This post is actually about coffee for the most part. But I promise the tea will be there at the end. Regardless, it is a post about pouring hot water over stuff that grew in the ground and enjoying the result, and there will also be some bits about Druids and comic books and the real-life location of Third Eye Books & Herbs.
MAGIC BEANS ARE WORTH IT
Well, I don’t know if I would give my cows away for a few magic beans like that kid Jack did. I’d need cows first and I’d probably grow too attached to them. But good coffee beans are now something for which I might fork over a few extra green pieces of paper.
What qualifies as “good”? AN EXCELLENT QUESTION, which you probably didn’t ask but I’ll attempt to answer with the caveat that your mileage may vary and that’s cool. I’m just sharing my geekout here and not saying it’s better than yours.
1. I dig single origin beans over blends. With single origin you’re getting what the earth’s offering up at a particular place; the flavors and aromas and so forth are specific to the soil, elevation, and climate. And, provided you’re snagging stuff through a distribution model focused on reducing or eliminating middlemen, you’re supporting the farmer(s) a bit more directly. More on that next.
2. If it’s available where I’m buying beans, I like to grab the ones that are Fair Trade Certified at a minimum but Direct-to-Farmer if possible. The way that coffee gets to most Americans is that they’re bought in huge lots by middlemen who blend and dilute try to squeeze every penny they can out of the transaction so that the farmers get paid the least and you get the lowest quality coffee for the maximum price. Fair Trade Certified helps a bit with that but it’s still not the best deal; the farmers sell their crop pretty much all at once for pennies per pound and have to live on that for the whole year. There’s a new model, however, called THRIVE, where the farmers are not paid up front but rather as the beans are sold to the consumer. The farmer gets paid more per pound that way and also gets paid throughout the year—part of the money I pay goes directly to him. I like it because there’s a picture of the farmer who grew the coffee right on the package. See?
I bought those beans from a roaster in Colorado called Brewing Market, which is based in Boulder. They order the beans from Franklin Garbanzo in Costa Rica (the guy on the left) or whoever, roast ‘em, and then they pay him when I buy ‘em. The middlemen can suck it.
3. Roasting is important, and I have discovered that for my particular palate (everyone’s is different) I gotta have a light roast. Not medium, and definitely not dark. You get burned beans in medium and dark roasts and that jacks up your cup real quick. Plus there’s more caffeine in light roasts. It has taken me a while for my brain to overcome the relentless marketing power of the mermaid, but I can’t escape the conclusion anymore that Starbucks coffee is burnt shit. That’s not a criticism of the beans themselves—it’s a criticism of how they roast it (too much), grind it (so fine and fast that the heat generated by the electric grinder burns the beans more), and brew it (very quickly with water that’s too hot). The only way I can handle any of their stuff—and I’m talking what they call a “light” roast, which is really medium—is by pouring cream and a blizzard of Splenda into it. Completely undrinkable otherwise. But if I get a light roast and make the coffee myself, taking my time with the pour and using a coarse hand-grind, I can (and do) enjoy it black. IT’S SCIENCE. Chemistry, rather, in a Chemex.
CHEMEX IS MY JAM
It takes me about twenty minutes to make about 3 cups of coffee now and I’m so glad I learned how to slow down and enjoy the process. The craft of making it is as enjoyable as the delightful finished product. I have Chuck Wendig to thank for introducing me to the procedure. He wrote this blog post and so I figured, heck, let’s give it a try, and wow. Coffee became this whole new world for me. And for my wife.
My wife ingested her caffeine through other delivery systems than coffee prior to the Chemex. Nineteen years o’ marriage and she never drank the coffee I brewed except to try it and declare it awful. Now she steals my coffee in the morning. I think it’s awesome. I asked her how it was different and she replied, “It doesn’t taste like ass now.” Or something like that. I might be paraphrasing.
Why is Chemex so spiffy? The filters do a damn good job of filtering. You get a smooth cup without mud in it (as you do with a French press, for example), and as long as you’re not using a dark roast, the bitterness is simply gone. But making it is as fun as drinking it. First, there’s the bloom—you wet the grounds and let ‘em bubble up and start releasing all these fabulous aromas that get lost when you just drown them in boiling water from the get-go. It looks like this:
And then you do the first big pour and that releases bonus smells too. You have to do several pours before you get it filled up to the bottom of the wooden handle thingie. It’s about 20 ounces altogether. In between pours you can be making a cheese-and-chive omelet for yourself and some sausage for Oberon, or whatever.
You know what else I love about this process? The glass beaker and everything kind of reminds me of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman at the very beginning of their illicit activities in Breaking Bad.
JESSE: Yo, Mr. Hearne, why don’t we just throw some Folgers crystals up in this bitch and get it done, right?
KEVIN: No, Jesse, we will use science to craft a product that’s superior in every way.
JESSE: There ain’t no science to it, Mr. Hearne! You just pour hot water on the shit and make fat stacks. Bitches want their caffeine.
KEVIN: They’ll like it more—and pay more—if you take the time to do it properly. Try it my way, okay?
JESSE: drinks coffee made in a Chemex, eyes grow three times normal size. HOLY SHIT, MR. HEARNE!
KEVIN: Fat stacks, Jesse. Fat stacks.
Aw, yeah. Finished product of Buesaco beans from Nariño, Colombia, roasted by TONX (more on that below), brewed in a Chemex and poured into my SAXON CODPIECE mug:
ROASTERS ON THE INTERNETS
You might have an awesome local roaster in your area. I recently found one that I’ll share in a minute and couldn’t be happier. But if you don’t have a great roaster in your neighborhood, the glory of internet commerce can still get you awesome beans.
There’s a subscription service called TONX. They get their beans from all over the world, single origin stuff, then they roast it and ship it to you every two weeks or once a month, depending on how much you want. Included with each bag is a little card explaining where the coffee came from, what the growing conditions were, and maybe a bit about the farmers and so on. Different origins every time. The world in my mailbox, twice a month. I love it. If you’d like to try out the service for free, here’s a link. If you wind up subscribing through it, I think they give you $5 off your first order and give me some free beans too.
THE COFFEE (AND TEA) IN THIRD EYE BOOKS & HERBS
Some of you may already know that I do my best to anchor my books in the real world as much as possible. Rúla Búla, for example, is a real Irish pub on Mill Avenue and it truly does have the best fish and chips. Atticus’s bookstore, however, Third Eye Books & Herbs, was necessarily a fictional establishment for which I needed a real-world location. I used my cousin’s comic shop, Ash Avenue Comics, as that location. It’s just south of University Drive on Ash, one block away from all the glory of Mill Avenue and a tad northeast of the neighborhood where Atticus and the widow MacDonagh live.
Something interesting happened last year.
Behind my cousin’s shop was a place called Cartel Coffee Lab. It was in the same building, just a different suite. Turned out they were doing very well because they knew their business and wanted to expand into his space, and my cousin Drew wasn’t opposed to the idea since he could move to another location about 500 feet north, pay a bit less in his rent, and still be on Ash Avenue. So he did, and everybody won. Cartel Coffee Lab smashed through a wall, made a much cooler space for themselves, and now their real-life front door is the fictional front door for Atticus’s shop. Cartel also made the nifty instructional video on how to use a Chemex at the bottom of Chuck Wendig’s blog post.
So after I read Chuck’s post and saw that video, it kind of clicked for me. THREE KINDS OF CAT SHIT! PEOPLE ARE BREWING THINGS IN ATTICUS’S SHOP! GOOD THINGS, TOO! I had to go, so I did, and took some pictures. Ready?
First up: This is the exterior of Atticus’s shop (now Cartel Coffee Lab, the one on the left). It’s changed since 2008 when I first wrote HOUNDED. A bit more paved than it used to be, and that palm tree, wtf, I don’t remember that being there! Anyway, big glass window and glass door, like in the novel. Atticus’s tea station/counter would be right there at the window and the books would be deeper in the space, sheltered from the sunlight. You can see the flat roof there, which Atticus uses to escape in book 3, I believe…?
Turn the camera a bit to the right and you’ll see my cousin’s new place, still Ash Avenue Comics, and still the best selection of trades you’ll find in AZ. :) His name is Drew; stop in and say hi and tell him I sent you.
OK, so, inside Cartel Coffee Lab, you get this nifty menu. Basically you pick the beans you want, then you pick the brewing method. If you don’t want a Chemex, that’s cool, they’ll do an Aeropress for you or a V60 or whatever. What they won’t do is burn the shit out of your coffee like Starbucks. You will notice (on the right) that you can also get tea there, so yeah! I have fulfilled the promise of the blog title: You can actually buy tea now in the real-life location of Third Eye Books & Herbs. Life imitates art; so very trippy. :)
Check it out. When you order a Chemex they serve it up in beakers (yay lab equipment!) and you can then pour it into your cup. Good times!
Here’s a picture of their roaster. They roast on-site throughout the week and don’t do much on the weekends. All their beans have the date o’ roasting on them.
I really love their Yirg Z. I’ve been buying bags and sending ‘em to my homies as gifts, and that’s what I drink when my TONX beans run out. (I always run out about 3-4 days before the next bag arrives and need something to fill the void, and now I’ve found it—beans from a local roaster occupying my fictional Druid’s business space!)
So there you go. Extended geekout complete. Whatever you drink or how you drink it, I hope it’s nom! The earth gives us some pretty awesome stuff, huh? Cheers!