My Golden Rule of Kitchen Appliances

in Brewing Coffee, Coffee Gear

Black and Decker 12-c. Programmable Coffee Maker, Black     This weekend, my parents and two of their friends were visiting me in San Diego, California.  I love having people over, and I especially love having coffee lovers over.  It gives me a chance to show off my gear, and raise awareness of coffee beyond their Keurig machine.

On the first morning, I broke out my Chemex, the one that makes two cups at a time.  See where I’m going with this? It took me two cycles just to make a cup for each of my guests, and I still didn’t have my own in hand.  That night, I thought ahead to the next morning and wondered if I even still owned a drip brewer.  I’ve been using my French Press and Chemex for so long, I couldn’t remember the last time I even used a drip brewer.  A quick search of the cupboards uncovered my trusty Black and Decker drip brewer.

The whole thing reminded me of my golden rule of kitchen appliances.  Here it is, in all of its unscientificness…

If you want the best, buy Cuisinart.  If you’re on a budget and want the best that’s adequate, buy Black and Decker.

Cuisinart 12-c. Programmable Coffee MakerBefore learning about brewing methods like the French Press and Chemex, I had a Cuisinart drip brewer for years.  It made a great cup of coffee, and had additional features that made sense, such as heating the water more for smaller amounts of coffee, since the water wouldn’t otherwise have time to get as hot as needed.

When we assembled the Coffee Maker Report Card, the Cuisinart found its way close to the top of the list, but an interesting fifth place went to Black and Decker.  It was the only one priced under $40 that still met our report card criteria, and quickly became the machine I recommended to those that didn’t have $70-100 to invest in a higher-end drip brewer.

My golden rule of kitchen appliances is based on my own experience.  Learn about both drip brewers at

Preparing for my Coffee Origin Trip

in Coffee and You, Coffee News, Coffees of the World


Next month, my father and I will be travelling through Honduras and Guatemala, visiting coffee farms and farmers along the way.

I’ve been casually learning Spanish on and off for the last few years, and have really ramped up my learning in the last couple months.  My personal goal is to conduct an interview with a Central American coffee farmer in Spanish.  Yes, I will have my recorder with me, or you all won’t get much of an interview :).

Today however was for serious business.  I had an appointment this morning at Passport Health, a chain of travel medical clinics where nurses review your itinerary and destinations and provide professional advice on what shots you need.  To answer your question…yes, I was poked with many needles today.  What did I get?

We started with malaria.  I don’t know how bad that is, but I know it’s bad.  It’s in the jungles of the countries we’re visiting, and although we’re not visiting the jungles themselves, I’d rather not dance that close to the fire.  Of the medication options, I opted not to pick the one with the night terror warning, and instead went with one that seems to have only mild side effects provided you follow the instructions very carefully.  I’ll be taking that pill weekly from prior to the trip to weeks following it.

mauigrowncherries     After that, we got into Hepatitis A and B.  Hep A transmits through food and water, and I’ll need plenty of both on this trip, so it’s not even a question.  Hep B transmits through body fluids, such as a food server that didn’t wash his hands.  Also not a question.  I got a shot of each.  Two shots of Hep A separated by six months will make you immune “for life” – this was my first one so I’ll likely get the other one in six months and be Hep A Invulnerable.  I received a Hep B shot a few months back, so the second one today increases my ability to fight Hep B to about 80% if I came into contact with it.  Another shot in six months, and I’ll never need to think about Hep B again.

I abstained from a number of other shots.  I’ve never had a flu shot in my life, so I opted out for this trip.  Hopefully this doesn’t become the story where I finally convert to getting flu shots like everybody else, because I have a feeling it would be a little worse than a stay-home-from-work day.  I also opted out of the rabies shot, so I’ll have to control my urge to play with every dog I see.

The last was typhoid fever, common in both countries, and transmitted by food and water.  I took home some medication to take over the coming week that will make me immune for the next five years.  This is another thing I don’t know well and don’t need to know well – make me immune to it.

These precautions seem perfectly normal to me.  My father and I will be getting off the beaten path, and I don’t want something that could’ve been easily avoided to get in the way of our coffee exploration.  Nothing puts you in touch with a love of coffee more than a trip to where it all comes from.  I can’t wait!

NEWS: People would rather have good coffee than morning sex

in Brewing Coffee, Coffee and You, Coffee News

coffeesex     Our love of coffee is so strong, most people would rather have a caffeine fix when they first wake up than sex, a new survey has found.

I’m just the messenger here!

This week, the New York Post picked up the story that a French-based hotel chain called Le Meridien hotel group surveyed its guests, and found that 53% of them would prefer to start the day with a good cup of coffee than morning sex.

It gets better.  78% of respondents said they would rather give up alcohol, social media, and sex for a year rather than give up coffee for the same amount of time.

The French-based hotel chain interviewed frequent travelers from six countries, including the US and China.

This is one of those great coffee stories that I’m biting my tongue from commenting on :).  When I studied first-year Psychology in college, I first learned about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  At the base are the Physiological needs, or the ones like food and water that we need to stay alive.  Maslow also included sex in this category.  Higher up the list are Love/Belonging needs, and sex is repeated here as Sexual Intimacy.

I’m not sure where I’m going with all this, except to say that if the French hotel chain’s research holds any merit, then coffee has officially found its place into the Hierarchy of Needs, sharing the space of most important needs along with breathing, food, and water.  Followed by sex.

Learn more about the news here.

What is Coffee Cupping?

in Buying Coffee, Coffee and You, Coffees of the World

cupping1     I kept the hearing the term “coffee cupping” around me and I was too embarrassed to ask what it meant.  So, I did what anybody would do who doesn’t want to betray how little he knows – I bought a book on coffee and read up on it!

Coffee cupping is the process of coffee tasting that roasters do in order to profile a specific lot that a farmer has produced.  When I lived in Portland, Oregon, I was fortunate enough to tour that year’s Roaster of the Year by Roast Magazine, Portland Roasting Coffee.  Andy Davis of PRC not only showed me what they do and how they do it, but he also treated me to my first ever coffee cupping experience.

Read: My First Cupping Experience

Check out the article above to learn the process of coffee cupping.  It was a very cool experience.  But, why is it important?  For a couple reasons.

cupping2     First of all, wherever you buy your coffee, there was likely a cupping that took place in order to evaluate that coffee before a large amount of it was purchased from the importer.  After all, coffee is purchased in large quantities, but before that happens, a professional cupper is going to need to make sure it is the coffee they’re looking for.  Your local roaster does so with a small sample that is provided in order to evaluate the much larger quantity that the roaster will buy.

Second, coffee cupping is used in competitions such as the Cup of Excellence that I talked about in a recent post.  In such a competition, each farmer submits their best lot, and the cupping process is used to evaluate each one, and pick a winner.  There is no other process that so clearly qualifies a coffee before it ends up in your home, and in your cup.

Read: What is the Cup of Excellence? – for everyday coffee drinkers

Seven Facts About National Coffee Day

in Buying Coffee, Coffee and You, Coffee History, Fair Trade and the Environment

mauigrowncherries      Some of you may have heard that yesterday, September 29th, was National Coffee Day.  I’ll be honest and confess that it’s only been in the last couple of years that I’ve even heard of the event.  Well, guess what?  It’s real and it’s been around for at least 30 years.  And here are six more facts about National Coffee Day

– It’s actually International Coffee Day, but each participating country celebrates it as National Coffee Day.  This struck me when I noticed chains in the US giving away free coffee to celebrate, while friends of mine in Canada were also celebrating it as “National“.

– There are actually a total of six countries that celebrate National Coffee Day on September 29th.  In addition to the US and Canada, they are England, Ethiopia, Malaysia, and Sweden.

– The first known celebration of an International Coffee Day was in Japan in 1983, celebrated on October 1st.

IMG_2162     – The purpose of the day?  To celebrate the delicious beverage we all love.  The tragedy of it?  It is also meant to recognize the plight of coffee farmers in poor countries, a message that tends to get lost when in practice, it seems more about McDonalds and Starbucks giving out free coffee samples.

– The first known reference to National Coffee Day in the US was in 2005, so if you’re getting the news late, don’t worry – it’s less than a ten year old tradition.  Start gearing up now for next year!

– Coffee producing countries that celebrate Coffee Day in addition to Ethiopia are Brazil (May 24th) and Costa Rica (September 12th).

As David Cook, owner of Fire Roasted Coffee, says, “Happy International Coffee Day! or as we like to call it…Sunday.”


What is the Cup of Excellence? – for everyday coffee drinkers

in Buying Coffee, Coffee News, Coffees of the World, Fair Trade and the Environment

georgehowell     At this year’s CoffeeCON in Chicago, I was fortunate enough to get some time with Boston-based specialty coffee pioneer George Howell to talk coffee.  To say that George provided me with an overwhelming amount of coffee knowledge would be an understatement, and I’m looking forward in the weeks and months to come, to referencing this knowledge.

George talked to me about the Cup of Excellence program, and I wanted to take a few minutes to tell you what it is, and why it should be interesting for any coffee lover.

Check out: Trip Report CoffeeCON 2013

In 1999, George and other specialty coffee buyers and roasters were frustrated with the lack of appreciation for high-quality Brazilian coffees among North American specialty coffee buyers.  Brazils had a reputation for being mass-produced, and with little regard for being unique and prized.  George and company wanted to change that perception, and started the Cup of Excellence as a competition for coffee farmers in that country.  Farmers would submit their single best coffee, perfectly ripe when picked, exhibiting a well-developed body and amazing flavor.  A panel of international coffee experts would select the winning coffee, which is crowned champion.

Here’s the cool part.  In order to encourage with farmers the relationship between quality coffee and the price that they can get for their product, the winning coffees from Cup of Excellence are auctioned online to the highest bidder, with the farmer receiving 85% of the auction price.

The competition has since grown to include more countries than just Brazil.  Keep your eyes open for reference to Cup of Excellence.  If you see it, try it!

How Fresh is Starbucks Whole Bean Coffee?

in Buying Coffee

starbuckswholebean     Dear Mr. Coffee,

I would like to know more about Starbucks and their whole bean coffee. If you ever get answers to these questions in your travels I would love to know:

1. How fresh is their whole bean coffee that is on the shelf? How long ago was it roasted?

2. How far does the coffee travel after it is roasted, or perhaps more specifically, how many regional roasters does Starbucks operate? Is it all roasted out of Seattle (unlikely), or if it is roasted regionally, where are it’s ‘hubs’?

I just bought Starbuck’s Sumatra Dark as per your excellent quiz, but I’m looking at the bag wondering how fresh it is.

– Jacques



Jacques, thanks for the kind words and the great questions.  If anybody hasn’t checked out the new Coffee Quiz, what you are waiting for?! Check it out by clicking here.

When I first moved from pre-ground grocery store coffee in a big tin can, to whole bean coffee that I would grind myself before each brew many years ago, I figured the logical place to turn was Starbucks.  For quite a while, the stop at Starbucks to get whole bean coffee was a regular stop for me.

How fresh is their coffee on the shelf?  Who knows?!  Like a good local roaster does, they have no roast date on their packaging.  This is likely for two reasons.  One, because they must not want you to know.  And two, because it might introduce the added management of only having same roast dates on display at one time – otherwise, customers might only buy the freshest coffees while the others would certainly go stale.  Having said that, I’m not suggesting that Starbucks whole bean coffee is stale.  Only that it is likely less fresh than the coffee from a roaster who prints the roast date on the packaging.

How far does their coffee travel from roasting? Starbucks roasts its coffee in Kent, Washington, just outside of Seattle; in Nevada, where I believe most of their roasting is done; in Pennsylvania, also Starbucks’ largest distribution center; and finally in South Carolina.  From these four roasting plants, Starbucks roasts millions of pounds of coffee on a weekly basis to service the brewing in their retail locations, their wholesale business – for example, the Starbucks brand coffee sold in grocery stores and the Seattle’s Best Coffee sold in fast food restaurants – and the whole bean coffee sold in their stores and over their website.  Again, there’s no way to know when it is roasted, but you can estimate travel time by how far you bought it from the closest of the four locations above.

The other consideration is of proper roast level, and Starbucks is known to “over-roast” many of their coffees.  The Coffee Quiz takes into account a suggested roast level for a coffee based on its origin.  If the Coffee Quiz recommended a certain coffee and you bought it from Starbucks, it may be more roasted than we had in mind when we recommended that coffee to you.

I hope this helps.  Starbucks is conveniently everywhere, and I do believe their store employees handle whole bean coffee better than the employees of a grocery store.  For that reason, I would buy bulk coffee from a Starbucks before I would buy it from a grocery store.

Try a Medium Roast Coffee

in Buying Coffee


When I first discovered Peet’s Coffee & Tea, I was an immediate fan.  In my mind, Peet’s had been the forerunner to Starbucks, but chose to limit their scale so that they could maintain control of the quality of their coffee.

It doesn’t happen often, but lately, I ran out of coffee.  It was due to my own poor planning, and I should really subscribe to a regular delivery service or plan better to visit my local roaster.  Although I admonish my fair share, those that buy coffee at the grocery store, there I was staring at my grocery store’s coffee selection.  I told myself I would buy a small amount, maybe a half-pound, to get me through.  That’s when I saw Peet’s Major Dickason Blend.  I remembered how much I liked this coffee when I first tried it.


After I made some at home, the first thing that struck me was how dark-roasted this coffee is.

It reminded me that several years ago, I instinctively went for a dark roast whenever I had a choice in coffee.  Since then, I’ve really moved to medium roast coffees.  The main reason for this is because as coffee is roasted, it begins to take on flavor characteristics of the roasting process itself.  That flavor, that some call burned and Starbucks calls bold, is from the roasting and potentially detracts from the coffee’s flavor that is unique to its origin.

Put simply: roasting replaces what makes that coffee unique, with its own characteristic flavor.

Put that way, I decided I would only truly learn what makes different coffees unique, by drinking them in a medium roast.  I am still working through the Peets Major Dickason and enjoying it, but I’m excited to go back to a medium roast coffee.  Give medium roast coffee a shot the next time you have an option.  Coffee is unique from its different origins, and you risk losing what makes it special in a dark roast.  Starbucks knows this…that’s why they have a Blonde Roast now.

Shop at Peet’s Coffee & Tea.

Visit Portland, Oregon!

in Buying Coffee, Coffee and You


I just spent the day in Portland, Oregon.  I moved to San Diego from Portland about six months ago, and I’ve missed Portland ever since.  I’m not a Portland native, but it quickly became an important part of my life.  Today was a chance to tour the city and my old favorite spots before meeting friends later tonight.

Here are the top four reasons that you need to visit Portland, Oregon:

1) It is the coffee capital of the USA!
Even if you want to side with Seattle or San Francisco as the country’s coffee capital, you can’t deny that these three cities together have set the country’s coffee landscape.  Portland has excellent and unique roasters almost a stone’s throw from wherever you are in the city.  When you’re here, don’t bother with the many Starbucks locations.  Those are for tourists.  If you insist on a chain, go with Dutch Bros, a Pacific Northwest chain of espresso stands where you’ll find friendly service and amazing coffee every day.

2) It is the beer capital of the world!
OK, I’m taking some liberties here.  It does have more breweries within its city limits than any other city in the world.  Somewhere in the neighborhood of 30, more than any other city.  It’s a city that appreciates a personal and well-crafted beverage.

IMG_2162     3) It is a quietly trend-setting city.
I felt so welcomed by the people of Portland when I moved here, and I didn’t know a soul when I arrived.  They are modest, and will never admit (or are possibly unaware) of the trends they’ve set.  There are literally hundreds of food carts in the city, and the trend was definitely made famous here – you’ll have difficulty finding an episode of Eat Street that doesn’t spend time here.  And if the country appreciates craft beer and care-roasted coffee more now than years ago, Portland is one of the reasons why.

4) It’s just a fun city.
The city’s unofficial motto is “Keep Portland Weird”.  Spend some time here, and it won’t take you long to understand why.  Record numbers turn out for the city’s annual Naked Bike Ride.  Spend time downtown, and you’ll see something weird, whether it’s a clown on a unicycle with a completely straight face, or a man in a dress singing opera (and well).  Everything is just a little off, and it’s awesome.

The biggest complaint about Portland?  The rain.  I say get over it.  If it gets you wet, you’ll dry off when you get to where you’re going.  And when the sun is shining, I don’t know too many places more beautiful.  Portland will always have a special place in my heart.  I’ll always enjoy visiting.

As a coffee lover, you owe it to yourself to visit the mecca!


Isn’t my propeller grinder good enough?

in Buying Coffee, Coffee Gear

cuisinart-grind-central-coffee-grinder-dcg-12bc     There are two kinds of electrical grinders: the propeller grinder and the burr grinder.

If you open the lid to your grinder and there’s a propeller inside…well, you get the idea.  If your grinder has one chamber into which you load whole beans, and a second chamber that collects the ground coffee, you have a burr grinder.

This week, I wrote a primer on the different grind types, and how they suit different methods of brewing coffee.  In it, I stressed investing in a burr grinder, and that prompted some questions as to whether or not a propeller grinder is “good enough”.

Read: What is the proper grind setting to make coffee?

What’s the big deal with a burr grinder?  Here are some things you need to know!

1) You get an inconsistent grind with a propeller grinder.  If you look at the coffee you’ve ground, some of it is ground coarse, some fine, and some in-between.  There’s no way to get the consistent grind you need for the way you’re brewing coffee.  The ground coffee doesn’t collect in the second chamber of the burr grinder unless it’s consistent with the grind setting you’ve selected.


2) An older propeller grinder will burn your coffee.  All of that coffee is flying around in the one chamber with a propeller that produces heat as it turns.  Heat is an enemy of coffee.  It will sap flavor from the coffee in your cup.

3) You can’t select a grind type.  Check out the article above and you’ll see that each different method of brewing coffee calls for a different grind type.  The best you can do with a propeller grinder is determine that a certain number of seconds that you grind corresponds to a grind type (ex. four seconds = coarse grind, eight seconds = fine grind).  Even if you have such a system, remember that the propeller will slow down over time.  That doesn’t just mean you’ll have to grind longer, but re-read point #2 above, it’s burning your coffee.  Then, re-read point #1 above, it won’t be consistent anyway.

I recommend you make the investment in a burr grinder that provides you with a grind that is consistent, that isn’t burning the coffee, and that properly corresponds to your brewing method.  You can get a great one by Cuisinart for $50 or less.

Check out our Coffee Grinder Report Card, to see our consumers report on how burr grinders stack up.

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