Concerning Coffee

Those that know me well know that this Covid epidemic has made my food blogging a bit more difficult than usual, since we’re only rarely eating out at restaurants (and, when we do, it’s almost always takeout, especially now that winter’s going strong). But one thing that’s definitely changed in a more positive way during the epidemic is one of my favorite vices: my daily cup (or often, cups) of coffee. So I thought it would be nice to discuss the coffee we’re drinking, where we get it, and how we make it.

Pre-Covid, we really enjoyed a good cup of coffee on the weekends, but during the week, we’d never make coffee at home, during the week, on most days I’d drink the particularly uninspiring coffee at work (Green Mountain Coffee Company’s Dark Magic), primarily for the reasons of economy: it’s free. Don’t get me wrong, as free office coffee goes, it’s actually not [i]bad[/i] coffee, but it’s only a few steps above generic commodity coffee. And then, a few times a week I’d stop by Lucky’s Coffee Garage on the way to work, usually to indulge in some cold brew coffee, and maybe a sweet roll or bagel or something. Carol would do much the same, going into her office as well. And sometimes on a weekend, or when traveling, we’d spend a bit of time kicking around coffee shops like Lucky’s or Carrier Roasting in Northfield, improving our normal drip coffee with a nice pourover of a nice varietal coffee, but we certainly haven’t been inside a “coffee shop” in almost a year.

Myself, I’ve always loved Lucky’s and like to support them. These have been hard times on business, so despite the lack of interior seating, reduced menu, and slightly higher prices covering the challenges of the pandemic area, since I’m still going into work most days of the week, I’ve actually increased my visits to Lucky’s. A typical morning commute on days I’m going into the office involves pulling off into the parking area by the rail trail by Exit 18, placing an order with Lucky’s through their app, and driving into downtown Lebanon. By the time I’ve parked, walked over and checked my PO Box, and sauntered back to Lucky’s, my usual order (cold brew, with Abracadabra Coffee’s Dark Times), and possibly a biscuit, bagel, or, when they have them, their excellent hand pies.

Now? Carol hasn’t been to her old office in almost a year, so the other thing that has happened is that we’re brewing a lot more coffee at home. A [i]lot[/i] more, especially on weekends and days where we’re both working out of the house. And that’s given us a good opportunity to spend a bit more time brewing up some really good coffee, and upping the quality of our coffee beans. Previously, we’d do a lot of Peet’s Major Dickason’s Blends, since it’s easy to get around here, has a nice modestly-dark-roast flavor, and it’s often on sale. But recently, we’ve found another go-to favorite for our daily brewing, and that’s Space Dog from Flight Coffee Company in Bedford, NH. A blend of coffee from the Americas and Indonesia, Space Dog is a really-well balanced medium roast coffee with a nice soft malty flavor with notes of stout and chocolate, and it’s become our standard go-to coffee these days. After that, our next local favorite is a local VT roaster: First Branch Coffee in South Royalton. Their two most favorite regular roasts of mine are their Burundi Natural Migoti (a very light and citrusy coffee), and their Ethiopian Girma Eshetu (a bold coffee with bergmat-like citrus notes). If you haven’t figured it out yet, I really like Ethiopian coffees…

The Pandemic has also had me spending a lot more time mail-ordering coffee than I used to. During normal times, I’d visit Arizona often enough to pick up some of my favorites from two Phoenix-area roasters: Peixoto in Chandler runs a fine coffee shop with some very nice partnerships with Brazilian farmers, and make some nice roasts as well: I particularly like their Citrico blend as a bright, light roast with some real fruit and cherry notes. Another Arizona favorite is a long-time presence on the Arizona roasting scene: Cartel Coffee Labs is practically a home-away-from-home when I visit Arizona, and while I didn’t manage a coffee shop visit last time due to Covid, I did manage to score some of their Ethiopian Banco Gotete at the airport on the way home. (A hidden prize for my astute readers: if any of you are in the Phoenix area, I’ve got an unused gift card bonus at Songbird Coffee in Downtown Phoenix: email me at if interested!).

For some odd historical reasons having to do with visiting a handful of friends, I’ve also got two places in Missouri that I really like as well. Keeping with a trend, I’ve really enjoyed the Kayon Mountain Ethipion from Ee Coffee in Kansas City. Further east in the state, one of my favorite little coffee bars, one that truly knows a good cold brew and has some great house roasts of their own, is Columbia, MO’s Fretboard.

Finally, if I’m waxing nostalgic about favorite coffee shops, I’m seriously looking to be able to travel again, since two of my all-time favorite coffee shops are international: Reykjavik Roasters is a must-visit stop every time we’ve passed through Reykjavik, sipping some excellent fresh roasted coffee in the shadow of the nearby Hallgrimskirkja church steeple. And a favorite indulgence of mine in London is a good visit to Monmouth Coffee Company, either their extremely cozy Covent Garden location, or their nice Borough Market location that features a common table with bread and jam so you can have a nice snack. Oh, to travel again.

No discussion on making coffee at home is complete without a discussion of brewing techniques. Unlike most folks, we don’t own a drip coffee maker anymore, and usually don’t use a French Press. No, a typical brew when both of us are in need of coffee is using a vacuum siphon (ours is a Yama 8 Cup model). For those that haven’t used them, I can’t recommend them enough. Vacuum siphons are a bit of a mad scientist contraption, but in mid-century American they were actually a pretty common way of making coffee. There are two pots connected by a filtered siphon tube, and the basic process is that you start with water in the lower pot, and grounds in the upper pot. You heat the lower pot, boiling the water, which then forces it through the siphon tube into the upper pot. Once all the water is in the top pot, you remove it from heat, the water vapor remaining in the lower pot condenses, and the vacuum pressure sucks the coffee back down through the filter into the lower pot. The process is fast, relatively simple, and the very nature of the process makes for a really smooth coffee since the grounds are never exposed to boiling water (the water is, by basic thermodynamics, going to be just under the boiling point). The result is much like a French Press/Cafetierre, but a smoother flavor, and easier to clean up than a French press. And you get to pretend you are a mad scientist while making coffee. About the only down-side to a vacuum siphon? They are fragile, and after brewing, the upper vessel sits on a stand as a top-heavy assembly, that tips over quite easily. I’ve broken more than a few of these over the years, although at times various sellers online offer individual components from a Yama setup to reduce the replacement costs.

If there’s one major downfall of the vacuum siphon, however, it’s that it doesn’t scale well to one person. They do make a smaller version of the Yama (and Bodum makes a smaller version as well), but it’s a bit of a hassle if you want a single cup. We used to use the French Press for that, but after about 6 months of pandemic both of us were tiring of French Press coffee and looking for a better option. That’s when Flight Coffee Company showed us the Clever Coffee Dripper, shown here. The basic concept is your standard pourover, like a V60, but with one subtle improvement: the Clever Coffee Dripper has an integrated spring-loaded valve on it: it only flows when set on a mug. It’s the perfect setup for doing a single cup of coffee.

So, what are my coffee drinker friends drinking these days?

One Response

  1. Ariane 16 Feb 2021 at 23:23 #

    I very much relate to this whole post Rich! I’ve gotten more obsessed with my coffee the longer the pandemic goes on. Because I’m the only one who drinks it at home, I was also looking for a better single-cup brewing option. I ended up getting an aeropress for Christmas and I’ve been loving it. It’s easier to clean than the French press and I feel like it makes a smoother cup. My new favorite coffee is from Cimarron Coffee Roasters in Montrose, CO. My brother sent me some (it was a coffee-oriented Christmas). I like their Chimney Rock blend. I might need to try mail-ordering some of your suggestions!

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