Want To Get More Done? Work From a Coffee Shop

What if your job wasn’t tethered to a desk or a time clock? For an increasing number of workers, the rise of telecommuting — working for an employer, but typically working offsite instead of at a desk or cubicle in an office — presents an attractive option. It’s not just for freelancers any more. Increasingly, businesses are offering either partial or full-time telecommuting to their employees, whether they’re writers, designers, accountants, or salespeople. As Forbes bluntly stated it, Telecommuting Is the Future of Work.

coffee-shop-business-interior-inside-summitAt a glance, telecommuting offers plenty of positives. There’s a degree of flexibility that makes telecommuting attractive to employers (it’s cost effective, and leads to less hours lost to things like illness and bad weather). Workers also see potential, especially if they’re parents with young children, people with long commutes, the easily-distracted, and those of us who don’t keep conventional hours. But one interesting finding from a 2012 study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (The Hard Truth about Telecommuting) was that telecommuting, despite its hype, hasn’t delivered on the promise of better work-life balance. Indeed, demands on workers typically increase, with some employers expecting — or even demanding — ’round the clock availability.

Against that backdrop, how can a telecommuter carve out a sense of balance and sanity? One answer could be as close as the nearest coffee shop. Benefits include:

Fewer Distractions: At first, this would seem to make no sense at all. Coffee shops are often bustling and noisy. Believe it or not, all that activity helps rather than hindering. The low-level hum of all that chatter helps to shut out other background noise, and unlike a radio, television, or your MP3 player, there’s not as much temptation to drop what you’re doing to pay attention to something else, whether it’s a news report, a plot twist, or a song you haven’t heard in ages.

A Change in Scenery: Let’s face it, the walls of your home office (or living room, breakfast nook, or wherever else you typically set up at home) gets a bit dull after a while. Getting out of your usual space — and the usual routine that goes with it — keeps you energized, and can be a big help in getting those creative juices flowing.

Socialization: There’s often no way around the fact that working at home can sometimes be a bit like solitary confinement. There’s no chat around the watercooler or over lunch (we doubt if your cat’s going to have much to say about the latest plot twist on Game of Thrones), and no winding down at happy hour after work (dogs and martinis don’t mix). A bit of idle chatter with strangers, or the other regulars, goes a long way toward staving off isolation.

Collaboration: Those chance meetings have another benefit. After all, you’re often meeting people in the same circumstances as you, so it’s an ideal environment for swapping leads, advice, and strategies. And if you’re stuck on an especially challenging work issue, it never hurts to get a second opinion or another set of eyeballs on it. That’s much harder to do when you’re working from home.

Caffeiene: The free flow of coffee can help to keep you alert and keep your energy levels up, which can be especially helpful when you’re coming down the home stretch of a long or difficult project.

We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention a bit of etiquette. For one thing, be sure to order regularly (at least once an hour). That might seem expensive, but you’re in someone’s place of business. And that cost is much lower than the cost of renting office space. For another, pay attention to the footprint of your workspace. How much space are you, your laptop, your notes, your phone, briefcase, charger, and other odds and ends taking up? Also be aware of the time; working during a cafe’s busiest times can be an annoyance for everyone involved, and working during off-peak hours can help keep you from wearing out your welcome. Above all, be mindful and respectful.


See More: CCTV on the present and future of telecommuting:


Telecommuting is currently in a phase of slow but steady growth. Its increasing popularity is reflected not only in the growing number of telecommuting jobs available on sites like Indeed and Monster, but also on sites where telecommuting jobs make up a significant portion of the job listings (Flexjobs) or their entirety (We Work Remotely, a spinoff of the original 37 Signals job board). As the opportunities expand, employers and job seekers alike are left to navigate a maze of challenges. For the latter, at least, the local coffee shop is a good place to address the promise, and the challenges, head on.

For those days when you’d rather work from your couch in your pajamas, try our selection of fresh-roasted K-Cups for your Keurig.

Additional Reading:

New York Times: How the Hum of a Coffee Shop Can Boost Creativity

Coffitivity (mentioned in the Times article above) is an app for iPhone and Android that simulates the background hum of a coffee shop. You can visit them at https://coffitivity.com/

Pour-Over Kettle vs. Teakettle

Fino 4.5 cup Pourover Kettle

Fino 4.5 cup pourover kettle

While I was doing my usual intrepid coffee researcher thing recently, I came across a Huffington Post article titled “Stupid Coffee Accessories That You Don’t Need To Buy.” It’s hard to argue with some of the items listed, like the $124.00 Starbucks pour-over stand, the hand-blown Chemex kettle, the $200.00 French Press, or an odd-looking stand-alone milk frother. But a few of the other items — like the Cafe De Tiamo Syphon, an admittedly expensive (but well-reviewed) Breville espresso machine, the Hario Skerton Ceramic Coffee Grinder and the Hario Coffee Drip Kettle left us wondering whether the writer actually drank coffee.

Here’s the thing: some coffee gear is expensive. Some of it, to the uninitiated, probably seems like the height of pretentiousness. But if you’re paying for the best quality beans you can afford because you enjoy a damn good cup of coffee, you want to make sure you’re getting the most out of it. That means getting the right grind, and using the right technique to ensure that those good beans taste like they should, instead of tasting like Sanka.

hario v60 buono electric kettle

Hario V60 Buono Electric Pour-Over Kettle

One item in the list above particularly stands out: the humble pour-over kettle. These don’t come cheap, exactly, but they won’t break the bank either. Odds are better than even that you’ve already got a stovetop or electric teakettle, so you might be wondering why you need yet another gadget in your kitchen. In a word: control.

Optimal extraction is all about control, after all. The right coffee (try our Empire State Medium Roast ground coffee packs), the right grind (for a pourover, it should be a medium-fine grind that’s about the size of grains of sand), the right filters (unbleached paper if you’re using a Kalita or Melitta pourover cone; other options are available for KONE, Chemex, et al.), the right water temperature (190-200 degrees Farenheit) and the right pour technique all matter. It doesn’t pay to half-ass any step in the process.

Bonavita Electric Pourover Kettle

Bonavita Electric Pourover Kettle

A pour-over kettle (also called a gooseneck kettle) gives you a degree of control over water flow that a standard teakettle won’t. You might be able, with practice, a steady hand, and patience,* to get good results out of a teakettle. Sometimes, however, the best route is to just go with the right tool for the job the first time. The Hario drip kettle mentioned above is a staple in coffee houses (and coffee drinkers’ houses) the world over, and with good reason: it’s thoughtfully designed, it looks lovely, and it delivers great results consistently. Other less-expensive options are available, but we’d suggest doing your research first. Hario’s also gotten into the electric kettle game with a 1-liter electric version of their classic kettle; here again, there are alternatives, like the Bonavita 1.0L Electric Kettle.

Is the pour-over kettle a “stupid” purchase? Like anything else you buy for your kitchen, if it’s going to sit unused on a shelf brewing nothing more than dust bunnies, then the answer’s probably yes. But if you care about making the most of your beans and your coffee — and if you plan to put it to use — we’d come down firmly on the side of calling it a sensible purchase.

Further Reading:
Serious Eats has a quick tutorial on making pour-over coffee at home:

If you’re more visually oriented, try this tutorial from Buddy Brew Coffee’s Master Barista Ty Beddingfield:

*And really, who in the hell has patience or a steady hand before their first cup of coffee? I certainly don’t.

Coffee News Roundup

Keurig All The ThingsKeurig All The Things!

When a company does something particularly innovative — especially when substantial sums of money follow that innovation — it’s a sure bet that copies of, and variations on, that innovation are soon to follow. Keurig has made billions by combining variety and quality with convenience, and we’re seeing the first stirrings of a wave of imitators that are taking the Keurig model that’s already been tweaked by the Nespresso and Senseo (among others) far beyond coffee.

New York Magazine reports that a handful of machines making their way to market will soon allow consumers to “brew” everything from beer to miso soup. Each machine works on much the same razor-and-blade model that Keurig has used to great effect: start with an affordable delivery system, and profit mightily from the raw materials that allow the machine’s owners to make their food or beverage on demand. The SYNEK replaces kegs or growlers with a one-gallon beer baggie that the machine carbonates. The Somabar uses refillable vials (soon to be replaced, the designers hope, with proprietary cartridges) and a smartphone app to blend cocktails on demand. Genie promises ingredient pods that help to deliver fresh-baked meals in a flash, with “the mind blowing aroma of a chef” (I’m not sure how I feel about that last part). In a sense, even Keurig is iterating on its earlier success; the company hopes that its Keurig Cold, developed in tandem with Coca Cola, will do for cold drinks what the earlier generations of Keurig machines did for coffee. Of course, each of these machines will have to compete for counter space with your Keurig, your food processor, your toaster, and that abomination that makes awful breakfast sandwiches. Only time will tell if Keurig’s model stands up to replication, or if the company caught lightning in a bottle.

World Barista Championship News

While some people have lately been obsessing over March Madness and baseball spring training, we’ve been eyeing the leadup to the 2015 World Barista Championship. Grub Street introduces Charles Babinski (of Go Get ‘Em Tiger and G&B), who will be representing the United States at the Championship. The secret to his success? Top-notch coffee skills, and a signature drink that sounds equal parts beguiling and intriguing (Honduran espresso blended live onstage with pine-tree honey, juniper syrup, and a grapefruit reduction, per Grub Street). The 2015 World Barista Championship takes place from April 9 to 12 in Seattle, Washington.

But wait. There’s more.

While we’ve got our eyes on 2015, changes are in the offing for the 2016 version, which will be held in Dublin, Ireland (home to World Coffee Events, the company that produces the competition). Beginning next year, the cappuccino portion of the competition will be replaced by a “milk drink course” that reflects how tastes and techniques have changed. Baristas will also find that the espresso machines and grinders used (the Victoria Arduino “Black Eagle” espresso machine and Mahlkönig K30 Vario grinder, respectively) will be standardized, leading to a more level playing field. In the meantime, we’re rooting for the “local” barista to do us proud.

DIY Latte Art (Almost)

deco latte sheetsI like latte art. My morning won’t be ruined if there’s not a leaf drawn in the foam on my cappucino, but there’s something about that added human touch that reminds you that your coffee is hand-crafted. Well, it did ’til now, anyway. Enter the Deco Latte. According to online magazine OZY, the Deco Latte is a slide-on decal — essentially not much different than a temporary tattoo, but for your coffee — made of derived collagen and cocoa, leaving a design that lasts for about three minutes. While I would hope that any self-respecting cafe would stick to making latte art the old-fashioned way, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit disappointed to find out that Takara Tomy Arts‘ first design (a Snoopy-themed pack) sold out when it was unveiled at the Tokyo location of Tower Records.

If you manage to get your hands on Deco Latte, try them on our Liberty Lungo pods for Nespresso with a side of Pocky, Crunky, or other Japanese snack food of choice.

More Uses For Used Coffee Grounds

Spoonful of Coffee GroundsIf you’re drinking a lot of coffee, you’ve probably noticed that the grounds add up quickly. While K-Cups might be difficult to recycle, coffee grounds are a different story. Those used grounds are very easy to recycle or reuse, and have some creative uses that just might surprise you. There are plenty of possibilities beyond composting!

Treat Your Soil For one thing, plants and coffee go quite well together. Coffee also indirectly aerates soil, since worms love the stuff. Mixing coffee grounds into your soil has a number of benefits. Some plants, like carrots, radishes and hydrangeas, love coffee. Anything else that requires acidic soil will also benefit, and plants also thrive on the nitrogen released by the grounds. Snails, slugs, ants and cats will all give areas treated with coffee a wide berth. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the same effect on your neighbor’s questionable lawn decor.

Clean with Coffee As a mild abrasive, coffee grounds are handy at getting caked-on or baked-on food off your pots, pans and dishes. Used with a bit of dish detergent and a little elbow grease, they’re great for cleaning off layers of gunk. Those grounds can also be useful in cleaning your fireplace since damp grounds cause ashes to clump and supress dust, making fireplace cleanup easier.

Glowing Grounds What’s even more surprising is that if you combine Vitamin E oil, coconut oil or shea butter with used coffee grounds, you’ve also got a gentle exfoliant for dry skin. As an added bonus, since caffeine absorbs through the skin, many people report feeling a bit of a lift from their scrub. Combine grounds with a gentle liquid soap, or even with olive oil, for an effective hand scrub that’s more gentle on your hands than the harsh cleansers and abrasives found in Lava Soap and other soaps typically popular with mechanics and others who get their hands dirty for a living. Coffee also cuts down on the stink left behind after cutting onions or garlic.

Deodorize A bowl of used grounds put in your refrigerator or freezer is just as effective as baking soda at absorbing food odors. You can also put coffee grounds in a sachet, fine mesh bag, or pantyhose and hang it in your car to get rid of lingering odors.Putting coffee grounds in your ash tray doesn’t just promote safety (the dampness keeps butts and embers from sparking fires). It also helps your ashtray smell a bit less like an ashtray. And let’s face it, since coffee and cigarettes go together like… well, coffee and cigarettes, you’ve probably got plenty of grinds left over from the one habit to help cover up the smell from the other.

Cassatt Mary Mother Combing Child's HairPerk Up Your Hair I’d try this myself if I had much hair to speak of, but mixing coffee grounds with your hair conditioner helps nourish your hair and may actually help to promote hair growth. We hasten to add, however, that coffee can act a bit like a hair dye, so if you’ve got blonde or gray hair, you may want to skip this particular tip.

Get Crafty! Craft papers don’t come cheap, but with a mix of coffee grounds, warm water and patience, you’ve got a foolproof recipe for making your own antiqued papers. Tip: use heavier papers with a higher rag content, since it’s less prone to disintegrate with a short soak. Coffee can also be used as a watercolor paint. And if you have small scratches on furniture that’s got a dark finish, swabbing wet grounds onto the problem area can help conceal the scratches (we’d suggest testing in an inconspicuous area before tackling more visible scratches).

We’ve seen other uses for used coffee grounds, from the useful (mix coffee with rock salt to give yourself a bit of extra traction in the winter) to the questionable (a tanning aid) to the downright ludicrous (getting rid of cellulite). What are some of your favorites? Drop us a line at [email protected] and let us know!

Further Reading:

Unsurprisingly, Buzzfeed has a list of things you can do with your coffee grounds: http://www.buzzfeed.com/jessicaprobus/amazing-things-you-can-do-with-coffee-grounds#.yxoBWBP94

Songs About Coffee: Love and Coffee

Coffee is one of life’s simple pleasures. Love? Well, it’s a pleasure, to be sure, but it does have a tendency to get complicated. Today’s roundup of coffee tunes looks at what happens when love and coffee collide (especially when the coffee’s right and the love’s gone wrong).

Squeeze: Black Coffee in Bed (From “Sweets From a Stranger”)
Produced by Elvis Costello and featuring backing vocals from Costello and the late Paul Young, “Black Coffee” was a bright spot on an album that was musically and lyrically darker than anything the band had done up to that point. Well, “bright spot” might be overstating matters a bit, since the song deals with the aftermath of a breakup:

There’s a stain on my notebook where your coffee cup was
And there’s ash in the pages now I’ve got myself lost
I was writing to tell you that my feelings tonight
Are a stain on my notebook that rings your goodbye

Oh, now she’s gone and I’m back on the beat
A stain on my notebook says nothing to me
Oh, now she’s gone and I’m out with a friend
With lips full of passion and coffee in bed

Carly Simon: You’re So Vain (From “No Secrets”)
This Mona Lisa of a tune is far and away Simon’s best-known song. Ironically for the leadoff single from an album called “No Secrets,” the song’s subject remains a mystery four decades later, sparking speculation and arguments. Warren Beatty thought this song was about him, and thanked Simon for it years later. Mick Jagger, Cat Stevens, David Geffen (himself the subject of Joni Mitchell’s “Free Man in Paris“), David Bowie, Nick Nolte and David Cassidy have all been floated as possibilities. Simon herself has only added to the speculation. While she was quick to say the song was not about James Taylor, she’s given hints over the years (including that the subject was a composite, unless it wasn’t), jokingly said that the song was about Mark Felt (a.k.a. Deep Throat), and reportedly revealed the person’s name to Taylor Swift and Dick Ebersol.

While we may never know the true identity of the man, or men, who inspired the lyrics, maybe that’s for the best. After all, everyone loves a little mystery. In the meantime, the clouds in Carly Simon’s coffee, and the man with the apricot scarf, linger at the fringes of adult contemporary radio, raising more questions than they answer.

Lyle Lovett: Nobody Knows Me (From “Lyle Lovett and His Large Band”)
In one of the quieter, sparser moments from Lovett’s third album, he spins a typically wistful tale that’s a love song on the surface, but turns out to be — as the singer himself has put it — “A cheatin’ song about Mexican food.” The song is a staple of his live act to this day, and has tended to feature in movies and television shows of a certain type where you can be sure the person responsible for licensing the music wasn’t paying very close attention to the words. The opening verse sounds like we’ve dropped in on the narrator reminiscing over a time-worn relationship:

And I like cream in my coffee
And I like to sleep late on Sunday
And nobody knows me like my baby
And I like eggs over easy
With flour tortillas
And nobody knows me like my baby

But the tone of the lyrics turns a bit after the narrator meets “a dream made to order from south of the border”:

And she cried man how could you do it
And I swore that there weren’t nothing to it
But nobody knows me like my baby

‘Til we come to the last verse, sung with a twinge of regret as the narrator ends where he began:

And I like cream in my coffee
And I hate to be alone on Sundays
And nobody knows me like my baby…

In Conversation: Dale Slear of Wine Awesomeness

Wine Awesomeness LogoFounded in 2012, Wine Awesomeness is a wine club with a twist. It’s not staid or stodgy, it’s not ridiculously expensive, and its approach, from its unique selections to the breezy, knowing snark of its product descriptions, is geared toward Millenials with good taste.

Wine Awesomeness bills itself as “Kick ass wine from around the world curated by our wine team.” None of that, incidentally, is idle boastfulness. Their focus truly is global, including offerings from Croatia, Hungary and Slovenia, as well as the “usual suspects” like California, Spain, Portugal, and France. The grape varietals likewise go beyond the usual Chardonnay, Merlot and Malbec to encompass the likes of Plavac Mali, Tocai Friuliano, and Altesse. And yes, the wines are just as kick-ass as promised.

The company upends the usual wine subscription service by thinking outside the bottle. Instead of picking a wine or three, first time subscribers are invited to choose between two “adventures” that include three carefully curated bottles of wine, plus pairings and recipes, tasting notes, informative articles about wine, and even musical suggestions.

Dale Slear

Wine Awesomeness founder Dale Slear

In conversation with Business Developer Carlee Curtin, Wine Awesomeness founder Dale Slear explains his philosophy, and what it takes besides a cup of coffee to get him out of bed in the morning. We’ll let them take it from here.

HiLine: What is Wine Awesomeness?
Dale: We’re all about making wine less pretentious and more fun for young people, or at least all people young at heart. Our members explore world of wine every month by region or educational concept, or even just by great stories. Anything that creates some sort of a journey (that’s filled with wine) is fair game. We want to go about wine in a laid back way that’s accessible and helpful to those who want to learn. Every month, we send our members 3-6 new wines to try, learn about and get to know. No pressure, just cool wines and their stories.

HiLine: Coffee or Tea?
Dale: Definitely coffee

HiLine: Besides coffee, what gets you out of bed in the morning? What inspires you?
Dale: Building something bigger than myself. Doing something cool that can live on without me, that can be a household name. A legacy, in a sense, is what motivates me.

HiLine: What advice do you have to inspire others?
Dale: Team is everything, if you don’t build the right team you have nothing, you can’t do it all alone, you have to rely on others, and if you can’t rely on others, you will fail, so above all, build a great team.

gruner-veltliner-vienna-bernreiter-2013We like Wine Awesomeness’s philosophy about wine: “Good wine isn’t only for aristocrats and PhD’s. Wine is for everyone, everywhere and it’s about discovery. Open a bottle and drink with us.” We couldn’t agree more. A similar philosophy underpins HiLine Coffee. You may not be able to afford a personal Sommelier or barista, but that shouldn’t keep you from enjoying the good stuff. So try a cup of our Union Square Dark Roast along with whatever else gets you out of bed in the morning. After all, caffeine and passion go great together. And then enjoy your latest discovery from Wine Awesomeness to round out the perfect day.

Wine Awesomeness on the web:

Site: http://wineawesomeness.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WineAwesomeness
Instagram: https://instagram.com/wineawesomeness/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/wineawesomeness
Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/wineawesomeness
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/wineawesomeness
Dale Slear on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/daleslear

Photo Credit: Ksenia Tavrina

Test of Nerves: House Blend Head to Head

A short time ago, we read Murray Carpenter’s “In Defense of Terrible Coffee” (to which we’ve responded here: “Why Third Wave Coffee?” ). Carpenter does make some fair, and salient, points about coffee as a shared experience, and reminding his readers that most people just want a competent cup of coffee. With that in mind, we’ve decided to review a handful of mass-market coffees and coffee chains; think of this as the first in a series.

At any rate, here’s what happened when I decided to see how much coffee I could pour down my gullet in one day. Our first house blend head-to-head, in the order visited:

coffee-bean-and-tea-leafThe Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf: The direct trade Mocha Java was a pleasant surprise. This coffee hints at fruit in its scent, and the flavor follows through with a top note that’s reminiscent of just-picked raspberries (right down to the ever-so-slightly sour tang that suggests the berries aren’t completely ripe yet). The finish is bitter with just a hint of sweet, not unlike an 80% dark chocolate. The only drawback to this coffee was its long, clingy finish that starts to overpower the more nuanced top notes halfway through the cup. If this coffee were a party guest, it’d be that one person who starts saying their goodbyes at 9:30 and is still hovering by the door chatting at 10:15.

mccafeMcDonald’s: The nose is… nondescript. Smells like coffee. The taste offers more of the same. If you’re looking for surprising hints of hibiscus, or a soupçon of orange peel, you won’t find it here. Tastes like coffee. I’m not sure whether to chalk it up to the beans, the roast, or the brew, but everything about this coffee seems “fast.” There’s something nearly fruity right off the top, but it’s a tease, gone as quickly as it came. The finish is equally abrupt, rather like walking into a room, forgetting why you’re there, pivoting on your heel and walking right back out again.

I hasten to add, it’s not terrible. It’s a far sight better than McDonald’s coffee used to be. There’s more body, and the coffee avoids the extremes of weakness or syrupy strength that tend to characterize a lot of fast food coffee. It’s just workmanlike. If you want coffee, and nothing but the coffee, this’ll do.

starbucks-logoStarbucks: I ordered a Pike’s Place medium roast and the Ethiopia Sidamo Reserve, drinking the latter first. The Reserve is an exercise in frustration. The scent and the taste hint at what might have been; there are notes of dried fruit and dark chocolate, but they’re quite subdued. While Starbucks’ coffee often earns the “Charbucks” name (more on that below), that’s not the case here; the beans don’t taste burnt, but they do taste decidedly overdone, as though a lot of the volatile compounds that would typically give a coffee its distinctive nose and flavor have largely been roasted out. It’s one of the better coffees I’ve had at Starbucks, and the taste does improve further through the cup (it’s markedly, but not stridently, fruit-forward). But it’s missing the complexity and sweet acidity that have characterized other Ethiopian coffees I’ve tried.

For all its shortcomings, the Ethiopia Sidamo at least shows that Starbucks still takes its coffee seriously. I wish that I could say the same for the Pike Place Medium Roast. What’s supposed to be a medium roast is decidedly dark, with the distinctly burnt scent and taste that characterizes so much Starbucks coffee and just might leave you wondering if there was a fire at the roaster. The nose is indifferent and nearly mildewy, while the taste features flat top notes, and a nondescript acidity in the middle that’s shouted down by a long, very bitter finish. If you’ve ever wanted a coffee that tasted like an acrimonious divorce, this is it.

english_logo_finalBy this point in my day, I’m starting to get a bit twitchy, but I press on. My next stop is Aroma, whose house blend smelled a bit like an old library, with a hint of old books and patchouli. Maybe an aged hippie wandering the occult stacks? But I digress. The coffee is undistinguished, but not unpleasant. Low acidity, just bitter enough, with decent body and a clean finish. It’s a competent, workmanlike medium roast.

Dunkin’ Donuts: I used to order Dunkin’ Donuts coffee with “a little” milk or cream, whereupon the person behind the counter invariably pulled off a feat of physics that’d do Einstein proud: they would, without fail, somehow squeeze 16 ounces of cream into a 12-ounce coffee. And if you order “light and sweet,” forget about it. It tastes like someone waved no more than three (3) coffee beans in the general direction of a feverish, diabetic Holstein.

So you can understand why I never could figure out what people saw in Dunkin’ coffee. Have it black, on the other hand, and I begin to understand. Granted, it’s served just slightly shy of boiling, but it’s… well, it’s not awful, anyway. There’s a mild, rather meek, blackberry note in the scent, a furtive acidity, and a hurriedly nutty bitterness, with a quick finish that suggests that the coffee is afraid to wear out its welcome. It is, in other words, coffee for people who are afraid of coffee.

That'd explain why America's a bit logy lately...

That’d explain why America’s a bit logy lately…

That brings us to the Dunkacinno, a beverage (I refuse to call it coffee) that’s best summed up in the immortal words of Dorothy Parker: “What fresh hell is this?” It’s never a good sign when your order’s delayed because they had to change a cartridge and clean the tanks.* It smells like one of the less offensive stretches of the Turnpike, and the taste…

Well, it’s like this: Go to your pantry. Roundly spank the nearest bottle of imitation vanilla extract with five or six packets of artificial sweetener. Add hot water, a pile (metric) of powdered non-dairy creamer and just a hint of instant coffee — a mumble thereof, the coffee equivalent of someone whispering to you that you’ve got poppy seeds in your teeth. Mix ’til a film of something resembling foam forms on the top. Consume.

I’m not a praying man, but by the time I gave up on my Dunkaccino, I felt as though I owed my tastebuds some kind of penance. While there was no wailing or gnashing of teeth, I wouldn’t have been surprised if the ingredient list included sackcloth and/or ashes.

If your local java joint’s coffee has you crying “uncle” (or just weeping openly), may we suggest our Liberty Lungo Dark Roast instead?

*How I wish I was making that part up.

Apps for Coffee Drinkers

Apple Cappuccino ArtIt seems like there are apps for practically everything these days, whether it’s music, movies, recipes, or… well, things we won’t mention. Coffee drinkers aren’t left out in the cold, thankfully. There are dozens, if not hundreds (I didn’t have time to count), available for smartphone and tablet users, whether you’re using an Android or iOS-based (Apple) device. Not all apps are created equal. Some work better on paper than they do once they’re installed. The five apps below were the ones we found particularly interesting.

Barista (iOS, $2.99; unavailable on Android): If you’re making the shift from the coffee shop to brewing your own, the learning curve can be intimidating. Glasshouse Apps’ application won’t turn you into a certified barista, but it’s a darned good educational tool within its limitations. With its attractive, user-friendly interface, and tons of practical information (recipes, tips, videos and chat), it’s not quite a masterclass in your pocket, but it’s an excellent way to get a running start.

I have only two complaints. One is with the app’s focus on espresso drinks at the expense of other techniques like pour overs and Chemex. The other is with the videos. They’re limited in number, and they’re short. Granted, there’s no shortage of similar information on YouTube, but that rather defeats the purpose of having an all-in-one app in the first place. But if you’re comfortable with self-directed learning and a bit of experimentation, this app is actually quite good.

BaristaMe (Android, free or $0.99; unavailable on iOS): The Pro version of Baristame eliminates advertisements and adds a few features (I should note here that I have the Pro version and never bothered with the free version; it was worth spending a buck not to have to bother with advertisements). There are instructions on brew methods, educational tools and recipes, and the advantage over Barista is that it includes information on non-espresso methods like Chemex, Aeropress, and siphon coffee. If you’ve found tweaks to grounds-to-water ratios that you prefer, those can be saved.
Coffee Finder (Android: Free or $1.49; iOS: Unavailable): What used to be called ‘Find a Starbucks’ ’til the company hit the app developer with a cease-and-desist now includes other coffee shops like Dunkin’ Donuts and Peet’s, among other chains. The app includes nutritional information, pricing, and customization options, and uses your phone’s GPS to help you locate your next fix, even locating stores with drive-throughs. The Pro version adds more robust search functionality. In both cases, the search function can be hinky, and the app has been reported to be prone to freezing unexpectedly.

Secret Menu App For Starbucks (iOS, Android; free): Starbucks claims that it offers 87,000 variations on its menu. This app claims to help coffee drinkers find their favorite recipes, which they can then show to their barista. They further claim that “[m]ost Starbucks locations will be happy to make you these delicious drinks.”

Android Latte ArtWe’re skeptical of that last part especially. While we’ve never gotten bad service at a Starbucks,* baristas — at Starbucks or elsewhere — typically have their hands full, especially if you’re ordering at a busy time of day. Baristas who’ve reviewed the app note that some of the ingredients are no longer in use, and that changes in nomenclature and terminology might prove confusing for baristas. Additionally, the app doesn’t let its users know which changes and add-ons will incur an extra cost.

Starbucks (iOS, Android; free): The redesigned Starbucks app does double duty (it incorporates the functionality of My Coffee Card Pro, which used to be a separate app). You can place orders (with full customization), get rewards program and gift card balances, pay with your phone, reload your gift card, and otherwise have an enjoyable Starbucks experience. It’s a clean, reliable, and attractively-designed application. The only catch? It only works in the US, UK & Canada.

Looking for your next great cup of coffee? Whether you’re making your own, or it’s coming from the other side of a counter, there’s an app for that. And if you feel like turning the phone off (or tossing it out the window), have a cup of our roasted-to-order whole bean coffee instead.

Find Your Apps:

Google Play: https://play.google.com/store
iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/

*That’s neither sarcasm nor hyperbole; I may complain from time to time about their coffee, but I’ve literally never had bad service at a Starbucks.

How To Make Cowboy Coffee

Cowboy Coffee

Image courtesy arizonametalart.com

If you’re camping, or just find yourself without your coffee-making apparatus of choice, you might wonder how you’re supposed to get started in the morning. Maybe there’s no electrical outlet for your Keurig, your decade-old drip coffee maker just breathed its last, you’ve dropped and shattered your fourth French press, or you’ve run out of filters for your trusty pour-over. Despair not (really; cut that out). Learn how to make Cowboy Coffee and you’ll never have to do without your morning java again. Here, sans cowboy puns and horsing around (well, aside from that bit) is our guide to making cowboy coffee.

Start, as always, with your beans. I’m going to suggest going with a light or medium roast, since they will be a bit more forgiving if you err on the side of over-extraction (a dark roast can be pushing your luck). The other key, as with any other brewing method, is the grind. A coarse grind like you’d use for espresso (try our Ground Coffee Packs, which won’t take up too much room in your backpack) is preferable for optimal extraction; more on that in a bit.

Next, figure out your pot. If you’re camping, you’ll want something that’s compact (the less space it takes up in your kit, the better), serves multiple purposes, and is suited to your heat source. If you’re cooking over a portable gas range, nearly anything will do, but if you’re cooking over a campfire, you’ll want to make sure your pot can handle an open flame. Your nearby camping store (or one with an online presence, like REI, Campmor, or Eastern Mountain Sports) will have plenty of options.

Now, measure out your coffee and water. If you want to get fancy, you could measure out 1.5 to 2 grams of coffee per ounce of water.* Since we’re roughing it, however, let’s throw caution to the wind. Use two heaping teaspoons of coarse ground coffee per eight ounces of water (if you have a coffee scoop, that’s two tablespoons). Next, bring your water to a near boil. Remove from the flame, add the coffee grounds, stir, and cover.

You can, if you’d like, stir every minute or so ’til the grounds start to settle. Many recipes call for bringing the whole mess — water and grounds — to a boil, but that’s abusing perfectly good coffee; it’ll be overextracted, burnt, and bitter. Some recipes also call for the use of clean, crushed eggshells (one eggshell per pint of coffee) to help the grounds settle; others will suggest throwing a handful of cold water in to stop the brewing process and settle the grounds. In practice, neither one makes much difference. You’re going to have grounds in your coffee.** Bear in mind also that the grounds will still be steeping in the water, so leave plenty of room for cream (if you’re using it) if you decide to go back for seconds.

*Just borrow measuring spoons from a passing elk. Not bears, though. Bears are cranky, and they’re terrible at the metric system.

**A small, fine wire mesh strainer will help in keeping stray grounds out of your cup if you have your limits when it comes to roughing it.

Upcycle Your K-Cups

k cup seed starter via fresheggsdaily

K-Cup Seed Starter (Photo Courtesy fresheggsdaily.com)

After writing about the difficulty of recycling K-Cups and about HiLine Coffee’s efforts to “green” our K-Cups, we thought there was still a little something missing. We’re aware that good intentions sometimes run into intractable practical concerns, and that even though you might want to recycle used K-Cups, that may not be an option where you live. If you’d like to recycle but can’t, and would prefer not to simply toss them in the trash, what’s left?

Try upcycling.

Unlike recycling, which typically involves breaking down and remanufacturing something for reuse (like melting plastic bottles down for remanufacture as resuable shopping bags), upcycling takes the existing object and attempts to turn it into something more than it had been before, upgrading it in the process. There’s a long tradition of this in various art and craft movements, from Duchamp’s readymades (which recontextualized bicycle wheels and urinals as art objects) to Schwitters’ Merz collages or Tatlin’s Constructions. Even quilting, which repurposes scrap fabric and cast-offs, is a form of upcycling.

Merz Picture 25A Schwitters

Merz Picture 25A (The Star Picture) – Kurt Schwitters (via WikiArt)

In more recent times, as the environmental impact of all the waste generated by all the stuff we use has given new life and new currency to the idea. The Paraguayan Orquesta de Instrumentos Reciclados de Cateura has fashioned an entire orchestra’s worth of instruments from discarded materials, while websites from Pinterest to Etsy are stuffed to the gills with upcycled goods. If recycling is a cradle-to-grave process, upcycling is cradle-to-cradle, with old things made new through modification and creativity.

So why not upcycle K-Cups? There are a few options that work even if you’re all thumbs:

Craft Supply Holders: If you work with smaller items — sewing needles, pins, seed beads, and the like — K-Cups can be a handy way to keep them stored and sorted.

Office Supply Holders: Paperclips, thumbtacks and pushpins have a tendency to end up in the strangest places. You can corrall them in K-Cups to keep them organized.

Mix Small Batches of Paint: Seal the small hole at the bottom of the K-Cup with waterproof epoxy or hot glue and it can be used to mix hobby and crafting paints (just make sure that the paint’s base or the solvents you’re using won’t destroy or degrade the plastic).

Seed Starters: K-cups are a good size to sprout seeds for your garden, requiring nothing more than a bit of soil and a handful of seeds. This is one instance where the hole at the bottom of the cup comes in handy, since there’s less of a chance of overwatering.

We have more links below for upcycling ideas, but they come with a caveat (and they’re a reason we haven’t included certain projects here): any upcycling project that involves K-Cups and food should be approached with caution. While the plastic in the K-Cups meets FDA standards for food use, the holes in the cups need to be plugged with something, and that something should itself be non-toxic and food grade. Food grade adhesives are commercially available but don’t come cheap; if you’re thinking of using masking tape or clear plastic tape like Scotch Tape, it’s a good idea to contact the manufacturer and make sure it’s safe.

If your K-Cups can’t go in the recycling bin, that doesn’t mean they have to end up in a landfill. With a bit of creativity, they can have a productive second life around the house.

Learn More:

More ideas for upcycling your K-Cups can be found on Good Housekeeping,  Buzzfeed,  and Happy Hooligans (among others).

Find out more about upcycling:

Then, brew a cup of our Park Ave Dark Roast and learn more about Orquesta de Instrumentos Reciclados de Cateura:

The Orquestra’s website is http://www.recycledorchestracateura.com/

They’ve been profiled on 60 Minutes:

And are the subject of a documentary, “Landfill Harmonic”.

And of a TEDx talk given in Amsterdam by Orquestra founder and director Favio Chávez:

Finally, here they are in performance: