Brew Your Own “Damn” Coffee

Do you start the day by pouring yourself a cup of coffee? So many of us don’t feel fully awake or fully ourselves until we’ve had our comforting pick-me-up.

The world of coffee has changed quite a bit over the past couple decades. The rise and omnipresence of Starbucks is well known. There’s one on every other street corner nowadays. It’s a sort-of-Italian-espresso-culture inspired progression from the nondescript tins of beans (marketed with stereotypical figures) that had dominated before.

The two of us grew up on the sweetest white mochas and Frappuccinos in our small town Barnes and Noble Starbucks Cafe. There’s definitely still a time and place for a big cup of sweet and stimulating. Starbucks is a number of people’s go-to everyday.

At the same time, there have been further shifts in the evolution of coffee beyond Starbucks and other old-school chains. Lo and behold, there’s a whole world of flavor and uniqueness to be discovered in the coffee beans themselves rather than in pumps of syrup overriding the coffee’s inherent flavors.

Coffees from Ethiopia are distinctly different from coffees from Colombia. Even within the same country, you can find hyperlocal differences. Growing conditions, the variety of bean, when it was picked, and how it was processed and roasted all play a role in what you drink. A coffee from the exact same place might have distinct differences from one year to the next (though don’t brew up last year’s beans if you still have them around. That’s not gonna taste great).

All of which makes it fun to try some things out at home. Try is the key word. Preparing coffee well takes some patience and experimentation. There’s potential for a really unpleasant cup if things go wrong—even if you started with the best beans you can buy. But it’s just ground coffee and hot water. WTF?

Well, it’s a little more than that, and subtle changes to how it’s prepared can make a big difference. That’s probably why many people justify spending $4-$12 (yeah, there are $12 cups of coffee) for something good and ready in a hurry. Ain’t nobody got time for gross coffee.

But you have time to make good coffee! We believe in you. We’ve gone through plenty of trial and error. It’s worth it to see what you can do yourself with a bag of beans. It can actually be a lot of fun when you know what you’re doing, delicious when things go right, and definitely more affordable than dropping $5 at a coffeeshop every day.

So what do you need to know?

Water

A cup of coffee is almost entirely water (wow!). So it’s important to work with the right H20. What’s that mean? First and foremost, not tap water. The water that comes out of your tap is wonderful for staying hydrated. But it’s not great for a delicious cup of coffee (or tea). There’s too much stuff in there (like dissolved solids and chlorine) to brew something tasty.

This is the one and only time we’ll advocate that you buy bottled water (which isn’t super great for the environment or the economies they’re sourced from). Most spring waters–Crystal Geyser, for example–are really good for making tasty coffee. They have a friendlier composition to let the coffee speak for itself.

Grind

Alongside water and the quality of beans you get, grind is a pivotal factor in making great coffee. Grind right before you’re going to brew. Don’t use a grinder you use for other things (spices, for example). Try to find a reasonably priced burr grinder–which is much more consistent–rather than using a blade grinder. Having ground coffee particles that are almost exactly the same is the key here. Blades chop things up into irregular bits.

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetIf you don’t have a burr grinder yet, see if a friend or local coffeeshop can grind your beans for you (tell them the device you use to make your coffee). In that case, you’re better off having something ground with great consistency in advance, rather than something shoddily ground when you’re about to brew.

Most of the time, you’ll be looking for a semi-fine grind–neither so fine it’s powdery nor so coarse it’s cracked-pebble-like. The fineness of the grind is one of the things you’ll pay attention to and adjust as you go (see below).

Beans

Get great beans! There’s a lot of interesting stuff out there, but a lot of not-so-great, too.

Coffee beans are best in the first week or two they’ve been roasted, so definitely don’t buy something several weeks old. As we said above, there’s a huge spectrum of possibility based on country and variety and how it was picked and processed. Some are very fruity, floral, and light. Others are more subdued, feel heavier in your mouth, or have dominant flavors like nuts, chocolates, or sugars.

Coffee Beans

Try beans from different countries and different roasters. Look at who’s won awards for what they source, who treats the producers they work with well, and who sells consistently good single origin stuff. Blends can be good, too. But the most interesting coffees are the ones from one distinct place and time that had a lot of care and respect go into them. You’ll know it when you see and taste it.

IMG_1094Look for lists like this, and buy beans that sound like they have flavors you’d want to taste. Remember, these are flavors within the beans themselves–not something added to them. The flavors are subtle, and they may taste a little different on your palate compared to someone else’s. But the bag’s description will give you a ballpark of what you can expect when you brew it right.

Oh…and never store your beans in the fridge or freezer. Keep them in a sealed, cool, dark place.

Methods

There are a whole bunch of gadgets and machines to brew coffee. It really comes down to which one you feel most comfortable with and gives you good results over and over. Broadly speaking, you’ve got manual methods (like Kalita Wave, Aeropress, Chemex) and automatic methods (classic drip makers and more sophisticated machines). We’re partial to manual methods because they give you greater control and participation (this is supposed to be fun, remember?). But if you’re short on time, or are struggling to get good cups of coffee no matter what you try, there are some solid automatic machines out there.

Our usual go-to is a Chemex, but we occasionally use a small v60 or Aeropress (particularly when we’re camping, because a Chemex isn’t super portable). The approach is pretty similar with all of these. Water just off boil is poured over ground coffee in a gentle but steady circular motion. You want to pour evenly and not agitate too much. It’s easier with any model of a gooseneck kettle, which gives you more control.

Everything should be done by weight. You’ll need a coffee or kitchen scale that can measure in grams–ideally in half or tenth of a gram increments. Weigh your coffee dose. Weigh your water. Put whatever device you’re using on the scale while you’re brewing to keep tabs on everything.

Different coffee companies will recommend different ratios of water to coffee. Different coffees and different methods can have slightly varying ratios in order for your cup taste its best. Wait, what? This is an aspect of brewing where you can really geek out, and where there can be a decent amount of trial and error. You’ll probably be in good shape with a ratio between 1:14 and 1:16. In other words, if you’re using 30g of coffee in your Chemex, you want as little as 420g (30 x 14) of water and as much as 480g (30 x 16).

Try different amounts with different coffees on the same device, and see if you can hone in a ratio that makes your taste buds happy. It could be more like 1:13, or 1:18. Again, you can do a lot of experimentation here, and you’ll probably need to when you switch to a new bag of beans.

It’s vital to bloom the coffee first. By evenly pouring twice the amount of just-boiled water as your coffee dose (e.g. 60g of water to 30g of coffee) and allowing it to bubble for 30 seconds to a minute, carbon dioxide is released. That CO2 impacts the flavor of your cup of coffee and how the rest of the brewing process goes. After the bloom, you want to gently and steadily pour the rest of the water in circles until you’ve reached the total water weight you’re shooting for (based on the ratio you’re using).

If it all flows through super fast, your grind was probably too coarse. If it’s flowing too slow or stops completely, there’s a good chance your grind was too fine. Taste and see either way. It might still be acceptable, but you’ll know what to tweak slightly the next time around.

Adjust, Taste, Adjust

Play with the grind. Play with ratios. You can also keep your water weight the same and increase or decrease your coffee dose by a gram. There’s a lot of science and variability behind coffee exaction–with tools, articles, and other resources to understand it and alter what you’re doing. But it really comes down to whether or not the coffee tastes good to you. If it does…party! Nice job. You’ll know how to brew the rest of that bag of beans.

If not, try to start picking up on the little changes that will improve what you’re tasting. Your mug of bean juice should be naturally sweet, have delicious fruit acids, and a finish that lingers pleasantly. If it tastes sour and empty, the coffee is under-extracted. You can try grinding finer or using more water. If it tastes bitter and dry, it’s probably over-extracted. Try grinder coarser or using less water.

Coffee Time

You deserve to wake up every day and enjoy awesome coffee without waiting in line. Starting with these things will give you a good springboard to make tastier cups of coffee on your own. Just make sure to invite us over when it’s ready.

Reading Together

Is there anywhere more comforting than your bed? It’s the place of sleep, sex, and solitude. There’s nowhere cozier and more distant from the world’s insanity than the shelter of blankets and pillows you come back to night after night. Relationship and sleep experts regularly caution against bringing anything else in. No phones. No TVs. No work. Just calm, undistracted rest and romance. Your bed is the place you come back to every night after a long day. And where you can fully let your guard down. Stress and distraction shouldn’t be allowed in.

But there may be one more thing to do in bed that’s conducive to both a good night’s rest and intimacy with your mate: reading together. Yeah, reading. The benefits of books are well established—whether it’s to counter our increasingly goldfish attention spans or to feel a little more inspired and knowledgeable. Reading in bed before you call it a night is like a calming cup of tea for the psyche. When you crack open a book with someone else—with your significant other—it’s even more enjoyable and beneficial.

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Reading together in bed may not sound like the most obvious or exhilarating thing to do. It wasn’t always part of our relationship, but it has been for a while now. At first, we mostly read separate books. That was a great start—a much better way of winding down at night than other disjointed and distracted things we were doing. We would stop every few pages to talk about the interesting factoids or unexpected turns of the plot in our respective books.

Getting that enjoyable little hit of learning something new, asking eagerly to hear what happened next in their novel, or laughing in disbelief how randomly things we read connected with something that happened that day. Reading side by side in the comfort of your bed is a bit like binging shows on the couch, but with more nourishing engagement for your brains than passively watching, and without the sleep-depriving effects of a screen.

Over time, we’ve discovered that it’s even more enjoyable to go through the same book together. One of us will read out loud to the other. Or we’ll hold the pages in-between us so we can silently read along and stop for tangents or wait for the other to catch up. It’s mostly been novels lately—falling asleep imaging what characters might do next and where we see our lives in the stories. But we’ve read through plenty of nonfiction books on communicating, emotions, travel, and history and politics (though sometimes those have been a little dark or depressing for bed).

It’s a unique and wonderful feeling to share stories and ideas with the person you love most. There’s a kind of restorative psychological intimacy that reading together in bed produces—adding layers of closeness and pleasure to what sex and sleep do. Whether you’re lost in some book on mindfulness while they’re in the thick of a fantasy novel, or you’re taking turns reading the same book out loud, you’re engaging your minds in a way that makes them more intricately and satisfyingly connected. It’s a bridge that takes you out of the day’s stresses and absurdities and into each other. It’s much better than being hypnotized by the glow of your phones—barely aware of one other.

Your bed is a place to be vulnerable and calm. After all the day’s ups and downs, you get to lower your defenses and alert systems and hyperactivity to sink into the covers and just be. No demands, no bustle, no fires to put out. It’s all the more comforting when you share your bed with your true love (as long as they don’t snore or take up the whole damn thing—but that’s another post). You get to just be, together. That sacred space of warmth, solitude, and intimacy are beautifully deepened when you open a book together before curling up to go into dreamland.

Making Long-Distance Suck Less

Being long-distance sucks. We’ve been together for over 16 years, and for most of it we have been lucky to spend at least part of each day together. With some recent life changes, we’ve been doing the past month apart, and it’s not a lot of fun. When you don’t get to see the person you love more than anyone for several days in a row, it’s like a part of you is missing. That’s who you share a bed with. Cook with. Hike with. Crash on the couch and watch Netflix with. Whisper secrets with. Who you feel a sense of belonging and acceptance with.

The longer you’re together, the more your emotions and quirks and goals become intricately interwoven. Your bodies are used to each other. You know a lot about how they think and the way the two of you like to spend free time together. When you’re with someone long enough, you even start to look like one another—which is bit strange and romantic at the same time. Being long-distance yanks and pulls at those threads. Your hand waits to hold theirs, but there’s only a phantom feeling of interlocking fingers. Perhaps one day humans will be able to reach through a FaceTime to touch and kiss. Or travel anywhere in just a matter of minutes—making long-distance relationships a thing of the past.

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In the meantime, there are some things that make long-distance manageable and tolerable (in-between the times you break down in tears). It’s not surprising that communication is the key. But people don’t always know what good communication looks like or how much harder you have to work at it when you can’t look your significant other in the eye and give them a hug when all else fails.

Having regular times for FaceTime or Skype can make a huge difference. At least you can see each other’s faces that way. You can also show off where you’re at or what you’re up to—the living room in your shared home, grabbing a drink at a spot you usually go to together or roaming the streets downtown. Each of your daily routines, while you’re apart, will be somewhat mysterious or unknown. But you can be intentional about sharing how your day went and show some of the things you did. That definitely keeps you closer to each other.

Those are the kinds of things you can do through the wonderful possibilities of the Internet. Messages or gifts through the mail can be fun and appreciated, too. Something as simple as a card with a handwritten note has been a welcome surprise when we send them to each other. You can go all out and send a cool local treat (candy, jam, or wine, maybe?), a new item for their wardrobe, a journal, or whatever else would be most meaningful between the two of you.

Through it all, it’s important to be extra patient with each other. You might go most of a day without talking or texting at all. When you reconvene over the phone, there’s a lot to catch up on. You can end up trying to talk about everything at once and not have a real back-and-forth conversation. Or you might step on their toes by overzealously telling them what to do when they have things perfectly under control. When you have a true, loving relationship, the two of you are interdependent—not dependent. You’re better together (that’s why you’re in a relationship!). But neither of you is completely paralyzed without the other. They can make it without you. When they want your thoughts about what to do or they need encouragement to make it through a tough situation, they’ll probably make it clear to you. Give them space to talk about what they want to talk about. Listen a lot and take things in. Then sometime later you can say a little about what you think about it—and what you’ve been up to yourself.

There’s no science to long-distance. It takes practice and trying things out and patience. Some couples are great at it and others have a really hard time.

When you can figure out how the two of you are going to talk and send things back-and-forth in a uniquely you kind of way, it all goes a lot smoother. You can keep living life together from miles away—however partial that may be compared to what you would do if you were both in the same place. Long-distance can suck a little less.

Why Deciding What to Eat is One of the Hardest Decisions You’ll Make in Your Relationship

Love is hard. Being in a romantic relationship takes effort and intention. If you’re just going through the motions things are going to fizzle out eventually.

True love takes empathy. Selflessness. Spontaneity. And countless other qualities that require you to make another person’s interests and well-being as important or even more important than your own.

When two people try to become one together, there are lots of ways things can go wrong. Most of the entanglements that begin with overflowing infatuation fail to learn how to love for the long haul. The blinding dopamine in a relationship’s first steps weakens, and the reality of learning to navigate life together through the normal, everyday stuff comes into focus. Occasional–and occasionally epic–fights creep in.

One argument you might not expect to have is about what to eat together, but it could be the most important disagreement you have. When it comes time for lunch or dinner, or fulfilling a late-night craving, if you’re with your significant other you’re probably going to at least try to figure out something that will satisfy both of you.

You think about things you both love. What you’re in the mood for and what they might want right now. What’s close. What kind of meal fits the moment: leisurely, expensive restaurant, fast-casual takeout, or something in-between. You narrow it down to a confident selection that will impress your soulmate…and then they reject it quickly and complete. You say: OK, what would you like to have, then?–trying to keep cool about the fact that you put a lot of thought into a loving, fitting choice and they hated it. They say: I don’t know. Thanks, super helpful.

You see, given enough time, you will have eaten at many of the restaurants where you live. You’ll have ordered most of the takeout or delivery you can get nearby. You won’t always be in the mood to try and blow your significant other away with your culinary skills preparing something homemade from a trendy cookbook. You won’t always have the finances or the time to have the chow you might really want at a given mealtime. And that’s just you. Your soulmate is going through their own cycle of tastes, expectations, disposable income, available time, and energy left to expend.

Deciding what to eat for a meal together becomes the epitome of the relationship as a whole. When the explosiveness of the new starts to turn into the steady-burning fire of the long-term, you have to continually learn and deepen your understanding of how to put the other person first. To be patient and listen. To be honest, communicative, and faithful. To work together towards a resolution that makes you happy–both individually and together.

Sometimes your wants and desires for a relationship are completely different than or even conflicting with your significant other’s–whether it’s about getting ice cream on the way home or the city you want to move to and whether or not you want to have kids together someday. If you can’t do it with the small stuff like meals, and use deciding what to eat as a crucible for deepening your relationship, you’ll never be able to do it with the big things.

We always agree on Coffee

We always agree on Coffee

So next time you’re able to have lunch or dinner together, stop for a moment and remind yourself that this is not only an opportunity to have something delicious with the person you care about most in world–it’s an opportunity to show them how much you care and enjoy the fruits of making your relationship stronger.

What are you two having for dinner?