Austin Specialty Coffee Crawl

Traveling to Austin—or live here—and trying to make sense of the local Third Wave coffee scene? Here are some crib notes to help you get oriented.

Austin’s specialty coffee coffee scene has moved beyond up-and-coming status and is deserving of attention as a worthy destination in its own right. There is way too much to see or taste in one trip. Here are some generalizations to help you prioritize where you would like to visit:

If this list seems biased towards East Austin, that’s not your imagination. We have lived and worked since 2005, so the locational bias is real and, arguably, unavoidable. Ping me if I am missing a juicy specialty coffee destination in Austin and I’ll add it to the list.

Also, if you are traveling to Austin and looking to stay someplace walking or biking distance from downtown and a bunch of East Austin’s finest cafes, check out our alley flat on Airbnb: East Austin Nest. Outside of summer, when no one in their right mind visits Austin voluntarily, our occupancy rates at are high. But you might find an opening that fits your schedule. It’s not the cheapest place to stay, but it is hard to beat the value. Great location. Handsome apartment. Excellent coffee set up. Gorgeous screened porch for enjoying your morning cuppa.

 

 

What’s in your brewing water?

Coffee enthusiasts go to great lengths to procure coffee from a favorite roaster or region. But 98% of the beverage that winds up in your cup is water.

UPDATE: Because we don’t have room for an in-line water treatment system, I’m all in on by-the-gallon coffee water solutions. Since late-2016, I’ve been using Third Wave Water for all my coffee and espresso water needs, both at home and on the road. To manage the costs, I am buying in bulk. I backed the company’s Kickstarter launch at the “Cafe” level. That initial shipment included 2 years worth of product, based on my rate of consumption. When that run out, I’ll ask for a volume discount on a bulk resupply. Check Third Wave Water out if you are buying coffee-making water by the gallon. The “Classic” profile brews a sweet cup; the “Espresso” profile is optimized to avoid scaling.

ORIGINAL POST: Brewing water is just as important to a delicious cup of coffee as the coffee itself. This is why cafes spend $10k or more on a water treatment system. These systems first filter everything out of the water, using a reverse osmosis process, and then add dissolved minerals back to the water at just the right right ratio for optimal taste and brewing. These dissolved minerals not only ensure that the brewing water tastes good, but also impact extraction, flavor and mouthfeel.

Scott Rao’s book “Everything But Espresso” is dedicated to coffee brewing techniques, and includes a chapter on water chemistry. Rao notes that water with too high of a pH will taste dull, whereas water with too low of a pH will be brighter and more acidic. Brewed coffee will taste muddled if TDS values are too high, and it will lack mouthfeel and refined flavors if TDS values are too low.

The Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) has developed a water quality standard, which seeks to define the optimal water chemistry for coffee brewing. The table below details the SCAA’s target values and its acceptable range for brewing water characteristics, as well as the composition of two readily available bottled waters, as reported in the manufacturer’s water quality report, and the composition of our local tap water, as documented by the City of Austin:

SCAA

While the water chemistry of these bottled waters does not match the SCAA target values, I find coffee brewed with Gerber Pure or Nestlé Pure Life consistently preferable to coffee brewed with our local tap water, even if I filter the chlorine out of the tap water first. The difference is not subtle, either.

You can easily evaluate your brewing water preference at home. Simply purchase something like Gerber Pure—which is available at CVS, Target, Walgreens and Walmart—and brew up identical cups of coffee using bottled water on the one hand and (filtered) tap water on the other. Polished immersion brewing is particularly well suited for this type of evaluation, since it is easy to duplicate brewing parameters. You may also want to try other types of drinking water or spring water. However, some bottled water formulations vary across a year. (Gerber Pure is consistently formulated to published standards, because it is specifically made for mixing with baby formula.)

If you are looking to brew with water that more closely matches the SCAA water quality standard without investing in a home water treatment system, Global Customized Water offers a 2-part brewing water formula designed for traveling baristas. You simply add the two vials to distilled or reverse osmosis water and voila—you have optimal brewing water.

GCW

 

[SOLD] New old stock Cona size D

Imagine my surprise when a vintage chrome-plated new table model Cona vacuum coffee maker turned up locally at an estate sale. The best surprise of all? The brewer had never been used.

Some lucky visitor to the CoffeeBOS shop on Etsy is going to go home with a mint-condition Cona vacuum coffee maker. This is a chrome-plated 1.1-liter model (Size D). I had to cut the original seals on the interior packaging in order to takes photos of this brewer. It is 100% complete and has never been used. If you are a serious home brewer, this is your chance to elevate your tabletop coffee brewing to the highest levels of elegance.

Detail

Best of all, you don’t have to settle for the binary temperature control offered by the spirit lamp. With a siphon brew board from CoffeeBOS—like this longleaf pine bistro-style board—you can brew in style while maintaining stable and optimal slurry temperatures.

SpiritLamp

Workshopping: Vintage wooden coffee grinder restoration

If you are a woodworking coffee geek or a coffee drinking wood nerd, you might be thinking about breathing new life into a decades old coffee mill. If so, here are some of the shop supplies you may need to complete the project.

Vintage wooden coffee grinders speak to me, especially European models manufactured in the 1930s through the 1950s. These are interesting objects from an industrial design perspective. The materials—mostly beech wood, but also cherry wood and walnut—also appeal to me. And, best of all, quality grinders built during this period have good manufacturing tolerances, and often have useful life left in them.

Over a period of years, I’ve restored a dozens of these hand grinders as gifts—weddings, birthdays, housewarmings, births and so forth—for friends and colleagues. In most cases the vintage mill, with its hardened steel conical burrs, is an upgrade from an electric whirly blade grinder. It not only produces better results in the cup, but is beautiful to behold and enhances the ritual of making coffee.

For a minor restoration projects, I clean the burrs, lube the burr axel and polish metal parts, which requires a fair amount of disassembly. For a frame up restoration, I completely explode the mill so that I can also strip and refinish wooden and painted parts. Here is a list of useful shop supplies for these types of projects with links to representative products:

Coffee cleaner: Regular detergents and dish soaps are no match for decades old rancid coffee oils. So get yourself some coffee cleaner. If you are just doing a one-off project, your local cafe might sell or give you some. You only need 1 or 2 teaspoons per grinder. Soak the burr set for up to 24 hours, starting with boiling hot water, in parallel with the woodworking projects. Some burr sets require two rounds of soaking.

Metal polish: While there are many products to choose from, I’ve had good results using Maas polish. Many mills require multiple applications. I often use metal polish in conjunction with very fine steel wool or sandpaper or even a Dremel tool with stainless steel brush attachments. Be especially careful when using any abrasive on a plated metal. The plating is often very thin; if you remove too much plating, you’ll reveal the material underneath.

PeDeMontage

Food-safe lubricants: Many of the better European coffee mills are designed such that the burr axel rotates on top of a small ball bearing that is held captive in a tiny cup. As part of any restoration project, you will need to repack this bearing in a food-safe grease like PETROL-GEL, which I found locally at a restaurant supply shop. You can also apply a thin layer of this heavy grease on the inside of the upper burr axle bearing, as this is a potential source of wear and squeaks. Many old grinders also have squeaky handles, which you can address by applying mineral oil to the handle knob axle. (Note that drugstores, like CVS or Walgreens, generally sell food-safe mineral oil at better prices than home supply or woodworking stores.)

Stripper: Stripping old finishes off of wood is a nasty process, really. If you want to make quick work of it, you have to pick your poison: gel stripper, liquid stripper, spray-on stripper. It all works more or less the same way, bubbling up the old finish, which you can then scrape off. I have some heavy duty gloves that I use for this process only. If you prefer a less aggressive approach, consider Formby’s refinisher. (Note that you can remove paints from metal surfaces simply by soaking these in boiling hot water with some dish soap or coffee cleaner added to it.)

Finishes: The simplest way to re-finish (seal) the wood after you have stripped, sanded and prepped it is to use a clear spray-on lacquer. Since these products are fast-drying, you can apply multiple coats in a relatively short period of time. If you are using a brush-on finish, like a water-based polyurethane, it is difficult to get finish that is as smooth as a spray application. My favorite way to finish old mills is to mix dewaxed shellac from flakes with denatured alcohol to about a 2-pound cut. I apply this shellac using a cotton pad, building up the finish in multiple passes. Once I am satisfied with the shellac finish, I apply a spay-on lacquer clear coat over the shellac for additional protection.

Spray paints:  Some mills have painted hoppers, handles or drawer pulls. The best way to select a product for this application is to take a color sample or a sample part to the building supply store and look for a spray paint with the desired color and finish. The best product I have found for the hopper funnels is a white appliance epoxy. Make sure to verify that these products are compatible with the material you are painting. Also, be sure to read and follow the reapplication instructions.

KyM.montage

Abrasives: I use multiple types of abrasives, including sandpaper, steel wool and synthetic abrasive pads. I keep sandpaper in 60–320 grit for wood surfaces, as well as 400–1500 grit for metal surfaces. I keep a wide range of steel wool on hand with an emphasis on the fine end of the range (0–0000 grades). However, I rarely use steel wool on wood or finishes, as the so-called synthetic steel wool products serve the same basic function without leaving any metal materials behind on your work surface. I also keep polishing wheels, pads and buffing compound in inventory.

Hand tools: My most commonly used hand tools for coffee mill restorations include: tack hammer, hobby knife kitChapman screwdriver kit, miniature pry bar, vice grips, small pliers, metric wrenches and sockets, bench-mounted vices, clamps, scrapers, etc.

Power tools: My most commonly used power tools for these projects include: orbital sander, Dremel tool kit, and a cordless drill.

Misc: Wood glue, wooden chopsticks or skewers (whittle down and glue into old nail and screw holes prior to reassembly for a tight fit that will last decades), painter’s tape, sanding pads, disposable latex gloves, safety glasses, lint-free cotton cloth, etc.

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Replacing a siphon funnel seal

Have a vintage vacuum coffee maker with a questionable funnel seal? Simply follow these manufacturer-recommended guidelines.

A rubber funnel seal will last for decades. However, a siphon only works well if it is able to pull a vacuum. So I decided to replace the funnel seal on a 38-year-old vacuum coffee maker—whether it needed it or not—as directed by the vendor’s service department.

Step 1: Place the funnel face down on a non-slippery flat surface. Use a sharp knife to cut away the old seal. I used the hobby knife shown here with a stiff blade. But an X-ACTO knife, box-cutter knife or utility knife would have worked just as well.

1.CutOld

Cut the seal lengthwise, as indicated by the white line, in multiple shallow passes. As long as the knife blade is sharp, you should not need to press very hard. Peal the seal away when it splits, then use the knife to remove any excess adhesive.

Step 2: Smear a dab of dishwashing liquid or similar on the tip of the funnel.

3.DishSoap

Step 3: Push the new seal onto the funnel stem.

4.SlideOn

Step 4: Slide the funnel seal to about 1″ from the neck of the funnel and apply a suitable clear adhesive. I selected silicon sealant from Loctite, which is rated for use on rubber and glass. In addition to being waterproof, the sealant is rated for short-term exposure to elevated temperatures.

5.ApplyAdhesive

I used a small brush to apply the sealant directly and evenly to the rubber. While there is no need to apply a lot of sealant, you are better off applying a little more than is needed, as this will eliminate visible air bubbles.

Step 5: Push the seal firmly into place.

6.PressTight

Step 6: Verify that there aren’t any air bubbles. If there are, you may be able to eliminate the bubbles by twisting the seal, pressing it more firmly or adding more adhesive.

7.NoAirBubbles

Step 7: Remove excess adhesive while it is still wet as directed by the instructions. For this silicone sealant, Loctite recommends using mineral oil to remove uncured adhesive.

8.RemoveExcess

I removed the bulk of the excess sealant using paper towels and mineral oil, then cleaned any residue off the glass using a lint-free cotton cloth and mineral oil. (Don’t worry, you can remove any dry sealant goo later using a knife blade.)

9.WetAdhesiveRemoval

Step 8: Let the adhesive cure according to the manufacturer’s instructions, and Bob’s your uncle. Your siphon is good to go for another 40 years.

10.Finished

Happy brewing!

Step by step: polished immersion brewing

Borrowing from the principals of technical cupping, polished immersion brewing is elegant in its simplicity.

Cupping is an industry standard process used to evaluate coffees. Just add hot water to ground coffee at a set ratio. After waiting a few minutes, break the crust, skim the oils off the surface and start slurping.

Polished immersion brewing follows these same basic step, then adds a “polishing step,” during which the coffee is decanted through a paper filter. There are, of course, any number of ways that you could polish an immersion brewed coffee. Here is the process I use, which is based on the recipe US Brewers Cup champ Sarah Anderson used to win the regional Southwest Brewer’s Cup competition.

Step 1: Add 300g of 204° brewing water to 20g of ground coffee in a flat-bottomed brewing vessel. I use a small Bodum press pot as a brewing vessel, and add water using a gooseneck kettle, pouring in a manner than ensures the coffee grounds are evenly wetted.

3.AddWater.sm

Step 2: Relax and wait 4 or 5 minutes without disturbing the crust.

5.Crust.sm

Step 3: Break the crust. This effectively stops the brewing process. Now, use a cupping spoon to skim the oils off the surface of the coffee.

8.ReadyToDecant.sm

Step 4: Polish the coffee by decanting it through a rinsed paper filter.

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Step 5: Enjoy!

12.Enjoy.sm

Get on board with the Cona Model A/B

If you are lucky enough to own a vintage Cona Model A or B tabletop vacuum coffee maker, these photos illustrate how the Model A/B base fits on a CoffeeBOS brew board.

The Cona brew board listings on the CoffeeBOS shop on Etsy use a Model C brewer as a frame of reference. That’s because the Model C/D brewers, which are still in production today, share a common base. While vintage Model A or B brewers have a smaller base, all four models share the same spirit lamp. So the diameter of the hole in the base is consistent across Cona Models A through D.

As shown in this photo, Model A and B table top models are compatible with CoffeeBOS brew boards for Cona vacuum coffee makers. Since Model A and B brewers have a smaller footprint, that leaves more of the brew board exposed for you to appreciate!

How do you like your BOS?

An homage to an homage? I’d like to think so.

When I started riffing on the SolarBOS name, I did let the founder of the company know. It appears that one good homage to balance of system (BOS) components inspired another.

 

Coffee cherry soda

Looking for a refreshing summer coffee concoction? Try making coffee cherry soda at home.

Coffee cherry soda is a perfect pick me up on a hot afternoon. Cascara is the dried fruit of the coffee cherry. To make coffee cherry soda, you simply brew up a cascara concentrate for the fridge, which you can mix with sparkling water on demand for a delicious and refreshing spritzer. Coffee cherry tea tastes vaguely like rose hips, and has about 25% of the caffeine of coffee itself. It is also reputed to have additional stimulants not found in coffee.

Here’s a recipe for making cascara concentrate:

1. Start heating about 1 liter of water to 205° (just off boil)

2. Measure out 120 grams of cascara

3. Put the dry cascara in a brewing vessel

4. Add 60 grams of organic cane sugar (or similar) to the vessel

5. Add 900 grams of 205° water to the brewing vessel

6. Stir and let steep for 15 minutes

7. Decant & filter into a storage vessel and refrigerate

You can use whatever vessel(s) you have handy for brewing and storing the cascara concentrate. In my case, I do my bulk brewing a large Chemex, as shown here:

Brewing

After the brewing is complete, I decant the concentrate into an Eva Cafe Solo,as shown here:

Concentrate

The Eva Solo not only stores nicely in the fridge, but also has an integral metal filter to keep the coffee cherries out of the storage vessel. The concentrate shown here is enough to make 10 to 15 glasses of coffee cherry soda.

To serve coffee cherry soda, simply add sparkling water and cascara concentrate to taste. Try a ratio between 4:1 or 6:1and go from there. Enjoy!

Polished immersion brewing

Coffee cupping is a standard method used to qualify the tastes and aromas of a coffee. Here’s how you can adapt this simple and reliable process to brew championship-caliber coffee at home.

In May 2013, I experimented with a polished immersion brewing process that I referred to as the “ad hoc Clever Coffee Dripper.” Fast-forward to February 2015, and Sarah Anderson, representing Intelligentsia Coffee, is the 2015 US Brewer’s Cup Champion. In the regional rounds of the competition, Anderson won the Southwest Brewers Cup Championship by brewing Intelly’s Kenya Ngaita using a similar type of paper-filtered immersion brewing method.

Anderson based the immersion phase of her brewing method on the coffee cupping model, because this simple process produces consistent results in the cup. Prior to decanting the coffee, Anderson broke the crust and skimmed the top of the brewing vessel, another step derived from cupping, then clarified the brew by pouring it through a paper filter. Note that this sequence cannot be duplicated with a Clever Coffee Dripper. By decanting the brew into a filter, the bulk of the grounds are removed prior to filtration. With a Clever Coffee Dripper, all of the brew must pass through the bed of grounds during filtration.

The result is a sweet and full-bodied cup. Best of all, most people can replicate this championship recipe at home. Here is what you need:

  • Immersion brewing vessel (±350ml)
  • Paper filter and filter holder (V60, Kalita Wave or similar)
  • Serving or drinking vessel (±12 oz)
  • 21 grams coffee
  • 310 grams water (140 TDS) at 200°–205°F

Note that a cupping grind is typically slightly more coarse than is typically used for drip brewing. Now here are basic steps to brew championship-caliber coffee using Anderson’s polished immersion brewing method:

  • Add water to coffee in brewing vessel
  • Gently submerge grinds with spoon and wait ±5 minutes
  • Use spoons to skim top of coffee slurry
  • Pour coffee through paper filter
  • Serve and enjoy!