The Espro Press: The Rebirth of the French Press

03.04

espro_press_ 19

If you’re a fan of the French press, but not the fine particles that cloud your brew, the Espro Press is about to change your morning cup for the better. The Espro is a press pot that uses a dual micro-filter that’s 9 to 12 times finer than the mesh on a standard press. I first encountered the Espro Press at the Houston Specialty Coffee Event nearly 2 years ago, where I enjoyed a cup of Yirgacheffe from 49th Parallel. I was quite surprised by its cleanliness and depth of flavor, but believed I had “matured” beyond such methods.

It wasn’t until a visit to Coffee Collective in Copenhagen last year that I was encouraged to give it another look. When I saw the Espro being used on bar at Coffee Collective and after thoroughly enjoying a cup of Esmeralda Gesha from it, I realized the press pot had been reborn—renewing my enthusiasm for a faithful old brew method.

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A year ago, Espro launched a Kickstarter to fund the production of a large 30oz Espro Press—raising over $80,000—to complement its original 8oz version. This week, the Vancouver, Canada-based company is back on the crowd-funding site for help producing a new 18oz size press, which not only offers a more practical size, but will also include a few design refinements over its small and large counterparts.

The French press is one of the most common ways for people to brew their coffee at home. It was the method I first used to brew at home and it’s even the most popular way to brew among Verve Coffee employees. At one point in time, it was a preferred method of brewing coffee in some of the great specialty coffee shops before the pour over craze converted many of us to the pleasure of sweetness and clarity that paper filters provide.

While the full immersion brew method and simplicity of the French press are great, its muddiness and grit can mask and distort some of the more nuanced flavors in coffee, which is why you may have noticed them disappearing from some of your favorite cafés. But their ease of use and the ability to brew large quantities for guests is nearly unrivaled by most home brewing methods. Espro takes advantage of those positive aspects and has done a great job addressing the negatives with their redesigned filter.

espro_press_filter

espro_press_filter2

The Espro filter system is comprised of two (BPA-free) plastic frames that are wrapped with a micro-mesh and nest comfortably into each other, creating twice the filtering of a standard press. The filter then screws onto a plunging rod like other press pots so it can be unscrewed and cleaned once you’re finished. The pot itself is polished, double-wall stainless steel, which keeps things warmer longer, although I highly suggest decanting the coffee immediately after brewing to prevent over extraction (bitterness).

The filter system is a remarkable improvement over the standard French press and it’s surprising that it took so long for someone to accomplish something that seems a bit obvious. There is however one issue I have with the large size press that Espro sent me for testing—which the company says they addressed in the design of the new medium size Espro—and that’s the retention of coffee below the filter cup. Since the current filter system fits so well into the pot, and there are no holes in the bottom of it, the Espro traps a substantial amount of coffee at the bottom that ultimately goes to waste.

When brewing 750g of water in the Espro, I decanted 554g of coffee. After “rocking” the pot back and forth, the total increased to 568g of coffee. With the Bodum press however, I brewed 750g of water and was able to decant 674g of coffee—giving me another half cup of coffee. You can squeeze a bit more coffee from the Espro by slightly raising the filter or continuing to rock it back and forth, but this also risks increasing the amount of sediment that passes through, which defeats the entire purpose of the product.

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Below I’ve run an experiment to illustrate the difference between the sediment in the Espro compared with a standard Bodum French press.

I brewed coffee with each press using the same parameters and technique: 45 grams of coffee to 750 grams of water (coarse grind, 8-A on a Baratza Vario-W), a 2 minute steep followed by a stir, followed by 2 more minutes of steeping and a controlled 30 second press. The coffee was immediately decanted to prevent further extraction. I then poured the decanted coffee through a rinsed V60 paper to capture the sediment and give a visual approximation of the differences.

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espro_press_sediment

espro_press_sediment2

Overall, the coffee brewed in the Espro had more sweetness, more clarity and more acidity than in the standard French press. The resulting cup was not entirely sediment free, but it was reduced to a small bit of mud from fines rather than a gritty mouthfeel throughout. Depending on variations in your method (i.e. the cupping method of skimming before pressing) it’s possible to further reduce the sediment.

My goal with this test was to replicate a more standard use of the press pot than to examine the most effective sediment reduction methods. I found the amount of sediment from the Espro to be similar to what you can achieve with the Able Kone, but with the approachability that a press pot offers to beginners who are looking for a less intimidating way to start brewing much better coffee at home.

Learn more at Espro or pre-order the Espro Press Medium on Kickstarter

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posted by on 03.04.2013, under Brew Methods, Misc., Products

The Hario Drip Scale

11.18

At every coffee event I attended this year, the Hario booth always had some of the most lust-worthy products on display. The highlight of their product line was always the newly released V60 Drip Scale. In a departure from Hario’s specialization in glass, this scale represents the companies continued focus on the growing coffee market. The scale includes the simple but brilliant addition of a built-in timer, which may not be new, but it’s the first time I’ve seen one specifically made for coffee brewing.

The scale is beautifully designed and upon its release became one of the nicest looking available on the market. It has a small footprint (140mmX190mm), but is still large enough for a Chemex. Its clean lines, touch sensitive buttons and unique shape are finished in a lovely matte black that looks great, but emphasizes finger prints.

The scale has a 2kg (2000g) maximum capacity with 0.1g increments up to 200g and 0.5g increments up to 500g. After you reach 500g, the scale only measures in 1g increments. Powered by two AAA-batteries, the scale automatically turns off after 5 minutes of inactivity, so a mid-pour shut-down should never be an issue. The display is clear the scale measures accurately, but it’s not as fast as I’d expect for the price ($70).

What makes this scale different than others available, is that it was specifically designed with coffee brewing in mind and includes a timer right beside the weight display. This may seem like a trivial addition, but once you’ve used it, you’ll wish every scale had this feature. Best of all, you no longer need to lay your smartphone below a stream of water (freeing it up to take photos for Instagram).

Hario also designed a clear acrylic pourover stand and drip tray that pairs perfectly with the scale. While it’s obviously designed with the V60 in mind, any pourover cone from Kalita to Melitta would work just as well.

The scale and stand are sold separately from each other, and the stand isn’t necessary to enjoy the scale. The clear acrylic is easily scratched with cleaning and also costs nearly as much as the already pricey scale ($65). However, if money isn’t an issue and you feel the need to brew with a stand, go all in like Petraeus.

I’ve always been a fan of Hario’s design and the quality of their products. The new scale and drip stand are no exception, however I do believe they’re priced too high when compared to other quality scales on the market (i.e. Jennings CJ4000). That said, once design is factored into the equation the new Hario scale has little competition and will look better on your counter than most options available.

Shop for the Hario Drip Scale and the Hario Acrylic Stand

posted by on 11.18.2012, under Design, Products

Coffee Touring: LaMill Four Seasons in Baltimore

07.04

In April I had the pleasure of touring some of Baltimore’s finest coffee establishments, including the city’s newest addition, LaMill—a transplant from LA. This sparkling new shop opened last November by the water’s edge at the Four Seasons in Harbor East.

As I approached, there were plenty of suits passing by as well as an Audi R8 parked out front—environmental features you rarely find in the neighborhoods of most independent coffee shops, but a good sign of the specialty coffee market’s growth.

The open space greets you with a standard bar layout, a pour over stand  up front, alongside a custom painted La Marzocco Strada and several Mazzer Robur grinders. I ordered an espresso and a syphon of Guatemala at the bar to share with my companions and was handed a number for my table.

The coffee was delivered to my table by the barista along with a heavy cloth napkin, which added a simple but incredibly valuable detail to the experience. The espresso itself had an earthy Italian profile and was roasted a bit dark for my preference, but the Guatemala from the syphon was sweet, clean and quite enjoyable.

While I was admiring the space, Kris Fulton (manager) came out with a plate of the shop’s other specialty—fresh cut beignets from Michael Mina. Kris admitted to recognizing me and wanted to be sure we didn’t leave without trying them.

The plate was decorated with an assortment of sauces including a meyer lemon curd, Valrhona chocolate and a luscious butterscotch made with Macallan whiskey. They were the perfect compliment to our coffee and may have even outshone it.

Kris was fantastic as he spoke with us about LaMill and the business relationships that brought them to Baltimore to help develop this Four Seasons location. He also talked about their Saturday morning coffee clinics that teach customers about coffee brewing and appreciation in a comfortable atmosphere—pastries included.

The space is connected with two other restaurants (Wit & Wisdom and Pabu) in the sprawling rear lobby of the hotel which blend together nicely while maintaining their individual character. LaMill is clean-lined and modern, while providing a warm atmosphere through it’s unique lighting and dark wood textures.

If you’re visiting Baltimore, you don’t have to be staying in the Four Seasons to stop by this beautiful shop for a treat. There’s outdoor seating in the summer and it’s a great starting point to walk along the harbor and take in one of the city’s nicer views. LaMill is a welcome addition to the Baltimore coffee scene, which currently includes staples Spro and Woodberry Kitchen—and soon to be joined by Artifact Coffee.

LaMill, Four Seasons
200 International Drive
Baltimore, MD 21202
(410) 576-5800

posted by on 07.04.2012, under Coffee Touring, Misc., Recommended Roasters

London’s Independent Coffee Book

02.17

There’s a new coffee guide out—and for those who enjoy the smell of fresh ink and the feeling of paper between your fingers, you’ll be happy to know that it’s not a smart phone app. This here is a genuine book with pages that turn!

I mentioned the release party of The Independent Coffee Book (London Edition) back in December and recently got ahold of one from Vespertine Press to review. From the photos I’d previously seen I thought the book was larger, but thankfully the photos were misleading. It’s nearly pocketable, measuring just 4.75″x6″ with a pleasant satin feel.

The book’s café listings are organized into 5 sections of London: The City, West End, East, North and South. There are 36 coffee shops featured with several more listed at the end of each chapter. I’ve been to about 10 of those mentioned in the book and had more than half of them on my own list of recommended locations. It’s nice to learn of a few new spots in London and it makes me anxious to return and try some of them out.

Each featured location includes a nicely written summary of them along with the accessibility of WiFi, outdoor seating and bathrooms. There are also icons that signify whether the location is a roastery, coffee cart, or KeepCup reseller.

Underneath the general information, there are stats that indicate what machines, brew methods and coffee beans are used at each location. While I appreciate this information and the effort that went into acquiring it, there are certain benefits of a digital app that would better serve this level of detail. Cafés can change their beans and equipment fairly easily, which could make the book out of date prematurely. It may have been better to leave this type of information out or include with some kind of online integration.

What I love most about this book, and what I think adds the most value, is the “coffee compendium.” This transforms the guide from a list of coffee shops for coffee nerds, to an awesome gift for the coffee curious. It not only gives the reader a nice introduction to coffee, but shows them where they can taste and learn more about great coffee.

The compendium includes a brief history of London coffee shops, maps of coffee production and consumption, articles on roasting, sourcing ethics, brew method summaries and a small glossary of coffee drinks and terms.

The design is nicely considered and well produced, with my biggest critiques being those of a typography nerd—don’t double-space after periods! The gaping rivers in some paragraphs that are created by unmanaged justified type also served as a distraction for me (although most people will never notice these sort of things). The system throughout the book is consistent and the photographs are fantastic.

The back cover folds out to reveal maps of each section, highlighting the featured locations and the nearest Underground stations. This is infinitely helpful if you’re visiting and don’t want to pay data roaming fees to use the map on your phone and have pledged to navigate your entire trip through analog means.

I generally prefer to have things like this in a digital format, to reduce the amount of things I own and the ensuing clutter it creates. But when designed well, it becomes a useful, beautiful object that won’t run out of batteries and can easily be loaned or given to friends once you’re done using it. I’m already planning a trip to London in March and look forward to putting this book through the trials of urban exploration.

For £10, it’s priced similar to other travel guides, but with a more specific focus. However, if you’ve read my thoughts on coffee touring—this book is all you need.

Order yours from Vespertine Press

 

posted by on 02.17.2012, under Coffee Touring, Design, Misc., Products

Bloomin’ New Coffee App

11.09

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.

Bloom App

 

 

posted by on 11.09.2011, under Design, Misc., Products

Review – Verve Ethiopian Worka

06.14

Verve Coffee – Ethiopia Worka, Dry-Process
12oz Whole Bean – $14.50
Santa Cruz, California
www.vervecoffeeroasters.com

I’ve known about Verve for a while, but I hadn’t actually tried their coffee until recently. I had been completely enamored with their packaging, so I’m not sure what took so long for me to order some. Recently, I met Josh Kaplan, director of wholesale for Verve, while I was in Houston and had planned a visit to Sweetleaf the following week in NYC—who brews Verve. So everything fell in place for me to finally experience their coffee.

After a great experience at Sweetleaf, where Rich served up my first cup of Verve, he sent me on my way with a bag of Ethiopian Worka. However, I wasn’t able to brew it until meeting up with Mike White a few days later. By then, the beans were slightly passed peak freshness—and though it was good, I felt like I missed out on what it really had to offer. After getting home, I ordered a bag of their Ethiopian Lomi Peaberry—and after a series of shipping mishaps—really enjoyed this sweet and effervescent coffee.

But after all the shipping issues, which weren’t the fault of Verve, they made up for it anyway by sending me a fresh bag of Ethiopian Worka and my very own OG mug. I now had a second chance to taste this coffee in its prime and it didn’t disappoint.

Aroma: After opening the bag, I was blown away with dueling characteristics of Booberry and Count Chocula cereals. Dry and malty, but incredibly sweet with vanilla undertones. Once brewed, the cold cereal aroma became a warm buttered blueberry waffle. L’eggo my Eggo, this cup was all mine.

Taste: When the coffee fills your mouth, you discover dabs of sweet maple syrup that have burrowed into the bluberry waffle’s grid-like caverns. The syrupy body coats your mouth like a spoon of Mrs. Buttersworth’s, followed by a finish that is clean and bright—like a final swig of orange garnished spring water as you leave the table after Sunday morning brunch. Heavy and sweet, but well balanced.

This coffee is really exceptional, one of my favorites in recent months. I have no idea why it took so long to try Verve, but I’m glad that I have and I’m looking forward to more of their coffee in the future. Everyone I’ve spoken with at the company has been really awesome and I’ve found out first hand, just how much they value customer service.

It’s also very clear—once you’ve held a bag of their coffee in your hand—how great of an understanding and appreciation they have for design. There are few, if any, coffee bags that could rival the intricacy and production value of theirs. It feels nice in your hand and looks great on your counter. The best part is, the complexity and quality of the package reflects that of the product inside.

Order some Verve Ethiopia Worka

Design by Chen Design Associates

posted by on 06.14.2011, under Coffee Reviews, Design, Recommended Roasters

Enjoying the Variance of Craft Coffee

05.23

One of my favorite things about great coffee, is that no two are the same. For many years I thought coffee always tasted like “coffee.” Now, as my girlfriend begins to enjoy coffee with me, she describes bad coffee as tasting like “coffee.” Which usually means she isn’t tasting the coffee at all, just the roast. However, there is a growing segment of the industry who focus on roast levels that accentuate the coffees terroir—the natural environment including soil, topography and climate that affect its unique flavors—instead of trying to replicate a uniform taste with dark roasts and blends.

When you visit coffee shops who brew these coffees, they often do so one cup at a time—ensuring a fresh cup is made just for you. Baristas use a vareity of manual methods that not only bring out the best in the coffee, but also create a bit of theater allowing you an opportunity to engage them with your curiosity. This also prevents you from getting a cup of overheated swill from a giant batch pot that you have no idea how long has been sitting there.

This approach to coffee has been called many things, most commonly the “Third Wave.” But a new company called Craft Coffee, has taken a step towards defining it for consumers in a more understandable way. This start-up has developed a subscription based model that brings an evolving array of artisan coffees—that are craft roasted in small batches—right to your door each month. This allows connoisseurs a chance to indulge in a variety of great coffees, while giving beginners a fantastic way to explore and discover new coffees and roasters. It’s a win for everyone.

The Craft Coffee box comes with three 4oz bags, giving you enough for 6-8 cups of each coffee. Every bag is marked with information about the roaster, producer, origin, varietal, elevation, process and tasting notes. An extra notecard elaborates a bit more on each coffee giving you more insight into where it came from and why it was chosen.

Colombian coffee crops have been devastated by unrelenting weather and punishing floods. Which makes this coffee, a Caturra varietal, grown by Didier Reinoso on a small farm in the mountains of Las Mercedes, Herrera—where he also grows avocados, plantains, yucas and herbs—all the more exceptional.

The first box included the following coffees:

Gimme! Coffee: Caranavi Bolivia
MadCap Coffee Company: Las Mercedes, Colombia
Coava Coffee Roasters: Chalalacktu, Ethiopia Yirgacheffe

I would personally recommend any of these roasters, so it was a treat to have all three in one box. It made for a fantastic weekend of coffee tasting. This format allows a great opportunity for boxes to be specially curated, or even present the same coffee roasted by different roasters, creating new experiences and encouraging new exploration in coffee.

One thing I found curiously absent from the package where roast dates on the coffee. I know Mike & Mike, and spent time with them a week prior to their first shipment. They are both detail oriented and grasp the value of such a detail, so I can only assume they forgot or are still working out the logistics. Every bag is hand packed with love, so I can understand if certain steps may not have found their way into the system yet.

Overall, Craft Coffee is an affordable luxury that combines elements of surprise with culinary excellence and better understanding of the beverage we all love.

Get on next month’s list at CraftCoffee.com


Enjoy some photos from behind the scenes courtesy of Mike White.


 

 

posted by on 05.23.2011, under Misc., Products, Recommended Roasters

Love Keurig? Nope.

03.30

Love Keurig? Not one bit. But yesterday Twitter was all a-buzz about the machine that brews single-serve coffee pods (K-cups) while they were “promoted” to the top of the trending list. So I tweeted my 140 character dissertation on the topic, simply stating that “Keurig is bad for coffee and bad for the Earth. #killthekcup.” While a few people—145 of them—agreed with me and re-shared the message, not everyone felt the same.

I was quickly contacted by Keurig with a link to their reusable K-cup as if that rectified the issue and put an end to the discussion. Then a few loyal K-cup fans were upset that I criticized their right to never have to wipe coffee off their counter tops, followed by another guy who thought that the billions of non-recyclable plastic cups are not an issue and I should invest my activist angst elsewhere.

The reality, it is a big issue—not just in the coffee industry, but in the bigger ecological picture. When the most important ”R” of conservation is to “reduce,” ignoring the rapid growth of an unnecessary and disposable product like K-cups is far from inconsequential. So, I’ve broken down my issues with this growing coffee trend into four categories: economics, quality, environment and the company behind it all.

Economics
First we’ll start with money, the topic people are generally concerned with the most. There are many ways to brew coffee, much better coffee, for the same cost (or less) than K-cups. On average, you can brew 30 cups of coffee with 1 pound of coffee beans. So let’s compare the two.

A 24-pack of Fair Trade Green Mountain Sumatran Reserve K-cups cost $15.45, which comes out to 65 cents a cup for glorified instant coffee. Meanwhile, you can buy a pound of Intelligenstia’s Direct Trade coffee for $20, which is a premium compared to what most people pay in a grocery store or even at most local roasters. Divide that by 30 and it comes out to 66 cents a cup for some of the best coffee you can buy. Cost savings per cup? Need a penny, take a penny.

What about all the expensive tools you need to brew fresh coffee? Let’s compare. The cheapest Kuerig brewing system you can buy is the Mr. Coffee KG1, which costs $79.50. Or for just $1.95 more, you can get an AeroPress, an entry level burr grinder and an electric kettle (assuming you need one). Once your water is heated, you can brew coffee with an AeroPress in the same amount of time as a K-cup—30 seconds. If time isn’t a concern, a french press, clever dripper, or pour-over cone can also brew one cup at a time and will take about 4 minutes.

Coffee Quality
Keurig’s tagline is “brewing excellence one cup at a time.” However, all basic principles of properly brewing coffee are ignored by the Keurig. For starters, the water in a Keurig only reaches 192°F (89°C), the Specialty Coffee Association of America suggests a minimum of 197.5°F and the industry standard is about 200°F. Combine the low water temperature with such a short brew time and you get a very under extracted cup.

There is also no control over the coffee to water ratio, so whether you want a small, medium or large cup, the same amount of coffee is used for the various levels of water. So a small will be extra strong, while a large will be weak and watery. When you push the corresponding size button, the amount of coffee in the cup doesn’t magically change.

The only way to truly make a cup of excellent coffee is to use fresh-roasted quality beans, ground just before brewing. No amount of freeze drying, airtight packaging or artificial flavors will produce a comparable cup. However, when your coffee options include “Chocolate Glazed Donut,” your beverage is as much coffee as Kool-Aid is fruit juice.

While taste may be subjective, quality is not.

Environmental Impact
In 2009, 1.6 billion non-recyclable plastic K-cups were sold (it was estimated that 3 billion would be sold in 2010). That’s enough plastic to circle the earth 1.25 times. Plastic that will take millions of years to degrade—if ever— and will continue to pile up in landfills and the ocean, increasing the size of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and killing wildlife. All in the name of low-quality convenience.

While loyalists and the company will quickly point out the “My K-cup” reusable basket as proof that Keurig isn’t all bad, that’s like saying Starbucks doesn’t have a paper cup problem, because they also sell ceramic mugs. Truth is, the reusable basket hasn’t prevented the sale and waste of billions of K-cups, so its prevention efforts are little if any. Another company argument is that the Green Mountain R&D department is laboring away to develop more environmentally friendly solutions to a problem their product created in the first place. A disposable product can never truly be sustainable.

If this were a life-saving medical device preventing the spread of AIDs in the developing world, I would be a bit more lenient. But that’s not the case. The K-cup was designed to save incompetent adults the trouble of wiping up coffee grounds from their counter top in the morning. I find it disturbing that such a “green company” can even justify the continued production of such an irresponsible and unnecessary product.

The Company
Back in the early 2000′s Green Mountain Coffee was the anti-Starbucks. They were a growing coffee company based in Vermont and stood on a foundation of admirable environmental ideals with a history full of environmental innovations. In many ways, they are still a leader of corporate environmental stewardship. But with the acquisition of Keurig in 2006, the company quickly became a walking contradiction.

While continuing to profess their environmental sanctity, advertising in GOOD magazine, and using the tagline “brewing a better world”—the company shifted from promoting and selling Fair Trade organic coffee, to more than 80% of sales coming from Keurig machines and K-cups. The company seems to ignore the irony in selling Fair Trade organic coffee in little plastic cups by the truckload.

But even with most sales coming from the coffee equivalent of bottled water, Green Mountain’s marketing still paints the company as a beacon of environmental morality. At what point are all the positive things they are doing completely negated by the billions of plastic cups they are contributing into the waste stream each year? Does their corporate sustainability record give them a free pass on the absurd waste of K-cups?

Summary
Are K-cups the only problem in the world? No. But it’s a relatively new problem that has been manufactured for convenience. People can point to other disposables, but coffee is everywhere. It’s the third most consumed beverage in the world and its consumption continues to grow with the rising middle-class in China and India. A person can easily go through 3 K-cups a day, while a toothbrush lasts 3 months or more.

Coffee has come so far since the introduction of post-WW1 instant coffee, yet the rise of K-cups takes a giant step backwards for consumers, the industry, the environment, and the beverage itself. As someone who loves both the drink and the industry, it seems so completely obvious—K-cups are bad for coffee and bad for the Earth. #killthekcup.

posted by on 03.30.2011, under Brew Methods, Coffee 101, Misc., Products

Storyville – Chapter 2: Coffee

12.21

After Storyville’s essential hardware is in place, then comes the Storyville software—two bags of coffee packed as delicately as a cashmere sweater. The same design detail found in the hardware packaging is present throughout the coffee as well.

The clear plastic, resealable bags are printed in metallic ink with a knockout of their logo, allowing a preview of the product inside. The typography is nicely considered and the roast date is printed right on the front of the bag—just as large as Storyville’s name—making it easy to find and stressing its importance.

Nestled underneath the coffee was a nicely wrapped DVD with the videos from the website teaching you how to brew the perfect press pot as well as the short film about “Big Coffee” and the burnt bean cover-up.

The coffee itself wasn’t as exciting for me as everything else. Not that it was bad, I know a number of people who this would make a great gift for, but I’m not usually in the market for a comforting, earthy morning blend.

The aroma is nice, full of chocolate and spice. There’s also a bit of cinnamon, a hint of clove and honey sweetened nuts that make their way out of the cup. The coffee is full bodied with a bit of a dry mouthfeel. Spiced walnuts are the most prominent flavor, while some lemon zest add a bit of brightness to the cup. As it cools, the coffee smoothes out and ends with a red wine finish.

The last thing I want to share about Storyville, which could be another post in itself, is their Storyville Live initiative. Chad Turnbull, Co-President of Storyville, calls themselves a “for profit, for good” company. What this means is that their success is not determined by profit alone, but also by how they can contribute back to society. I am a big proponent of this type of business. When I’m not writing about coffee or doing design work for clients, I’m actually a bit of  a social entrepreneur myself.

Storyville Live is an intimate concert in the home of a generous host, completely organized by the company with the help of a guest list. During an event, fresh coffee is served up to fuel the live music and conversation that ensue, which allows Storyville to personally introduce new customers to their product. This intimate setting also gives them an opportunity to share their passion for another cause—to see an end to human trafficking and slavery. While this seems like a heavy topic, what better place to discuss an important global issue than over coffee with friends? What’s better, is all of the proceeds made from coffee and hardware sales go directly to the International Justice Mission, who are fighting to end such oppression.

There are many coffee companies who use their sales to promote the well being of people in coffee growing regions (which is fantastic, we should all be doing that), but I find Storyville’s unique approach to raise money for an unrelated issue, a very sincere effort to improve the world we live in. Storyville’s heart is clearly visible in everything they do. From the studio they roast their coffee in, to the way it’s presented when you receive it in your home, it’s obvious that Storyville cares deeply about what they do, which is not only great business, but a great way to live.

visit Storyville

posted by on 12.21.2010, under Coffee Reviews, Design, Recommended Roasters

Storyville – Chapter 1: Hardware

12.17

Storyville is a small coffee company in Seattle, Washington doing big things. Their mission is simple, “the best beans, artfully roasted, and rushed to your door while they’re still fresh.” They only offer one coffee, a regular blend called Prologue and its decaf counterpart, aptly named Epilogue. The goal at Storyville is not to offer the newest or largest selection of blends and origins, but instead provide the fresh and consistent cup of everyday coffee that their costumers enjoy. They also make an effort to educate new customers about the crimes of “Big Coffee” and their bitter, over-roasted beans.

Storyville knows that in order to best enjoy fresh coffee, you need to have a few essentials—a good grinder and a press pot. That’s where their newest, soon to be released, offering comes into play. Introducing Storyville Hardware—or as I call it, “the mind-blowing home coffee transformation kit.” It provides you with the elements needed to grant you freedom from bad coffee.

When I first discovered Storyville a few years ago, the high quality of their design made a lasting first impression. It’s obvious that design shapes every aspect of the company, even though none of the owners are formally trained in the arts. From their identity, packaging, and website—to their roasting studio, which looks more like a Maserati showroom than a roastery. There is an attention to detail you don’t often find in the coffee industry and the design and experience of opening the Hardware package is no exception. If Apple started a coffee company, it would look like Storyville.

When brewing at home, the most important thing you need after fresh roasted coffee, is a solid burr grinder. The consistency of the grind will make all the difference in the extraction, while excess powder from a poor grind can add unwanted sediment and bitterness. So Storyville built a custom grinder to provide this vital piece of equipment.

I spoke with Chad Turnbull, Co-President of Storyville and he told me that they collaborated with a German designer, think BMW and Porsche, to help develop their grinder. The construction is solid, and the body design is more streamlined than similar grinders on the market, while reflecting the essence of the Storyville brand. The internal components are on par with those of a Baratza Virtuoso. It includes a timed on switch, but no pulse button. The polished finish and laser-etched logos are a beautiful touch that almost make you want to cherish it more than use it.

After you grind the beans, you need a proper way to brew. There really isn’t an easier way than with a press pot. It’s one of the most basic and transparent brewing methods, that’s difficult to mess up. No paper filters to impair the taste, and nowhere for bad beans to hide. The oils that aren’t filtered out by the mesh, provide full flavor in the cup while a bit of sediment adds a pleasant texture to the body.

While you can pick up a basic press for about $20, Storyville wanted something that would look nice on the counter next to their grinder. So they partnered with Bodum to offer a custom, 12-cup Columbia press pot. The stainless steel matches the accents on the grinder, and it makes enough coffee to serve everyone at your dinner party.

The design and consideration doesn’t stop at the packaging and the products, but continues through the literature as well. The instruction guides are nicely illustrated with pleasant typography to guide you through using, cleaning and maintaining each piece of hardware. When an instruction guide is so beautiful that you actually want to read it all the way through, it says something for the power of design.

On Monday, I’ll talk more about some unique things Storyville is doing as a company, as well as review the coffee itself. Until then, check out their website to watch a video tour of their amazing roasting studio and a fun parody about ex-employees of “Big Coffee.”

Visit Storyville Coffee

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posted by on 12.17.2010, under Design, Products