Posts made in April, 2013

I’m Impress’d: A review of the Impress Coffee Brewer

Posted on Apr 24, 2013 in Coffee | 2 comments

The Impress and the result

Many moons ago, I Kickstarted a project for a coffee brewer. Folks who know me well know that I’m a sucker for brew methods. I’m not a stickler for all the rules like some of the ubergeeks, but I do like to try everything (reviews of some of my other methods coming soon… I’ve been working on that bit of writing slowly).

So I backed, and waited, and waited, and just yesterday my Impress arrived on the doorstep. I took it to work the next day and began my trials. Unboxing reveals a well-designed piece of equipment. It won’t “wow” too many folks, but there was clearly better than average attention to detail with tight fitting pieces and a nice overall feel. I’m not a huge fan of the anodized polka dot flair, but if it makes good coffee, I’ll be happy.

Brew #1 – Pre-ground Dunkin’ Donuts Original Blend (I know, preground? Terrible. It’s old too… I should throw it out, but it does a decent enough job on days in which I don’t feel like manually grinding). Used my electric kettle to bring the water to a boil, cleaned the Impress for first use, filled the outer liner with grounds (it says to use 4-5tsp and the filter is 4tsp so you can use it to measure), let the water sit a few seconds after boiling (it needs to drop a few degrees), and wait for three minutes. As with a French Press, press the sucker down and there’s your coffee. It made a neat squishing sound and I was left with a nice head, which was lost when I poured into my mug. Of note, the Impress can be used as a travel mug as it comes with a silicone top with a sipping hole. The coffee appears to be similar to that from a French Press, but without the oil. I had thought that they said there’d be no sediment too, but I see some… Could be my mistake on that. Anyway, I then added a single creamer (yes, I use those in the office), and four cubes of sugar. I haven’t made a good cup with these grounds in a few weeks, but the Impress seems to have breathed some life back into them. I’m pleased so far.

Brew #2 – The last of the pre-ground DD and some freshly blade-ground S’bucks Tribute Blend. Yes, I mixed coffees. Yes, the one was stale and the other sucks, and I used a blade “grinder.” The result? Another pretty good cup of coffee. Unfortunately, I’m stuck with this Tribute Blend stuff for a bit (S’bucks was having a killer deal on coffee a few weeks back… so killer that the fact I don’t like them didn’t stop me from buying), but the next review will at least be 100% those beans so I can give them an actual fair review too.

Brew #3 – Starbucks Tribute Blend, blade-ground. Finally a brew that isn’t setup for failure. Well, aside from the fact that it’s using SB beans. Anyway, as this was a first, I went ahead and took care in my brewing. I allowed the grounds to bloom for about 30 seconds, was more purposeful in my water pouring (to evenly saturate all grounds), and I planned to pay closer attention to total brew time, but got sidetracked and let it sit way too long. The result? Looking past the flavor, I can tell I’ve produced a nicely rounded cup of coffee.

Parting thoughts
I’d really like to get a few more brews out of this with some of the beans I love, but I’m about to head off to some travel so it really isn’t in the cards. I do hate using the word “impressed” with this thing, but it’s exactly what I’m feeling.

Was it worth the price I paid? No, but that’s not what Kickstarter is about; it’s about seeing an idea you like and helping it come to market. Is it worth $20 or so? Absolutely.

I’d really like to take this with me on my trip (with a ziplock of grounds), but there’s a fundamental problem with using it as a travel brew and mug system… There’s no way to get the spent grounds out while the liquid is still in it. Your coffee will continue to brew. That’s not good. I didn’t buy it as a portable brewer so I’m able to look past this severe flaw in one of its advertised features, but if you were looking to do so, look elsewhere. That said, it will work in an absolute pinch (camping and such, but then I’d worry about denting it).

Overall, I’m very pleased with this little guy. If you’re addicted to brew methods, this one may be worth a try, but if you’re already happy with your press method, this doesn’t offer you anything really new.

Bike Race: All American Road Race

Posted on Apr 20, 2013 in Cycling | 3 comments

Click for GPS (ignore heart-rate… that thing is drunk)

Woke at 5AM, packed it all up, hit Starbucks for their 5:30 opening, quick trip to the office for my heart-rate monitor (waste of time… I looked down at one point and saw it reading 230+), and up to Poolesville, MD, for my 2nd road race, the All American Road Race. It would be two laps of an eight-mile loop. That’s right, I got up at 5AM to ride for 39 minutes.

I got some decent warmup in this time so I felt a bit better about that, but the race was not one I much cared for. It was on narrow farm roads with a strict “yellow-line rule” (if you cross the middle you go to the back of the pack). Shoot, half the roads didn’t even have lines. Anyway, it was a really short race and passing was difficult. A single team took up half the field with no other fielding more than two riders (I was on my own). Nothing here was to my favor.

So the race begins… about thirty feet from the first turn. Luckily, nobody decided to gun it from the start so we made it through that ill-thought section unscathed. We then make our way down some seriously back roads that are a bit wet and not all too maintained.

About a mile and a half in, as I’m talking to a friend, somebody simultaneously hits some of the water (wet tires have worthless traction) and a parallel crack in the road, and they’re down. The friend I’m talking to is collected as well as another half-dozen folks or so. I think I was the last person to make it through without losing speed and looking back I could see the field was now separated. Disappointed for my friend (he was crashed out last weekend too), hope everyone is okay, but on the bright side, half of my competition is gone.

There are no breaks whatsoever the entire race so again it’s just a fast group ride with a higher likelihood of crashing. With about three miles to go, I noticed I had drifted towards the back of the pack. That sometimes simply happens if you get lazy in holding your spot. With passing being difficult and the finish being a short straight from the final remaining turn, I knew I needed to work on moving up. And I did so. I didn’t go all out to make it happen, but before I knew it I was on the front with the race winding down and a headwind absolutely pounding us. I knew I didn’t want to be there so I backed off, but everyone else was smart enough to do the same so I’m left out there to spend it all for no good reason. After a mile or so of that (.95 miles too long), there’s a move on my left. Mind you, I was riding pretty slowly hoping I’d get off the front. The group responded to the move, but I was pretty gassed from my time at the front and the speed differential was immense and I simply couldn’t spin up fast enough. I gave all I could to hang on, but it was too little. Going into the final corner I was still with the pack, but done. I had fed myself to the sharks, they happily ate, and my race was over. I wound it in for last place in the field (the people who were still around at the end of the race) for 26th out of 45 finishers (50 started), which sounds crappy, but in cycling terms it means I finished as well as everyone who wasn’t in the top 3.

Lesson learned: Don’t be on the front, in the wind, near the end of the race.

Following the race, I caught back up with my buddy who was crashed out, hooked him up with one of my spare wheels, and went off with him and his friends for a decent ride/recon of the next course I’ll race on… The Poolesville Road Race on May 11th. Should be a good one.

Lesson learned: I drank a bit too much, rode and ran a bit too hard, and didn’t get enough sleep this past week. That’s in stark contrast to how I prepped for my last race. Never again.

So while I placed better last race, I didn’t learn squat. Crap finish today, but two lessons? Possibly the better race of the two. Cycling is weird.

Now to close out the weekend with TWO weddings. Party time.

Bike Race: Jefferson Cup

Posted on Apr 8, 2013 in Cycling | 0 comments

Click for GPS

With a couple of years of road cycling under my belt and some modern equipment under my rear, I felt it was time to try out the whole road racing thing. I’ve always been intrigued by the sport, but it’s an intimidating one that’s not particularly welcoming to newcomers (information is difficult to find, communication is lacking, there are a lot of bad “heads” involved, and much more). Well, I got over all that and signed up for the 2013 riding of the Jefferson Cup, located just south of Charlottesville, VA.

Since many of my readers are not up on how cycling works, I’ll take a minute to explain. Cyclists are broken down into six categories, five through one and then “pro.” You start in five and work your way up. To move up from five (Cat 5) you either need to dominate or race in ten races to prove you’re not some idiot who is going to crash out folks who have put the time in to prove they know what they’re doing. From four and above, you only move up based on performance. I would be racing group five on this day and will be for the rest of the year (only seven races and zero domination scheduled).

The next interesting thing about cycling is that while is may resemble running from the outside, it couldn’t be further from it. In running, it really comes down to you against yourself. You know what kind of times you’re capable of putting up and you’re not going to deviate from your ability too much. Cycling is like high-speed chess. The guy with the strongest legs does not always win. It’s about positioning, teamwork, and timing. It’s you against the people around you, but rather than it being you against their legs, it’s equally or more so about you being against their minds. In preparation, I pounded through Racing Tactics for Cyclists late last week. I didn’t employ any of the methods as they’re not all that applicable to Cat. 5, but it did get me thinking about blocking, how we were being blocked and why.

Moving onto the race…. Three laps of a ten-mile “triangle” loop. After a five-minute warmup (I don’t like warming up and I also didn’t have the time due to some general stupidity on my part), we lined up for a neutral roll-out (no passing, low-speed) to the start line, which was 2.5+ miles away. The start was anticlimactic after hearing countless horror stories from friends. Rather than being a crashfest, it was a casual and safe roll, not too different from a weekend group ride.

The actual racing part? Well, in Cat. 5 a breakaway (small group or a solo rider who leaves the main field and attempts to go faster than them) rarely succeeds. Knowing that, I didn’t really pay attention to either of the breaks. The first only held a fifteen second gap, but did so for about a lap. That’s very silly of that rider; once you see you’re not getting away, it’s smart to come back and conserve energy… especially on a windy day like it was. The next break was again a solo rider who had about a minute on us, then came back to us, and then opened up a minute again on the final lap. Once everyone realized what team he was on, saw his teammate’s jerseys on a bunch of the folks in the front of the peloton (they were blocking by setting an artificially slow pace [but not slow enough to raise major alarms] for the group so he could get away), we knew we had to act . So I didn’t. The cardinal rule of road racing is to do as little work as possible via drafting. I wasn’t feeling like a million bucks so the job certainly wasn’t for me. Luckily, others ignored the rule for the greater good (big ups to my teammates John and Jim for putting some into this), and we caught him with about two miles to go.

I’ll reverse a mile on you for a quick second to share the most noteworthy moment of my race. With about three to go, the trailing motorcycle comes up alongside and tells the peloton how much time the solo breakaway had on us. I diverted my attention to him (he was literally next to me and I didn’t like it) for a split second and managed to find one of the two massive potholes on the course.  Marrow-jarring would be the best way to describe the hit. My rear derailleur untensioned somehow (I didn’t manage to fix it so I was between gears and popping back and forth for the finish) and my rear brake locked up and wouldn’t release (it did after a few hard stops and manual recentering). How I didn’t flat or crack some carbon, I have no idea; it was literally the hardest hit I’ve ever taken on the road and I’ve flatted plenty of other times for far less. The incident resulted me in dropping off the pack (to repair) and losing all focus. Not good with the race coming to an end. I fought back to the group, spending a bit more energy than I’d have liked to, but most important was that my head wasn’t where it should have been.

With half a mile to go, I slowly made my way towards the front of the group. Without our team being too familiar with each other, we were pretty much all soloists out there. Basically, find the rear wheel of someone who looks like they might have some good legs, stick to it, and beat them at the end. For the most part, it’s a game of luck, but there is skill involved in knowing where to place your chips. I found a pretty decent wheel, never knew exactly when to sprint, never really did, and finished in what appeared to be the top 10 (I counted seven or eight ahead of me) [confirmed]. My goal had been to simply finish with the pack and I not only did, but I finished near the front of it feeling like I had much more to give.

Another quick cycling lesson for those not in the know… While “Top 10” might sound awesome, it’s really nothing too special. If you don’t podium in a race and didn’t get dropped from the pack, you’re counted as part of the pack. With the way finishes go, it’s far too dangerous to grant any merit to anything over the top few spots. If the whole field were battling for every last spot, it’d be chaos. Instead, if you’re with everyone, you’re counted together. I will be noted with a “pack” finish. All I was hoping for, but don’t think I’m the next coming of the Lance.

While it was fun and I’m glad I did it, I will have to say it was a bit more boring than I had expected. Without large teams and coordination within them (just the nature of Cat 5), it was really just a fast group ride with a sprint at the end (like a group ride) that mostly comes down to luck. I’ll keep going at it because I love me some competition, but I will go on the record as saying that after a single race, I’m not gaga over it.

Up next are two more road races: the All American Road Race on the 20th, and the Poolesville Road Race on May 11th, both in Poolesville, MD.

As far as training goes, I’m officially calling “base miles” complete (yes, I know I’m a few weeks late on this). That’s the part of training in the off-season where you want to establish a foundation to work from. It’s a lot of mediocre miles (I’m about 1000 up on myself at this time last year), which for me came primarily on the trainer in our basement due to the cold, wet, and wind that was our winter. I know I’m not the best climber or sprinter so those need some work. Luckily, there really aren’t any races with serious elevation in my schedule so I can ignore the climbing bit a little, but it’s definitely time for some sprint/interval work. This past race, had I known how long and how fast I could go at or near top speed, the finish would have been a more conscious effort and maybe I would have come home with something shiny? Next time.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the day Heather and I made out of our time in Charlottesville. Following the race, we visited two nearby vineyard/wineries (I never know what to call them); Trump (just okay) and Blenheim (very good), which resulted in us taking home seven new bottles to add to our already overflowing collection. A quick Yelp search put us at Maya for a great “southern” meal, and we rounded out the trip with a short stop to visit an old friend down the street who has started his own craft brewery in his backyard, Treehaus Brewery. Anyone who knows me knows I’m as critical as they come (hey, it’s my job), but I had nothing but praise for the work he’s done. All three of the beers we sampled were outstanding. I wanted some more body out of the one, but he was already working on it. I’m really excited for him to continue pursuing the dream and have to wonder if he’s taking on investors.

So, a great day. Nice workout, got the first-race jitters out, met some of my teammates, and made a good time out of a few hours in Charlottesville.