February 17, 2009

French press review

Coffee House Cafe SetForte Promotions, a company that offers custom printed apparel and promotional products, recently sent me their "Coffee House Cafe Set" for a review.

It's a nice set, including a small French press and two matching glass cups with a very classic look. It comes packaged in an attractive black box with plenty of foam to prevent breakage. The materials aren't as heavy as one would find on more expensive sets, but for the price ($20-25, depending on volume), it's a good value. The size is perfect for brewing a small serving for two, say as an after dinner coffee, or for a larger cup for one.

I've been using the press to make my morning coffee for a few weeks now. On my initial brew I had a problem with sediment slipping past the filter into the cup. Unfolding the edges of the mesh filter a bit to give it a tighter seal against the edge of the carafe helped minimize this. I've had better performance since then, though still find an occasional bit of coffee slipping through along with the usual sediment one finds in a French press. Making this filter tighter or adding a second filter to the lid would improve the product.

I was happy to get this as a sample and I think any coffee drinker would be glad to receive it; it's certainly a step up from the usual promotional coffee mugs, of which most people already own plenty anyway. Recipients who don't already have a French press will hopefully be encouraged to try out a new brewing method. If they use it properly, they'll likely find they get a better cup than with their drip brewers.

September 1, 2007

R. I. P. Alfred Peet

"I came to the richest country in the world, so why are they drinking the lousiest coffee?"

Alfred Peet, founder of Peet's Coffee & Tea, died Wednesday at 87.

Peet's: Alfred H. Peet, 1920-2007 (with comments and pictures),

When Alfred Peet opened his shop in Berkeley in April, 1966 he started a coffee revolution. Nobody had ever seen top-quality coffee like this roasted in this unique style in America.
Washington Post, Alfred Peet; Put Buzz In Gourmet Coffee,
Alfred Peet, 87, a Dutch tea trader who started the gourmet coffee craze in the United States with his rich, darkly roasted, high-altitude beans and taught the trade to the founders of Starbucks and sold them their first year's supply, died Aug. 29 at his home in Ashland, Ore.

His company, Peet's Coffee & Tea, from which he retired in 1983, announced his death. The cause was not reported.

... Coffee aficionados swear by Peet's, asserting that it is superior to mass-merchandised products. In 1971, when the three founders of Starbucks decided to open a gourmet coffee store in Seattle's Pike Place Market, they sought Mr. Peet. He insisted that they go to his store to learn about coffee before he would sell them a single bean...

... Peet's is bean-sized compared to Starbucks, but it has played a significant role in the development of the U.S. coffee culture.

San Francisco Chronicle: Coffee pioneer Alfred Peet dies,
With his emphasis on specialty coffees and unique brewing techniques, Peet, the son of a Dutch roaster, put specialty coffee on the map - and in the process influenced the founders of Starbucks.

"Up until the time he started, in 1966, basic American coffee was swill," said Jim Reynolds, roastmaster emeritus at Peet's. "His father had been a small coffee roaster in Holland before World War II, he was aware of good quality coffee, but nobody in the States was buying it," Reynolds said. "He realized Berkeley was a place where good food and good quality coffee would work."

... "I like to think that he taught America how to drink dark-roasted coffee," said Narsai David, the food and wine editor of KCBS in San Francisco, who, when he opened his Narsai's Restaurant on Colusa Circle in 1972, was Peet's first commercial account.

... In 1971, the first Starbucks store opened in Seattle's Pike Place Market, with coffee roasted by Peet's. The company's co-founders, Jerry Baldwin and Gordon Bowker, learned about roasting from Peet.

Peet sold his business in 1979 but stayed on as a coffee buyer until 1983. In 1984, Starbucks co-owner Baldwin and Reynolds, the roastmaster, with a group of investors bought Peet's four Bay Area locations. In 1987, Baldwin and Peet's owners sold the Starbucks chain to focus on Peet's, and Baldwin and Howard Schultz, Starbucks' new owner, entered into a no-compete agreement in the Bay Area. In 2001, Peet's became a public company.

Alfred Peet was born in Alkmaar, Holland, on March 10, 1920. He helped his father by cleaning his coffee-roasting machinery and doing other odd jobs. When Germany invaded the Netherlands, he was pressed into working for the Third Reich in Frankfurt. When the war ended, Peet joined Lipton, the tea company, and for a time worked in the tea business in the then-Dutch colony of Indonesia.

He immigrated to San Francisco in 1955 and took a job with coffee importer E.A. Johnson & Co. He favored high-altitude coffee from Costa Rica, Guatemala and East Africa that his father used to buy, and although there was no market for it in the area, he decided to create one.

Seattle Times, Coffee master Alfred Peet, 87, inspired Starbucks,

Continue reading "R. I. P. Alfred Peet" »

April 16, 2007

Shakerato for the summer

The warm spring and summer weather hasn't hit DC yet, but it's sure to do so soon. That means it's time to start thinking about iced coffee drinks. Even for a coffee lover like me, there are days in DC when a hot cup of coffee doesn't sound so appealing. I'm a purist, so the heavily sweetened, artificially flavored frappuccino type stuff doesn't cut it. Iced americanos are nice, but my favorite is the caffe shakerato.


Continue reading "Shakerato for the summer" »

November 2, 2006

Ceramic press for one

The French press I use at home is a little too big for one person, so I never end up using it at full capacity. The 14 oz. Coffee For One looks like it would make a great alternative. It's ceramic, dishwasher safe, and the brewing chamber conveniently stacks onto the matching mug. Very stylish at $26.

They're sold out for now, but hopefully they'll be back.

[Via The Food Section Shopping List.]

October 25, 2006

LA Times Makes Coffee

Advice for the ... beginner.

The new coffee connoisseur - Los Angeles Times,

Think you know how to make a great cup of coffee? Think again. It's all about the best beans, a careful roast and optimal brewing.

MY first stop was my local coffee roaster, where they have a pretty good selection of beans roasted on the premises.

The beans are at once the most complex part of the equation and the easiest to solve. At first glance, the choice seems bewildering. Walk into any moderately stocked coffee bean purveyor these days and you'll find more than a dozen choices spanning two or three continents and a range of roasts.

... When constructed by a good roaster, these blends can be among the best coffees you'll ever taste. But choosing one can be confusing, since each shop is free to name its blends whatever it feels like. One place's "Caffé Roma" can be made from the same beans as another's "Morning Sonata." On the other hand, it's a pretty sure bet that no two "Breakfast Blends" will be exactly alike.

There are different degrees of roasting as well. The darker the roast, the more earthy and chocolate flavors will be in the coffee — up to a point. Particularly when you're talking about the very dark roasts that are popular these days, the overpowering flavor is charcoal. Whether these roasts are popular because people prefer milky drinks such as cappuccino, or whether people prefer milky drinks because the roasts are so dark is hard to say. One thing's for sure — extremely dark roasts are not intended to be drunk straight.

Continue reading "LA Times Makes Coffee" »

October 3, 2006

Yarrrr, a demitasse!

One if my tasks at the new store is picking out ceramic for the place (they're currently paper only). I have some pretty specific demands for espresso cups: white or off white interior, tulip shape to suspend the crema, and, of course, a handle. These pirate shot glasses offer none of these things, but damned if I'm not tempted to serve them up anyway.


Buy 'em here.

[Via BoingBoing.]

September 27, 2006

Reversing the French press

Hammacher Schlemmer is offering a new product called the "Acid Reduction French Coffee Press." Like a traditional press, it steeps coffee in hot water and then filters out the grounds. This one simply reverses where the grounds go, pulling them to the top instead of pushing them to the bottom. This takes them out of the remaining water, preventing the over-extraction that causes too much bitterness and acidity.

It's a neat idea and reasonably priced around $30. But I'll stick with my own solution: using a mug big enough to hold all the coffee in the first place.

[Via Slashfood.]

September 5, 2006

Science of Coffee

Cosmic Variance has a very interesting post on the Science of Coffee,

One part I particularly enjoy is the chart titled Cumulative Chemical Composition of Espresso with Increasing Extraction Time, which simultaneously tracks the concentrations of multiple compounds as a function of extraction time, side by side with a key that explains their role:
Compound : Aroma
2,4-decadienal : RANCID
ethylgujacol : SMOKE
2-ethyl-3,5-dimethylpyrazine : CHOCOLATE
2-ethyl-3,6-dimethylpyrazine : CHOCOLATE
Go see the rest.

May 21, 2006

Lovely espresso quote

Perusing the food and drink archives of my other weblog tonight, I came across this passage about espresso that I'd forgotten about. It's from Andrea Illy's book Espresso Coffee: The Science of Quality (yes, that Illy). Here's what he says about the experience of espresso:

Espresso consumption is an aesthetic experience, like tasting a vintage wine or admiring a painting. It is a search for beauty and goodness and improving the quality of our life. As it offers such subjectively ineffable ‘goodness’, devoid of defects, the only adequate reaction to it is astonishment — astonishment that can give birth to enthusiasm, and therefore intellectual and spiritual enrichment.

Astonishment is an accurate description of the feeling I get when I taste a great shot. That the seed of the coffee bush, painstakingly grown and picked, transported over oceans, baked to a dark brown, ground to tiny pieces, and finally hit with high-pressure hot water could yield a brew so thick and sweet and lasting just a few moments is really quite amazing when you think about it.

February 1, 2006


From Anne -

I gave up caffeine about a year ago, after I had anxiety problems and ended up in the emergency room thinking I was having a heart attack. The state of the world has most to do with it, but I've found that caffeine was a significant component. I miss good black tea the most.

Because of my tea addiction, which had a ritual component to it (my husband's family is English), I've spent a lot of time and money trying to find truly good decaffeinated black tea. I have failed. Admittedly, the tea I used to drink was sort of the espresso of tea: an Irish blend called Lyons Gold. It made a very assertive, malty, brisk cup of tea. Non tea-drinkers who came to our house and were offered a cuppa would be served Lyons steeped perhaps 3 minutes (we always went for 5), with milk and no sugar unless they requested it. We made quite a few converts. "Oh, so THIS is what tea is supposed to be like!" Restaurants who bring you a metal pot of hot water and a separate tea bag are committing a crime against good tea-brewing practices. But that's another story.

Continue reading "Caffeine-no-more" »

January 27, 2006

Issues of Our Time

Politics in the Zeros weighs in on the great issues of our time, in Roast your own. Go read.

Making the Coffee

OK, I mis-spoke. (Or should that maybe be 'mis-blogged'? 'Mis-posted'? Lied?) I DO let myself get more than about 300 yards from a Peet's. For example, I LIVE more than 300 yeards from a Peet's. (It was a hard choice. Although the just-opened Peet's in Redwood City is very close.)

So what I do is I take Peet's beans home WITH me and make it there! I use a French press. I get the beans ground "to number 12." Today I am having a 2/3 Decaf Special Blend and 1/3 Lost Toraja.

Yes, when I am pushing the plunger it stops part way down. Thank you for asking. No, I don't push harder. (Been there, done that, had to clean it up.) What I do is spin the top of the plunger, which seems to clear things up and then the plunger is able to go down some more. (I do wonder if I just waited the same amount of time, if that would also clear things up. But just waiting for coffee is soooo hard...)

And yes, I have a one-cup plastic travel press pot that I take with me on trips.

Coming soon: Does the coffee made at the store taste better? Smelling the Coffee is not afraid to ask the big questions. And we will not be intimidated. (Try bribes.)


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