very short period, you will know about how big a handful you need for your preference, and you can just cut that weighing stuff right out. And it looks badass when you do it too.

#5 By the numbers

Get two cups. Fill one with water and put it in the micro until boiling – about 3.5 minutes for 12oz.

While the micro is going, grab a handful of beans and grind them (standard drip grind, or finer). Put your cone, filter, and coffee on your other cup. Go do something else.

When your micro dings you’re ready to pour. Standard disclaimer – its hot water. Pour about 1/3 of your hot water into the cone, always trying to hit any dry spots of grounds around the edges or anywhere. The key is to try to get total involvement of the water with the grounds, but you don’t have to do this drip by drip. Just pour in gently. You’ll get the “bloom” and then the water level in the cone will go down pretty fast, so you can pour in the second third of your water after just a few seconds. After about another 30 seconds or so, pour in the last part. These times aren’t particularly crucial, so feel free to do other stuff in between pours.

Total elapsed time is about 5 to 6 minutes, and most of that is the water heating.

And if you’re using a #4 cone, you can have two wonderful cups of coffee for the same amount of time as one – just double the coffee and water.

You’re going to have a beautiful cup of coffee. It will taste more robust, with more flavor and character than anything a home or commercial brewer can make. If your first cups taste too strong, you can always cut the brew in your cup with a little hot water, and that will balance it right out.

Tastes Vary

This is the real point. Learn to adjust coffee for your tastes. Experiment with quantities until you are getting what you want, and then incorporate that into your routine. You’ll never go back to boring coffee (and your friends will be amazed by your coffee powers)!

If you have any comments or questions, we’ll try to answer them in the comments section.

Happy experimenting!

Peace.

John

Roastmaster

Dark Hollow Micro Roasters LLC

https://darkhollowmicroroasters.wordpress.com/

john@darkhollowcoffee.com

@roasterjohn

Pour over

Decaffeinated coffee – How the heck does that work?

Today’s question: Decaffeination : How does that work?

Here are a few caffeine facts to get started on.

Caffeine is a complex organic compound found naturally in many plants.

Typical decaf is 97% to 99% caffeine free.

A regular drip-brewed cup (8oz) of premium coffee (arabica) contains about 200 milligrams of caffeine.

Totally unbiased opinion here, of course, but in bang (literally) for the buck, not to mention the wonderful enhancement of your day, a cup of fresh premium coffee beats, hands down, any so called “energy drink” that you see someone slamming down with a grimace, and then smiling as the caffeine kicks in. Seriously people, life is too short not to enjoy the consumption of a wonderful fresh coffee beverage. Then you’ll get the smile of the enjoyment during and after the experience. Makes me crazy when I see those “energy drink” commercials. Not to mention that, if made at home, a great cup of fresh premium coffee costs about 25 cents per cup. Completely unbiased I am, of course.

My personal love of caffeine appears to be coming through a little bit here, and we did start out with a decaf theme, so, continuing on, how do you get rid of caffeine if you don’t want it?

You basically have two choices. You can decaffeinate using solvents or pure water. Hmmmm, tough choice. Pure water or paint thinner, which to choose? Seriously, on the “chemical extraction” side, the common solvents that are used to combine with caffeine include, dichloromethane, ethyl acetate, and (omg!) benzene. Although it is claimed that no traces of these lovely compounds remain on decaffeinated beans after the process, I personally can’t stand the thought that they ever touched my beautiful beans!
One of the main reasons that these chemical processes are so popular is that they allow the reclamation and repackaging of the caffeine for use in other products from Red Bull to Excedrin.
In general, in the chemical process, unroasted coffee beans are steamed, the solvent is applied, and the caffeine chemically attaches to the solvent, which is later treated with additional chemicals to make the caffeine drop out for reuse.
But, back at the beans, soaking in their little solvent bath, this process is repeated, until the desired 97% to 99% caffeine-free level is reached. Water is added and the beans are steamed for several hours “until the last of the solvent is removed”. At least that’s what they say.

On the pure water process side, no chemicals whatsoever are used, but due to nature of the process, the caffeine itself cannot be reclaimed for reuse, therefore, the process itself is more expensive. In a nutshell, water has the capacity to absorb caffeine on it’s own, along with soluble “flavor solids” present in the raw bean. In the pure water process, the unroasted beans are soaked in water, extracting a percentage of caffeine and also some of the flavor solids. The resulting caffeinated and flavored water solution is then passed through carbon filters which filter out the caffeine, but not the dissolved flavor components. Then, the beans from this original bath are thrown away. Yes, chucked out. Their mission in life was to produce a flavor solids rich, but caffeine poor water solution, which will be used in the next step of the decaf process.

The real secret in the pure water extraction process is in water’s ability to absorb only a given amount of dissolved flavor components. In the example above, the beans are exposed to repeated baths of water, but only the caffeine is removed by the carbon filters. At some point, the caffeine is fully extracted from the solution, but the dissolved flavor components remain, reaching equilibrium with the soluble flavor components in the bean, with the result that no more flavor components can be extracted. This is key when a fresh batch of beans is presented to the flavor rich, caffeine poor bath. Flavor components present in the new beans are not extracted because they are already in equilibrium with the flavor components in the solution, while caffeine continues to be extracted by the caffeine poor bath. Only the original beans (the thrown away ones) are used to create the flavor extract bath. The subsequent beans lose only caffeine to the bath. I find this idea of balance and equilibrium very appealing.

The most recognized pure-water process is known as the Swiss Water Process, or SWP for short. If you see “SWP Certified” on a bag of coffee, then you can be sure it was decaffeinated using a pure water process and no chemicals whatsoever. If it doesn’t say SWP it probably was chemically treated, since with that method the caffeine can be harvested (the profit motive is a strong one).

We have used SWP and only SWP processed decaf since the beginning, and wouldn’t consider using anything else (in case you couldn’t tell from the above).

So there you go. We love the power of informed choice!

John

Roastmaster

Dark Hollow Micro Roasters LLC
john@darkhollowcoffee.com

“Good Chemistry is more than a representation of a wonderful molecule.
It is the relationship we strive for with all of our customers.”

A cup of coffee fosters human kindness – who knew?

Helen-drinking-coffee-11151

          Warm hands warm heart?

A recent study shows a positive correlation between “warm hands and warm heart, as reported in Science Magazine, and National Geographic.

From Nat Geo, “In a new experiment, people who held steaming cups of coffee for a few seconds judged another person as more generous, caring, and happy than people who held a cup of iced coffee did.”

“The findings indicate that physical warmth unconsciously stimulates friendly behavior toward other people, according to professor Lawrence Williams of the University of Colorado at Boulder.

“There’s a meaningful interface between the physical world and our bodies and the psychological world and what’s going on in our heads,” said Williams, who led the study.

For the complete articles go here: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/10/081023-warmth-coffee.html

Yes, another reason that cafe’s and gatherings around a fresh brewed pot of coffee seem so friendly…

Warm regards,

John

That’s going to leave a mark! (the 2014 Lambstock experience).

While preparing for Lambstock this year, I built a little metal and wooden coffee pour-over stand which required copper pipe and some soldering to put together. During construction, I managed to brush the tip of my torch and create a temporary burn tattoo on the inside of my arm. No biggie, just a small occupational hazard. I have a lot of marks on me (I’m a coffee roaster after all). I’m looking at that mark right now, and I’m idly wondering if it will leave another permanent reminder of something that I did.

This year, Lambstock exceeded all of our wildest expectations –  for how much it could rain in a four day period. Outside of the rainy season in Latin America, I’ve never experienced such sustained streams of rain, with no relief. It rained while we packed for Lambstock, it was raining when we arrived. It rained while we set up and it poured while we ate. It precipitated while we watched “first nighters” arrive all dry and shiny, and it drizzled all night, punctuated with heavy downpours, but no clearing. During the early Sunday morning cloudburst, we brewed some quick pour-over coffee and fired up the water boiler. Shortly, as the morning showers continued, I began to realize that conditions that some folks might term “less than ideal”, might actually be wonderful for a coffee roaster.

Lambstock participants, seeking coffee in a sheep pasture, have always come in waves, and I am acutely aware of the “early wave” contingent, because that’s my group too. I am always interested in who else seeks the “early cup”.  Conversation through sleepy eyes ensues, and since it is, of course, still raining, there really is no place to go. What a great thing!  Friends are made in this setting.

Once other pasture inhabitants see someone walking about with a coffee cup in their hands, a second wave begins. This group is still seeking a relatively early cup, but just wanted independent verification that it existed before they ventured forth. A reasonable stance, since this morning it also involves donning a variety of boots and rain gear.

Then, magic. We kick the propane on the water boiler up a notch and start seriously grinding beans. Cups are refilling and conversation gets louder and smiles broader. The first early cuppers are back, if they ever left, and now they have brought their husband/wife/friend back with them to join in. This is a great moment. The gathering starts to surpass the ability of our little pop-up tents to keep it dry, but most folks hang anyway, some just flipping up their rain hoods and stepping out into the drizzle, conversation never pausing, while making room for someone new. Good vibes.

Photo by John Park

Photo by John Park

Then, it’s a steady stream of people. Some fiends, like myself, back for their third or fourth cup, some “mid morningers” getting their first one, and looking forward to the caffeine kicking in, as they take in the scene around them.

Demographics break down at this point, and the group’s distribution is just a melange of coffee drinkers. But it’s still pretty easy to see who has had their first cup or not. This goes on for a while, and finally some folk start to drift away, usually motivated by rumors of that mythical thing known as Sunday morning breakfast at Lambstock. I will leave it to others to describe the delights which present.  When I think about it I usually just slip into a daydream.

Time passes, and although still heavily overcast, the rain pauses for about an hour, during which we explore the use of the word “relatively” when applied to the word “dry”. Then it starts to rain some more.

Soon, the scene of pleasant human interaction at the coffee tent is taking place in other areas of Craig’s farm. There’s movement down at the cooking pavilion where chefs are talking and collaborating.  Craig’s staff is madly plugging logistical holes caused by the rain, but propane burners are on high, knives are chopping, and exotic scents fill the air.  Industrial strength cookware is being juggled around with hypnotic skill. We’ll spend our day taking turns making coffee and partaking in the indescribable delights created by chefs cooking for other chefs.  It’s good to be a Lambstocker.

Sprinkled in here and there are little groups of (for lack of a better word) “noobs” (referring to first time Lambstockers).  And they’re trying to take it all in.  It’s just really hard to do.  They’ve never seen anything like this before. And, as a subset of the noob group, there are also “super noobs” who not only are at Lambstock for the first time, but hell, they’ve never even camped out before. We admire their courage and optimism.

2014 was our 5th Lambstock. In 2010 there was just a pasture, a tent, a cooking pit and a garden hose. That weekend was sunny and hot, and the garden hose got a lot of use as a (mostly) “clothes on” shower. Since then, Craig has added cool stuff each year to give good tools to people who know how to use them. I can’t remember any rain at all in 2010, and there were even a few folks who literally slept out in the pasture, rising up like zombies in the morning, when the sun started to cook their brains. The only reason that the Dark Hollow crew (that’s us) was here in the first place, is due to Ben Hester (an all-around semi-crazy chef, and entirely fascinating person), coming over to sit around the fire pit in our backyard one night.  In the wee hours we kicked around the idea of “cowboy coffee” for some kind of chef’s campout, in a pasture, at some crazy shepherd’s farm. We liked the concept, but really, we had no idea what was in store.

Back in 2014 it’s still raining, and there’s some wear and tear starting to show on a few of the participants. “First night” this year was huge, and everyone came to enjoy it to the fullest, some without consideration of little details, like “is my tent dry”, and “did I pack a pad to put under my sleeping bag”. Still, spirits are high and Craig’s staff is doing everything they can to assist in smoothing out the wrinkles. Fortunately, even with all of the rain, it has not been chilly. Even the downpours have been relatively warm, and though wetness may be a nuisance, it’s August and nobody is going to freeze to death.

As the rain continues to fall, a few Lambstocker profiles begin to emerge. They are:

1) Resist it

2) Embrace it

3) Screw it

4) One with the universe

We’ll take #3 first. We’ve done a bit of traveling and camping in our lives, but even we would have to admit that conditions could possibly reach a point where we would bail, no matter how wonderful the temptations to stay.  I really don’t know what it would take for us to leave Lambstock though. Maybe an ice storm would do it, but even then we’d have to test it.  And, I guess, a balance exists in everyone’s internal mechanism that dictates the eternal question, “should I stay, or should I go?” And of course, this balance is different for each person. Some folks bailed. And I’m not talking here about the people who left because they had to. A number of people were lucky enough in the first place to get the time to enjoy Lambstock even for one night, and the sorrow in their backward glances as they walked away from the scene was heart breaking. So we’re cool with y’all, ok?

The “resist it” group are of people who have a tough mental attitude, usually combined with at least enough rain gear to withstand the elements. But this is a sliding scale. You can have a minimum of gear, but have amazing mental discipline, and things will still be in balance. They look confident and prepared, and you can bet that they are on top of the situation.  Lambstock, being the epitome of a “farm to table” event, means that farmers and producers, as well as chefs, are represented. Farmers are strong in the “resist it” group, and seem to have a stoic acceptance of things they cannot change (but with real good rain gear).

I encountered the first “embrace it“ practitioner on Monday after it had been raining pretty solidly for 48 hours. I observed you don’t really need much gear because the clothes you’re wearing can only get so saturated. Then, in perfect equilibrium with the elements, no more rain will be absorbed. Honestly, this is about my favorite group since they’ve forgotten all about fighting the elements, and now are just going with it. These folks seem to be having a lot of fun. Alcohol could be a factor.

Finally, there is a group that seems a little surprised that the weather even causes much comment. “Put it in perspective” they say, “it’s just so insignificant”. And in comparison to everything else going on, I can honestly say, they are right. These folks seem to live in the moment, and, interestingly enough, make up most of the chefs here. I imagine that they, as a group, are more accustomed to working right through a little adversity, while concentrating on the important things, like seasonings, ingredients and flame heights. These people are in “flow”, a kind of “one with the universe” state. This level is difficult to achieve, but inspiring to observe.

And sometime during all of these occurrences, time just drops out.

And you didn’t even notice. Maybe someone says something about having to go to work on Monday, and you realize that that’s tomorrow (or possibly today), and you just haven’t given it much thought. Out here your priorities have been completely rearranged. You are so actively engaged in the moment that your mind resists even thinking about anything else – a deficit of attention because you are so pleasantly assailed by your senses.

Breaking camp and leaving Lambstock really is a rude awakening, and I think that the social media posts I see about people still thinking about Lambstock for weeks or months afterward reflects the deficit that they still feel after returning to the “real world”.

So the mark that Lambstock leaves on you, and can’t easily be shaken, is a pleasant psychic scar that tempts you to remember and daydream.  A little reminder that a gathering of incredible people camped out in a sheep pasture, ate amazing food, and put up with a little rain.

Photo by Helen Cason

Ben Hester aka “Bilbo Baggins”

P.S. If Ben Hester hadn’t asked us to be at Lambstock in 2010, we wouldn’t have been there in 2014 to see him ask Tammy Kuper to marry him. We love serendipity.

Peace.

Roaster John