Thursday, January 24, 2008

How Much Will YOU Pay For Good Coffee?

I love coffee (good coffee, that is!), but I think this is a bit much: At Last, a $20,000 Cup of Coffee

Be sure to view the
slideshow of pictures.

A more down-to-earth opinion (that also corrects the $20,000 figure) from
Posted Tue Jan 29, 2008, 1:34am
Subject: Re: $20,000 Coffee Machine
I paid a visit to the new Blue Bottle today. On my way in I saw James Freeman, who was leaving. After learning that he was illegally parked and that taking his space was not likely to save me a ticket, I asked him why the device I was going in to look at cost $20,000. His comment was something to the effect that the cost issue was overblown. Apparently the reporter asked him what the whole rather impressive-looking setup cost. Thinking it over, and factoring in the cost of the ice-drip apparatus, the burners, the sneeze guard, the installation and the 75 or so backup Hario pots ($100-150 apiece is my guess), he threw out a ballpark number of $20,000. This then became the story reported on the Continent and points east as the "$20,000 cup of coffee".

The place was busy. I successfully feigned nonchalance when asked for $10.85 for my pot of Sidamo DP, and sat down, fortuitously, right in front of The Apparatus. The theatre is impressive indeed. I want one of those things and I will likely strongly consider one for our next store. I may even fashion one to upgrade our existing Octagon location, where the Clover is overwhelmed by demand.

There were many things that caused some concern. Number one, the wait was almost 25 minutes, in which time I saw perhaps 5 pots go out. That struck me as excessive. Also, I think too much has been made of the bamboo paddle and stirring technique. I didn't get the impression that the two bartenders were exercising any particular skill. I may have missed that one, though. The price also seemed high, for $1.00 worth of ingredient cost, and a higher than average labor cost. Lastly, and this was the real kicker, the coffee was only good. I expected (hoped, is more accurate) to be floored. I wasn't. I place the blame for this specifically on the New York Times and generally on the culture of hype that surrounds our industry sometimes. I imagine that while it's great to have the publicity and the consequent lines of customers, James might concur with me on this last point. There is a pitfall in unrealistic expectations. This is vacuum coffee, afterall, such as any self-respecting CoffeeGeek would make at home, and that many of us grew up with.

The service was quick, attentive and professional. The lavender and sea salt "pairing" caramels were really good. The experience was great. I'll be going back. For regular old espresso. And the remarkable spectacle of the siphon bar. It's a bit like a Corvette that way. A fun car to watch someone else drive.

James, I hope I didn't offend with this commentary. I very much enjoyed meeting you, and I loved the new store. You deserve all your success. I'm glad you enjoyed Lulu's at the Octagon. Do ask for me next time you're in. I'd love to buy you a drink and chat some more.
More info and links here.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

AeroPress Update

I have found an improved way to make coffee with my AeroPress that also saves on the amount of coffee one uses.

The recommended method is to use about 1 AeroPress scoop (36-38 ml versus a typical 30 ml (2 TB) coffee scoop) of beans per serving, put the ground coffee in the large tube, add the appropriate amount of water, plunge, and then fill your cup with water to make a full cup of coffee (i.e., ~6 oz. liquid coffee total per AeroPress scoop).

A method that seems to extract more flavor and hence uses less coffee (but it's only good for one cup at a time*), and also results in a better-tasting cup of coffee, IMO**, is to plunge all the water through the ground coffee. I.e.:
  1. Using a bit less than 1 AeroPress scoop of beans, grind it fine (espresso grind) and put the ground coffee as usual in the large outer tube that is on your empty cup while you're heating your water.
  2. Pour enough hot water into the inner tube/plunger to fill it (8 oz. all the way to the rim).
  3. When the hot water is at the desired temperature (165-175° or whatever you have come to like), pour it slowly at first (to moisten and expand the grounds) and then completely into the outer tube.
  4. Stir with the paddle for 10 seconds or so as usual.
  5. Plunge for 20 seconds or so as usual.
  6. Drink and enjoy!
If you use a full AeroPress scoop, you will likely find that you will have to add a couple more ounces of water to the drink, either to the outer tube in addition to the 8 oz. from the inner tube/plunger before you plunge, or into the cup after you have plunged the coffee, or the coffee will be too strong.

* If you want a larger cup, then use 2 shallow AeroPress scoops ground a bit coarser than espresso in the outer tube, and reserve 16 oz. of the heated water in, e.g., a 2-cup measuring beaker. When it's the right temperature, pour slowly as much of the water as you can into the outer tube until it's almost at the top, and stir it for 10 seconds or so with the paddle. Since some water/coffee will have dripped into the cup, top off the outer tube with more water just before you plunge, and then after you have plunged the coffee, use what's left of the 16 oz. measure of hot water to fill your cup, and stir. You will still have plunged most of the water through the coffee, so you'll have the extra-taste benefits this method produces.

** The new instructions for the AeroPress say:
If I am just making a single cup, can I push all the water for the cup through the press? Yes, but when you push a full cup of water past the grounds it extracts bitterness. Diluting your espresso-sized pressing with hot water makes a much smoother brew.
This has not been my experience, however. YMMV.