While doing research for my recent Chemex post, I came across several fascinating articles about the inventor himself, Dr. Peter Schlumbohm. He sounded like an incredibly charismatic fellow who would have been a pleasure to have coffee with.
Last week marked 49 years since Dr. Schlumbohm passed away on November 7, 1962, from a heart attack at 66-years old. He accomplished much in his abbreviated life, during which he held 300 registered patents, more than 20 belonging to the MoMA permanent collection. The Chemex coffee maker, which coffee lovers are most familiar with, was named one of “100 Best-Designed Products in Modern Times” in 1958 by the Illinois Institute of Technology—quite the accolade for a coffee maker.
Well over one million dollars’ worth have been sold in the last five years. The Chemex, currently on sale in 3,000 U.S. stores at $6 for the one-quart size, is a typical bit of Schlumbohmiana…
-Life Magazine, 1949
Apart from spending 8 years studying Chemistry at the University of Berlin, he also had an incredible design sense that permeated his inventions. There is remarkable elegance and simplicity in the way he blended glass with materials like wood and cork, which most certainly played a role in his success. The importance Dr. Schlumbohm placed on design was no accident either:
After 22 years of inventing, Schlumbohm has come to certain conclusions about it. He feels that just seeing the problem to be solved is 20% of the inventive process. Finding a patentable idea that solves it is 40%. Good design (“Eliminate everything that’s wrong, and what’s left will be right”) is 30%, and merchandising is the remaining 10%. -Life Magazine, 1949
Dr. Schlumbohm even played the role of marketing director for his products:
Dr. Schlumbohm does all his own selling, writes his own advertisements, direction leaflets and brochures and even types out his own patent applications—one draft only, since he refuses to make a mistake. -Life Magazine, 1949
What little I could find of Dr. Schlumbohm’s specific thoughts regarding coffee always seemed to be from the perspective of a Chemist more than a consumer:
Ground coffee contains only two desirable ingredients: aromatic coffee oils and caffeine. The rest is a vile mixture of some 50 different chemicals, including such ‘skunky stuff’ as mercaptan. -New York Times Obituary, 1962
But apart from his scientific analysis of coffee, he understood what consumers wanted (or needed). In that same New York Times obituary, Dr. Schlumbohm is quoted, while pointing at a Chemex, “With this, even a moron can make good coffee.”
For that we thank you. Cheers to you Dr. Schlumbohm.
The Chemex is possibly the most elegant looking of all brewing devices and one of my favorite ways to make coffee. It was designed in 1941 by a German chemist, Dr. Peter Schlumbohm, who immigrated to the United States in 1935. The modern hourglass shape of the Chemex, hugged in the middle by a wooden collar and leather tie, became a part of MoMA’s permanent collection in 1944—just a few years after its invention.
Apart from its sophisticated design, it makes an equally great cup of coffee when it’s not looking beautiful on your counter or the walls of a modern art museum.
The upper portion of the Chemex cradles a thick, bonded filter (also made by Chemex) that resembles lab parchment more than a typical coffee filter. This filter is what helps create such a clean cup of coffee that really highlights the brightness, clarity and sweetness in certain coffees that I personally enjoy very much.
The design is nearly identical to the original product, except the glass is no longer made by Pyrex. There is an alternate, glass-handled design that is easier to clean and allows a better view of the coffee brewing process—or there’s the handblown versions for three times the cost of the mass produced ones, if you’re a purist with extra money to spend.
Apart from the design itself and the quality of coffee it makes, I also like the Chemex for its ease of use. In regards to pour over devices, I find the Chemex to be one of the easiest for beginners to take up. The thickness of the filter and slower brew time allows for a greater margin of error, while the one-piece design reduces spills and can be less intimidating to handle. Although the larger ones are not ideal for smaller servings, there are several sizes of the Chemex available depending on your needs.
There are many variations on how to use the Chemex, but at its simplest, add a bit of hot water and let bloom for 30–45 seconds, then pour the remaining water in a circular motion, keeping all the grounds wet. I generally stick to a “60g of coffee/1 liter of water” ratio for the Chemex—but as always, adjust to taste. There are a number of tutorials on BrewMethods.com, but this one from Intelligentsia has always been my favorite.
It’s been awhile since my last coffee app post, but I’m really excited about this one. Bloom is a new app for iOS5, created by Jeremy Boles, that allows users to create custom recipes for their brew methods and coffees. Unlike other apps that I’ve reviewed that just keep time, or have set recipes that can’t be edited, Bloom is fully customizable.
The app comes pre-loaded with a solid list of standard recipes for six common brew methods—Beehouse, Chemex, Clever, French Press, Syphon and V60. While I’m personally bummed there’s no Aeropress icon, I’m sure that’s something that can be added in a future update (fingers crossed).
There are a few things I really love about this app, mainly how utilitarian it is. There is no unnecessary start-up screen to slow the load time—just a couple taps and your timer is counting down. Once the clock begins, a yellow strip highlights what step you’re on (i.e. bloom or pour). When you create custom recipes, you can add as many steps as you need and name them what you like. You can also switch between remaining time or elapsed time, which is a nice feature.
Once you’ve created a recipe you like, you can duplicate it with one tap and tweak the parameters, creating a new variation of the recipe. This is great for keeping accurate records while dialing in coffees. Once you decide what tastes best, delete the others.
My only critique at this point is the wood background (it’s too similar to the Intelligentsia app and the new Coffee Tools app), let’s mix it up a bit out there! Give me some brushed metal or a field of daisies or something. A different shade of wood even or maybe a pattern in blue and white greek bath tiles.
I’d also like better control over how the recipes are arranged. Currently they arrange themselves alphabetically according to brew method or coffee name (if you add one). However, if you have multiple recipes for the same brew method and one is for Kenya Kieni and the other for Rwanda Abangakarushwa—they will no longer be grouped together on the list because the coffee name supersedes the brew method.
If you visit the Bloom website, you can watch a demo of the app in use or purchase it for $2.99—which I think is reasonable considering the limited size of the market (this isn’t Angry Birds). I like to think of it as buying the creator a cup of coffee to thank him for all his hard work. Jeremy also informed me that he submitted an update that will soon allow users to email, text or tweet parameters to others. #awesome.
Two weeks ago Starbucks made a big announcement. Bigger than dropping their written name from their logo (which I never covered), and bigger than this month’s roll out of Starbucks k-cups. On October 18th, the green giant announced that it would start selling lighter roasted blends, misleadingly named Blonde.
This is big for several reasons.
First, it supports the notion that a growing segment of the market realizes that Pike Place tastes like charcoal and they’re looking for something not-so-burnt. It may also encourage other roasters—who were worried that the size of the light roast market would not support their business—to lighten their roasts. If the market for lighter roasted coffee is big enough to gain Starbuck’s attention, there’s enough room for the small guys to compete in better ways and with more panache.
I’ve previously written about the uselessness of the term “bold,” and Starbuck’s role in perpetuating its use. Like it or not, the size of their business allows them to shape the language and perception of coffee for many people. How many independent coffee shops regularly get requests for tall, grande and venti drinks? Or have upset customers who ordered a macchiato, by serving them a shot of espresso with a bit of foam on top—where’s my caramel!? If Startbucks and its ginormous $2 billion dollar marketing megaphone can get people to think lighter roasts are a good thing—it allows the roasters who have already been roasting more enjoyable coffee to reach more people.
All of that said, there’s one big caveat to the Blonde roast—it’s not actually “light.” The new roast has been compared to the “milder taste” and “lighter roasts” of Dunkin’ Donuts and McDonalds, not Tim Wendelboe and Intelligentsia. So there is a bit of subjectivity in how the Blonde roast has been described. In the Starbucks video that announced the new roast, two Starbuck’s roasters discussed the process saying:
We went through 80 to 100 iterations…we were narrowing in on it for quite a while. At second pop is where we found the sweet spot for Blonde roast.
Second pop? On my recent trip to The Coffee Collective in Copenhagen, the first pop (or crack) took place in the cooling tray of the roaster. There’s usually another minute or two between the first and second crack in roasting, which means the Blonde roast is being cooked for 10% longer (or more) than light roasts that tend to highlight the taste of the coffee and not the roast. Not that its a fair comparison, since Nordic roasters are often teased for simply brewing green coffee, but it does put things into perspective.
For the sake of those who truely do roast light, its nice that Starbucks choose the name “Blonde” instead of “light,” even though it’s really medium dark. Just because Blonde is roasted lighter than the other Starbuck’s coffee (which isn’t hard to do), doesn’t make it a light roast. But it does make for great marketing, who doesn’t love a tall blonde?
So will Starbuck’s Blonde roast steal customers away from other roasters who have been roasting lighter for years—highly doubtful. Will it open the door for those same roasters to have conversations with new customers about lighter coffee—absolutely. It may even make the occasional, intolerable cup of airport coffee, slightly more tolerable.
Last time I wrote about Clive Coffee, they were in the process of moving to their new space in Portland (and were also running a temporary ad promotion on DCILY). Though I still haven’t made it in person, it’s still at the top of my list of places to visit in Oregon—SCAA in April? The shop is walking distance from both Coava Coffee and Water Avenue, so there’s no reason to miss it during your next coffee tour.
I finally got some photos of the new Clive showroom and it looks great. It resembles an adult toy store (not that kind) full of shiny things to play with and good coffee to brew and taste. Who wouldn’t want to spend an afternoon hanging out here?
Clive Coffee first showed up on my radar when I came across their custom designed Clive Stand, made with Oregon walnut. Since then, they’ve continued making those, while expanding their experimentation with beautiful woods. Recently, they’ve taken a Mini Vivaldi home espresso machine and replaced its underwhelming plastic side panels with a more luxurious outfit from the forests of Oregon. Lovely work.
One of the coolest new products at the HOST conference was at the very same booth where the World AeroPress Championship took place. The prototype of the Marco Pillar was an eye-catching centerpiece to the company’s showroom display.
The pillar stood proudly above the bar with three hoses hanging down from the top. The hot water bubbled in a transparent window at the top, while magnetic connectors kept the handles firmly positioned near the base. I imagine the idea for something so brilliantly obvious as this comes while washing your Chemex with a sink hose and thinking, “wouldn’t it be great if…”
Sadly, I didn’t get my hands on the hose (Anne was hogging it all for herself) before the WAC began. However, I’d be more than happy to let Paul come install one in my kitchen for lots of beta-testing love.
I’ve been very clear about my opinion of the American k-cup trend, surprisingly Green Mountain Coffee’s PR guy still sent this my way. I’m not sure if Keurig machines are even sold in Italy, but they are using the allure of Italian coffee to sell their new “Barista Prima Coffeehouse” k-cups. As I leave this afternoon for Italy, excited to experience the coffee culture there first hand, I was truely disheartened to find this.
No one appreciates great coffee like Italian Barista Champion Francesco Sanapo. So after he won his second consecutive championship earlier this year, we asked him to try Barista Prima Coffeehouse® the first K-Cup® portion pack varieties inspired by the celebrated coffee houses of Europe. After savoring his first sip, he exclaimed, “Belissimo! (Beautiful!)” and fell in love with the deep, dark brews.
K-Cups are terrible for all the reasons discussed here, and for a coffee culture that is continually discussed regarding their relevancy in the emerging progressive coffee scene, it’s sad to see the Italian Barista Champion being used in this way.
The brand’s tagline, “Brew like a barista™” is insulting to Francesco’s accomplishments as well as every other barista who works passionately to serve great coffee every day.
I’m not sure how I’ve never come across this hand grinder from Hario until now, but I love the way it looks. It’s a nice hybrid of the traditional Zassenhaus grinder and the more modern Hario Skerton. With its steampunk aesthetic and a price range that falls in between the other mills, it’s very enticing.
However, I could only find two reviews on it, so I’m not sure how well it actually works compared to the other hand grinders out there. Does anyone have any experience with it? Would love to know what you think.
In case you missed it on the runway in Bryant Park last week, I’m launching a new line of DCILY clothing. Since the sold-out success of the “No X in Espresso” shirt, I’ve had people requesting re-prints of that shirt and asking if I would ever put the “Enjoy Black Coffee” print on a shirt. I’m happy to finally answer yes to both.
I teamed up with Simon Ålander, who designed the amazing “Mr. Coffee” poster published back in May, to transform the “enjoy black coffee” phrase into something more appropriate for a shirt—he delivered in spades. Since it’s approaching fall and winter (for me at least), I thought it would also make a great hoodie, so I’m offering that as well. In the future, I plan to collaborate with more designers to offer new shirts, in different styles, to keep things fresh.
These will be printed and shipped from the USA on 50/50 organic cotton & recycled polyester tees. I’m still sourcing the perfect hoodie to ensure you won’t want to take it off until spring. Also, as always, 5% of DCILY sales are donated to Coffee Kids.
There are a few things a person needs to help them brew better coffee at home and the tool most often overlooked by beginners is a digital scale. Weighing coffee and water, rather than using scoops and cups, allow consistency when measuring your ingredients.
Different coffees have different densities depending on how they are roasted or the size of the bean, so one tablespoon isn’t equal for all coffee. You’ll also notice that many of the better coffee brewing tutorials found on the internet use grams as the common unit of measure. Since 1mL of cold water weighs 1 gram, it’s simple math to calculate your dose ratio and learn to measure and brew coffee this way. Most coffee shops concerned with quality use scales, if not for brewing, at least for weighing the proper dose.
When I make coffee for friends, the first reaction to my scale is usually, “whoa, you’re really serious about this, huh?” Well, yes, but the scale shouldn’t be an indication of that. The digital scale is a valuable tool that every kitchen should have (even the New York Times agrees) and cost between $10-$50. When it takes less than a gram of coffee or a milliliter of water to alter the balance of a good cup of coffee, the scale shouldn’t be reserved only for “coffee nerds,” but should be embraced for the consistency it adds to the brewing process and the quality it creates in the cup.
The NYTimes article, though specifically about cooking, shares this coffee revelation:
The scale also ensures repeatability. I once calibrated exactly the amount of beans that I need to make coffee the way I like. Now, every morning, I place my can of beans on the scale, and then scoop out 28 grams — allowing me to repeat the same pot every day.
You don’t need to buy a scale that’s super fancy, just something with accurate gram measurements and a tare function will do fine. After fresh-roasted coffee beans and a good grinder, a scale will help improve your coffee brewing the most. Understanding your dose and being able to consistently repeat it, will contribute to better coffee on a regular basis without much added effort.