Coffee Zen

I’ve recently been simplifying my coffee equipment at home, aiming for low-maintenance, inexpensive equipment without sacrificing the great coffee. Here’s my latest.

Lee's latest coffee setup1 – Cuisinart electric kettle. Add water, pick a temperature, and wait for the beep! Couldn’t be easier.

2 – Rancilio Rocky “doserless” burr grinder. This is the one essential–but expensive–component. (More important than a fancy brewer!) If you want great coffee, you need a fresh grind (ideally, right before you brew) and the grounds have to be consistently the right size, which means it must be a burr grinder.

3 – Aeropress. This is where the magic happens. Like a french press, but faster and with higher pressure. Add ground coffee (use a finer espresso grind, not the coarser french press grind), pour in water, and push the plunger. Voila!

4 – Scoop. For transferring ground coffee from the grinder to the Aeropress. (Comes with Aeropress.) For simplicity, I grind directly into the scoop.

5 – Milk frother. Warm the milk in a coffee mug in the microwave, then use this basic $10 frother for foam. It’s not quite the same as a steamer, but close enough for me and Kristin.

6 – Knock box. When finished with the Aeropress, dump the used grounds here. (This is leftover from when I used an espresso machine and had to actually knock the grounds out of the filter cup. Now it’s just a handy place to put the grounds.)

7 – Chocolate syrup and cinnamon. I always dust my lattés and flat whites with cinnamon. (Get the good stuff in bulk from Penzeys.) Everybody needs a mocha now and then, right?

Bonus: This setup is ridiculously easy to take and use while traveling! Grind some coffee before leaving, put it in a bag, and pack the rest. Most places these days have a microwave for heating water and milk.

What isn’t shown here, of course, is the coffee! I prefer to roast my own, starting with single origins from Ethiopia, Kenya, and Indonesia and sourced through Sweet Maria’s, but my roaster gave up the ghost recently. So I’ve temporarily fallen back to my favorite source of fairly traded coffee, Equal Exchange. Their espresso blends are terrific and usually quite fresh. I keep the cost down by buying the 5-pound wholesale bags.

Tile saved me today

tile-on-key-chain_centerOrdinarily, my two sets of car keys (one for each car) are always in their usual place in our front hall when I’m not using them. I’m pretty good about it. But this week, my wife, Kristin, is recovering from surgery and I’m playing “single dad” for a bit. I’m definitely not on my game.

At 7:25am, after spectacular success getting everyone up, dressed, fed, and packed for school on time, I discovered that neither set of keys were in their place. A minute later, after checking all the likely places, I still didn’t know where they were. Guess what? No keys, no car; no car, no school! This was very, very bad.

how-it-works-step-1It’s been more than a year since I started carrying a Tile device on each key ring. So I fired up the Tile app on my phone and hit the “Find” button on each key ring. After one minute of straining to hear the faint, tinny, electronic tune, I had the set for the “wrong” car (the one I wasn’t planning to take to school). It had been in my bed, buried under the covers. Apparently I’d slept with it all night. (Planning a midnight escape?) After the second minute, I had the “right” set, which had been sitting in the cup holder of the “wrong” car, in the garage. (The Tile “range finder” feature guided me right there.)

Without Tile, it would undoubtedly have taken me another 30 minutes at least to find my keys in such unusual locations. And by then, I would have been a trembling, hyperventilating, crazed lunatic, shouting at the kids and destroying any chance of them having a calm day at school. Tile saved me!

Of course, I don’t have a Tile on my sunglasses, even though my mom and step-dad gave me a brand new Tile for Christmas this year. (They know how much I need these things.) So I still have no idea where those are, and I squinted all the way to school and back in the bright, New Mexico sunlight. But hey, ya’ gotta have priorities.

Tile images from