Tag Archive: coffee


Me and my coffee

I am a known coffee enthusiast. Also, I complain about coffee I don’t like.

For this reason, and because of a rash of Facebook status updates regarding coffee pot advice and/or disdain and/or elation, I’ve been asked about coffee pots quite often.

Honestly, though, I’m just the recipient of really good advice.

Well, here’s the story. I’d always been fine with a cheap coffee pot, as long as the coffee wasn’t Maxwell House or something. (Despite catchy jingles, Folgers has never done it for me!) I knew what I’d brewed wasn’t as good as what I could get at a coffee shop, but I considered that on par with my inability to cut my own hair or make proper french fries: I supposed I didn’t have the training nor the equipment to do it.

My first step into the world of “nicer” coffeemakers came when Charlie and I got married.

We had a Cuisinart coffee maker (with some fancy amenities, like a brew-timer and a button to say whether you wanted the coffee “strong” or “regular”) and a thermal carafe, which we purchased with wedding gift cards at Target. We loved it at first. It seemed to make good coffee and the coffee would stay really warm in the carafe.

* cue ominous music *

Slowly, our satisfaction with our coffee pot waned. More often than not, the coffee would come out bitter. We hadn’t been regularly cleaning it with vinegar solutions as a preventative measure, but we did begin to, trying to fix the problem. When this fix failed even after several tries, I suspected the machine had residue deep in its workings. The coffee only got worse, not better. We couldn’t stand it any more and threw out the coffee maker. I still wonder if we could have solved the problem if we’d been more proactive in cleansing the machine.

A French Press in use (Bodum is a good brand)

But I also wonder if the problem was both the machine’s and ours. You see, as we drank coffee more regularly and had nearby access to several good coffee shops, I think our taste in coffee became more and more refined. No longer could any old shop make a latte that I was pleased with. I started being able to distinguish between coffee beans and roasts in ways I hadn’t before. Maybe we had outgrown our pot while it was taking a downward turn into bitterness.

I thought at first we’d just turn to using a French Press. There’s not much to mess up there and I’d noted a lack of the bitterness when I used this method. I talked to my friend Lance, though, and he recounted how his cholesterol had gone up when he’d used the French Press on a daily basis. I looked online and, indeed, if you have any concerns about cholesterol, the French Press needs to only be for occasional usage. Who knows if this would have been a real problem for us, but we do drink coffee daily and I didn’t want to chance it.

This is the point at which I asked for recommendations on Facebook to help us find a new coffeemaker. I got a few happy reviews of an even more elaborate Cuisinart that included a grinder inside the coffee maker. We got a good deal on it at Costco, but I think it still cost around $70. We already had a coffee-grinding appliance, but relegated it to the top shelf of the cupboard. We were upgrading.

* cue thunder crash *

Yuck. Yuck in taste. Yuck in cleaning. Yuck, yuck, yuck.

The combination of coffee grounds and shooting hot water and steam in one close-topped appliance was messy. Wet grounds would get all over the inside of the coffee maker. There were so many crevaces to scrape grounds from with the little brush the machine came equipped with. It was to be cleaned after every use, but the process was tedious and seemingly unnecessary. We soon brought back the regular ol’ coffee grinder, bypassing the “bells” of our “bells and whistles” machine. But the whistle wasn’t that good either.

The coffee was weak. No matter how much or how little grounds you put in the coffee filter, the output was wimpy. And I like my coffee strong. And the wimpy coffee also had a tinge of bitterness.

We were absolutely dissatisfied: grossed out by the messy mechanics of the brewing machine; unimpressed by the weak coffee it put out; frustrated to have paid money for grinding and timing gadgets it turned out we didn’t even like. (We were able to return it for a full refund. We love Costco!)

* the music brightens *

But one day we discussed coffee-making contraptions with friends of ours, Ricky and Janette. They had done all the research. They were true coffee aficionados. They recommended the brewing system from Technivorm called the Moccamaster. We, of course, had never heard of it. But Ricky and Janette swore that it made the best coffee in the world. Better yet, they invited us over for breakfast to taste it.

* orchestration swells *

The coffee was so good. It was piping hot, deep brown, rich, and steaming. It wasn’t bitter. At all. I could drink it without cream and sugar. I wanted to drink it without cream and sugar!

* cymbal crash *

So, we had found our coffee pot. The only problem, as Janette and Ricky had warned us, was that it was expensive. This Dutch system was rare in the U.S. and costly.

(Side note: Janette told me recently that Williams Sonoma now carries Technivorm, but they were more expensive. When I looked back to the site, Boyd Coffee, the place from which we’d received ours, their prices have gone up too! Yikes. Boyd ships theirs very well and includes some coffee and the correct filters, which is very nice.)

* dramatic pause *

But we ended up asking for it for Christmas and my mother-in-law bought it for us and it’s the best thing that’s ever happened in our coffee lives.

Coffee in the foreground, Technivorm in the background

What we learned (from Ricky and Janette – see how dependent we are?) was that most coffee brewing machines have the same basic mechanism for heating the water and dripping it through the ground coffee. Even the fancy pots we bought had the same inner workings, just with more electrical workings around it and shinier exteriors.

The Technivorm, on the other hand, heats the water to a much higher temperature and, quickly, sends it through the filter full of grounds. (Here’s a review.) If you’ve ever had really good commercially brewed coffee, you might have had a similar experience of hot coffee without bitterness.

The machine looks way different than what most American coffee pots look like. I like it aesthetically. And, more importantly, it keeps giving us the best coffee of our lives.

The machine from a different angle

So, should you get a Technivorm Moccamaster?

Let me ask you:

1)   Are you satisfied with coffee from your old coffee pot?

2)   Would paying nearly $300 for a coffeemaker be totally impossible for you? (Even as a gift on a wishlist?)

3)   Are you entirely unconcerned with cholesterol? OR, do you only drink coffee 2-3 times per week?

– If you answer questions #1 with a “yes,” then no, please don’t waste your money.

– If you answer question #1 with a “no,” but #2 with a “yes,” then proceed to question(s) #3.

– If you are dissatisfied with coffee made in a typical coffeemaker, but don’t have the money to buy a Technivorm, you should consider a French Press. They’re way less expensive, but have the cholesterol concerns I mentioned above. If you don’t drink it daily, it could be less of a health concern.

– If you answer all “no”s, don’t despair. Maybe you need to remind yourself of the best ways to make coffee: For instance, if you use substandard coffee beans or if you use pre-ground beans, maybe you just need to upgrade your coffee quality and invest in a grinder. This will at least be a temporary solution for you, I bet. Fresh ground beans (ground by you at home) make better tasting coffee. Arabica beans, the more freshly roasted the better, make the best coffee. I personally dislike Columbian coffee. Ask if you can sample some of Starbucks’s or your local coffee shop’s brews, if you want to develop your coffee tastes and figure out what types of coffee blends you prefer. If you live near a Whole Foods, they roast their coffees onsite and often have beans that have been roasted that very day for sale. Also, the amount of coffee most machines/coffee companies advise you to use is often too little. (Like Pop Tarts thinking a serving size is really one tart. Yeah right. Why pack them together, then? Punks!) Likewise, you really should use nearly 2 Tbs. of ground coffee per “serving” of output (that is not a full cup! 6 oz. I believe). That is a lot of coffee. This site can help. Lastly, are you using filtered water in the coffee making process? That can improve the taste, too. Making these little adjustments may be all the fix your coffee taste buds need.

The name, the power

But if you’re just unhappy with anything you brew at home, drink coffee daily, and buy high quality whole coffee beans (preferably Fair Trade) … and just can’t figure out what’s wrong, think about saving up for the Technivorm Moccamaster. I can testify that it has saved me lots of money on Starbucks; I just don’t have to go out for excellent coffee anymore. If you get a Technivorm, I am guessing you’ll be really glad you did.

* Kara takes a bow and vows that she’s not paid to promote or bad mouth any of these companies. *


Cafe Central (Wien/Vienna) - excluded from the running in this post

The Coolest 1 Coffee Shops 2 in the World 3 so far

I love footnoting, so every superscripted number here points to a caveat at the bottom of the post. They’re very important for understanding my rationale in choosing the places I did.

1) The Flying M Coffee Garage – 1314 2nd Street South, Nampa, Idaho

The picture below shows only one of the distinct areas of this roomy Firestone-garage-turned-coffee-shop-heaven. There’s an eccentric gift store area. There’s a couch and tables, more traditional “coffee shop” area, with huge windows all around. There’s a space for bands to perform. There is an area for bigger groups sitting around tables. And, finally, it has a balcony (pictured below) with work stations, complete with plugs. The one time I had the opportunity to use it, I found it incredibly easy to write there.

Flying M - The Study Loft area (in the garage), which is part of why I love it so much.

The space aside, the Flying M Coffee Garage has excellent coffee drinks, competitively priced, and the most consistently good baked goods I’ve ever experienced in a coffee house. It’s constantly alive with activity and draws an eclectic crowd in this mid-sized Idaho town.

2) RIM Café – 1172 S 9th St, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

My husband and I stumbled upon this coffee shop when we were looking for a late-night place to wait out a friend’s delayed plane. Most coffee shops were closed between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m., which happened to be when we needed them. A Yelp! search alerted me to RIM, so we drove there. It’s in the Italian Market part of town, right down the block from the incredibly famous and popular dueling Cheesesteak franchises, Geno’s and Pat’s (Pat’s is better).

Rene, working his magic.

As my husband said, “You’ll never pay more for a latte, but you’ll never have a better one.” It’s a small, dimly lit shop, run by Rene, a man from Nice in the south of France. He’s the artist of the coffee mixes, and the charismatic heart of the shop. Patrons watch as he mixes drinks, shaves exotic chocolates into the mix, spins the concoctions around while drizzling syrups on them, and turns out potable masterpieces. All the while, he’s shouting, “I’ma gonna make it hap-pen!” and “Oh my God!” (We were quite taken aback the first time we went in, since we had no idea what to expect!) Drinks cost between $7-12, I’d say (I’ll have to check to be more precise). But it’s more of a gourmet dessert experience than a simple latte. His peanut butter hot chocolate (the Nutty Volcano) is, I can assure you, divine.

3) Tea Drops 4 – 4111 Pennsylvania Avenue, Westport, Kansas City, Missouri

I’m pretty sure you can’t get any coffee here. But the shop design, menu, and tea/tea-brewing merchandise is pretty fabulous. I’ve had bubble tea elsewhere, but it’s never as good. Of course, I like the milky versions better than the plain teas, but it’s the black tapioca bubbles that are my favorites. I love the look of surprise on a newbie’s face when their large straw shoots a chewy bubble into his or her mouth. Ha!

I cannot find a photo of Tea Drops in all my pictures, even though I’ve been there at least a dozen times. I can find pictures of me grinning with friends in the premises, but they show our faces … not the coolness of the shop.

4) South Street Café – 105 South Street, Bennington, Vermont

This is one of the places I’ve stopped while passing through and I thought, “Oh, I wish we had this. I’d read here all the time. As strangers to town, we walked in and felt comfortable. I moved it so high up the list because it seemingly had something for everyone, and used space really well. The coffee was affordable, with free refills (with their on-site mugs), and good!

The front door of the South Street Cafe - Bennington, Vermont

We stopped here on a frigidly cold day in February on our way back from a weekend in Woodstock, Vermont. We needed lunch – and I usually don’t like coffee shops standard panini or pre-made sandwich lunches. We saw on their chalkboard menu that their soup of the day was African and inquired what that meant. The barista highly recommended it, so we said “sure.” It was a steaming crock of root vegetables and legumes in a thick, richly-spiced broth. It warmed us up wonderfully, along with some tasty bread on the side. We ordered, also, a spinach and feta pastry (I believe). Together they were almost too filling.

5) Caras Gourmet Coffee – Neue Schönhauser Straße 9, Mitte, Berlin, Germany

Berlin has a lot of great cafes and they all serve really stellar coffee. Many are designed beautifully. But many serve lots and lots of different things in the category of food and alcoholic beverages. Caras is a more “American-style” coffee shop. And, because much of their menu was in English, I suspected that it wasn’t not actually German, but I think from their website that it is. Germans do that sort of thing and this was along a popular shopping street, very close to the very-touristy Hackescher Markt area.

Charlie trying out Caras Gourmet Coffee, which was near my school in Berlin.

This shop had a front seating area, as you can see above, with wide windows looking onto the bustling street. There is also a long, more narrow seating area further back where I had success finishing up my daily homework. The most popular place to sit, as I observed in nearly all German cafes, is outside. There were many, street-facing seats where people would come to sip their coffees, smoke, talk, read, and people-watch. Sehr Deutsch.

6)  [The Original] Starbucks – Pike Place Market, Seattle, Washington

There’s nothing special about this Starbucks (at least when I last visited), excepting the large gold post in the shop marking it as the flagship store for the worldwide franchise. But if you like Starbucks (and I do) and if you like pilgrimages (and I do) and if you like city markets like the one in which the shop is found (and I so do), then you’ll like visiting the first Starbucks.

7) Coffee & Co. – Laurinská 135/5, Bratislava, Slovakia

We stumbled onto Coffee & Co. in the old city of Bratislava, picturesque, cobblestoned, and very Eastern European looking. Whether we should have been or not, we were surprised at how modern it was. It was very affordable and had all sorts of fun coffee drinks (iced and hot). The bright space was equipped with varied seating areas, including booths, sofas, and chairs.

Coffee & Co. - Bratislava - So good, we went here twice in 24 hours.

I can also state for the record that our Slovakian language skills were very, very poor, but the workers were quite patient and nice to dumb tourists like us. If I recall correctly, we twice heard Lady Gaga playing in the store.

8 ) Claire de Lune – 2906 University Avenue, North Park, San Diego, California

The North Park area is a fun neighborhood in San Diego; and on our recent visit to San Diego, Charlie introduced me to the long University Avenue that runs through quite diverse parts of town. My friend Rob met us at Claire de Lune – his suggestion – and we had some time waiting for him beforehand. We tried a dessert, which was delicious, but I can’t remember what it was. The brewed coffee was quite strong and not bitter — a good sign.

I wish I had better photos of Claire de Lune.

The place had a wonderful ambiance, and its balcony reminded me a little of my favorite coffee shop (Flying M, above). I can see myself sitting in one of these chairs for hours, reading and nursing a mug of hot coffee.

9) Kudu Coffee House – 4 Vanderhorst St, Charleston, South Carolina

Kude Coffee House - I really liked the lion! There was a beautiful courtyard, too.

This coffee house seemed to have a funky crowd. The group sitting in the back corner were, I think, discussing how to use grant money they’d won. There was discussion while we were there about the set-up for a concert that would be held in the evening. We watched groups of friends talking in the courtyard, and even a dog seemed to concur that it was a great place to spend a Spring afternoon.

10) Cupcake 5 – 36 Zionskirchstrasse, Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin, Germany

As the name suggests, this little German shop specialized in cupcakes (of the American sort, which differ from German-style cakes both in density and sweetness). It can be found in the cutest side-street in Prenzlauer Berg (northeast of Berlin’s city center), right across the street from Zionskirche, where Dietrich Bonhoeffer taught Confirmation for a time.

This photo cost me at Cupcake in Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin!

The coffee was good, too, although I thought things were overpriced. * Please read the related caveats below. I want to emphasize: this place was amazingly cute, but I hope their staff has changed.

Honorable Mention: Small World Coffee – 14 Witherspoon Street, Princeton, New Jersey

Princeton's most popular coffee shop (Photo taken in the breathtaking Spring)


1 Okay, my taste for coffee has been strongly shaped by Starbucks. So, I often prefer the taste of Starbucks to other coffees. But by saying “coolest” and not “best-tasting,” I’m expanding the category and making up for the fact that the Corporate Beast has won my loyalty.

2 This includes the genre of coffee shop where various coffees and pastries are the main focus of the shop (which excludes places where warm drinks may be central, but along with full meals, alcohol, etc.). Specifically, I’m excluding the grandeur of Vienna’s “coffee houses,” many of which also serve gourmet $50 meals. I’ve only been to one of those and it was great, but it’s kind of a genre of its own. That would be an unfair comparison.

3 … the world as I’ve experienced it, that is, what do I know of coffee shops in South Africa or Ukraine? Nothing. And, so, I’m just basing my absolute statements about what I absolutely know and don’t know.

4 Okay, it’s not coffee, but it’s so good that I’m including it. What do you wanna do ‘bout it? I can break my own rules. Bubble Tea makes me giddy with delight. Giddy. My favorite is a Red Bean Bubble Freeze.

5 I hope against hope that they have better staff now than when I was there. Their cupcakes and décor make a visit worthwhile even if the Evil-Photo-Scrooge 6 is still employed.

Cupcake (in Berlin) strikes me as what it would look like if Anthropologie had a cupcake/coffee shop.

6 I wanted to say Evil-Photo-Nazi. That would work in the U.S. But when speaking of Germans (although she may not have been a German; she refused to speak to me in German, even though I was pretty good at this point in my stay … See one of the reasons why I was annoyed?!), it’s best to avoid the use of such a historically-real term, even though Americans use it just to be derogatory. She made me pay 20 Euro-cents to take a single lousy photo. After I took it. What a punk. It wasn’t even a good picture. Outside pictures were free.

Charlie's iced caramel latte from Rim Cafe

In summary: I love coffee.