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Coffee Gifts

December 6, 2011

Would you believe I’m a hard person to shop for? Me neither. But apparently, nobody knows what to get me.

Mrs. Fussy and I had a fun conversation a few weeks ago, where she asked me what I would like for my birthday present. I felt a little silly telling her what it was. Because really all I could think of was something pretty small. And I already have plenty of equipment around the house for brewing coffee, so adding another piece to the heap seemed excessive.

But that’s the point of gifts right? Giving somebody something they will enjoy, but might never buy themselves. Cash and gift cards are very generous, but they rarely create the same level of exhilaration and joy.

As fate would have it, my birthday is around the holidays. So hopefully those of you with a coffee lover on your list can take a few helpful tips from what I’m about to unleash.

Please note, I’m not encouraging you to buy anyone a Turkish coffee pot. At least not yet.

There are so many reasons not to buy one of these, it’s not even funny. Effectively it’s just a little bowl on a long handle. You take very finely ground coffee and engage in a labor-intensive (and potentially messy) brewing process that results in a thick, unfiltered cup of darkness. Neither the coffee nor the ritual is terribly popular in the U.S. and honestly, that’s a pity yet at the same time totally understandable.

But I’m excited. Mrs. Fussy did some research, found a good purveyor, narrowed the field down to a few choices, and then called me back to discuss a few specifics. I confirmed the size and a few important features, and then she bought it. We’ll have more posts on Turkish coffee once I get my beloved pot in the mail and gain some proficiency with its brewing.

So how is this helpful in your search for a gift for the coffee lover in your life? Hold that thought for just a moment.

The brewing of Turkish coffee is just one of many techniques for making coffee. I also own a Bialetti Moka stovetop espresso unit – exclusively for Café Cubano. As fall set in, I dug the French press out of the garage, largely because as winter approached I would not be relying on the cold toddy system Mrs. Fussy got me for Father’s Day. The coffee toolbox also includes everything one needs to execute a pour-over including a burr-grinder, digital scale and cone filter.

Do you know what all of these things have in common? Besides taking up a lot of space?

They all require the careful measurement of coffee, water, heat and time. This is how good coffee is made. Great coffee demands the precise grinding of beans mere seconds before being brewed, and that requires the presence of a burr-grinder. What is important is that the more you work with your coffee-making tools, the better you become at extracting coffee from the beans. Plus you have the flexibility to experiment with subtle variations of grind, temperature and extraction time.

Here’s what I’m getting at. Making good coffee is a craft in itself. Good coffee does not come from a push of a button.

Read that last part again.

  • If you like coffee, and you think you want to drink better coffee at home, do not buy yourself a K-Cup machine.
  • If you have a coffee loving friend or relation, and you were generously going to buy them a Keurig or other kind of K-Cup brewing system, please reconsider.

With the proper tools, you can make better coffee than the machine. You can. I believe in you. And your loved ones can too. Nobody needs as many coffee tools as I’ve got. I just love them. But instead of dropping over $100 on a machine that represents a commitment to drink expensive mediocre coffee, how about buying a serious grinder for potentially brilliant brewed coffee?

I’d suggest this one. But I’m also reasonably happy with my inferior model.

If you wanted to get all spiff, you could get a tricked out dripper like this one and a professional style kettle like this one. Or you could simply start off with a plastic dripper and pour boiling water out of a measuring cup. The point here is to not get hung up on “needing” all the best tools right out of the gate.

If you want a K-Cup machine because of ease and convenience, that’s fine, I can’t argue that with you. Tell me you love how easy it is to make coffee in your new toy. Tell me about all the flavors available at your fingertips.

Just don’t tell me that it’s good. Because it isn’t. Frankly, I’m not even sure it’s coffee.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. December 6, 2011 9:58 am

    While I have an automatic drip with a grinder attached, I am still at the mercy of store grinders for espresso. We’ve talked about it, and, for me, it does the job.

    But the K-cups are an abomination, in my book. In theory, I could understand the convenience and appreciate the engineering that goes into it, but once I saw that there are people out there counterfeiting K-cups with instant coffee, I was done thinking about that technology.

  2. December 6, 2011 10:18 am

    Happy Birthday!

  3. Kate permalink
    December 6, 2011 10:34 am

    I am pro-Toddy!

  4. December 6, 2011 10:34 am

    I don’t drink coffee. My wife does sporadically, but is coming to the dark side of pure tea consumption herself. We have a Keurig and 95 percent of the time it acts as a ridiculously over priced hot water dispenser, i.e. tea bag goes in a cup and you hit the button with no cuppy thingy.

    I drink a split between decent black tea bags and gunpowder tea. If I don’t have the time I have found that you can put a bit of gunpowder tea in one of those refillable filter K-cup dealies and if you run two cycles through it you have a passable, but week, cup. It definitely doesn’t taste as good as brewed tea, and I would never do it with anything pricey. But for a quick cup of tea, I have had much worse out of bags.

  5. December 6, 2011 10:35 am


  6. Bill Swallow permalink
    December 6, 2011 11:32 am

    I love a great cup of coffee. But, as there are many other demands on my time these days, I stick with the conventional drip brewer. If I want a great cup of coffee, I’ll get one while out. If you have recommendations of places that get it right (whether espresso, Turkish, or just a fine cup of coffee), shout ’em out. And yes, I’ve had properly prepared Turkish coffee – one of the things I used to love about visiting my ex’s father for the holidays – and do aspire to own the proper equipment and beans to make it at home.

  7. Steph permalink
    December 6, 2011 11:37 am

    I would largely agree, especially when it comes to the Keurig machines – eugh, that barely qualifies as coffee (and while I appreciate a good cup, I’m not a snob.) I do however think there’s an argument to be made for some of the superautomated espresso machines out there, if only because a good, “real” espresso machine is financially unfeasible for many households. There are definite downsides – environmental impact, being locked into one coffee provider (although that can be mitigated with some hacking – but the espresso itself is not, IMHO, one of them.

  8. December 6, 2011 11:45 am

    Happy Birthday to you! I love a good coffee too, but just have a regular drip brewer at home. It lets me prepare a cup just before I leave for work, so I have coffee with me here that’s marginally better than what’s on offer in the lobby. (And fresher, and cheaper. Way cheaper). At my previous office, we had a K-Cup in the room, which was great all winter long because getting coffee would otherwise involve a 2-block walk. [IT Departments: Where Drip Coffeemakers Go To Die.]

    However I’m like Bill above, I will happily splurge on a good coffee while I’m out and would be thrilled to learn of a place where I could find a good Turkish cup. Suggestions are welcome.

    Enjoy your birthday, Daniel!

  9. -R. permalink
    December 6, 2011 12:53 pm

    I continue to appreciate your dedication to slow living, eating and drinking, and doing these things correctly, factoring out convenience in favor of quality. Certainly, you can’t be surprised at the popularity of those blister-pack coffee-flavored gizmos? Frankly, the most important part of the coffee ritual is the beans and the grind. The typical bean-smashing blade grinders are suitable for grinding nuts for baking, but little else. A conical burr grinder is vital, preferably one that allows infinite adjustment of the grinding steps from dust to small boulders; avoid dosers, as they merely store preground coffee in the grinder. Beans should always be stored at room temperature in an opaque, air-tight container, and consumed quickly, preferably within a week or two of roasting. Beans should NEVER be pre-ground, as all the aromatic volatile oils rapidly evaporate, leaving one with a flat, one-dimensional brew. Once this aspect is mastered, brew method becomes a matter of preference – without it, you’ll never make a decent cup.

    There are very few automatic drip coffee makers which brew at the correct temperature (between 195-205 degrees F); most units drip at around 180 tepid degrees, which doesn’t allow for proper extraction of the bean’s oils. One I can recommend is the Capresso MT600, which has no hot plate beneath, but rather brews into a stainless steel thermal carafe and offers a 195-8 degree brew temperature. I use this as the weekday brewing method, as it quickly and consistently produces very drinkable drip coffee. Once and a while, we’ll make a French press.

    On the weekends, I use my Quick Mill Andreja semi-automatic espresso machine – part espresso machine, part industrial art. Several trips to Italy ago I decided I could no longer live without a correct machine, and bit the bullet; I’m very glad I did. No commercial establishment in the greater Capital District can approach what I make at home on the weekends…not even close. One note about ‘espresso’ – many American roasters produce a bean roasted to second-crack called Italian Espresso, which is very black and shiny, coated with oils. While these beans are fine for producing a robust drip, they produce espresso from a real machine that tastes like a burning rubber tire. True espresso beans should never be roasted much beyond a so-called ‘full city’ roast, since this allows the beans to contain their aromatic oils (released at grinding), as well as the taste of their geographic origin. With proper technique, under the heat and extreme pressure of a real machine, pure caffeinated joy flows forth.

    I cannot, however, make fancy designs in the foam.

  10. December 6, 2011 2:59 pm

    I hate K cups!! So much!!!!!! Ahhh – don’t they seem horrible for the environment in addition to sucking in taste?? Also expensive?

  11. Ewan permalink
    December 6, 2011 3:39 pm

    Top of my list this year is a home coffee roaster. Really looking forward to experimenting.

  12. December 6, 2011 4:09 pm

    Will you enlighten us with the fortunetelling aspects of your Turkish Coffee adventure?

    On a separate note, k-cups are evil.

  13. December 6, 2011 4:17 pm

    R, can we hang out?

  14. Darren Shupe permalink
    December 7, 2011 9:53 am

    I’ve never understood the popularity of the K-cup machines given that it’s so easy to simply make a pot of decent coffee using a drip coffeemaker or a percolator (some say the quality of the coffee suffers in a perc, but I love the old-fashioned frisson of hearing the sounds). Of course, given how much coffee I drink, one cup at a time isn’t going to cut it.

    But for the best basic coffee I can conjure up, I always go back to Graffeo dark roast in a French press. Simple, easy, and you’re good to go in a few minutes. I’ve never had a complaint.

  15. December 29, 2011 8:55 am

    Revisiting this post, as I was silently cursing myself for not searching your archives when choosing a new grinder for my Christmas list. I previously had the Cuisinart, which was fine primarily for the reason you stated in the post, that it measures out the number of cups per bean, which most grinders do not (and this made up for it’s other shortcomings, in many ways). However, the timer function finally went on the grinder, and though it still works otherwise, I decided it was time to upgrade.

    I ended up choosing the Capresso Infinity based on Amazon reviews for models in a similar price range, which I’ve used twice so far and I’m quite impressed with the consistency of the grind. However, it was after I had chosen one that this post came up with the link to the coffee grinder you suggest, and I didn’t dare change it up. It’s bad enough that people in my life still want a Christmas list (!!!) from me at my age; I certainly don’t want to make it complicated for people who want to do nice things for me.

    On a related note, my boss got us a Keurig for the office for Christmas, and gave us all K-Cups to start. I really did forget how awful the coffee tastes. I didn’t used to think it was all so bad, but then again, in the past couple years I’ve really acquired a taste for GOOD coffee. I used to like Dunkin Donuts, too, so there you go …

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