Good Coffee Alaska Style: Drive-thrus

Mark Hanner is back with a clutch of coffee shacks in and around Anchorage. Before you scoff, remember that these folks are really serious about the quality of their coffee.

“They have a lot of those “photomat” drivethrough coffee places here like in Seattle and everyone of them is better than a Starbucks,” Mark says. “They all have great names too like the Mocha Moose. I hit 3 yesterday driving around as it was cold and kept me awake from jet lag!”

Breves at Kaladi Brothers, Anchorage, Alaska

Kaladi Brothers CoffeeOur friend Mark Hanner of Stellarprom writes in with a great coffee experience at Kaladi Brothers in Anchorage, Alaska. Breves — lattes made with half and half — are very popular there, he says. The rich, creamy concoctions deliver a boatload of calories keeping you a step or two ahead of hypothermia, I’m sure.

Stay tuned for Mark’s post later this week from their HQ, where they roast Thursdays and Fridays.

The Coffee Van: Gourmet Coffee at Your Doorstep

There was a little line at the window of the big van at the farmer’s market. It was a chilly morning, and I expected the usual food-service coffee when I stepped up for a cappucino. Instead, I got this:

Latte art

The Coffee Van
Ron Robinson, the owner and barista, takes good coffee to all kinds of venues, from farmer’s markets to offices to outdoor promotions. And they brew Intelligentsia. High quality coffee treated lovingly, for decidedly non-Shylockian prices makes, all made in a nicely tricked-out coffee van makes for a great coffee experience. Check them out at Craftworks Coffee.

The Conscious Bean: At the farmer’s market

Sommo Coffees at the Oakton Farmer's MarketI met good coffee at the farmer’s market last week. “Good” as defined by small-batch roasted organic artisanal goodness that’s good for the palate and the soul. One taste and I was hooked. This was a blend of the highest order.

I soon found out why. Kathy Huff, the Queen Bean of Sommo Coffee had personally roasted the blend, which was created by Sherri John’s, a longtime international barista competition judge and author, and one of my favorite people in the coffee world.

Huddled against the bitter cold wind sweeping across the school parking lot, Kathy dispensed heavenly samples of her Breakfast Blend with a warm smile. When you talk to her, you sense that coffee is no longer just a bunch of beans but an adventure of discovery. If you’d like to join in this adventure as well, her new website is in construction at

Making Tea the Roadside Way

Many of us Indians have vivid memories of roadtrips, and the compelling aroma of chai wafting from the roadside stalls and rail stations. There would always be a big pan frothing on an ancient earthen oven, with little glass tumblers of scalding hot milky tea being handed to customers by barely adolescent workers. The same tea leaves would be boiled till all the tannin was extracted. This was the working man’s version of chai, not the tea-bagged super-fancy chai spice strangeness the rest of the world knows.

Brewing tea in a roadside stall in IndiaThere are as many versions of the chai recipe as there are localities in India, but the basic ingredients are the same — black tea, water and milk. You notice I didn’t mention the spices yet. This is because in many areas no spice is added. Just the tea is enough to carry the day. Let’s take on the most common method of roadside preparation.

In a saucepan combine 3 parts of water and one part of milk and bring to boil. Add two teaspoonfuls of black tea leaves. Leave the orange pekoe for fancier times. You’ll need a tea blend that can stand up to all the boiling. A basic Lipton loose-leaf tea is all you need. Let the leaves boil for about two minutes and then turn down the heat to low. After about 3 more minutes pour directly from the saucepan into cups through a strainer or a piece of cheesecloth, add sugar to taste, and enjoy.

The genius of this method of preparation is that you can tweak it to your exact preference. You can add cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, or whatever else you like to the boiling water to enhance your experience. The milk tones down the tannin released by the boiling producing a smooth brew base. Now bear in mind that roadside stalls rarely ever use skim milk — it’s whole or nothing. If you prefer skim, that’s perfectly fine. I’ve found adding a touch of half and half in the boil brings it closer to the creamy results you find in the tea stalls.

Frothing is common in some parts of India, though more for coffee than tea. You can use a frother or try the age-old method of pouring into another tumbler from up high. This might take some practice, and you are handling scalding hot liquid. Don’t blame/flame/sue me if you get burned.

A French press fairy tale

Sitting on the shelf at a Chicago Starbucks was a little French press, watching the people of the world order their skim non-fat soy moccachinos day after day. She hoped and prayed for someone to look her way, past the stacks of Ethiopian fair-trade coffee bags and fancy demitasses. She watched everything from hyper-expensive espresso machines to dinky little coffee mugs fly off the shelves, but all that came her way was dust. She sat there in silence, hoping her time would come, some day.

The coffee spoon kept her company. “You are beautiful my love. Don’t let those bean-burning sawdust-juice-drinking dilettantes tell you otherwise. They don’t know you’re the best way to experience coffee. We’ll always be together on a true coffee lover’s desk.  Just you wait till he finds us.” (more…)

Handpresso Wild: Ubercool Handheld Espresso Gadget

Yearning for your favorite espresso at a campsite with nary a Starbucks in sight? Have 99 Euros to spare?  Check out Handpresso, a cross between pod espresso maker and bicycle pump that promises perfect crema. You hand-pump the contraption, add a standard ESE pod and hot water. Now invert over demitasse (yeah, demitasse at a campsite — hah!) and let loose the perfect espresso. Or so shows the video. Now when are they starting to sell this in the US of A?

Handpresso (via  Location Independent Living)

Milking the Pod Brewer Part 1: Tetley Tea

I’ll be the first to admit I’ve been drinking a lot more tea lately. Of course, coffee remains my primary poison, but I’ve been expanding horizons a bit. Now I don’t mind tea bags, but I wish I could speed things up in the morning instead of waiting the tea to steep. So one day I decided to leverage my pod brewer. Instead of dunking the bag I put the tea bag into the pod holder and pressed the button.

Tetley tea bagsMy initial experiments with string-and-tag black tea bags yielded mixed results. Because of their rectangular shape they would allow water to pass around them, diluting the tea. This was okay if I wanted a light tea, but I wanted a little more punch than that.

Where could I get round tea pods? I could pay a premium for Republic of Tea or Melitta pods, but didn’t really want to. In the corner of my local Indian grocery store I found a box of 100 round Tetley Tea Bags selling for $2.99. Bullseye!

The tea is pretty strong by itself — the brewer extracts every ounce of oil and tannin out of the poor leaves in the tea bag. A splash of half and half tends to subdue the tannin, though.

What’s With Them K-Cups?

Keurig K-Cup machineThe premise is tantalizing — a hot, fresh single cup of coffee every time you press a button. No cleaning porta filters, no disposing messy coffee/espresso grounds, no hassles with espresso pumps and steam nozzles. And the machine doesn’t look half bad. Just lift the latch, pop in a special K-cup, lower the latch and press the appropriate button. In about a minute you have a single steaming cup of coffee (or tea or hot cocoa). Especially in an office, this is as far away from the usual sludge as you can get without a pump espresso.

So how does it work?

The machine works with special K-cups — double-walled, self-contained coffee containers that have a filter built in. The coffee rests inside the filter. If you hold a K-cup up to the light you’ll see the filter ends about halfway into the outer plastic cup. When you place the K-cup in the machine and close the lid, a fat hypodermic pierces the top foil of the K-cup and lets in just enough pressurized hot water to fill the whole cup. The coffee brews, and is released by another needle down below that pierces the bottom of the cup. The process repeats for a few more cycles till the required volume is dispensed.

What’s Good?

  • The coffee is ground, but is sealed inside the K-cup till brewing time. There is no air exposure unlike coffee pods. This also makes storage easier.
  • When done, just toss the spent K-cup. No muss, no fuss, no filters to handle.
  • A very large variety of K-cup blends already available from a variety of sources. Keurig also runs a coffee delivery program for offices and homes.
  • Since you’re brewing one cup at a time, there’s no waste compared to standard drip coffeemakers.

Where’s the Catch?

This is a classic razor-and-blade situation. You can only use K-cups in your somewhat expensive Keurig brewer.

  • Keurig sells you one of these machines for $99 and way up, and provides you with a taste assortment of K-cups to get you started. Thereafter, K-cups average to about 50 cents apiece, less if you buy in bulk. So if you’re looking to save money on coffee, K-cups may seem a little pricey.
  • K-cups are not biodegradable — yet. Every cup you toss presents a recycling dilemma since it has (a) coffee, (b) paper filter, and (c) plastic in it.
  • The coffee tastes good, but isn’t nearly as fresh as good quality freshly ground coffee.

Bottom Line

Great convenience if you can devote the money, but limits you to only prepackaged commercially available coffee and tea selections.

Have/use a Keurig brewer? Let’s hear about it!

The Care and Feeding of Coffee

So you went out and got yourself the super-mega-premium organic coffee beans from the local purveyor, and you want to make sure it stays well long enough for you to consume. Well, here are a few key rules to remember.

  • Buy as much as you can finish within the week. The oils in coffee beans go rancid fairly quickly, giving rise to funky flavors you don’t want.
  • Keep the beans in an airtight, dark container at room temperature. Why not in the fridge, you ask? Coffee beans are flavor sponges, and can pick up odors from the chiller. Better safe than sorry. Also, some of the oils in the beans denature when frozen, losing their aroma. If you absolutely have to freeze your beans, I’ve found dark roasts freeze better than mild/city roasts.
  • Keep coffee away from strong odors. As stated before, coffee beans are odor magnets.
  • Unless your coffee came in a sealed stoneware or glass jar, never store coffee in the original foil packet. These packets have a one-way valve that lets out air to keep coffee “fresh”. In reality, all they do is let the essential oils escape through the vent.
  • Lastly, never buy ground coffee. Your precious coffee will turn to sawdust sooner than you can drink it. Get a decent grinder (a burr grinder works best, but a blade grinder should do the job just fine) and grind just what you need.

Following these instructions can mean the difference between enjoying an exemplary cup or tasting cinders in the morning.

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