No year is complete without a comprehensive look at what's hot during the festive season. For the team at the Coffeecrew.com website, it has become something of a tradition - something I look forward to with a combination of anticipation and trepidation.
I anticipate the fun in this annual project in that there is actually some new stuff to reveal and it actually helps me polish up on some of the skills I have honed during the year - playing with the newest stuff on the market.
The trepidation comes from wondering if I have enough to say that is different from last year. Truth be told, most everything I present year to year is always in a degree of evolution. For some it may sound a tad repetitive. For me, repeating myself over the last decade has been part of the tradition.
So let's get on it!
In 2009, I received a lot of e-mail and the bulk of the e-mail to the coffeecrew.com site was about...
"What the heck do I buy for the coffee lover in my family?"
That was the number one question.
The number two question was:
"I am ready to move up from my entry level espresso-cappuccino set up and I am bewildered by the choices...'
Well. You came to the right place. And I would love to say that the website is easy to navigate and get to all those answers quickly - but that is not this website.
Hence the annual round-up on what I think is right for my readers.
Back to the questions and the essence of this years guide.
The number one topic this year on the site and in the e-mail and in all the conversations and interviews that I have done have centered on one thing - and you might be surprised.
The coffee grinder. Picture above right: The upper burr group from the astounding Baratza Vario grinder!
If you have been a follower of the coffeecrew website for a few years, this will not come as a surprise to you at all.
Truth is, the single most important tool in the coffee lovers tool kit is the coffee grinder. Not the brewer. Not the water supply. Not even the coffee beans.
The coffee grinder is fundamental to a great experience. If you do not have the right grinder, then no matter how great your beans or your brewer are - you are going to be out of luck in the final analysis - the final brew.
In 2009, in the coffeecrew test lab, we spent more time playing with and tearing down coffee grinders of every stripe - particularly the consumer and semi-prosumer grinders. Nothing exotic - everything under $500. And from $99 up.
And are we tough on grinders! Because we do actually influence the final purchase of many coffee products, it is imperative that we test them to death before passing along a thumbs up. We have been doing this, at last count, for almost 15 years and we have yet to royally screw up.
Back to the e-mail. For some lucky folks, it can be gift-giving-time anytime of the year. So in a sense, I am cooking up these summary articles all year around - at least in my head anyway - and everytime I brew a pot of coffee or pull an espresso, I assure you that I am thinking about my readers and how they would see this situation or react to the taste of what I am producing. Every pot. Every shot. No kidding.
So coffee grinders were always on my mind this year. And thanks to a couple of sponsors, I had lots to play with.
Baratza Coffee, out of Washington State, and under the leadership of Kyra and Kyle had me up to my hips in grinders; The Vario (which I have yet to comprehensively review - sorry!) and a wide variety of Baratza Virtuoso grinders which were evolving through the year.
Photo upper right: We interviewed Kyle of Baratza - makers of the Baratza Virtuoso and the new Vario (and soon to be released Preciso Grinder) - "We have been selling Vario grinders as fast as we can make them." It has been a great year for Baratza and next year looks as good.
I also had the privilege of re-building a Maestro and a Maestro Plus grinder which had the mis-fortune of being dropped into an office environment where they were being used by about 15 people for about 10 hours a day. For them it was the equivalent of a grinder wrecking ball - for me it was an exercise in seeing what extreme overwork could do to a coffee grinder. Amazingly, other than the two grinders needing a fuse, a new micro-switch and a timer mechanism, they were good to go - with no significant wear on the burrs. The point of this being, for a small family looking for a coffee grinder to do basic duty for a pot of coffee or a french press or a steam powered espresso machine or a pump powered espresso machine with a pressurized porta-filter, the Maestro or Maestro plus is a good little grinder.
Baratza kept me in a steady supply of Virtuoso grinders for some of the most abusive and intensive testing I have ever subjected a coffee grinder to. We dropped a few of them into some of the most demanding office environments that we could think of. Some of them we just dropped... just to see what would happen.
Transcend Coffee in Edmonton, Alberta sent us a few Technivorm Coffee makers (mentions coming up!) and we paired these with some Virtuoso grinders, covered our eyes, plugged our ears and sent them off to certain destruction in some tough environments. With virtually no instructions (and advice about keeping your machine clean), off the went for about 6 months of hard, hard use. The result: One Virtuoso came back with a broken nylon tab on the upper-burr. A 10$ part and we were good to go. The Technivorm dutch made powerhouse coffee brewers? Not a scratch and none the worse for wear.
The point if this is... The machines I suggest for solid home use I consistently subject to hardened office use by upwards of a dozen people - grinders putting upwards of a pound of coffee a day out. Brewers getting use morning, noon, afternoon and sometimes night. The thing is: If these machines can survive my co-workers, they can survive you!
In the next chapter we will talk more about grinders, and the brewers we used in the year 2009!
In the 2009 Festive Series (3 or 4 chapters) we are going to talk about the year in review, what's hot for gift items and all the things we have tried this year - Yes Theresa, we will review all the coffees I have tried!