Some lighter blog fair this time. As the annual gift giving orgy is a mere [insert number] days away, there’s an increased level of discourse about what to buy. I’ve seen a lot of “what espresso machine should I buy for under €100?”, “anywhere sell that civet coffee?” etc. An awful lot of money will be poorly spent on shit (sometimes literally) coffee gifts this Christmas. So I thought I’d put together ten items, covering a variety of price points, of things that I would be happy to give or receive.
1. Coffee Subscription: It’s the gift that keeps on giving. Many roasters do this now, they send out, typically, a bag of beans every month, for 6 months or a year. Between my Square Mile, and Hasbean subscriptions, I’m never really without coffee. In around these, I’ll pick up whatever takes my fancy, depending on my whims, but these are my bread and butter, so to speak. Hasbean also offers a weekly In My Mug videoblog subscription (1 bag a week, with an online video which goes into some depth about the particular coffee), which, of the Hasbean subscriptions tends to be the more geeky, more palate-expanding. Square Mile, Hasbean, and (I think) James Gourmet Coffee will all service an Irish audience on that front. Hopefully 2010 will see some of the Scandanavian roasters present that kind of offering (with reasonable shipping across Europe).
2. Cups/Mugs: J-Ho touched on this during his infamous videoblogging splurge. Cups/mugs do make a difference to the overall drinking experience. While it might not really affect how the drink tastes, some cups are more inherently pleasing to hold and slurp from. Ever since April, since I sat in Octane in Atlanta, sipping a French Press of Idido Misty Valley from one of their unbranded diner mugs, I’ve really liked the satisfying unexpected weight of the mug, and the pleasing crook of the handle. While, Octane don’t sell the mugs, I do also quite like the Intelligentsia branded ones, which you can buy here. Less, beefy, more elegant and modern, are the Lux Delux mugs. I’m actually hoping Santa has a couple of these for me this year. A lot of design elements went into them, that have been discussed previously, I just think they look cool.
3. Far-flung beans. This can either be palate expanding or geek-satisfying. It’s Christmas, right? Feck it! Ignore those crazy, scary shipping costs, there are many fine international roasters, from whom, we isolated on Europe’s western periphery rarely have the pleasure to buy from. Intelligentsia, Terroir, 49th Parallel, Ecco, Barismo, Tim Wendelboe, Supreme Roastworks, all offer international shipping – it’s not an exhaustive list, but you get the point, order something special from somewhere special.
4. Hand Grinder. These are perfect gifts – gift sized, gift priced. Though, unless you are looking for them to double as a gym workout, they are best suited to only grinding enough for one cup at a time. I’m really quite enamoured with Hario’s Skerton hand grinder, despite an obvious flaw (no lower burr carrier). The materials of the body (plastic and glass) are appropriate, and easy to clean, the burrs, ceramic, are also washable (mine survived someone carelessly putting it through a dishwasher cycle). The grind uniformity, I have to be honest, can be less than ideal, but nonetheless, for a hand grinder, for €45 (from Coffee Angel), it’s excellent, comparable to some €100-€200 electric grinders, and I won’t insult it by comparing it to a whirly blade “grinder”. Porlex/Kyocera also offer hand grinders, which I believe have been similarly well received (I prefer the look of the Hario burrs though).
5. A quare brewer. Quare*, as in queer, as in strange (not flamboyantly homosexual). Something new and interesting is what’s called for here, something that will deliver almost as much fun in the brewing as satisfaction in the final cup. You see, a french press is not quare, they are ubiquitous, dare I say mundane (mundanely excellent at brewing). A chemex is quare, one with a handle is extra quare. A V60 dripper is quare. A siphon/vacpot is quare (if infuriating). An Eva Solo is quare. An Abid is quare. Just be sure to get plenty of filters (if required) to go along with whichever one you opt for.
6. Geek technology. Having spent many of my blog posts in the last 6 months discussing extraction, it would be remiss of me not to mention gadgets to measure it. A cheap TDS meter from eBay will get you started, if you have money to burn, an Extract Mojo is the deluxe option. This is hardcore geekery, so know your audience, they might not be too impressed in being presented with a small electronic device that looks like a home pregnancy test.
7. A tamper. Ok, I’ve purposely left espresso orientated things off this list (until now). I’m mostly bored by espresso these days, maybe one day a month I get enthused. Nonetheless, the custom, panda engraved, Reg Barber tamper I got a present of last christmas was an excellent gift. Plus you can just go around menacingly holding it on Christmas day, whether you are in the vicinity of an espresso machine or not. It’s hard to go beyond Reg Barber for me. Avoid clicky, gimmicky ones.
8. Books. This really depends on the level of geek. If you are J-Ho, you’d probably like to receive Coffee Technology, by Sivetz and Desrossier. A budding home barista might like, The Professional Barista’s Handbook, by Scott Rao. I really enjoyed Michaele Weissman’s God In a Cup, a light, and at the time current read (not sure how well it’s aged), probably the coffee equivalent of a Dan Brown book. Espresso Coffee: The Science of Quality remains, in my opinion, a nice geeky, reasonably in-depth mini-tome, which can be dipped in and out of during your daily constitutionals (who wants to borrow my copy??). I didn’t really enjoy The Devil’s Cup, but some think it has merit.
9. A teflon portafilter. I’m breaking my espresso rule again, but this one is really worth it. Until recently, outrageously expensive. Now a mere £48 might be all that is separating you from the joy of electric green teflon. For now, only available in E61 and La Marzocco sizes (maybe with some DIY modification will fit the likes of a Silvia also).
10. A digital scales. This is one of those presents that could be borderline insulting, like buying your wife/mother an iron. It doesn’t matter how good the iron is, or how much time it might save her, it’s just not a good present. Scales are boring. You’re unlikely to rip it out of the box, get caught up in the excitement and start to frantically weigh things all around you. Nonetheless it is pretty much an essential and often overlooked piece of coffee equipment, and you can get some nice looking ones too if that is your thing. You want to get one that at the minimum is capable of 1g increments, 0.1g is even better. It should also be capable of weighing at least 2-3kg.
*Quare : adj. adv. (intensive) great; in the phr. ‘queer and . . . ‘queer = very (e.g. ‘He’s queer and mean’ = ‘He’s very mean’ < E dial. queer adj. origin obscure. ‘He’s a queer yoke (q.v.) that fella I can’t figure him out at all’; Roche, Poor Beast in the Rain, I.1, 76: “Joe. . . .’We were queer and lucky not to be sent up the river that time boy'”, Stoker, The Snake’s Pass, 199: “‘That’s a queer thing for him to say!’ said Norah to her father. ‘Murdoch turned on her at once. ‘Quare thing — no more quare than the things they’ll be sayin’ about you before long'”, Kavanagh, ‘If You Ever Go To Dublin Town’, 143: “O he was a queer one”, Roche, A Handful of Stars, I.l, 14: “Tony. ‘I’ll tell yeh one thing Conway he’s trainin’ queer hard for it'”. Since about 1700 the common HE pronunciation of ‘ee/ea’ as ‘ai’ (e.g., queer, quare) has become a salient characteristic of the dialect, as witnessed in this anecdote given by Dr. Johnson (entry in Boswell for 27 March, 1772, cited in Bliss, Spoken English in Ireland, 209): ‘When I published the Plan for my Dictionary, Lord Chesterfield told me that the word great should be pronounced so as to rhyme to state; and Sir William Yonge sent me word that it should be pronounced so as to rhyme to seat, and that none but an Irishman would pronounce it grait’. Now here were two men of the highest rank, the one, the best speaker in the House of Lords, the other, the best speaker in the House of Commons, differing entirely’.