2011/12 Festive Shoppers Guide for Coffee Lovers (Part 1)

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For me, being the editor of the Coffeecrew.com website, I am perpetually in shopper help mode - Since the late eighties and early nineties when I first discovered a developing passion for the coffee bean this is what I have been doing: Helping myself make the perfect cup of coffee, and in turn, helping others do the same. When you think about it, coffee and tea are among the World's first great social drinks - Granted tea pre-dates java by thousands of years, coffee has brought a dynamic groove to the meeting places through history.

Most of us who have a fascination for coffee know that coffee houses date back to the early 1500's - particularly in places like Mecca, Damascus (now Syria...) and Cairo in Egypt. Naturally, coffee preparation in the home would have existed along a slightly delayed time line - as it was initially a beverage of religious observance, among traders, travelers and the elite in society.

Photo right - The Hario series of grinders offer an affordable, and superior to the blade grinder, alternative to their more expensive electric coffee grinding counterparts. $45 buys a heck of a versatile grinder!

At the time, there would have been a limited number of, crude by today's technology, brewing methods. Here in the 21st Century there are a staggering number of ways to brew a great cup - and a superb and memorable cup of Joe is not limited to the wealthy in society. With some of the advice I will dish out in my 2011 buyers guide should help you boil up a cup of mud that will make you feel like a million bucks!

When I first started whipping up cups of coffee I was producing coffee two ways; The classic aluminum percolator and a paper filter gravity drip unit... The Melitta. The paper filter drip method is really hot right now - and the less we say about the pecolator, the better!

As I mentioned at the top of the story, I am helping folks year around make the right decision when it comes to the following:

  1. Buying the perfect coffee gift for that special person in ones life
  2. Finding the first espresso machine or ideal brewer or tool to begin a journey with coffee
  3. Identifying a flaw in a home or office coffee delivery set-up and fixing it with the right equipment

2011 Festive Buyers Guide to Coffee Stuff - Coffeecrew.comIn my caffeinated World, it is Christmas year round - In reality, people do most of their shopping for this stuff in November and December, sometimes earlier.  First time buyers of espresso machines make up most of my email. Quickly followed by people looking for POD and Easy Service machines - whether they be proprietary Nespresso type machines or, in my opinion, the more desirable ESE machines.

Quite a few folks fall into the "not studying the field before they dive in" - resulting in bad choices and mediocre results.
Some people give up, and the most resilient pick up the pieces and find themselves here - looking for the right answers!

We have the internet now! There is no good reason for not being overly informed... about anything!

(Moving on) The Golden Rule of Coffee Gift Giving: Most people think of their "machine" or brew method before they think of anything else - and this reality has not changed in the 15+ years I have been doing this.

The reality is, it is the coffee itself and the coffee grinder that should be the thing that people think of first and foremost.

Want to bypass everything I am going to say passed this point? Buy a good burr coffee grinder (an electric one or a manual one) and let your gift recipient worry about the coffee beans (after having a good perusal of this website of course!).

(Emphasis here!) The coffee grinder is the single most important component in your coffee tool kit. Not the brewer. Never the brewer. It's the grinder.

And I know what you are thinking: But I buy great coffee and have it ground at the roaster or the grocery. Here is the thing about ground coffee versus whole bean coffee - Whole bean coffee is good for around 10 days once it leaves the roaster. 10 days. Not 3 months. Or until you get around to using it. 10 days. 2 weeks tops. Here is what happens. Oxygen gets to it and changes the flavor - and not to the better!

The moment you grind up a coffee bean, it increases the surface area exposed to air - and fast staling. The beauty of the freshly roasted coffee bean is that it has a protective shell of CO2 built in and around it - but that supply only lasts for 5 to 7 days. After that, the oxygen works its way in, oxidizing the bean and destroying the delicate flavors. Once coffee is ground up, the air (and the oxygen) can get to all parts of the coffee bean within an hour or so - and then it's over for that great cup of coffee. That is why you need a grinder.

Photo at right: The 2011 gift giving season can be a great one for coffee lovers. There are lots of inexpensive items that can vastly improve your overall brewing experience.

So. What kind of grinder should you get for you or your coffee loving family members and friends? A burr grinder. What a burr grinder is happens to be discussed to death on this website. Simply, a burr grinder uses a mill stone type mechanical arrangement to literally chew beans apart to uniform sized grains - or coffee grounds.

The uniformity of the grains is critical. Different sized coffee grounds in any brew method means an inferior cup with result - over-extraction and under-extraction occurs - also discussed to tedium on this website.

The beauty of the coffee grinder is that you can go big,  really big, small or really small. I hear a lot of people say: "But, I cannot afford a coffee grinder on top of all the other stuff I have… All the money went into the coffee brew or the espresso machine." My reply is: You cannot afford to scrimp on the most important piece of gear. Many do. Fewer in the last 5 to 10 years thankfully. People are learning.

I have tested a mountain of coffee grinders - and there are a few in both categories (expensive and economical) that I will talk about.

The Number 1 top pick for coffee gifting! My most beloved coffee grinding solution will please everyone - and will surprise you: The Hario Skerton hand grinder at $40 (yes, you read that correctly - 40 smackers) will grind coffee for virtual every method from French press, to drip, Aeropress, Hario pour over, camp fire, percolator and many espresso machines featuring pressurized porta-filters like the Saeco. It is manual and features conical and adjustable ceramic burrs in a fairly robust and attractive package - that dismantles well and travels well - I use it at home occasionally but more often while I am in Hawaii of doing the cabin routine on Vancouver Island. I believe that it has been an insanely popular little item.

Photo right - The coffee grinder is the one tool that makes or breaks the coffee brewing experience - and whether you are making espresso, brewing pots of drip coffee or taking one of the many esoteric approaches to the bean, the Baratza Virtuoso is an example of "one grinder that does them all."

Again, consider that it uses similar burr technology to electric grinders costing 5 times more. And of course, there is always a reason to want to get something electric. As wonderful as this manual grinder is, you will get a minor work out grinding coffee for more than a few folks. When I make a French Press, it takes around 3 or 4 minutes of continuous turning to crank out enough coffee for 3 cups of Joe.
I enjoy it and I get into a rhythm - most people do. And there is something immensely satisfying about doing it all yourself. The Hario Skerton grinder (and there are 3 or 4 other manual grinders in the Hario grinder catalog to think about…) are great for the traveler or the camper - are whisper quiet and help disconnect you from the grid.

Top pick number 2 for coffee gifting!
OK. So let's get practical for a moment. Many of us need to prepare a cup of coffee or two on the weekends. Many more of us cannot start the day with a pot of our favorite mud. And I do not know about you but I do not have the energy to make a batch of coffee first thing on a weekday morning - that and the fact that I would more wired than an Air-Bus cockpit if I started sipping my favorite brew at 8 AM in the morning. For those folks that need a grinder to do diligent duty first thing in the morning, the greatest product to have handy is a Baratza grinder. Last time I checked, its closest competitor was not worth a mention - at least in the "all categories" section - (One grinder to brew them all…) [more on espresso grinders later.]

Baratza is a company that only does grinders.

Steel Stove Top coffee makerThey are based in America, designed in the U.S.A. and built in Taiwan under the strictest of supervision from their head offices near Seattle Washington. Baratza is one of the World's original consumer driven single product companies - and what I mean by that is, a lot of the final design ideas and features on many, if not all, Baratza grinders, come from actual users… coffee and espresso drinkers like you and me. They pride themselves on putting the end user ahead of anything else in the company - and it shows. Baratza grinders do everything they are supposed to do, really well, if not perfectly - and if there is a problem, the good people at Baratza will fix it.

Anyway - I love the Baratza grinders and the one that seems to be the best all purpose unit for the average coffee lover who occasionally samples all methods of the brew process is the Baratza Virtuoso. Great name. It is a great coffee grinder at a better price that can tackle all brew methods and do them all well. The Virtuoso is around $220 and might be the last coffee grinder you buy.

They are very well built, designed and engineered for tough usage and are unflinchingly reliable. I have beta tested most of the Baratza line of grinders - and my treatment (as it's supposed to be…) is border line brutal. You know what they say, "It's a tough job!"

OK. So my two top picks for coffee gift giving are coffee grinders. Bottom line here is: Once you or your coffee loving loved ones have the right coffee grinder, they can relax and actually enjoy the rest of the journey. As we will reveal (and as you explore other parts of this vast web site) coffee is not so much a destination as it is an adventure - and the right coffee grinder… well, it gives you wheels!

Stove top coffee - photo right. Other small gifts for events like Mom and Dad's day include the Steel Stove top single serve espresso/coffee maker shown at right - Although not quite espresso coffee, it is stove brewed coffee with a healthy morning start punch - The Stainless steel versions are more robust and resist corrosion and interaction with coffee like their cheaper Aluminum counterparts - available almost everywhere in Canada and the U.S. - starting around $45.

In Part Two of the 2011/Spring 2012 Buyers guide we will talk about drip coffee gifting, pour over coffee, accessories, etc - Stay tuned!