Like many of you this morning, I clicked on Rene's Gifts for alpha-geeks: Best beverage-making gadgets article, but I realized something after I started reading: Rene's list was a bit lightweight when it came to coffee.
Let's face it, lots of alpha-geeks love coffee. Rene's list included some great items like the Aerobie Aeropress and Baratza coffee grinder, but there's a lot more out there. If there are serious coffee enthusiasts on your Christmas list this season, here are six more gifts that would make them (or you) very happy.
I can't argue with Rene's choice of the Aeropress - it's my favorite way to make a single cup of coffee. But making a pot of coffee is different. And for that, Chemex's coffee makers product an excellent pot. They make glass carafe coffee makers in sizes ranging from three to 10 cups (as measured in 5 oz. increments; the 10 cup models can hold 50 ounces of coffee).
With Chemex coffee makers, you pour hot water from a kettle over the grounds in a cone filter that sits on top of the hourglass-shaped coffee maker. Glass won't retain chemicals or flavors like plastic does, and the cone filter helps make sure you get the best taste out of your coffee (Chemex sells its own paper filters which it says work better). Chemex's "Classic" series uses a polished wood collar with leather tie, but they also make glass handle models; for the artisanal touch they also sell handblown coffee makers which cost more. The glass handled models are a bit easier to manage when you've got a lot of coffee.
One of only two drip coffee makers to get the endorsements of the Specialty Coffee Association of America and Cook's Magazine (the other was the twice-as-expensive Technivorm Moccamaster), Bonavita's BV 1800 is designed to get water to the right temperature and keep it there - the difference between a smooth, rich, delicious cup of coffee, and dingy bilge water that smells like someone's dirty underpants are on fire.
A showerhead above the filter basket saturates the coffee grounds, making sure you get as much rich flavor as you can. You have the choice of a glass carafe with a heating element underneath it or a thermal carafe instead. It lacks a lot of the electronic bells and whistles of other drip coffee makers in this price range, but all the gadgets in the world are useless if your coffee tastes like hot garbage.
Steel thermal carafe:
Look, no one is going to confuse Keurig K-Cup brews for a high quality cup of coffee, but they're ubiquitous. You find the single-cup coffee makers in offices, waiting rooms, hotel rooms and kitchens across the country because many people prefer to brew a single cup instead of a pot. There's a downside, though, and that's the egregious environmental waste produced by K-Cups. Not to mention a limited choice of coffee flavors (it's improved, but it's still a far cry from gourmet).
Reusable containers for K-Cup machines abound, but my favorite is the Ekobrew. The reusable filter cup is about the same size as a K-Cup, and drops right in the coffee maker's basket. You fill it with your favorite high-quality coffee (ground medium to coarse for drip) and make it as strong or as light as you want. A diffuser built into the top makes sure water saturates the grinds completely, and steel mesh on the bottom filters the brew so you don't get any grounds in your cup. It's available in a relatively inexpensive plastic model (linked below), available in different colors if you want to use them for different blends or by different people, as well as a more posh (and, presumably, more durable) $18 stainless steel model
If you are going to go the single cup route and money is no object, take a look at Bunn's Trifecta. The brew uses a patent process called Air Infusion, which Bunn claims agitates the coffee at just the right time to get uniform extraction out of the beans. You can adjust the turbulence cycle and infusion times to get the right taste, and you can brew from 6 to 12 ounces per cup. You can spend almost $3,000 on a Trifecta designed for commercial use, so the $550 seems like a bargain by comparison.
One of the secrets to keeping your coffee beans fresh is to keep them away from air. But once you've opened a bag, what can you do? One great solution is Planetary Design's Airscape kitchen canisters. These canisters include a stopper that incorporates a one way valve that forces air out as you press down. The net result? Coffee - or anything else in the canisters - stays fresher longer. Their 64 ounce container is big enough to hold 1 pound of whole bean coffee, and comes in four colors, including mocha, green tea, chrome and black.
This stuff is strictly for use by trained professionals only.
Phil Broughton is a radiation safety specialist at UC Berkeley who first achieved national attention for selling $375 beer steins crafted from the same parts that scientists use to keep liquid nitrogen cold. So perhaps it's little wonder that Broughton's interests led him to coffee. The result of his experiments in cold vacuum coffee extraction is the hyper-concentrated Black Blood of the Earth, which he manufactures himself and sells from a web site using a variety beans: dark-roast Sumatra, medium-roast Kenya, Ethiopia and Kona Blend and a light-roast Malabar are his standards, but he'll do seasonal roasts too (no flavored coffees, however - the results were horrifying).
As Broughton puts it, BBotE "tastes like coffee smells." It has the aromas and flavor of coffee but at forty times the standard caffeine level (not through any doctoring with crushed up No-Doz or what have you, just as a result of the process).
It's recommended that you only enjoy small amounts at a time - maybe a shot glass full at a time, or that much mixed with your choice of hot water, milk, or, if you're feeling particularly daring, alcohol. Or do what my friend does and put a jigger in with your coffee for a little extra morning jolt.
OK, coffee nuts - what am I leaving out? Let me hear from you in the comments.
Looking for more great gift ideas for the geeks - and non-geeks - in your life? Check out the rest of our 2013 holiday guides!