Espresso tuning, part 2

Several years ago I wrote about “Dialing in your Espresso shot“.  I can’t stress how important espresso tuning is.  For those of you who always drink espresso based coffee (think Latte or Cappuccino) the milk masks part of the flavour.  You won’t truly unlock the best taste until you fine tune the base of each drink, the espresso shot.

I started off this morning by pulling a shot of Honduras Marcala, roasted by the Retro cafe.  The first shot I made no adjustments.  Hugely over-pressure, my machine had a hard time with this one.  I had left the grind amount the same as with the old coffee, which had gone stale.  Of course you need more of it.  But with this fresh coffee, it was waaaayyy too much.

I reset the grinder and pulled another shot.  Close, but too sour.  Added more coffee and VOILA…  a pretty well balanced shot.  Not sweet (which means it wasn’t perfect) but the taste started slightly bitter and then quickly turned slightly bitter.  One more pull with another notch of coffee and it was too much….fully bitter from the first sip.

One notch back down and I made myself what I call a “Latte-cino”.  Two shots of espresso with lots of milk AND lots of foam.  The flavor was really really good!

Try it yourself!!

What’s the World’s best coffee?

Fresh Ground EspressoWhat’s the World’s best coffee?  Here’s my take:

After a few weeks in Belgium, where bistros serve endless coffee (and beer) late into the night, I’m very happy to be back home.

Using a pour over rig that my hotel provided (Thank you Citadines, Brussels!) and some fresh beans from Santos Coffee I was able to get my fix.  Very good quality.  But this morning, after getting back home, I’m able to have the world’s best coffee:  The one I drink on MY couch.

It’s all about the environment.  The atmosphere.  The world’s greatest coffee shops offer a comfortable and relaxing ‘feel’ to try and make you feel like you’re at home.  Because you’ll enjoy their products more if you’re in your comfort zone.  That’s the KEY to the World’s Best Coffee.




A great invention: The Coffee Alarm Clock

The Coffee Alarm Clock 

Quite a brilliant invention!  Perhaps not the best cup of coffee in the world, but it’s certainly would wake me up with the fresh brewed smell just out of arm’s reach!

If they’d add a grinder, I might seriously consider buying one.

Coffee Genome decoded

So they’ve decoded the coffee genome.  Or at least for Robusta coffee, not the more common (and better tasting) Arabica.  (Read about it HERE.)

What does this mean for the average consumer?  Not much.  But it does give me some comfort to know that people care enough about it to do this research.  Then again, when you read the article it says that the researcher drinks his morning coffee at Tim Horton’s  with “three creams and three sugars”.  I’d have to argue that the result is NOT coffee at all.  Let’s hope his associates have a better appreciation for it.


Coffee tattoo on arm of customer

Some people LOVE their coffee


Kawa Coffee – Kyoto, Japan

After leaving the Imperial palace grounds in Kyoto, I discovered the “Kawa Coffee” cafe, just across the street from the South East entrance.



I’m always up for a hot cup of coffee, even on a scorchingly hot day like today, when most would prefer it iced.  The name also intrigued me.  In Polish, “KAWA” (pronounced Ka-Va) means COFFEE.  So I read this as ‘coffee coffee’, which seems quite funny!  I was sure that a Polish person was running the shop.   I had to investigate!!

Once inside, I was greeted by the owner, who I quickly realized was not Polish.  Instead he’s a craftsman of fine leather products.  In addition to running the cafe, he also makes and sells these products.

Kawa Coffee cafe interior

After placing my order for a pourover coffee and some delicious sweet beans on toast, I spent some time with the owner.  His level of English is about on par with my Japanese.  Pretty much ZERO.  With the aid of Google Translate, I told him about the ‘coffee coffee’ Polish/English name.  He laughed and told me that he wasn’t aware of this when he named the store.  He simply wrote the English sound to the word Leather, which in Japanese is Kawa.

It took some time, but it was a slow day with few customers.  We spent half an hour “talking” about various things.  Why I came to Japan, how long he’d been in business, etc. etc.  Quite a good experience, but typical of all the stories I’ve heard from friends spending time in Japan.  Initially a bit shy, the Japanese open up quite quickly and before you know it, you’re having a laugh and sharing stories as if you were long lost friends.  (I’m told that alcohol consumption speeds up this process.)

I’ve got to spend more time in this country!

If you’re in Kyoto, you’ve got to go to the Imperial Palace.  And if you’re going to the Palace, why not stop by and have a coffee at the Kawa Coffee cafe?

<–  Previous article “24 hours in Kyoto”


One Year Later

It’s been nearly a year since starting this blog.  Who could guess that it would be such a success?

If you had asked me to guess a year ago how many visitors the site would get, I’d probably have guessed a few hundred.  Maybe a thousand if things went really REALLY well.  How close was I?  The real answer:   Over 7,000 visitors!!

Now the scary part:  In the past 3 days, since I started posting pictures of the flood here in Cesky Krumlov, traffic on the site has exploded.  All the major search engines and social media websites have been directing people here to see my work.  In that short time, the number of visitors has jumped to over 9,900.  Amazing!

To those visiting for the first time, let me say WELCOME.  Please feel free to look around.  Lots of pictures and stories to enjoy.  Jump into things and leave comments or questions on any page you like (or don’t like!)

[UPDATE:  It’s near the end of 2015 now.  Two more years have gone by and we’re over 25,000 visitors…  WOW.]

Headshot Scott





Schooled by My Espresso Machine

[UPDATE, Nov. 2014:  What a fool I was for even trying to use the ‘dual wall’ filter.  If you’re new, skip this step and go straight to the ‘normal’ filter.  You’ll probably make some mistakes, but you’ll learn what NOT to do with your espresso machine *quickly*.]

I’ve just spent the past hour teaching myself how to tune an espresso shot.  What?  An hour!?!

For several months, I’d been using the cheater’s method of a “dual wall” portafilter.  This is basically a normal filter, with many tiny tiny holes, covered by another layer of metal with only ONE tiny hole.

When using a normal filter, the tamping (or pressing) of the ground coffee must be packed evenly and firmly to build enough pressure that the water passes through the coffee equally.  Even the smallest weak spot will allow the water to ‘channel’ through and throw off the flavour of the shot.  The dual wall’s small outlet ensures that a high pressure is reached every time.  It may not be perfect, but for the beginner, it’ll do.

Double Dose Dual Wall and Single Wall Filters

Dual Wall Filter vs. Normal Espresso Portafilter

I read recently that the crema produced by these filters is not “real” and that you can’t achieve top results this way.  I decided it was time to put on my “big boy pants” and try making REAL expresso.

They were RIGHT.  For the first time since getting my Gastroback ‘Pro G’ last year, I saw the pressure needle approach the top of the indicated range.  It had never gotten anywhere close to this in the past.

It took a few tries to really get it tasting right.  First it was too bitter.  Then it as too sour.  Then it was…JUST RIGHT…  Nice thick, beautiful crema.  This also explains why my Latte art attempts with the dual filter were such horrible failures.  Now making a proper crema, this too was easier to do!

One invaluable tip for using this machine, since it has no temperature control:  If you want to brew with a lower temperature, wait a few minutes after the machine is ready.  If you want a higher temperature, run the steam wand for a few seconds before pulling your shot.  This will ensure that the heater is ON and at max output while pulling your shot.

Now go grab a cup, your espresso is ready!

Gastroback Pro G/Breville Barista Express - NEW out of the Box

Brand NEW, out of the box!


Gastroback Pro “G” / Breville Barista Express:  Unboxing

Having Trouble with your Bodum Pebo Siphon Pot? (aka Santos)

Last year I ordered myself a nice little birthday gift from Amazon:  a Bodum ‘Santos’ Siphon Coffee Maker (Formerly called the ‘Pebo’.)

I couldn’t wait until it arrived a few days later.  Putting it together for the first time was quite magical.  I felt like a kid at Christmas when I opened it. (Read about it HERE.) The coffee it made was *amazing!*

But after a few days, I had my first “bad pot”.  The water boiled into the top, steeped in the coffee grounds and then sat there…forever.  I waited patiently, but it never came back down to the lower portion of the pot.  The coffee was ruined.

I scoured the internet for a solution.  I found several YouTube instructional videos and watched them all to make sure that my method was correct.  As far as I could tell, I was doing it perfectly.  But from that day on, about 50% of my attempts FAILED.

I tried:

  • Boiling the water VERY hot
  • Changing the grind size (repeatedly)
  • Cooling the bottom chamber quicker with the help of ice cubes
  • Stirring the coffee during the entire process, to try and keep the filter clean
  • Looking for 3rd party filters

One time the new ‘trick’ would work.  The next time it wouldn’t.  THEN I came across some information that has really helped my success rate.  Follow these steps:

  1. Make sure that your siphon pot is clean.  Especially the rubber that seals the top section to the bottom section.
  2. Pre-grind your favourite coffee.  It should be pretty big, but not HUGE.  Set it aside for now.
  3. Preheat your water with a kettle.  (Not necessary, but it’s faster!)
  4. Pour the water into the lower chamber.
  5. Assemble the Siphon by installing the top portion.  Twist the top as you put it in, to make sure you have a good seal.  Water may immediately begin to climb to the top portion, but probably not very much.  If it doesn’t, don’t worry.
  6. Place the pot over your heat source and place it on a LOW setting.  You want to get the pot *just* hot enough so that the water will slowly climb up to the top.  Be patient!
  7. When all of the water is in the top, add your coffee and begin your timer.  (I like 2 minutes+, but it’s a personal choice.)  Experiment!
  8. Gently stir the coffee.
  9. After 30 seconds, stir the coffee again.
  10. Reduce heat a little.
  11. When the timer’s alarm sounds, take the siphon off the heat to a cool (not cold) surface.
  12. Wait patiently as the coffee comes down.  Use this time to pre-heat your coffee mug.  (I use the leftover water from the kettle.)
  13. You’ll see a few bubbles in the lower pot as the last of the coffee draws a bit air down.  This tells you that you can now remove the top section and pour yourself a cup.  BE CAREFUL – It’s still too hot to drink.  Let it sit for several minutes.
  14. ENJOY!!

The whole idea is to heat it up and let it cool gently and slowly.  If the water is boiling like crazy in the top section, just wait. Let it cool down so that it’s barely hot enough to stay in the top.  Then add the coffee.  Otherwise you won’t have enough vaccum stored in the lower part to suck the coffee back down.

And there you have it!!

Please let me know if this worked for you.  And share any tips YOU have in the comments below!


UPDATE, Aug 2014:  I’ve just found a cloth filter made by Hario that fits as a replacement to the original (problem) filter.  The above method does work, but this is another option and they’re quite cheap.  Unlike the original though, you’ll need to replace it from time to time.

You can find links to the filter kit and replacement filters here:


Hario Siphon Coffee F-103S Full Filter Part Assembly Moca Technica For TCA-2 TCA-3 TCA-5 MCA-3 MCA-5

Pack of 10 CLOTH FILTERs for Hario Syphon Coffee TCA-2 TCA-3 TCA-5 MCA-5 Siphon

Tried Kopi Luwak. Honestly, not that great.

Tried the famous “Kopi Luwak” coffee today at a cafe in Florence, Italy today.

Waiting for a kopi luwak at the coffee bar in Florence, Italy

Me, waiting for my coffee

Never heard of it?  It was made famous by the movie “The Bucket List”.  You can read about it HERE.  I have seen it for sale before, but it’s usually by the 1/2lb, for about 50 euros.  The cafe that I was in, offered an espresso for only 5 euros.  I thought for that price, why NOT try it?

Kopi Luwak Espresso

Kopi Luwak Espresso

And it’s GOOD.  But as I told the owner of the place after trying it:  it’s the most *expensive* coffee in the world, NOT the best.  He agreed and offered to make me an espresso blend of 4 central american coffees.

The result?

He was right.  It easily beat the Kopi Luwak in my opinion!  Smoother and sweeter.

Isabela Raposeira’s COFFEE LAB, Sao Paulo

Isabela Raposeiras Coffee Lab

I had the pleasure of visiting this up-and-coming cafe and roastery in Sao Paulo last week.  I’d heard about it before going to Brazil.  As one of the few Sao Paulo cafes that roast their own beans on the premise, I put this place on the top of my “To Do” list, with plans to visit if work didn’t eat all my free time.

In the end, I spent about 3 hours, talking to the wonderful staff and trying many of their coffee “Rituals” (taste tests).  After taking a quick look around the cafe, inside and out, I found a small table IN the roasting room.  The aroma of the roasting coffee filling the air is amazing!!

Each coffee is purchased in microlots, with as few as 5 bags of coffee.  They even tell you the name and location of the farm!  Their master roaster (please forgive me Sir, for forgetting your name) does 15 to 20 different test roasts.  These are then cupped to find the best roasting ‘profile’ for each specific lot.  What a HUGE amount of work!

DSCN4384 small


Their coffee “Rituals” offer pro and novice alike, a chance to learn more about the finer details that go into making that perfect brew.  They examine such things as:  Cup type, Water type, and brewing method (Aeropress/French Press/Expresso/Vario pour-over) just to name a few!  Each tasting only changes ONE variable to allow you to examine what that EXACTLY is affected.

On this day, I started off by my selecting my coffee, a RED CATUAI (often grown in Hawaii.)  I’d heard tons of people raving about the aeropress brewing method (See a demo on YouTube HERE) and decided to try it against my favourite method:  The French Press.  In this and all of my tastings afterwards, the staff helped me select the best test and coffee for my taste.  You can tell that they LOVE what they do and are *passionate* about their coffee.  Each step of the way, they guided me through the process, explaining what to look for and comparing notes after each test was complete.  The taste from the French Press was full and quite vivid.  Very intense, but not harsh.  The same coffee brewed in the Aeropress had nearly the same taste, but with a much more mellow delivery.  The flavour seemed to last longer.  Buying an Aeropress, but decided not to, as the price in Brazil was about three times what you can buy them for from Amazon (Shortcut to the Aeropress page.)

I told myself that I would not actually drink the coffees, but to do more of a cupping.  Just taste it and bring on the next batch.  Even still, I found my head buzzing after 4 rituals and thought it might be a good idea to have a small snack with some filtered water (which is free for all).  I decided to try a brioche.  A warm slice of heaven!  It’s served with 4 different condiments.  I couldn’t decide, so I tried them all!  YUM!


Brioche and condiments

Brioche with Honey, Butter, Apricot Jam and Sour Cream

Following my food break, I couldn’t help but order a few more coffee drinks.  Everything was soooo good, I wanted to try it all!  Normally I leave the milky drinks for the early morning, but the “Pingado” on the menu, caught my eye.  It’s a tradiational Brazilian coffee, with a large portion of filtered coffee and a small amount of milk.  (Imagine a cappuccino without the foam.)  Quite tasty, I must say.

If you find yourself in Sao Paulo, you’ve got to make a stop at this cafe.  Try as many rituals as you can.  You’ll learn a LOT about coffee and have a new respect for those that prepare it well!

I’d like to say a big THANK YOU to all of the staff.  Your hospitality was extremely welcome.  I hope to visit again soon!



Inverted Aeropress Method

Just found this video of someone using an Aeropress INVERTED.  Genius!

Click HERE to see the video


Aeropress units are available in our COFFEE SHOP or on AMAZON:

Latte Art Lessons

Trying to teach myself how to do Latte art on this beautiful Sunday morning.

I’ll say this:  It ain’t easy!

The Catlins (con’t)

Heading East from Slope point, we continued along the coast.  Stopping for a nice outdoor coffee on the way.  :)

Coffee on the lawn


Hoping to see some wildlife, we headed to Curio Bay, Porpoise Bay, Haldane Bay and finally arrived Nugget Point.  Some really stunning scenes along the way!

Nugget Point is known for it’s wildlife and it’s lighthouse.  The rocks below are home to seals, sea lions and penguins.  Even whales can be spotted here.


Follow the rest of our Road trip:   ForestsCatlin’s Part 1 & Part 2Avalanche PeakKairKouraChristchurchSouth Island Road TripFerry to the North IslandWellington City and The Big Surprise.

Layover in Tokyo

My first flight completed, I find myself in Tokyo for a 10 hour layover.  Since leaving Vienna, luck has been with me.  I scored three empty seats so I was able to lie nearly flat in my row and get a few hours sleep.  This has always been a problem while sitting in a normal seat.  And the plane arrived about an hour late.  Now I’ve only got about 9 hours to kill before my flight to Christchurch.

I’ve booked a “Day Room” right in the airport.  Similar to a hotel, these rooms have a bed and shower so you can rest and freshen up.  But they’re only available during the airports hours, not overnight.

After passing through a security checkpoint, I find the dayrooms between Gate 25 and 26 in Terminal 1.  You really can’t get any closer than that!  About 2 minutes travel time from my plane!  I check in, find that my room has a nice little single bed.  Perfectly clean, but quite an old room. No worries, I’m there to SLEEP.  After a quick shower, I find a remote control for TOILET (if you never been to Japan, you need to know that they have a strange obsession about their toilets.)

Toilet Remote ControlThe bed is comfortable and I soon find my alarm is going off.  It’s still about 3 hours before my flight, but I want to explore what the Tokyo airport has to offer!  I’ve only spent a few days in Japan on a previous visit to Sendai (yes, where the tsunami hit.  I was there just a few months prior.)

First stop:  COFFEE.  I wander around the airport and much to my dismay, there isn’t a single decent looking coffee place other than Starbucks.  I order some delicious chicken curry with rice and get a latte from the restaurant.  It’s not bad, but I’m still disappointed.  Then I remember that canned coffee is quite popular.  I find a machine and buy a HOT can of coffee for about 1,100 Yen (about 1 euro).  Mmm, quite yummy!

Wonda HOT Canned Coffee

Caffeinated and belly full, I head towards my gate to board the flight to Christchurch.  On the way, I see an odd looking plane.  The cockpit windows make it look like a spaceship.  It’s the NEW Boeing 787!  (UPDATE:  Just a few days later all these planes were grounded due to faulty batteries.  One caused a fire on the ground in Tokyo.)  What a beautiful plane!

Boeing Dreamliner 787

Boeing Dreamliner 787

My luck doesn’t hold out though.  On the last flight, it’s full.  But I meet a very nice father and daughter on their way home.  They tell me a bit about New Zealand.  I can’t wait to get there!!





Typical 3 Coffee Breakfast

Went a quite long stroll through Hamburg, in search of some new coffee places.  I had hoped to make it to a roaster, but they were not open early enough.  I did stumble across a couple a small places that were really nice though.

The first one was a little cafe on a small street.  I never did learn the name for it.  I ordered a double shot cappuccino and had *hoped* they had something resembling breakfast.  Sadly, no.  They did have a pretty good selection of desserts, but not much in the line of “real food”.

 Inside of German Cafe

The inside was a bit too sterile for my taste, with it’s perfectly arranged items on the shelf and *spotless* tables.  But it did feel quite cosy and the staff were friendly.  The angled cut of the tables was interesting.  Too bad there weren’t more customers.

My cappuccino was quite good, although the tiniest bit cool.

Outside of small Cafe, Hamburg Germany

Wandering around the streets, I was tempted to stop by “Double Coffee”.  A nice little place across from my hotel.  I’d been there a few times before.  But they specialize in syrupy flavoured coffees.  Today I just wasn’t in the mood for one.  Then I stumbled across this place:

Vietnamese Coffee shop and restaurant, Hamburg Germany

I’ve got a friend who’s Vietnamese and he’s brought me coffee from home a few times.  It’s made as a pour-over and has a lot of flavour, but is really strong.  Fortunately, they offer honey as a sweetener here and the combination of flavours is *wonderful*!

I’ll be back to this place for lunch some day.  They were making noodles (yes, you read that right, MAKING noodles) when I was there.  I really want to try them!

On the counter in the picture above, you can see a vase of blue flowers.  I managed to get this shot while I was waiting for the coffee.  Take a look at the full size image.  Not bad detail considering I was using My Nikon P300 (point and shoot camera) that day.

Blue Flower closeup

How to “Dial In” Espresso Shots

Espresso Tuning:

Several days ago I posted pictures of my new Gastroback Pro G (aka:  Breville Barista Express).  Since getting it I’ve been having great fun trying different types of coffee in it.  It’s been quite an adventure.  Along the way I’ve had to learn how to adjust the machine to get the most out of each type of coffee.  Not an easy task!

The internet has endless pages of advice on how to do this.  Many are conflicting and overly complex.  There’s even a few that you’d need a degree in Mathematics to fully comprehend (I don’t!)  But thanks to the advice of the good people at CoffeeGeek and Intelligensia, I’ve been able to come up with this simple adjustment guide.

Set your machine for some kind of middle ground.  Medium grind and dose (quantity).  Warm up the machine.  This could take some time.  Pulling a shot without any coffee will warm it up faster AND you can pre-heat your cup with the hot water while you’re at it!

Is it ready?  Ok, make a shot.  How does it taste:


Espresso TOO WEAK:  Increase the dose AND grind coarser. This will keep the flow the same.

Espresso TOO STRONG:  Decrease the dose AND grind finer. This will keep the flow the same.

Espresso SOUR:  Keep the dose the same, make the grind finer. This will lower the flow rate.

Espresso BITTER:  Keep the dose the same and grind coarser. This will increase the flow rate.

After each adjustment, pull a new shot and repeat the process.  With a little trial and error, following these steps should get you to a pretty good place.




Now that’s BIG! GEPA Bio Maragogype Coffee

If you’ve never seen it before, the size of Maragogype coffee beans might surprise you.  They’re about 50-100% bigger than a ‘normal’ coffee bean and often referred to as an “Elephant bean” due to their HUGE size.

Normally given a light roast, this coffee is about as gentle as you can get.

GEPA coffee sells a’Bio’ version grown in Nicaragua.  I’ve tried similar beans from Mexico and the experience has always been good.  Today I’m using a French Press and even making a pretty mellow Latte with them.  The Espresso came out with pretty decent crema.  I took a stab in the dark for my grind/dose.  But it worked well!

If you haven’t tried this variety, you should check it out!

Gepa Bio Maragogype Package



Gepa Bio Maragogype Beans

Gastroback Pro G Unboxing (a.k.a. Breville Barista Express)

Ordered my very FIRST Espresso Machine from Amazon about 2 weeks ago.  It took awhile to get here because I ordered from the German store, but it’s finally here!

Now I can be my own barista and learn the in’s and out’s of pouring that perfect shot!  I’ve really been looking forward to the experimentation side of it.  I’ve always liked changing ‘the recipe’ while making Siphon or French Press coffee.  Now I’ve got MANY more variables to play with.  I can’t wait!

For those that enjoy unwrapping Christmas presents s-l-o-w-l-y, I’ve made a large series of photos so you can enjoy every step with me.

Setting up the machine for the first time was a breeze! Everything is labelled (in German, mind you.)  But it’s quite simple to figure out.  The only thing that sent me scrambling for the instruction book was a piece of the plastic inside the filter head.  It looked like it was meant to be removed.  I was sure it was there just for shipping.  Nope, it stays in.

Next I wash all the included parts.  Probably not necessary.  It all looks spotless.  But just to be sure!  Soak the charcoal water filter for 5 minutes, rinse it.  Insert it into the tank.  Fill the water tank.  Install the bean hopper.  Done.  Add beans.  Wow, I think we’re ready to go!  Oh wait, now we have a choice to make.  Included in the kit are two sets of filters.  Single Wall, and Double Wall.  Not knowing the difference, I read a bit online about them.  They say that “for beginners” the double wall filters are best because they “easier” to use.  Ok, sold.  I drop in the double wall 2 double shot filter.

Ok, ready to go!  I power up the machine.  Let it sit for a few minutes to warm up.  Run it once, just to get the portafilter (which is made of chromed brass and is *seriously* heavy) up to the proper temperature.  I set the grinder dose to double shot and grind size “dual wall”, which I believe is pretty much the largest grind size.  There is only ONE tiny hole for this type of filter and I’ve read about people clogging them up with too fine a grind.  Ok, put the portafilter under the grinder and gently insert into the holder.  You’re supposed to push it straight in until you hear the click and then release it to get a measured dose.  I’ve also set the dose to the “dual  wall” setting.  Wow, they’ve really made this easy for the Espresso Noobs.  Which today, IS ME.

Now comes the tamping.  Their magnetic tamper stores neatly up and away, right beside the grinder.  You’re supposed to be able to use it in the stored position, but I find it awkward.  I easily remove it and attempt my first tamp.  They’ve put a clever line on the tamper to show you about where you need to press to, in order to do a perfect tamp.  I clean the portafilter a bit, as there is a little bit of spillage.  Then pop it into the machine.  With a careful twist, like I’ve seen a million baristas do, it locks into place.  Ok, the machine’s built in cup warmer has warmed my mug (no fancy espresso glasses yet!) so I place it under the dual spout and press the double shot button.

WOW…A very nice crema on my first shot!  (Luck that wouldn’t last long…)

I noticed that the pressure indicator has not moved.  Not at all.

After playing with milk frother, as it’s too late in the date to consider a latte or cappuccino, I decide to pull a few more shots just for practice and see what happens with some minor adjustments to grind size/dose/tamping.  A long story short, it was highly successful!  Most of the shots gave some level of crema.  Although some were a little bitter or sour.  But not bad.  I decide to try the ‘single wall’ filter.  And that was the end of my luck.  No more crema.  No matter what adjustments I made, it was thin or non-existant and the shot tasted horrible.

I cleaned up the machine in disgust and went to bed.  Unlike most people, I have ZERO problems going to sleep after drinking coffee.  In fact it relaxes me so much that often have a cup if I’m stressed and it chills me right out.  Now *staying asleep* is a very different problem.  I’m quite an early riser and a large quantity of coffee the day before will have me out of bed even earlier the next morning.  Which gives me more hours in the day to drink coffee and the cycle repeats.

The next morning I hopped online to seek out some answers to what I was doing wrong.  Nothing major, as far as I could tell.  Another Barista Express owner suggested that when starting to ‘dial in’ the machine for new beans, he starts with a general setting of 3 & 3.  Meaning a 3 o’clock position on the dose dial, and a #3 setting on the grind size (quite large, but not the biggest).  Then fine tuning from there.  I had assumed that you should start with the finest grind and work your way down.  Hmmm.  Ok, here goes…  I set it up like the guy suggests and I see right away that I’m right at the line I should be on for proper tamping.  Previous attempts had a WAY larger dose.  I warm everything up, make sure it’s all clean and ready to go.  The result?  An ‘ok’ crema, but nowhere near what I had the day before.  I’m tempted to pop the dual filter back in.  But I’m stubborn and determined to learn and push my way through this.  I find a simple instruction sheet on Intelligensa Coffee that tells me to grind finer if it’s too bitter.  I leave the dose the same, and turn 2 clicks finer.  I pull the shot.  NICE….  Still not as much crema as the day before, but the taste is much sweeter and very much to my liking.  I fire up the steam wand and 30 seconds later I’ve made myself a really nice Latte.

I think this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

I then sit down to write a letter to the seller of the machine to inform them of the broken pressure indicator on the machine.  I think it’s a bit of a gimmick, but if it’s and easy fix, I’ll do it.  If not, I’ll probably just live with a broken gauge.  I’m not about to ship the machine back.  Let’s see what the salesman says.

[UPDATE:  Surprise!  They shipped me a new gauge.  It took a bit of work, but it’s all good now!]

Coffee display, Museum of Industry

This morning I was walking to the store when I saw a light in a window that I’d never noticed before.  I walked around the corner to the shop’s front entrance.  It turned out to not be a shop at all, but a museum!  Free Entry, the sign said.  I decided to go in and get a closer look at what I’d seen through the window.  Inside I found a small permanent exhibition from the “Museum of Industry”, Bratislava, Slovakia.

Coffee bean dispenser, Czech Republic

These were used to hold and dispense coffee beans, tea and “special” (any guesses?) in an old grocery store.

Old Coffee Roaster, Eastern Europe

How I’d LOVE to take this old roaster home.  The sign said it was from the 19th century.  But I’m guessing that with minimal effort, you’d be roasting pretty quick!

Old Coffee roasting machine warming tray

The rest of the museum’s display were mostly old packages of consumer products.  They seem to make a profit by selling reproductions of old metal product ad signs.  The ‘Budwar’ (Budweiser) brewery is not far from here.  Their signs are hugely popular with the tourists.

Brazilian Bourbon, from Woyton Coffee, Germany

I’m watching the snow fall while enjoying a French Press version of one of my new favorite coffees, a BIO Brazilian Bourbon from Woyton Coffee.

I found this chain of cafes while in Dusseldorf  last month.  They’re serious about what they do.  They don’t have a huge menu, but all the brews I tried were delicious!  They make coffee individually in what appears to be an automated siphon brewer.  I’ve never seen anything quite like it.  It does take 2 to 3 minutes for each cup to be prepared, but in my opinion it’s totally worth it.

I was a bit disappointed when I asked to buy a bag of the bourbon to take home.  The bag they sold me had a hand written date TWO MONTHS old.  I guess I’d better drink faster!

UPDATE:  I finally figured out what machine the Woyton Cafes make their coffees with.  It’s called a Trifecta by Bunn.  I don’t yet know how it works, as they only say it “infuses” the coffee grounds with air.  But it sure makes a good brew!

Barcomi’s Cafe

While in Berlin, we had a great breakfast at “Barcomi’s” Cafe.  Among other things, they serve great bagels with several different types of home-made cream cheese spreads.  I tried several kinds and enjoyed them all!

Their coffee menu is quite extensive too.  I’m not sure if they roast their own beans, but they do know how to pick them.

I chose two of their latin america roasts:

Costa Rica Tarrazu & Mexico Altura SHG

In my blind taste test, the Tarrazu was the clear winner.  I bought a bag to take home and try in my Siphon Coffee Pot.  The result?  An even cleaner tasting brew.  I often add a splash of low-fat milk to lower the acidity.  With this coffee, it wasn’t required. A very, very nice cup!

Barcomi’s does have an online shop, but the shipping charges seemed a bit high for me.

Checkpoint Charlie

I’m in Berlin all week.  Still trying to find good coffee shops and perhaps a roaster or two!

The only one that’s close to me is Bonanza Coffee Heroes, so perhaps I’ll start there.  They do roast on-site.  Perhaps I’ll pick some up to review at home later.


Brewing with the Bodum Pebo (a.k.a. Santos)

This article is to learn the basics of how to use a siphon, for beginners.  If you’ve already done a few brews, but are having some trouble using your Siphon coffee brewer, I suggest reading:  “Having trouble with your Bodum Pebo Siphon Pot?“, which may help you find out where you’re going wrong.


A few weeks ago, I purchased a Bodum Siphon coffee pot.  I had some trouble at the beginning, but now I’ve got the hang of it.  I thought I’d write this article to save you some time and teach you how to properly use it.


Using the Bodum ‘Pebo’ (aka Santos) siphon brewer:

  • TIP:  To speed up the process, boil some water in a kettle.  Use any extra hot water to preheat your coffee mug.
  • Grind some fresh coffee beans.
  • Measure the coffee grounds by using the provided scoop, putting them into a clean, dry container.  The size of the scoop matches the number of ‘cups’ marked on the side of the Pot.  1 cup = 1 scoop.  Of course these are measuring cups, NOT coffee cups.  For a large mug of coffee (think Starbucks mugs) you’ll want at least 4 “cups”, which means you’ll need 4 scoops of coffee.  Be precise:  No more, no less!
Bodum Pebo Coffee Scoop

Bodum Coffee Scoop

  • Make sure the Pebo pot is DRY on the bottom.  It could crack if heat is applied when it’s wet.
  • Place the filter into the top portion of the Pebo.  Pull the chain until the spring hooks under the bottom lip of the tube.
  • Pour the water (preheated or not) into the Pebo, to the desired level.
Pebo pot showing 8 cups of water

Coffee pot showing 8 cups of water

  • Place only the bottom portion of the Pebo onto the stove.  Set to medium-high heat.
  • Place the top of the Pebo gently into the bottom on an angle.  Don’t seal the rubber ring yet.  The surface of the chain will allow the water to boil at a lower temperature, preventing it from “super-heating” which can lead to injuries.
Top of Pebo inserted into bottom

Top of Pebo inserted into bottom

  • Once the water starts to boil, push the top part straight down touching only the TOP of the glass (so you don’t burn your hands!).  Turning it a little as you do so will ensure a good seal on the rubber ring.  If it doesn’t seal the whole process won’t work, so be SURE.
  • Almost immediately the water will slowly move up into the top portion.
Water starting to boil and go up

Water starting to go up

  • Most of the water will go up.  If it ALL does, take it off the heat or the bottom glass may crack.  (It’s never happened to me, but I’m told it’s possible!)
At a boil

At a boil (Note:  TOO HOT!!)

  • If the water stops going up, or worse, starts going back down:   Crank up the heat a notch to get it *just* boiling.
  • You will want the water hot, but NOT extremely hot.  I repeat:  NOT EXTREMELY HOT, or you won’t have the suction you need to pull it back down through the filter.
  • If temp is too high, turn the heat to LOW (but not OFF) and give it a stir with something.  I’m told that bamboo is the best as it absorbs little or no heat.  I use wooden chopsticks.  This will help to lower the temperature slowly.
  • When you’ve go the temp just right, pour the coffee into the top and stir to mix it with the water.
  • Turn the heat to LOW.
  • Wait 45 to 60 seconds.  Stir the coffee again and remove the pot from heat.  (Turning off the stove, of course.)
  • Wait for the coffee to drain slowly back into the lower pot.
Coffee coming down

Coffee coming down

  • When it’s nearly done, there’ll be a small burst of bubbles.  When they’re done, it’s time to pull the top part off.  Pulling on a slight angle will help break the rubber seal.  It should travel with the top part.  Remember that the filter has the ‘hook’ at the bottom of the tube!  Be careful when you pull the top off.  If the spring gets released, you’ll make a mess.
  • Place the top in the provided stand.
Bodum Pebo Stand

Bodum Pebo Stand

  • IMPORTANT:  Let the coffee sit for about 5 minutes before drinking.  If it’s too hot, you won’t taste the wonderful flavour.  It just tastes HOT.
  • Preheat your coffee mug with hot water from the kettle.  Failing to do so may make the coffee taste sour.
  • Pour the coffee into your favorite mug and ENJOY.

Bodum “Pebo” Siphon Coffee Maker

Just a few days ago I ordered a new Bodum Santos coffee maker from  I love being able to buy things online that aren’t available here, or are just cheaper.  Contact lenses for example.  With the shipping included, the price is still less than in a shop here.  Especially if you buy bulk.

I’ve been wanting a siphon coffee maker for some time now, but the price has always prohibited me from getting one.  When I found the “Pebo”, (formerly called the “Santos”)  in a shop in Amsterdam I was shocked to find it selling for 99 Euros!  I like coffee, but that’s waaayy too much for a piece of glass and some plastic.  I love my coffee and Bodum does make GREAT products, but I’m not crazy.

When I saw the same unit for only 50 Euro (plus 5 for shipping) I jumped at the chance.  And calling it a birthday present for myself also helped to reduce the guilt.

Just two days after I ordered it from the UK, it arrived by UPS!  WHAT??  Not bad!  Sending it by courier was surely a mistake, but I’m not gonna say anything.  I signed for the unit and hurriedly opened the package.

Later I’ll be posting more about how to use a siphon, but be assured the coffee tastes great and it’s not as much work as you might think!

These pots are for sale in THE COFFEE SHOP.  Get yours today!

Having TROUBLE using your Siphon coffee brewer?  CLICK HERE to read my post called Having trouble with your Bodum Siphon Pot?



My Review of Julius Meinl Coffee

Today’s coffee review is sponsored by my wife Alina.  She bought me a package of Julius Meinl Coffee’s “Jubilee” blend while in Austria a few days ago.

It’s been awhile since I’ve had a good light roasted coffee.  For me, the lighter the better.  While I can enjoy the taste of nice medium roast, the bitterness of anything darker kills all the flavour. But the lighter ones seem to explode with great taste.  Combined with a coarse grind (for my favourite French Press) water just below the boiling point, a longer brew time (4 min.) and a splash of hot milk, it’s heaven in a cup!

Today’s coffee definitely gets my approval.  I can’t wait to try their other products.

I’m looking for a new milk frother.  Does anyone know of a good product?  Please comment below:

Heading Home

It always gives me a good feeling when I head to the airport to go home.  Something about that transition gives me a sense of peace every time.

Sitting in the business lounge at BRU (Brussels) this morning, and it’s quite empty today.  Apparently there is a holiday in Belgium that I was not aware of.  The lack of business travellers means that I have the normally busy space nearly all to myself.  NICE…  I could get use to this!  And the staff are loving it too.  Less people, less work, less stress.  Why not enjoy it?  Even the usually long que at Starbucks is empty this morning.  I asked for a Blond roasted filtered coffee, which they didn’t have at that moment.  The manager quickly offered to make it in a french press, just for me!  I guess it’s my lucky day.  I’ve got the time, so I relax while they open a fresh package, grind the beans and start the brew.  As expected, it’s delightful.  Really put a smile on my face.  I’ve got two short flights to get back home to Cesky Krumlov today, so I have to enjoy the little things like that.

And you should too.  :)

UPDATE:  Single ply paper in the VIP bathrooms?  Seriously?  Shame on you!

Cupping iDrinkCoffee’s Lighter Roasts

Today I’m doing a bit of a lighter roasts taste test.  Last week I dropped by‘s store in Milton, Ontario and picked up 2 types of beans that they roast.  “Tanzanian Peaberry” and “Guatemala Antigua”.

As you may know, my preferred brewing method is the French Press (although I’m dying to try a Siphon pot!)  For both pots I used the same amounts of coffee, water and a little bit of milk.  I know the purists will cry about using milk, but my stomach just can’t handle black coffee.  This was my first experience with these two and to be honest I didn’t get the water/coffee ratio quite right.  Both were a little bit weak, although the Antigua was pretty close.  I’ve taken notes and will adjust for next time.  The water temperature was just below boiling point.  Both pots were allowed to steep for exactly 4 minutes.

Let’s start with the Peaberry.  In case you missed last week’s post, a Peaberry coffee is made from coffee cherries that have been hand selected with only 1 bean instead of the usual 2.  This extra space in the cherry produces a single round bean that has a different flavour than the standard, smaller flat-sided bean.  Because of selection process it usually costs a bit more.

African coffee is generally preferred in darker roasts, so I was surprised to see that this coffee was listed as ‘medium’.  Typically I avoid the darker blends, as they’re too intense for me.  This one didn’t overpower, and had a very nice aftertaste.  I think it’s VERY nice balance between light and dark.  Well done!  I wouldn’t switch to this for my daily cup, but for those days when I do desire a slightly more intense drink, this will certainly do the trick.  Great for afternoon or lunch, when you need a kickstart to finish work or school.

The Antigua was certainly much milder.  Quite smooth and mellow.  A perfect breakfast companion.  It won’t jumpstart your engines, but it will wake you up slowly.  This coffee is a bit milder, but quite comparable to my personal favourite:  The Mexican Maragogype.  (If anybody knows an exporter of shade-grown Mexican coffee that will send small quantities for a realistic price, please let me know!)

So to sum it up:  The Antigua was slightly mild, and the Tanzanian was slightly too strong.  Sounds like the perfect pair to put in a BLEND.  It just might be coffee Nirvana!

What’s your favourite coffee?  Please comment below:



Nova Era Bakery

Dropped by the “Nova Era” Bakery on King St. in Kitchener today.  They have quite a large selection of very naughty pastries and cakes.  Their bread selection is bad either!  What really caught my eye were little tarts filled with custard.  I’ve had them before from Belem, in Lisboa, Portugal.  I ordered 2 tarts and a latte.

The latte was quite large and very milky.  Good flavour though, and the barista seemed to know what she’s doing.  But arrived with only 1 tart.  I reminded her that I had asked for 2.  Well, it never arrived.  Quite a bit sweeter than what I remember from Portugal.  They don’t seem to have the crust quite right either.  But, it’s still a very tasty treat.  And the coffee was good enough that ordered another.  This time a decaf cappuccino.  I know, I know.  DECAF?  Yes, it’s true.  This was to be my 4th coffee of the day and it was only 10:30am.

The barista arrived with my drink and said something like “I made extra foam.”  That, she did!  The small cup was overflowing with a very fine, smooth milk foam.  Tasty, but I don’t care for THAT much foam.  Wasted on me, I guess.

Not much in the way of atmosphere here.  The building used to be a Harvey’s hamburger joint, and the interior hasn’t changed all that much.  New lamps and furniture still haven’t changed the feel of this place.  But the staff are friendly and the food is good!

Nougat Cafe

Had coffee today with…MOM…   That’s pretty rare!  I’m home in Canada for a wedding, so why not take the time to sample a few nice coffee shops and see what’s there?

We visited the Nougat Cafe in Kitchener, Ontario.  It’s quite a busy place.  They are a gourmet food store, bakery and cafe/sandwich shop all in one.  The store part at the front of the building had a great selection of meats, cheese and all types pasta and sauce.  I was a bit too scared to look at the prices.  But if your food budget is large, you’ll find many tasty treats.

The bakery section had all sort of naughty delicious things.  Small rolls, tarts, cakes and even Polish Paczki!  I saw that the label was written in Polish, so I asked and sure enough the owner of the place IS Polish.  They even sell Polish language newspapers there.  I didn’t even realize there were any published in Ontario.

The Latte I ordered was quite good, but the barista was obviously new and used a little bit too much water.  But the Illy beans made up for it.  Very smooth.  Not a strong expresso.  Mom ordered a poppyseed danish.  Large and quite delicious!

The interior is a mishmash of old and new.  Electric chandeliers provide just enough light to see what you’re eating.  A bit too dark for early morning if you ask me.  Better for an after dinner cappuccino and a quiet conversation.

All in all, a nice place.


Grinder Adjustments 101

Wondering how other people find the correct grind size, I found this article:  Grinder Adjustments 101

It’s completely “over the top”, and not relavent to my French Press operation at home.  But I did learn a lot from reading it.  I hope you do too!  Enjoy.


I managed to find some decent coffee beans from the “Cafe Bon Bon” in Cesky Krumlov.  They don’t have many products, but they do have quality.  They carry wine, Coffee beans and of course, chocolates and marzipan.  While I’ve never been a big fan of marzipan, though it seems to be the bulk of their business.

They have coffees from all over the world, but I don’t care much for how they keep it.  The  glass containers are always full to the top (which tells me they’re topping it off every day), and the beans sit there exposed to the air until they sell.  If it were my store, I’d let the container run out and only then open a fresh bag.

They also have a bad habit of mixing the oldest beans with the freshest ones.  No sense of product ‘rotation’ that anybody who has ever worked in a proper restaurant would know.  Use the oldest stuff first, always!

BUT…until I can find a coffee roaster that will ship me freshly roasted beans for a reasonable price, this is the best I’m going to get!

So on to the grinding.  I set the “new” grinder to a pretty large grind, for my french press (my favourite method at home, as I don’t have an expresso machine…YET.)  I would like to take the machine apart and give it a good cleaning, but it’s held together with nails, and I’d pretty much have to destroy it to get inside.  I decide to take a good look at the condition of the burrs.  They seems to be rust-free, and I only find traces of coffee on them.  GREAT!  A bit of dust as well, but that’s to be expected.  I have no idea how long this unit has been sitting in the antiques store.  I decide to give it a try with a small handful of beans.  I can test my guess on the bean size, and clean the burrs at the same time.  A few seconds of grinding, and I’m ready to see what I’ve got.  The grounds are the perfect size for what I need.  Another look inside confirms that the burrs are now free of dust and dirt (as good as we’re going to get, anyway!)  I through away the grounds and start boiling water to make my first cup!  Of course, I let the water cool a bit.  The experts at have convinced me that water for coffee should never be boiled.

2 minutes of grinding later, I’ve got enough coffee for the what I need.  Add water, and 4 minutes later….voila!  A nice cup of Mexican coffee.

A bit too watery though!  Tomorrow I’ll add another spoonful of coffee.  (Update:  I did, and it was GREAT.)

Out with the New, in with the Old!

Yes, you read that right.  Sometimes new things just don’t work as well as the old ones.

Today almost everything is designed to be as cheap as possible.  Well, cheap just doesn’t last.  A good friend of mine told me that his grandma always said “Cheap IS expensive.”  Meaning, when you have to replace the crap and buy another piece of crap to replace it, you’d have been better off spending more in the first place buying quality.

Such is the case today.  But let’s backtrack a little.  A couple years ago, I was living in Krakow, Poland.  Being fond of good coffee, I went looking for a good quality *manual* grinder.  New ones today come in two versions:  SUPER expensive electronic, and very cheap crap with a (with a blade instead of the preferred conical burrs).  I didn’t want to break the bank and I’m not fond of cheap crap.  So, I decided to try to find a used grinder that might still be in good condition.

There are lots of antique shops in Krakow and I had plenty of free time, so I thought it would be fun to look around and see what I could find.  Although I did find some VERY unique old grinders, including one made from an old artillery shell (no joke!), I never found one that was a reasonable price AND in good condition.  So I bought a new $10 grinder that came with a free bag of beans.  It was both slow and problematic as it jammed all the time and had to be adjusted for different types of beans.  Basically a big waste of time.

Today I finally entered an antiques shop that I haven’t been to before, and found a decent selection of both very fancy and very practical grinders.  There were actually 2 available for about $20 and I had trouble deciding which one to buy.  I asked the owner to show both to me and in the process I discovered that one of them didn’t actually work.  Decision made!

Now I just have to find some good beans to try it out.  I can’t wait!

The sun comes out. But will it last?

The rain has stopped.  At least temporarily.  Dark clouds still loom.  And the wind has picked up.  But I did manage to get out of the house and treat myself to a good curry.

Sagar, the owner/manager, joined me as I dined at the OM Indian Restaurant.  The past few days have been busy, he says.  Not the volume of last year’s festival, but still very good.  Sunday was surprisingly quiet.   I enjoyed a simple “Curry Chicken”, one of the lunch specials, including a free dessert for about 90kr ($4.50).  The dinner prices are quite a bit higher, but the value for the lunch set is hard to beat!

Following that, I stopped by Alchymy Hotel, to have a coffee.  The cafe looks a bit posh from the outside, but the view from the terrace is hard to beat.  They charge 45kr ($2.25) for an Illy Cappuccino.  A pretty standard price for table service here.  I found it to be a bit bitter and small, but that’s how Italian coffee should be, right?  Next time I’ll get a Latte.  The patio was nearly full, but I found an empty seat quickly.  The table across from me had 3 girls, obviously american tourists, chatting away with their faces glued to their cellphones.  They seemed quite confused about the exchange rate.  I chuckled to myself.  The table furthest from the door had a strange duo, constantly looking up at the castle tower.  It wasn’t until I got up to leave that I realized they were artists, making sketches.  Cool.  Nicely done, too!


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