Coffee

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.

Working from Java Shack

Posted on Nov 8, 2012 in Coffee Shops | 2 comments

20121108-122119.jpg

Two down, many more to go (I continue to add and subtract so keeping count and ensuring that count is accurate long-term is futile).

Java Shack is a spot I’ve been to a few times before. It’s a popular meet-up and post-ride stop for many cyclists in the area, but today is the first time I’ve actually ridden here. Located right between Courthouse and Clarendon on a side street diagonally off Clarendon Blvd, it’s easy to miss unless you know to look for it. You don’t want to miss it, though, as it’s a gem.

The ride: I almost didn’t visit a shop this week because it’s been so darn cold. I missed last week due to the wild weather and dealing with home repairs so I really couldn’t afford to miss this one. Following a short morning ride on the trainer, I showered up, and hopped… back on the bike. About a five mile jaunt from the house with half on the trails (W&OD to Custis) and then the other half heading through Arlington on Fairfax Dr. and Clarendon Blvd. Between the trails and bike lanes the remainder of the way, it was a pretty safe journey. I think the wind was at my back as well so it was smooth sailing all the way. I dread the ride home tonight after a club (DC Road Runners) happy hour and awards ceremony so I may hop the Metro, but I digress… It’s a very rideable location. This was also my first ride without the laptop. There’s about 1% of my work I can’t do on the iPad, but the addition of the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover has made working on remote machines even easier while also significantly cutting down on my backpack weight (losing the weight of a 13″ MacBook Pro really did make a big difference).

Parking: A single bike hoop provides parking for two bikes. Typically, riders will drink outside so they just line their steeds up along the patio fence unlocked. Car parking is street with meters. As this is a prime workday location, parking is at a premium during the day, but currently I spy a handful of spots right out front.

Food: A variety of baked goods made somewhere offsite. They also have some add-water oatmeal for purchase, bananas, and… some other stuff. They’ve got your munchies covered, but don’t really attempt to cover meals at all. They do heat frozen Jimmy Dean sausage sandwiches in a microwave (just guessing on the microwave part), but I’ve had one and can’t recommend it. The baked goods are all pretty decent. Definitely better than the garbage you’d get at Starbucks. But seriously, don’t plan on eating more than a light snack here.

20121108-115721.jpgCoffee: A bit bolder and dry than I prefer, but still very good. I can’t let me own taste affect their overall rating so let’s go with… THEY MAKE GOOD COFFEE HERE. The barista even asked me later in the day how it was. That’s awesome.

Seating: 16 seats at 8 tables inside, 10 seats at 5 tables outside under an awning with heat, and 8 seats at a few tables outside in the elements. Chairs are decent, but a bit uncomfortable. Tables are old… Small kitchen tables? Slightly rough on the wrists.

Power: I spy four dual-outlets on the interior and one outside under the awning. No power strips.

Decor: Cozy. No real style, but… cozy. All kinds of random stuff on the walls, old tables that appear to be laminated with goofy images from I can’t imagine where.

Restroom: A single toilet. Feels like home. Clean, fresh smelling.

Sound: Surprisingly, not too bad considering how small it is. Not too much talking as everyone here is getting their work done.

Network: As I’m no longer traveling with my laptop, I’m not able to perform the web-based and Flash-utilizing tests at Speedtest and Pingtest. Luckily, Speedtest provides an app. I think Pingtest provides better information, but the network here is good so there’s no packet-loss to worry about. Speed measurements show 12mbps down and 9mbps up. Not jaw-dropping, but certainly not dragging. This is a very good network on which to get work done.

Clientele: No common trait other than a love of coffee. Suits, hipsters, homeless, regular old folk. It’s a real mix.

Overall: A good coffee shop. Small, cute, and gets the job done. I’d love them to have more food options, but would prefer they focus on what they do best, which is make coffee. Their staff are all very friendly and they provide coffee and lemonade at the Apple Store on release days so bonus points for that. B+

Working from Bourbon Coffee

Posted on Oct 24, 2012 in Coffee Shops | 0 comments

One down, 35 to go.

Yesterday, I spent my workday at Bourbon Coffee on L Street in DC. My format for these reviews still needs some thought and work, but here goes…

The Ride: A cool autumnal morning. Mid-50s, a light dew in the air (ok, I’ll stop). I chose to wear jeans for the ride as I was pretty certain I could keep the power low enough to not sweat much on this 7.5-mile downhill ride into the city. I was right. Unfortunately, I forgot to account for the 13.5-mile uphill ride home on a warm afternoon. It wasn’t too bad, but I looked the goof with my pants rolled above my knees. That plus the numbness I encountered mean I really need to bring a change of clothes on these journeys. I also need to figure out a solution for a lighter backpack. I didn’t weigh it, but lock + laptop + iPad + Nexus 7 = a load. The immediate plan is to skip the Nexus 7 (I always know in advance if I’m using it) and leave the laptop at home (enabled by purchasing a Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover, an item I’ve been eyeing for a bit, but now really have a need for). That will save (+.72lbs for keyboard – .32lbs for smart cover4.5lbs for laptop – .75lbs for Nexus 7) 4.85lbs on my back. Not insignificant, but my u-lock is what really weighs a ton and must remain. I suppose I could mount it on the bike, but that’s just another item to install and remove (this is my cross racing bike on the weekends). I also need to think about picking up a waterproof backpack. It’s pretty easy to watch and know the forecast, but if I do ever screw up or get surprised, I don’t want to be stranded wherever I am with thousands of dollars in technology in my bag.

Parking: Space for eight bikes right in front of the shop on four bollards. The busiest I ever saw them was half full. Parking for cars you can forget about. L Street is busy as hell and only has parking on one side. I never noticed a vacant spot. Most of the store’s traffic was on foot.

Food: The menu was pretty limited as they don’t cook much of anything onsite. For breakfast, they had a variety of baked goods from an outside source. I had a croissant and low-fat blueberry muffin (the tasty ones were all gone). Both were excellent. The lunch menu was limited to whatever baked goods were left and grilled cheese made with one of many cheeses on sourdough or white, and optional were tomato and/or pesto for an additional fee. I got mine fully loaded with cheddar on white for about $5.24 including tax. It was pretty good, but I wouldn’t go in there strictly for food.

Coffee: In case you forgot, I’ll be ordering a cappuccino everywhere I go. It’s a staple , I like it and varies very little, (unlike a drip coffee that depends on whichever bean they happen to have in at the time). It was very good. I’ve not yet figured out a rating scheme, but am thinking about taking on a wine one. They’d receive a 91. It was great, but didn’t really speak to me beyond that. It also came VERY hot and in a to-go cup despite ordering “for here.” Not a big deal, but noting both. Also, their beans are their own, which earns them a high-five. Combined with my two breakfast items, my bill was $10 and change; about average, but leaning to the cheaper side of this city.

Seating: Room for about 32 folks on a variety of couches, chairs, and benches. Table space was a bit more limited with only about half of those spots having a working table height. I *think* they also had some outside furniture as well, but it wasn’t clear to me if it was their’s or the bagel shop next-door’s.

Decor: Kind of “Starbucksy.” Lots of rich browns, reds, and oranges. An african theme. Not my preference, but not a negative, either… It was nicely done and clean.

Restrooms: Two units, both unisex, same decor as the rest of the place. Clean and fully functional.

Sound: Loud as hell when busy. When not busy, a singer-songwriterish mix is played on the radio.

Network: Still working out how best to rate this, but I took a sampling from Speedtest.net and Pingtest.net. If the results had varied more than they did, I’d have taken more samples, but they were consistent between AM and PM so I only took two and averaged them. I know, VERY scientific. WiFi was free and used a key. You need to ask for the password at the counter. Their ISP is Comcast. I received .77Mbps down and 3.76Mbps up with 1% packet loss, an average ping of 140, and 56 jitter. Pingtest gave it a ‘D’ in the morning and a ‘B’ in the afternoon so I suppose that would average to a ‘C’, which is “average,” but as a human user as opposed to some algorithm, I’d rate them below average. Pretty slow and enough packet loss to cause web-apps and remote desktop sessions to be a little bit painful. I made do with low resolutions and 256 colors, but I shouldn’t have had to.

Clientele: Beautiful people. Man and woman alike. I don’t know what to attribute it to, but maybe a proximity to GW? I’d say the breakdown was 40% students, 30% suits, and 30% in-betweeners such as myself with an average age of 30ish.

Overall: Excellent coffee, good scenery, clean, but their network needs some love. B+

New Project: Coffee Shops

Posted on Oct 15, 2012 in Coffee Shops | 8 comments

I came up with this project last night. Working from coffee shops. I know, I know, nothing new, but I do it fairly often, typically go to the same spot or two, realize there are many more spots out there, and have an opinion to share anytime I go somewhere. And you want to hear it, right?

The plan is to visit many/all of the coffee shops in the DC area that one can work in. I will not be visiting Panera, Starbucks, or Caribou as they’re all more or less the same low quality; it’s not worth my time and doesn’t make for great reading. I’ll order the same thing if possible: a breakfast sandwich, a cappuccino, and finish off with lunch. The planned “menu” is deliberate; I want to be able to review their food (assuming they serve some), and cappuccino is “my fave” and varies less than a drip coffee (still bean dependent, but varies less).

In addition to noting what goes into my mouth, I’ll give a rundown of vehicular parking (two and four-wheeled), seating, music, hours, clientele, workability, bathrooms, and anything else noteworthy.

I will attempt to ride my bicycle whenever possible so as to make this a green project. I greatly devalue/dismiss shops that aren’t easily accessible by two wheels. Not that they aren’t any good, but I don’t want to make the effort to get to them (isn’t it funny that I consider driving more effort than riding a bike? Hah.)

I will attempt to work at least six hours.

I will do this once a week. I had originally planned on simply doing a full week of coffee shop work, which evolved into this… Easier on me and likely more useful to the world (assuming anyone other than the usual few reads this). Between weather, meetings, and general life demands, finding a full week that I could devote to this would have been really difficult. Finding one day per week? Cake.

I’ve pseudo-started the project today with a visit to my go-to, Northside Social in Arlington. According to Yelp, this is my 60th visit. Prior to Yelp’s new method of ranking (they now weigh your visits as they age), I was the Duke. I’m now the 4th regular after a long stint of not visiting. Regardless, I’m a pretty big deal.

I did order the appropriate items (bacon and egg sandwich, and a cappuccino), but I’m not going to do a proper review today as this day instead serves to formulate this project plan and it wouldn’t be too fair to review my go-to without first seeing everything else this area has to offer. Oh, and I also drove my car due to forecasted afternoon thunderstorms. Of note, didn’t have to pay for parking, though, due to some gem of a person mixing up her schedule and giving me her unused 4hr parking ticket, but I digress… This wouldn’t be a proper review experience so it won’t be one.

Below is a list of major areas in… the area and the shops I plan to visit. If you know of any I’m missing or if I listed anything erroneously (i.e. you can’t actually work from a place), please do tell; this list was made from Yelp browsing, Googling, and my own head.

DC

  • Baked & Wired
  • Big Bear Cafe
  • Blind Dog Cafe
  • Bourbon CoffeeWorked from on October 23, 2012, B+
  • Chinatown Coffee Co.
  • Columbia Heights Coffee
  • Cup’a Cup’a
  • Ebenezer’s Coffeehouse
  • Filter Coffehouse and Espresso Bar
  • Flying Fish Coffee & Tea
  • Jacob’s Coffee House
  • Java Green
  • M.E. Swing Co.
  • Peregrine Espresso
  • Pound The Hill
  • Qualia Coffee
  • Saxbys Coffee
  • Sidamo Coffee & Tea
  • Sova
  • Tryst Coffeehouse
  • U Street Cafe

MD – Couldn’t find anything. I’m pretty much limiting this to the western red line area as the rest of Maryland is terrible. Regardless, I couldn’t find squat.

VA

  • BeanGood (Courthouse)
  • Boccato Espresso and Gelato (Clarendon)
  • Buzz Bakery (Ballston)
  • Grape & Bean (Alexandria)
  • Java Shack (Courthouse) – Worked from on November 8, 2012, B+
  • Misha’s Coffeehouse (Alexandria)
  • Natalia’s Elegant Creations (Falls Church)
  • Northside Social (Clarendon)
  • Rappahannock Coffee (Arlington)
  • St. Elmo’s Coffee Pub (Del Ray)

Burbs and Beyond

  • Cafe Nemooneh (Vienna)
  • Caffee Amouri (Vienna)
  • King Street Coffee (Leesburg)
  • KSB Cafe of New York (Herndon – FOX MILL!!!)
  • Market Street Coffee (Purcellville)
  • Plush Gelato and Coffee (Vienna)
  • Shoes Cup & Cork Club (Leesburg)

36 spots. I would have been doing myself a great disservice had I instead gone ahead with the one-week project. That’s a neat project idea in itself, but people do it all the time and it was simply not for me. 36 spots = 9+ months. I hope to finish by the end of 2013.