Insight Coffee Roasters: First Shot

Sorry Davis, this is another cafe in Downtown Sacramento.

Very impressed. When I visited, they only had coffee in a vacpot since their drip bar wasn’t setup yet. If they don’t have that setup when you visit, pass on the coffee and get an espresso/macchiato/cap/etc. Edit: They now have their drip bar setup, and its awesome. The cap had excellent balance, letting the coffee shine. It might just be their coffee that gives them an advantage over the other recent arrival, Broadacre Coffee. I took a bag of a Guatemala back home with me and the first press I made was one of the best coffees I’ve had in 2011. I will definitely be returning (often) for both their beans and drinks.

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Broadacre Coffee: First Shot

Broadacre Coffee
Broadacre Coffee by Rijel Violet, on Flickr

Broadacre Coffee is in the old Temple location. I have no doubt they will be a very popular cafe. I’ve tried various drinks of theirs and am not too impressed. It’s probably not the beans either, since they use Ritual and Verve coffee. I’ve had many varieties from both roasters and they are generally tasty. They have big shoes to fill in that space and, coffee-wise, they are not filling well enough. It may be that I visited on their first few weeks, it will probably take some time for them to find their groove.

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New Temple Digs

Temple has been on a roll. I previously mentioned that Temple’s bean offerings were hit or miss. Some were decent, others were terrible. I have no idea why the quality varied so much.

Recently, their offerings have been consistently very good, some are even amazing. Unfortunately, it seems that there is still some inconsistency between batches. One of their Ethiopias, Nigusie Lemma, was excellent the first 12oz. I went back after the first bag and bought another one. This one was decidedly worse, slightly above average. Both had roast dates that were roughly 5-6 days old. Then I tried the Columbia, and it was awesome.

On September 10th, Temple had their grand opening of their new location, a mere block away from the old. Their drinks were very good, as they have been for the past month or so. This is a nice surprise since drink quality was always inconsistent at Temple. It could be that they simply have fewer baristas so there is less variance, but whatever the reason, I hope it continues.

Their new space is impressive. Tall windows and open space, Temple trades its lived-in comfy bookstore feel for a bright modern look. With long black ceder tables and a bar for street watching, it almost feels like a transplant from San Francisco. I think it’s a big improvement, but others may miss the more homely feel of the old space. The clientele seems to have slightly shifted as well, a little more business folk.

You should go. When you go, get the Kenya Karatu AA pour-over, it’s the most delicious coffee I’ve had for months.

Gorgeous Foam

Cargo Coffee Barista
“Cappuccino with gorgeous foam!”
Me
O_O
*sees milk*
=_=
*sips milk*
-_-

Yelp widgets for WordPress

You may have noticed that sometimes I will include a little Yelp badge for a cafe I’m talking about in my posts or a page. If you want to use it on your own WordPress site, you can view it on WordPress’ plugin directory or checkout detailed instructions on installation on this site.

Below is the result of this shortcode: [yelpprofile term="coffee" location="Davis, CA" limit=4 align="left"]

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How to make good coffee on a starving student’s budget

Edit: I’m an idiot and miscalculated the break-even point for the cheap gear and cheap beans option, it’s 84 days instead of 155.

This is yet another article on how to make good coffee. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

My interest in coffee was sparked in high school, became a hobby in college, and later inspired me to create a blog when I was bored and frustrated with the lack of good coffee in Davis. I started investigating coffee gear when I had the least amount of disposable cash, which steered me towards the most cost efficient methods. As is the case with any new interest, the cheapest method is the least risky.

Hopefully you have taken the advice from my previous post, “Why good coffee?“, and experienced good coffee for the least possible outlay: pay someone else to make it for you. But if you are not rich, you probably don’t want to always pay for something that you can easily do for yourself. With coffee, you can easily make good coffee for less than it costs to buy both good and bad coffee1 from a cafe.

There’s a saying in Italian about what it takes to make good espresso, but I forget what it is. It translates to blend, grind, machine, and hand. Translated again from the abstract metaphors: good coffee, grind, espresso machine, and technique. But basically all you need to know is that good espresso requires those four things in that order. Good coffee swaps the last two, the quality of the actual brewing apparatus is much less important than with an espresso machine.

Oh, and always use filtered water. With coffee having such a strong flavor, bad water plays a surprisingly big part in the final product.

Beans

Get it from a local roaster (Chocolate Fish or Temple if you are in Davis) or order online. Here are a few of my favorites:

Store them in an airtight container, my favorite one so far is the Planetary Design Airscape. They sell these at Peet’s as well. Use your beans within two weeks of roasting, faster if possible. Don’t buy in bulk, only buy what you will drink in less than two weeks.

Price: $10.50 – 14.00 per week, one 12oz cup a day

Grinder

Aside from good coffee, the grinder is by far the most important piece in the coffee ritual. A good grinder will actually “shave” your coffee beans into particles that have roughly the same surface area. A consistent grind means a consistent extraction, you don’t want to extract some particles of coffee too much and others too little since they will bring out unpleasant flavors.

I recommend a Hario Skerton hand grinder for under $50. I personally have only used Zassenhaus hand grinders (used one exclusively for over a year), but sources that I trust report that the Hario is much easier to use and delivers a great grind.

If you want to get an automatic grinder, it’s hard for me to recommend anything less than the Baratza Virtuoso. It’s a shame, but Baratza’s cheaper grinders all seem to fail pretty quickly and consistently.

If you are a starving student, go for the Hario. Hand grinding your coffee builds character.

Price: $50 – 200

Machine

There aren’t any machines when brewing coffee (unless you count the Clover), just different vessels with various ways of filtering the grinds from the coffee.

Water Boiler

For these manual methods, you will need hot water. You can use a metal pot or kettle, but a water boiler is probably the most awesome invention EVER. The PINO digital kettle is pretty great and only costs a little more than most electric kettles. You can use it for all kinds of stuff that uses hot water, which is literally everything. Literally.

I have seen a few in thrift stores, but they are usually plastic, which makes your water taste like… plastic.

Price: $0 – 70

French Press

The Bodum Chambord is the classic, and one of the cheapest, french press options. It’s decent, but the screen is a hassle to clean and the carafe shatters from careless bumps in the sink.

The Bodum Brazil has a plastic frame and handle, but is otherwise the same as the Chambord for almost half the price.

I’ve seen cheaper Bodum french presses in thrift stores pretty often, so check there first.

Price: $19 – 35

How-To by Barefoot

BAREFOOT COFFEE // FRENCH PRESS from MKSHFT/CLLCTV on Vimeo.

Find more french press videos here: Brewmethods.com

Drip

A drip cone is a drip cone, you can get one in most groceries. I would just recommend not getting a plastic one, the Hario V60 is the most popular and probably what you see in cafes. You can also get the clear version, which is cheaper (I’m not sure why).

Price: $13.50 – 22

How-To by Tonx

Hario V60 pourover how-to from tonx on Vimeo.

Aeropress

I’ve saved this for last, but it might be the best mix of affordability, ease of use, and quality coffee. The reason I saved it for last is because I just ordered one myself, having never actually used it. However, I’m still waiting to find an opinion that pans it as a gimmick from someone I trust. It seems that everyone, from layman to professional, praises the Aeropress. Even the professionals that were very skeptical of it were surprised that it makes good coffee.

I’m leaving out impressions until I actually try it for a while, but take a look at the video to and see why some people call it idiot-proof.

Price: $24

How-To by Doubleshot

Aeropress from doubleshot – pražírna kávy on Vimeo.

Price breakdown

Since this is supposed to guide you through the cheapest way to enter the world of good coffee at home, here’s the price breakdown.

Method Cheapest Upgraded
French Press $69 $305
Drip $63.5 $292
Aeropress $74 $305

As you can see, there’s very little difference in price between the different methods and the low/medium end setups I recommend. The most expensive upgrade by far is the grinder ($200 vs $50). If you can handle the hand-grinding, go for it.

Now for a price breakdown vs buying coffee. Lets say that the cheapest home-setup is around $70 and the mid-level setup is around $300. As I mentioned before, I spend about $10.50 – 14 on 12oz of beans, which should last you around nine 12oz cups of coffee.

$10.50 / 9 = $1.17 or $14 / 9 = $1.55 per cup of coffee

Lets assume that a cup of coffee costs around $2 from a cafe; you would save $0.83 – $0.45 if you make it yourself. If you drink a cup a day, after a year you will have spent $302.95, which is $164.25 more than if you had made the coffee yourself. If you drink more than a cup a day, the difference is even greater. And lets not forget, the coffee you make at home is good coffee.

It would take you 84 days, or 84 cups of coffee, to break even if you went the cheaper gear route and were buying $10.5 bags of beans.2

It would take a little less than two years, or 667 cups of coffee, for you to break even if you went with the Expensive gear and were buying $14 12oz bags of coffee beans.3

  1. Brewed coffee, not espresso
  2. $70 / 0.83 = 84.33
  3. $300 / 0.45 = 666.66

Why good coffee?

I started this blog as a public service for people who already know good coffee and happen to be moving to or passing through Davis or Sacramento. As it turns out, most of my visitors are actually people in search of good coffee, but don’t necessarily know what it is.

It’s hard for anyone to explain why anyone should care about good coffee. Most of the world, but Americans especially, are used to bad tasting coffee. People usually drink it out of utility, the caffeine helps you stay alert. Caffeine is also addictive, so some drink it out of habit. I rarely drink coffee for utility and I do not have a physiological or psychological reaction when I stop drinking caffeine for a while, so I’m pretty sure I’m not addicted either. I drink coffee because it’s delicious.

Very few people drink coffee for the taste; most people use an excess of milk and sugar to mask the terrible bitter taste of bad coffee. Good coffee can (and should) be drank without anything to mask the naturally complex flavors. People are often surprised that coffee isn’t supposed to taste exceedingly sour, bitter, charcoal-y, or rancid. Instead, you start to taste citrus, chocolate, nuts, berries, and earthy flavors. You notice the pleasant mouthfeel and aftertaste that is completely different than the common “coffee breath” taste. If that sounds good to you, you should try good coffee.

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Unfortunately, if you’ve seen the cafe ratings, you know that Davis does not have an establishment where you can walk in and order a good cup of coffee to experience for yourself. I’m starting to repeat myself, but the best way to get good coffee is to visit Chocolate Fish over the weekend and just enjoy a cup of drip coffee. Talk to the baristas, they are all very friendly and more than happy to talk to you about coffee and how to taste it.

Once you’ve had good coffee for a while, you will never be able to drink bad coffee again. If you live in Davis, that will quickly become a problem. In my next post, I’ll explain the basics of home brewing.

I’ll leave you with this great podcast interview with Brian Franklin, owner of AA Cafe and roaster. In it, he explains why you should care about good coffee. Interview with Brian Franklin

Mishka’s New Clothes

Mishka’s moved to the building next to the Varsity Theater, which is fitting since their owner is one and the same. There are higher ceilings, nicer lamps, nicer jars on the walls. That’s about it. The front seating area where “The Rule” is enforced seems to be a little larger, while the cramped general seating area is tighter than public transit. I almost feel like I have to steal the armrest before my neighbor does. And because 90% of the patrons are students or professors with bags of some kind, get ready to get your head and shoulders smacked as they try to maneuver their way past you.

This doesn’t seem to stop the place from filling up. It is crowded to the point where not necessarily friendly strangers will plop down on the other side of your tiny table without a word and start enjoying their coffee. While amusing to watch the uncomfortable averting of gazes, it emphasizes the pent up demand for a good cafe in Davis.

The quality continues to swing wildly, the last cap I had was totally drinkable. The blend/coffee they use, however, is still boring as hell.

Something happened, in Davis

What strange punctuation and choice of linebreak.

Mishka’s, dear Mishka’s; your new Mcbuilding hasn’t
improved you at all.
-YesItsMe

I like tables

Table at Ritual Coffee in San Francisco

I go for personality, but that’s a damn fine table.

I believe cafes should make you comfortable. They are centers for relaxing, talking, music, art, and sometimes, work. But work in a cafe is not really ever work, its pleasure. Unless you’re the barista, then it might be work. Sitting in a cafe, especially in the morning or night, can be an experience. The atmosphere and environment play a leading role in shaping that experience.

The theme in San Francisco is natural wood, warm (but plentiful) lighting, interesting design, and space. You see it in Ritual, Four Barrel, Blue Bottle, and the relative newcomer in the Mission, The Summit (disclaimer: I know someone who has a vested interest in The Summit). I am not saying that these are the only good cafes in San Francisco, but they are the leaders. I’m also not saying this theme is unique to San Francisco or good cafes, but it does point to a very clear idea of how they want to make you feel.

drew and shane

drew and shane at Four Barrel Coffee, by tonx

drew and shane

Boars heads at Four Barrel Coffee, by tonx

Vancouver cafes that I’ve visited (Wicked, Elysian Room, Artigiano’s) follow a similar formula. There seems to be a fairly strong correlation between the quality of the coffee and the quality of the overall experience. You can get great coffee from a kiosk, but the kiosk will probably possess some character. Whether it’s whimsical and colorful or neat and organized, when you care to serve good coffee, you care about the details.

This might seem obvious, of course interior design and atmosphere matter! Restaurants have been judged and held to standards for centuries. Cheaper restaurants tend to have a utilitarian atmosphere. Some of the best food is found in hole-in-the-wall places with signs that let you know you can see the health inspection grade, if you really want to. The food is cheap and good.

There are also plenty of fancy restaurants with poor or mediocre food. The food is “overpriced”, but that is partly because the atmosphere and experience are priced in. We don’t normally think of it like that since food is the primary goal and product of a food establishment, as coffee should be for a cafe.

Cafes do not follow this rule. They charge relatively the same amount regardless of quality or atmosphere. I’m not going to get in to whether or not coffee should cost more (it should), but just note the difference and ask yourself why you would pay the same amount for good coffee as you do for terrible coffee.