Grams

“In all my experience along the dirtiest ways of this dirty little world, I have never met with such a thing as a trifle yet.”
― Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone

Aeropress, from Williams Sonoma

I am such a hopeless loser – I even have a piece of paper with a list of things I need for some reason, that I know I have, but that I can’t find. Because these are on a list they stay in the back of my mind and usually I will stumble across something from the list when I’m looking for something else (this is what all of my life is like). Then I check it off.

I knew I had a tiny little battery-powered digital scale. I don’t know how I came to own it – I found it somewhere. I’m pretty sure it was abandoned after some drug deal went bad – that’s what tiny precise scales like this are good for. But I kept it around and would tare my fountain pens before I inked them – to figure out how much ink they hold.

But the thing disappeared. At least it disappeared in reality – existing only virtually on my list of things that I’ve lost that I know are around here somewhere (discussed above). Then, today, after having a dream about fountain pen ink last night I dug out an old box of obscure home mixes of ink I had given up on I found the scale.

One more checked off the list.

Why did I want the thing? Well, as I continue to fall down the endless rabbit-hole of coffee nerddom, I had a thought of being more precise about my beans-to-water-ratio. I’ve been digging out an approximate scoop and not paying much heed to the water. Here’s the king of the coffee nerds, James Hoffmann, on the subject:

So, I watched the video – did a little more research and thought it all out. I decided to go with 250 ml of coffee (a little less than I used to drink, but I’d make it a bit stronger) and a 75gm/liter coffee/water ratio – in my Aeropress. That works out to 19 gm of coffee beans ground up and 250 ml of water (heated in the microwave – for that small amount it works better than the kettle). I used my hand grinder rather than my electric Braun – that way I can select the beans for that individual cup – depending how I feel today.

And it was pretty damn good. Stronger than I am used to and with a hint of bitterness (which is not bad -just a hint). So I think I’ll keep going this way.

On down the rabbit hole.

Bicycle, Coffee,  and a Notebook

“Always carry a notebook. And I mean always. The short-term memory only retains information for three minutes; unless it is committed to paper you can lose an idea for ever.”

― Will Self

I meant to get up early – and didn’t really… but didn’t sleep too late. I ground some extra beans and made a thermos of coffee with my Aeropress. My portable Aeropress Go and hand grinder are on my desk at work – or I might have simply filled the thermos with hot water and made the stuff fresh – but the few minutes it sits in the steel vacuum vessel won’t hurt the taste much.

I packed up my loose-leaf binder notebook and selected four pens. Recently I bought some pen holders (brand name Diodrio) that fit on interchangeable stretchy Velcro straps – and they have been very useful to me. The straps come in several sizes so the pens can be attached to any notebook, from a small Moleskine to a big loose leaf. This is truly the  best of all possible worlds.

Diodrio Pen Pouch – on my the loose-leaf notebook I use for morning pages. It comes with interchangeable Velcro straps to fit smaller notebooks.

I have been trying out the idea of morning pages from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Every day, I had write three pages in the notebook – about whatever comes to mind. She recommends never re-reading them, and even destroying the writing after each day. I don’t do that – there may be some useful ideas in there so I am keeping them… at least for a while.

The idea is to write in the morning, immediately upon rising. That doesn’t work for me – there are too many emergencies and interruptions starting as soon as I open my eyes.  I have been able to finish the pages (one important aspect is to write the three sheets every day, without fail) daily, but sometimes haven’t finished them until late at night.

It’s actually easy for me to do the writing – I’ve been writing daily for at least three decades, after all – but I like the aspect of handwriting (it slows me down a bit – and gives me a chance to use my beloved fountain pens) and the idea of writing with no preconceptions.

One thing I also enjoy is writing in different places. So today I decided to pack up my bike with some coffee, my notebook, and ride to some place to get in the scribbling and caffeinate myself at the same time. It looked like some rain – so after about five miles of riding I settled in at a little pocket park with a roofed picnic area. Collins Park – at Alma and Collins – I have stopped there before – and have met other riders there for pre-work coffee. It’s nice, has a power outlet, a drinking fountain, and a bike rack (that I never use). I pulled in just in time, as the rain started coming down – not too bad – little more than a stout Texas sprinkle.

My bike, in a little pocket park I like to stop at. Collins Park – at Collins and Alma, in Richardson, Texas.
Some coffee and my notebook – stopping on a bike ride to write a few pages. The pen is a Pilot Kakuno with a stub nib – Diamine Marine ink.

So I put my earbuds in, started a Spotify playlist on my phone, and wrote my morning pages.

Then I pulled out a folding Bluetooth keyboard and wrote this entry on my phone. It worked pretty well – a morning with a bicycle, coffee, fountain pens, and some extra blog writing. Yes, this is truly the best of all possible worlds.

Flavored

“What’s a rainy day
without some delicious
coffee-flavoured loneliness?”
― Sanober Khan, Turquoise Silence

Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

I had to drive down to our facility on Love Field at work today and deal with some paperwork. It went quickly and smoothly so on the way back to North Dallas I had time to stop at the Central Market at Greenville and Lover’s Lane.

I passed the vast rows of perfect exotic vegetables, past the long cold row of waiting fish, past the display of bright red beef, past the beer and wine and into the land of bulk food items – long vertical plexiglass chutes with a sliding gate at the bottom. These are filled with everything from nuts to grains. But I headed to the end of the winding displays – there there was coffee.

As a certified and certifiable coffee snob I’m not supposed to drink flavored coffee because the added artificial essence disguises the delicious perfection of the roasted beans. But I can’t help it. I like to have a selection. I like to open my tiny plastic tubs of beans and sniff them – choose the infusion of the day. I like the smell of flavored coffee in the whole bean, in the grinder, and in the cup.

So I picked up a bag, opened the valve on the Banana Nut flavored accumulation and let a little bit over a pound slide out. Off to the the side there are two banks of coffee grinders – one labeled “No Flavored Coffee” and the other “Flavored Coffee Only.” I ignore those – I like to grind my beans right before they go in the boiling water. I’m not sure if it really makes a difference, but I think it does.

I had to stand in line a long time clutching my tiny single bag – the Express Lane labeled “15 items or less” seemed chock full of folks with fourteen items each. But I eventually made it back to work and was able to re-fill my container with Banana Nut goodness.

My coffee ritual – bean selection, measurement, grinding, water heating, loading the aeropress, brewing, filtering, pressing, and finally drinking – that’s the high point of my day.

Aeropress, from Williams Sonoma

I Forgot How Good

“Even bad coffee is better than no coffee at all.”

― David Lynch

My Aeropress at a campsite, Lake Ray Roberts, Texas
Aeropress, from Williams Sonoma

As I’ve said before, I did not set out to be a coffee snob. But it is what it is. There is the Aeropress… and a grinder (fresh ground beans do really make a difference).

I actually have two grinders – an electric one at home and a hand grinder at work. Also, two Aeropress (what’s the plural of Aeropress?). I have the original one at home and the portable Aeropress Go at work.

The Aeropress Go, collapsed inside its own coffee cup.
The various parts of the Aeropress Go

And I have my routine(s). I’m afraid on most days, my morning cup of coffee is the best part of the day. At work, I particularly enjoy opening up the plastic container I use and sniffing the aroma of the beans. In a month, when I have more time, when I’m at home all day, I plan on making a little stand with three bean containers and each morning sniff each one and decide what beans to grind.

I did forget how good it was.

We had a big inspection at work – weekend work preparing – shelves of paperwork – hours of preparation. The whole thing threw me off my game and I wasn’t able to hand-grind and brew my usual morning cup.

But we had it catered from the cafeteria – including two big steel cylinders of fresh coffee each morning. So I pushed the little black plastic handle and poured out a mug.

It was awful.

Awful! Bitter as hell but otherwise flavorless. Nasty, Nasty stuff.

The next day, I moved my alarm earlier to an obscene time (I am not a morning person) so I could get to work early enough to grind my own beans, heat my own water, and brew my own cup.

It was the best part of the day.

Sunset At Huffhines Park

“The sky, at sunset, looked like a carnivorous flower.”

― Roberto Bolaño, 2666

So, this weekend I’ve been fiddling around with some stuff – since I soon will have a lot of time on my hands I have been looking for things that are fun to do and don’t cost much money. One thing is I have built a little alcohol stove from a Fancy Feast cat treat can and a little empty can of tomato paste. What I want to do it to put together a kit that I can use to walk to some random spot, heat water, and make coffee.

This evening was a simple test of my idea – alcohol stove for hot water, AeroPress for the coffee. It all fit into a sling bag and I walked down to the park at the end of my block. It worked fairly well – though I had to make three trips back and forth for things I forgot or almost lost. I’m learning – next time will be better.

I sipped my (not hot enough) coffee, looked at all the folks out for a walk, and watched the sun set – it was so beautiful I pulled my phone out and snapped a snap.

Sun setting from Huffhines Park, Richardson, Texas.

The Honey Process

“It is inhumane, in my opinion, to force people who have a genuine medical need for coffee to wait in line behind people who apparently view it as some kind of recreational activity.”
― Dave Barry

My Aeropress at a campsite, Lake Ray Roberts, Texas

I did not set out to be a coffee snob – I really didn’t. But now, looking back, it was inevitable.

Like everyone else my age, my early years were marked by my parents boiling cheap ground stale Robusta coffee in a percolator, recirculating the grounds, through a layer of toilet paper (always out of filters) until it was so bitter it was undrinkable – then drinking it anyway. I remember being fascinated at watching the water bubbling against the little glass knob on the top – the sound of exuberant roiling water and the smell of burned beans. When I got to college my parents bought me a percolator which I modified with some rubber tubing into a crude still – nothing worse than a nascent chemist in a dorm room with something to heat liquids.

Then there was the Mr. Coffee – which made a little bit better brew – but still the coffee itself was terrible. Right after school I spent some time addicted to daily morning coffee from the machine at work along with a stale sugared bread-thing from the next. I gave that up and went through miserable withdrawal when I learned of the screaming high-pitched caffeine headache that stuff would cause. Then came Starbucks, which actually makes terrible coffee (I always think of Starbucks as an office rental place, rather than a coffee shop) but it at least put coffee culture on the map. And it became a decades-long rabbit hole for me, and many, many others.

After years of experimentation I finally settled on a French Press and was happy with it except for the difficulty cleaning it out.

And then along came the AeroPress which I realized was the perfect way to make coffee. I now have two – one and home and a portable model at work.

For a while, I would grind a week’s worth of beans on the weekend. But then, as I fell farther, I realized that it really does make a better cup if you grind the beans fresh… and bought a simple hand grinder for my desk at work.

So now I’m exploring the (literally)world of coffee beans. I learned quickly that I like light roast (the taste of the coffee varietal and location comes through better – plus a bit more caffeine).

My favorite place for buying coffee beans is Central Market. Yes, there are some very good custom roasters in my area, and I will visit them, but each one is somewhat limited and it can be tough to find exactly what I want. Beside, most of the best Dallas roasters have product in Central Market anyway. They have a vast selection of bulk bins full of a wide variety of whole bean coffee and there is something about putting the brown bag under the chute, lifting the handle, and listening to the coffee slide down.

The only downside is there isn’t a Central Market within easy bicycling distance from my house. The other day though I was driving back from some work I did at another location of my company and the route took me by the Central Market at Lover’s Lane and Greenville. I stopped as quickly as I could and found a coffee that looked really good – In-House Roasted Coffee Nicaragua Jinotega Honey Process.

Ok, let’s back up almost fifty years. I was in high school and living in Managua. A good friend had an uncle that ran a coffee plantation in the mountains above Jinotega and three of us hitch-hiked up there over Semana Santa (Easter Break) and had a great time. We spent one night in Matagalpa (an amazing city) and one in the coffee warehouse in Jinotega (the odor was amazing) before making it all the way to the plantation. There we rode horses and explored the area. There was even a miles-long wooden aqueduct that provided water for washing the coffee beans and hydroelectric power for a few lights around the main house. Amazing memories.

So, I have a built-in preference for Nicaraguan… and especially Jinotegan coffee.

I wondered about the “Honey Process” and looked it up. It has nothing to do with honey – it refers to processing the coffee with a layer of the fruit still attached to the inner bean. Supposedly it makes for a sweeter cup.

And the coffee is fantastic. It’s exactly what I was looking for. As I begin to run low I need to get back to Central Market and buy some more. I’m a little worried that I’ll miss out on other good things if I keep buying this – but I can’t imagine anything I’d like better.

I did not set out to be a coffee snob – I really didn’t.

Bicycle and Coffee

“Coffee is a lot more than just a drink; it’s something happening. Not as in hip, but like an event, a place to be, but not like a location, but like somewhere within yourself. It gives you time, but not actual hours or minutes, but a chance to be, like be yourself, and have a second cup”
― Gertrude Stein, Selected Writings

My Aeropress at a campsite, Lake Ray Roberts, Texas

As I (we) come out of the pandemic nightmare I (we) still grapple with purposelessness, boredom,and loneliness. I struggle for something to do, anything to do.

I have discovered one thing. I get up before dawn, make a thermos of coffee in my Aeropress, and then ride somewhere on my bicycle. I sip the coffee as the sun comes up, then I read a bit, then I ride home.

Unfortunately, I can only do this on the days when I don’t go into work, so it isn’t very often. If I could, I’d do this every day. I find myself looking at maps of my city and finding places to go… places that may look interesting at dawn, places with a place to sit, places just the right distance away.

I think this weekend I’m going to up my game a bit. I think I’ll ride to the DART station and ride the train somewhere, then ride my bike, then drink coffee. I might even take my grinder, Aeropress Go, and a few beans to make fresh coffee. There is a new park in downtown Dallas I’d like to visit.

Or maybe ride to the train station and get on the next train, no matter which direction it’s going in. Get off where I feel and then look for a place to sit.

It isn’t much… but it’s the best I can do for now.

My coffee thermos.

What I learned this week, March 19, 2021

Deep Ellum Dallas, Texas

Why we procrastinate on the tiniest of tasks

When we put off small jobs, they balloon from tiny checklist items into major irritants. Why do we keep doing this?


Mark Rothko, Orange, Red and Red, Dallas Museum of Art

Mark Rothko on How to Be an Artist

Seven years ago I saw the play Red at the Dallas Theater Center. It was a fantastic play about the artist Mark Rothko as he painted the famous group of large murals for the Four Seasons restaurant in New York. Really good – one highlight is that during the play the actor playing Rothko and the one playing his assistant actually paint a giant canvas right there, in front of you. You could smell the linseed oil.


Something In front of Braindead Brewing Deep Ellum Dallas, Texas

How to Quiet Your Mind Chatter

To break the tape loop in your head, talk to yourself as another person.


A reminder of what one of these looked like at the unveiling

Tips from neuroscience to keep you focused on hard tasks

Understanding cognitive control can help your working life.


Mexican Vampire Kiss Mural, Cozumel, Mexico

The Vampire Problem: A Brilliant Thought Experiment Illustrating the Paradox of Transformative Experience

“Many of [life’s] big decisions involve choices to have experiences that teach us things we cannot know about from any other source but the experience itself.”


Running up that hill at the end.

What a brief jog can do for your brain

If you have 15 minutes to spare, do not sit and chill. Instead, a new study says, you should go out for a quick, light jog. It will leave you feeling more energetic than resting, which will lift your spirits and in turn make your thinking more effective.


My Aeropress at a campsite, Lake Ray Roberts, Texas

I Tried 5 Methods to Make Italian-Style Coffee at Home. The Winner Was Clear (and Surprising!)

It’s not surprising to me. After a lifetime of trying different ways of making coffee – the Aeropress is the best. I miss going to coffee shops – but I can’t imagine getting a better cup than what I can make with fresh-ground beans and my ‘press.

The Smell That Separates Night From Day

Black As Night Sweet As Sin

Coffee in the… Well, Sorta Wilderness

A Lot More Than Just A Drink


I can’t believe that this is a half-century old. I mean, it does have the 1960’s esthetic, but it is still really, really cool. The movie was a disappointment at the time (I looked it up) but this Bob Fosse dance number is fascinating. I’m a little obsessed.

A Lot More Than Just A Drink

“Coffee is a lot more than just a drink; it’s something happening. Not as in hip, but like an event, a place to be, but not like a location, but like somewhere within yourself. It gives you time, but not actual hours or minutes, but a chance to be, like be yourself, and have a second cup”
Gertrude Stein, Selected Writings

My Aeropress at a campsite, Lake Ray Roberts, Texas

I’ve written before about my AeroPress – It took me over sixty years but I have finally found the best way to make coffee. The AeroPress is a perfect brewing machine… I thought. Something has surpassed it. The only thing that could possibly surpass it – a better AeroPress.

The AeroPress Go.

The various parts of the Aeropress Go

The Aeropress Go, collapsed inside its own coffee cup.

For my birthday I was elated to get one. I actually needed a second Aeropress – one for home (kept with its parts in a small blue zippered case near the kitchen) for morning jolts – and one for work to make it possible to get through the day. The Aeropress Go is perfect for that. I carry it in on Mondays and home at the end of the week  – that way it is available to carry with me on my bicycle for sunrise stops to sip some Joe.

Is it better than the original? I think so. The coffee is just as good and it is very small and I even like the cup that comes with it (it is plastic – but quality plastic [precious resin is what fountain-pen aficionados call it] – but the little ridges keep it cool in the hand).

Now all I need is a portable grinder… and a metal filter… and a portable coffee container… and to get up earlier in the morning… and a coffee nap.

Reviews:

Review: AeroPress Go

If you’re serious about brewing your own coffee when traveling, this is the kit for you.

One thing I noticed in the AeroPress materials is how they highlight a water temperature preference of 175 degrees Fahrenheit (80 degrees Celsius), which is notably cooler than the just-boiled water from my kettle. So, I bought a kettle with six presets and paid particular attention to the effects of water temperature. Trying this out is part of coffee testing’s scientific method, but the insistence on 175 degrees also read like marketing hokum.

I immediately knew I was wrong in my first head-to head. With all other variables locked down, I made a cup with 175-degree water and another with water right off a 212-degree boil. Both made good coffee, but after smelling the 175-degree cup, I noticed it lacked the smoky/burnt/caramelized aromas that stuck out clearly in the 212-degree cup. Whether you enjoy those smells probably depends on how much you like burnt marshmallows.

The bigger difference was in the sipping. Again, both cups were good, but the 175-degree cup reminded me of high-end coffee-shop coffee, while the 212-degree cup had rougher edges and sharper flavors. I had been brewing with a medium-dark roast, so next I experimented with an oily dark roast. I found similar but less-pronounced results. Still, it was good enough to convince me to brew at a lower temperature in the future.

If you do tinker—give it a try!—just remember to tweak only one variable at a time and use coffee that you know you like. As long as you’re in the ballpark, it’s hard to go wrong, but Jessica Easto’s Craft Coffee is excellent if you’re looking for a primer on brewing methods.

Regardless of method, the Go is superior to its already excellent predecessor.

First, it’s made to travel. People like to talk about traveling with the original, and there’s an accessory bag you can get to do that, but the Go’s cup and lid make it much more compact, and less clunky too. Fly into a new town for a week, grab a bag of ground beans when you land, and your home kit is now your road kit.

Second, between the mug and the lid, you’ve got places to set things down as you work. The best thing I’d figured out with my original was to put a loaf pan next to my kettle, creating a little accessory bin so I didn’t have to set a wet, grounds-covered stirrer or slightly drippy brewer on the counter. It’s not perfect, but it’s better with the Go.

Third, packed into its cup with the lid on, it looks much nicer on a kitchen shelf.

Fourth, they both cost around $30.

Bikepacking Review – AeroPress Go

In their own words, inventor Alan Adler and the team at AeroPress designed the new Go version to “provide all the delicious brewing capabilities of the original AeroPress plus a convenient drinking mug that doubles as a carrying case.” I think that’s a fittingly anticlimactic summary of the AeroPress Go. It hasn’t been completely reinvented or seen any revolutionary modifications. Rather, it’s simply an AeroPress that packs into a 15oz mug for travel. It still brews the same cup of coffee, and it’s not meant to replace the original; the two exist alongside each other in the company’s lineup.

the AeroPress isn’t well suited to brewing massive cups of coffee—if that’s what you need to get going in the morning—but don’t let its diminutive size fool you. It’s designed to brew small, concentrated cups, and it does so exceptionally well. Personally, I like to make an extra strong brew and then dilute it with some water after, yielding an Americano.

The AeroPress Go comes with a generous 350 paper filters, and a replacement pack of 350 costs just $5. They’re very reasonably priced when compared to filters for other common brewers, work great, and have a tiny footprint. And it’s entirely possible to reuse your paper filters several times, just by giving them a quick rinse in between batches.

All that said, it’s worth considering picking up a reusable metal filter for your AeroPress or AeroPress Go if you plan to use it regularly. The one pictured above is a fine DISK filter from Able Brewing. At $15, it may be half the cost of an entire AeroPress kit, but it’ll last you a lifetime if properly cared for, and also means you won’t create unnecessary waste with each cup.

Aeropress Go Review: Is Smaller also Better?

Review: The AeroPress Go Is the Better AeroPress (Even If You Don’t Travel)

 

Coffee in the… Well, Sorta Wilderness

“We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.”
Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods

Campsite, Lake Ray Roberts, Texas

Nick and I had a desire to go on a simple camping trip for one night. We packed up and went to a campsite on Lake Ray Roberts, not very far north of the city. It wasn’t much of a wilderness adventure – but sometimes it’s a good thing to get out and sleep on the ground. I rode my bike around the paved trails in the state park – the route was surprisingly hilly. It also was pretty cold at night. I’m getting old.

But the best thing is making coffee in the morning. My trusty Aeropress and a burner makes a nice cup of Joe.

My Aeropress at a campsite, Lake Ray Roberts, Texas

Oh, and I have discovered that there is a new Aeropress available – a travel version that collapses down into its own self-contained coffee cup.

I think I need to get me one of those bad boys.