That feeling when you FINALLY locate a hidden gem that’s the basis of a key inside joke based on a comic strip from 1999….
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you one of my favorite comic panels of all time, from the one-year run of Free for All, by Brett Merhar. I’ve forgotten nearly all of the details two decades later, but I know the main character (who’s kind of a loser 20-something) has a pet ferret (remember when those were a craze!) who was a lab testing animal.
Angus, the ferret, is….. special….. in many ways. But my favorite way was his reaction to caffeine.
I was sad when Free For All got canceled after just a year. This was an odd time in my life when reading the newspaper (yes, the actual paper) was part of my actual job as a reference librarian. We kept a “vertical file” of clippings related to recent news, mostly local and state, that my student workers would photocopy and organize by topic, because no digital archive could provide that coverage (except LexusNexus which cost more than a small car as a yearly subscription fee – what?!)
I would flip through the paper daily, annotate the articles (date, source), and cut out the ones I figured would be useful to students doing papers in future years. That duty gave me the good excuse to also review the daily comics, and I became quite the connoisseur of Baby Blues, Free For All, Boondocks, Zits, and a few other great strips running at the time (or still running). (RIP Calvin & Hobbes!)
The Internet has gotten so much dumber in the past 10 years (strangely coinciding with Google turning into a “monetize my eyeballs for ad revenue” company instead of a search engine public provider), so my only record of my favorite strip from Free for All was a very yellowed and brittle clipping that I’d taped to the wall above my desk. Faded by fluorescent lighting and doomed by the high-acid content of cheap newsprint, I figured I’d never see it again.
So this post is going to border on “pretentious,” but not because I *want* to be pretentious about coffee. I just think the Bean Of Life™ deserves utmost respect and honor.
Also, we made coffee wrong for YEARS. I’m here to help you avoid my mistake – and up your coffee game to 💯. via GIPHY
Hey! Good coffee is affordable
Great coffee has to start at the bean. You know that, I know that — but probably neither of us can afford to buy free range artisanal locally roasted coffee. Granted, when I’m down for a splurge, we go for our local roaster‘s Tanzanian Peaberry. But that’s special.
Our daily coffee is Trader Joe’s Dark Roast – we buy it whole-bean in the can when we’re at the store 45 minutes away (we go biweekly to stock up on bacon, chocolate, coffee, wine, and cheese – lol).
Grinding it ourselves means it’s fresher than pre-ground. If you ignore everything else in this post, buy yourself a grinder and whole-bean coffee of any kind. It’ll be an improvement.
TJ’s offers a 14oz can for about $8. It lasts us a week or so, depending on our coffee consumption. We usually pick up one of the others and alternate for variety’s sake. (We drink coffee every morning and about every other afternoon, two sizable mugs.)
Joe’s Dark is consistently an even, solid flavor. It’s not complex. This isn’t the $40 wine kind of coffee, it’s the $5 Chianti that consistently tastes good with whatever you put on the table, and it’s cheap enough that you don’t mind drinking it every day. It never tastes “sour” or bitter when we make it, and is pretty forgiving if you add too much or too little.
Most of the coffee snobs on the internet (eg: Thrillist) disagree with us on this one, but oh well. We know what we know, morning after morning.
You can buy TJ’s Dark Roast or any of their coffees at Trader Joe’s of course, but Amazon somehow carries this too? – but it’s more expensive than in the store
Other good coffees we often use:
Komodo Dragon by Starbucks is consistently tasty. It doesn’t seem to have the “burnt” taste so common for Starbucks beans, and it’s delicious made through our quick pour-over method below. If I get a Starbucks coupon, I use it on this or maybe blonde roast or Verona – we have good luck with those. Ditto the Christmas blend.
DazBog is a Western coffee roaster that nails it with great, bold flavor! We have friends in Denver who spoil us by sending us DB coffee at Christmas, and let me tell you, we make every single bean count!
Counter Culture coffee is a hit in our local area, and we enjoy their brews at local shops. They ship nationwide and you can find their coffees in many places.
A better process for your morning brew
Here’s where you’re going to fight me. “I don’t have time for this! I need the coffee maker to click on by itself in the morning and run on its own!”
I get it; it’s hard to get rolling at 6am. Lord knows I haven’t willingly worked jobs that demand such a schedule unless I had my arm twisted. But YOU CAN DO THIS.
We use a Bodum, the filter that came with it (reusable), and a coffee grinder. You’ll also need a water kettle. Our picks are below.
Our Process: Perfect coffee every time
Step 1:Boil water – a couple minutes. I can eyeball it on the carafe, but you can pour water into your coffee mug and then from the mug into the water-pot or teapot until you get the knack. And you’ve got a few minutes during this step to finish packing your lunch or whatever …. or start Step 2 (which is what I do).
Step 2:Grind coffee – 15 seconds. We have learned that it takes “enough coffee beans to cover the center post and the silver edges of our grinder” to get the right amount. You’ll learn to eyeball it too. Then dump your fresh, wonderful-smelling grounds into the Bodum’s filter, and swipe the inside clean with your brush (below).
Step 3:Bloom — 30 seconds. Slowly pour a couple tablespoons of water over the coffee grounds in the filter, just enough to wet them. Let the aromatics from the coffee punch you in the face. It’s a wake-up call from your sinuses outward.
Click the button on your water pot to keep the water hot (or put the teakettle back on the burner). Take a 30-second break to stretch high and low.
Step 4: Pour over — 1 minute. Slowly pour the nearly-boiling water over the grounds in a slow circle motion. Breathe deeply. Meditate on the good things in your life and what you’re going to get accomplished today after injecting this caffeine into your bloodstream. You don’t have to pour toooooo slowly, but also, give the water some time to contact with the grounds.
Step 5: Drain – 1 minute. Get your coffee mug ready, put on your shoes. Once all the coffee has drained through, you have black gold ready for your vessel of choice.
Was that hard? NO.
We stumbled on the flavor and excellence of pour-over coffee apart from the hipsters; our coffee pot died and we were desperate one morning. A quick Google search revealed that only Americans use a percolating machine for morning juice. Everyone else (who isn’t making espresso) does some version of a pour over or French press. And it’s 574738475747 times better!
Coffee Equipment – our setup
We bought a Bodum, a water boiler, and a coffee grinder. Apart from actual coffee, this is all you need! The Bodum is easy to clean; the water pot is handy for other kitchen uses, and theoretically you could grind spices in the grinder if you keep it clean.
I eventually added a natural bristle brush to use when tapping the ground coffee out of our grinder. Some coffees are more oily than others, and a brush lets you a) get all the good coffee grains into your filter for brewing and b) clean the grinder with a few quick swipes while you wait for the coffee to drain.
You can often find this Bodum on sale at Starbucks or Target or Amazon for $20 or less, so keep an eye out. It’s a beautiful shape on its own; the mouth is wide enough to get a brush down in there and clean the thing out; the filter has never let us down and rinses quickly.
You can make 2 huge mugs of coffee in this or 4 small “after dinner” dainty cups of coffee. It holds 1 liter below the collar.
We use the Krups F203 pictured here, but there are many affordable electric grinders available at multiple stores. Heck, wait till Bed Bath & Beyond sends you one of their incessant 20% off coupons through the mail and go pick one out. Check site reviews first. Our little Krups has performed consistently well for us.
Again, there are a million of these. Read the reviews, use a coupon, wait for an Amazon sale — whatever. We have a B&D model that we like, but anything that boils water quickly will do. Stovetop teakettles are perfectly fine, though it takes longer to boil the water than with an electric kettle, and the electric models have an auto-shutoff that prevents you from worrying you’ll burn the house down.
Look, this costs $4. Buy a brush; it’ll make your life easier and keep your grinder clean. This one is easy to wash with a little dish soap and water once a week; good as new.
“But what if….”
This looks like work. Why should I buy into this method?
Look. Are you still eating ramen noodles out of a foam container or Kraft Shells & Cheez? If you answered No, then grow up and make better coffee. It’s not hard and it doesn’t take more than 5 minutes. You waste 5 minutes trying to find your keys.
This looks like a hipster conspiracy.
I know, and I don’t disagree. But if you were a true hipster, you’d be using a Chemex and one of those swan-necked teapots and s l o w l y pouring water over a paper cone filter using only organic locally roasted beans ground by a $200 burr grinder by a Brandon in a beard. Go to your hipster hangout to get that. What I’m suggesting is pouring water over fresh grounds yourself instead of letting some sad machine do it for you and murder all the flavor in the process.
No, really, this is too much.
For goodness sake, buy a French press then! Throw grounds in the bottom, pour boiling water in, wander off (maybe tell Alexa to set a 4 minute timer). Come back, plunge, drink. IS THAT STILL TOO HARD?
But I need to make coffee for a small army!
Buy two French presses or Bodums then? Your tea kettle can likely boil 2 quarts, so mass production simply requires twice as much coffee (two batches of grounds) and two vessels. On a busy morning or hectic dinner party, I’d probably go with 1 or 2 of the big French presses instead. Grind, pour, walk away.