7 Coffee Lessons I Learned This Year

coffee lessons
I drank – and made – a lot of coffee in 2015. Most of it was good – but not all of it. However, none of it was wasted effort – the activity resulted in a lot of delicious coffee, but more importantly I learned a few lessons along the way. And while I’m definitely not a coffee EXPERT, I’ve manged to pick up a few things that I’d like to share with you. Maybe these nuggets will help you with your own coffee adventures in 2016.

Coffee Lesson 1: To Each His Own – Don’t Be a “Coffee Snob”

They say the best cup of coffee is the one you like. I’m not a big fan of the idea of a “coffee snob.” If you like “fancy coffee” then great, good for you. If you like coffee from McDonald’s, ok fine – that might not be for me, but if you like it then still good for you. We should all come to an agreement – people who like, say, pourovers made with organic Guatemalan beans, shouldn’t look down on the convenience store coffee people, and people who make 3 gallons of Folgers in the morning shouldn’t hassle those who refuse to make coffee with beans ground more than 5 minutes before the coffee is prepared.
Easier said than done, I know. And yes, this article is directed more towards those who might lean towards the side of appreciating coffee as an art, but still. It’s just like world peace – it’s something we can keep in mind, and strive towards. One big happy coffee family… One Coffee Love.

All that said, there are still certain qualities that make a coffee “good” or “not quite so good” or maybe even “awful”…

Lesson 2: Do Your Homework and Ask Your Barista 3 Questions

When looking for coffee shops to try, it pays to do some homework ahead of time. It’s a fine line – we don’t want to forget Lesson #1, but I also need to be honest and say that there are often signs you can look for to tell if you’re going to get a “good” coffee or espresso drink.
For example: just because someplace gets a 4.8 on Yelp doesn’t mean the coffee is good – I’ve seen reviewers giving someplace 5 stars because “the wi-fi is great” or “loved the donuts.” So you can’t necessarily go by reviews.
And if the shop’s web site refers to their drink as “expresso,” I would definitely pass it up…
There are also 3 basic questions you should ask the barista before ordering:

1. How many ounces is [insert your drink of choice here]?
If they don’t know, you can’t get an idea of how “milky” your latte or cappuccino will be. Proportions vary WILDLY.
2. What type of beans are they using?
If they don’t know the brand or type of roast their beans are, this is a Very Bad Sign. If they can tell you what they’re pouring without looking at the bag, this is a Very Good Sign.
3. Do they offer a money back guarantee?
I don’t think you can really ask this but if the answers to questions 1 and 2 scare me enough, I’d consider it…

TRUE STORY: This actually happened this week:
I’m visiting my Dad’s, and we wanted to go to the local bookstore so we figured we might as well try the coffee while we were there. I checked the espresso machine – a Rancillio. I’ve heard of that before, so that was a good sign. The smallest cappuccino was 12 ounces – bad sign. Usually they’re around 6 oucnes. Then I asked what type of beans they were using and the barista said it was “an espresso blend, from Costco I think.” THIS WAS A HUGE HAIRY RED FLAG. But she assured me it was good, nothing like Starbucks. OK I felt a little better. THEN she went on to tell me that unlike Starbucks who just presses a button to make their espresso, her shop actually “grinds the beans and mashes them in by hand.” Meaning, they grind and then tamp the grounds into the portafilter, to use in the espresso machine. (For a quick example of grinding and tamping, see this video).
I should have run screaming from the building. No one who calls it “mashing” should be allowed to work behind an espresso machine, Lesson #1 be damned.
Needless to say it was awful and I couldn’t finish it.

Lesson 3: Take Your Time Making Your Coffee

If you’re going to make your own espresso or drip coffee, don’t rush the process. Part of the enjoyment of a real cup of coffee is the experience of preparing it. It adds to the satisfaction and the deliciousness when you’re done and you get to sit down and enjoy your artistry.

Lesson 4: Invest in Good Equipment

An artist needs the proper tools, there’s just no way to get around this fact. To make good coffee, you need not only high quality beans, but also a good grinder, a proper kettle, and a good dripper. You can go crazy with other accessories (see Lesson #5) but you can always just stick to the basics. To see some basic tools that I use / recommend, go here.
Have you ever heard the term GIGO? It applies to coffee.

Lesson 5: Choose Your Level of Geek.

Coffee is like wine. Or cheese. Or whiskey. Or beer. It’s a hobby / food-drink that has infinite varieties and an unlimited amount of accessories, tools, internet forums, books, t-shirts, events, etc… you can see where I’m going. Where there are enthusiasts, there is a Rabbit Hole, and you can decide how far down that rabbit hole you want to travel. Some people manage to dabble; others of us get lost…

coffee lessons

Lesson 6: Choose Your Level of Adventure

This relates slightly to Lesson #5. There are many countries that grow coffee, there are many different ways to grow it, harvest it, dry it, process it, roast it… and drink it. These factors can provide us with ENDLESS variations in flavor, by the time the coffee gets to our cup. And unless you are a true top of the line Coffee Geek, it’s really difficult to keep track of all this. For example, I know a little about a lot of aspects of coffee. But I don’t know much about the flavor differences between Nicaraguan beans and Guatemalan beans (yet).
But because these factors can produce such different outcomes, it’s a good idea to at least set a few guidelines for yourself. Here’s a few things to consider, to get started.

1. Where was the coffee grown? Do you like South American beans, Central American, African or Ethiopian?
2. Do you like a lighter or darker roast?
3. Do you like dry or wet processed beans?
These pieces of information can be a good place to start. Geek out as much as you like from there.

Lesson 7: Enjoy!

The most important lesson of all. Whatever type of coffee you like is alright with me – just enjoy it. Sit down with a friend or loved one and share a cup of awesomeness.

coffee lessons
coffee is best enjoyed with a friend!

Happy New Year!


Ode To National Coffee Day

We Love Coffee. Let’s Celebrate.

Today, September 29th, is National Coffee Day. How do I know this? Because someone posted this information to my Facebook page this morning.
Within social media circles, I seem to be The Coffee Person. If someone comes across a photo of a latte where the foam is shaped into little cats, they post it on my page. If someone finds a coffee meme, or a “72 Different Ways to Drink Coffee” post on Buzzfeed, they post it on my page. I also occasionally get asked where to go for coffee, or how to make it.
I don’t know why I am now the Coffee Person…? I mean, sure I’m creating a book of personality analyses based on people’s morning coffee photos. And I post pictures from coffee shops on a regular basis. And if someone wants to meet up for a chat, it’s going to be at a coffee shop. So go figure – now people think I’m interested in coffee-related tidbits. And while it’s true, I totally AM interested – I’d rather you just bring me some good coffee instead.

I love coffee. I really do. I wax poetic about coffee. I drink it, photograph it, write about it, occasionally roast it, talk about it, theorize about it… When it’s good, it’s really really good. When it’s bad, I don’t bother.
It’s like being a Wine Snob, only better. And without the “snob” part. I don’t drink a lot of it, so I don’t get a huge caffeine buzz (but I can get a bit chatty, sorry). I believe in quality over quantity. I am devoted.
So today is the holiday of My People. Only I guess I’m not going to be able to make it out for an afternoon cappuccino. The Boyfriend is coming home for lunch and we will make a quick pour over to “celebrate.” Maybe we can postpone, and go out for a nice lunch and cappuccino on Saturday. Still – we will take a moment today to express our adoration and devotion to that wonderful beverage, lifestyle and obsession that is Coffee.

But how could I have missed the fact that today is National Coffee Day? HOW EMBARASSING that I had to find this out from a Facebook acquaintance! I must not be plugged in enough. So I immediately went out and got an app that will tell me what all the weird “holidays” are. I even paid the $.99 to unlock the “Planning Calendar” feature so I’ll never be in the dark again about what day it REALLY is. Like, Thursday is National Homemade Cookie Day, ha! And – oh crap! Saturday is National Boyfriend Day. Well I guess I know who will be buying when we go out for lunch and coffee…

What’s your favorite “holiday?” I’d like to know! Leave a comment!

davis street espresso, dallas texas, april 2015. ah yes, i remember it well…



The 2015 Summer Coffee Tour – Top 5 Coffee Shops

I know, I know, I’ve been back for a while and am only now getting to this… but better late than never! Because, did you really think I would come back from a vacation called “The 2015 Summer Coffee Tour” and NOT tell you what my favorite coffee shops were?!?

I was in Southern California for three weeks. That’s a lot of espresso, people. I didn’t go out for a coffee every day, but it was pretty close. Close enough that my final count came in at 22. That’s right, some days I HAD TWO.

Some places we only visited once, some places we ended up visiting multiple times. I didn’t get to all the Big Name shops like Blue Bottle, or Verve or Stumptown – but we did visit a few of those, plus a bunch of non-chain locations. We came across several surprises (some good surprises, some not so good) and definitely added a lot of knowledge to our “What We Know About Coffee” files. Like, I’m not sure why this is, but the drinks seemed to be bigger on the West Coast. Or at least the lattes were. My drink of choice is a latte, and around Oklahoma / Texas a latte is usually 8 ounces. But in California, most were 12 ounces. Too big! The next thing down was a 6-ounce cappuccino. I kind of had to learn the hard way, and readjust my tastes so that I expected and enjoyed the stronger flavor of a cappuccino. I’m telling you, variations in drink sizes is the bain of an espresso drinker’s existence. Unless you’re smart, like my friend Daniel, who simply starts off by ordering cortados everwhere he goes (a cortado is a more even ratio of milk to espresso, and they’re pretty consistent across shops. Here’s an older, yet interesting and informative article on them). By ordering cortados first, Daniel can therefore consistently judge a shop and its coffee. I guess I’m not that savvy. I want my lattuccino. So, I had to adjust. I became a happier person once I simply started ordering cappuccinos everywhere we went.

We even came up with our own rating system on the 2k15SCT:
Solid Plus

We didn’t come across any shops on the trip that rated Excellent. I believe that between the two of us, Marcus and I only have one Excellent apiece, maybe two, out of all the places we’ve ever been. That rating gets saved for the, you know, Excellent shops.

The Top 5.
While we didn’t find any excellent shops, I would say, however, that there were 5 Solid Plus shops we visited on our trip. Here’s the list:

The Tickle Tree Café
2853 Foothill Blvd, La Crescenta CA
Unexpectedly delicious! They use Four Barrel beans and milk from Strauss Family Creamery (THIS MILK IS DELICIOUS).
Right up the street from my Dad’s house, it was super convenient. It was always busy, and I’ve heard their food is great, but I never got to try it. I did have one disappointing drink there (take note: THE BARISTA MATTERS). On my way to LAX to fly home, on my very last day, I picked up a cappuccino to go, in a paper cup. Normally I can’t stand drinking coffee out of a paper cup, but OMG it was so delicious. What a great high note (or bean?) on which to leave town.

Portola Coffee Lab
3313 Hyland Ave, Costa Mesa CA
Voted 2015 Roaster of the year, by Roast Magazine – and I can see why. Their coffee was excellent. We got to go there twice, which is usually the best way to confirm consistency. It was the closest place we found to Excellent – a very Solid Plus experience. Their Costa Mesa shop is pretty slick.

portolat - voted best roaster 2015
portola – voted best roaster 2015

Sidecar Doughnuts & Coffee
270 E 17th St #18, Costa Mesa CA
Oh. My. Gosh. Let me just say, this was the best donut I’ve ever had. And it was really health food, because it had carrot and zucchini in it! And flowers on top! It was sublime. They served Stumptown beans, and they only served their espresso drinks in paper cups but it didn’t matter. The cappuccino was amazingly sweet and flavorful. You must go to here.

sidecar. you must go to here.
sidecar. you must go to here.

Rose Park Roasters
3044 E 4th St, Long Beach CA
Cute little shop in an almost sketch part of LB – but great coffee. We bought some of their Mexico Nueva Linda beans to make pour overs with. I even brought some back to Tulsa with me – we have a little bit left. Tastes like Southern California. Yum.

Lord Windsor Roasters
1101 E 3rd St, Long Beach CA
Another consistently good shop in Long Beach. Who knew that the LB was such a coffee hotbed in LA? I never would have expected it. The shop was very chill (well actually it was a little warm in there) but the cappuccinos were great and we enjoyed both visits. It doesn’t hurt that they carry vegan donuts from the Caffeinated Kitchen bakery, also in LB. We ended up buying some beans from them for pour overs as well. Very delicious.

coffee n delish vegan donut at lord windsor
coffee n delish vegan donut at lord windsor

All in all, it was a successful, informative and enjoyable trip. I wish we could have visited lots more places, but there’s only so much coffee a girl can drink, and only so willing she can be to drive into the depths of Los Angeles to get it. That just means there’s lots more for us to explore next time.

The Complete Run-Down.
Here’s a list of all the places we went, their address, and how many times we were there. Oh, and my rating.

Tickle Tree Café
2853 Foothill Blvd, La Crescenta CA
Visited: 6 times
Rating: Solid Plus

55 E Colorado Blvd, Pasadena CA
Visited: 1 time
Rating: Solid

Urartu Coffee
119 N Maryland Ave, Glendale CA
Visited: 1 time
Rating: Nope

Rose Park Rosters
3044 E 4th St, Long Beach CA
Visited: 4 times
Rating: Solid Plus

317 S Broadway, C-19, Los Angeles CA (inside Grand Central Market)
Visited: 1 time
Rating: Solid

Portola Coffee Lab
3313 Hyland Ave, Costa Mesa CA
Visited: 2 times
Rating: Solid Plus

Lord Windsor
1101 E 3rd St, Long Beach CA
Visited: 2 times
Rating: Solid Plus

Sidecar Doughnuts & Coffee
270 E 17th St #18, Costa Mesa CA
Visited: 1 time
Rating: Solid Plus

Hopper & Burr
300 N Main St, Santa Ana CA
Visited: 1 time
Rating: Solid

56 Windward Ave, Venice CA
Visited: 1 time
Rating: Solid

Intelligentsia, Venice
1331 Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice CA
Visited: 1 time
Rating: Nope

16821 Algonquin St Ste 104, Huntington Beach CA
Visited: 1 time
Rating: Nope

Simply Coffee
940 N Lima St, Burbank CA
Visited: 1 time
Rating: Honorable Mention Solid Plus



2015 Summer Coffee Tour – the Friends Edition

Finding friends the analog way. Then finding them the digital way.
One of the best friends I had in high school, I met because in 10th grade we had all the same classes except for one. One of my other best friends I met when I hired her for a job, and another was my next door neighbor for a while.
We all have good friends that we’ve met because of, basically, proximity. And this is totally normal and expected. But a new form of meeting people has emerged relatively recently (and by relatively I mean maybe the last 10 years, LOLs). That’s right – I’m referring to the Interwebs.
And I’m not talking about dating sites here (although if you’ve had any luck with those, good on you – I always found them a bit depressing but maybe that’s just me) – I’m talking about Social Media, like Facebook, Instagram and back in the day, Blogging.
Meeting someone online is a little different than meeting someone at your job or at school. Maybe it could be compared to meeting someone at the library, as you both reach for the same obscure book on, say, bedazzling with snail shells. You find people when common interests or curiosity leads you to them. So I’ve ended up finding all kinds of funny, eloquent, creative, talented people online over the years, and sometimes, I’m even lucky enough to meet them in person.

I have met one of my super good friends, Ren, through blogging many years ago. We’ve emailed and collaborated together for years now, but have only met a handful of times. I’ve gotten to meet writer and all-around swell guy Will Stegemann from LA once – in MY city of residence! I’ve met Instagrammer Julie from Austin this year, I just missed IGer Andrew from Austin, haven’t yet met blogger Jodi from LA (I liked hamsters, she liked hamsters and guinea pigs – bam!), nor have I met blogger/artist Cynthia from Vancouver, even though we’re about to become business partners and she’s illustrating one of my stories. I’m sure you have similar accounts about meeting people through digital media, yes?

2015 Summer Coffee Tour / Meet & Greet
Well so far on this 2015 Summer Coffee Tour, we’ve had great coffee, yes, but there’s been another bonus – I’ve gotten to meet some more new interwebs friends.
Last week we met IGer Daniel – a freelance graphic designer who lives in Orange County but is also a great coffee aficionado and works out of various coffee shops in the LA/OC area. We happened to be around the same place around the same time and met up at Intelligentsia in Pasadena. He spoke with us about his design business, what it’s like to work from coffee shops and a co-working space, and how he manages to live in Southern California without a car (WHAT! I know, right?). He’s been so helpful in recommending coffee places, and speaks about his freelancing life with infectious passion. It’s been a pleasure to meet him and actually we hope to catch up with him again on Friday, at a new coffee place in OC…
And Wednesday, we got to meet Christina Gandolfo! You may remember her from one of my previous posts – she’s a freelance photographer in LA, and has a cat named Lucy. I wrote a story based on a photo and caption Christina posted of Lucy on Instagram last month – and Wednesday we met up for a coffee before one of her photo shoots.
It was, to sound totally cliché, totally cool!
A friendly and open person, Christina bought us some coffee and we had a nice, hour and a half chat. We talked about freelancing and she gave me some tips on how to work the freelance angle. We talked about storytelling – how you can tell a story just as intentionally with a photo, as you can with words. I hadn’t ever really thought about it that way before, being a wordsmith, and not always visually oriented. But really – all communication is storytelling. Some of us just have different areas of expertise.
We talked about comedy, and friends we had in common, and living life as an introvert or extrovert – or in her case, an ambivert. It was a wonderful afternoon, and I came away from it inspired and hopeful and ready to create. I hope we can meet up again someday soon.

What’s next?!?
And there are even more meetups in the works too. I’m actually not a very social person, but I want to make the most of this trip and to connect eye to eye with people I’ve only met a few times, or I’ve only been able to connect with pixel to pixel up till now. On Friday, Ren is coming to the beach to see us – it will be like old friends getting together, though we’ve only met in person maybe 4 times. I’m hoping to catch up with Will and his lovely wife Nina, tv writer extraordinaire (and who I haven’t gotten to meet in person yet), and I’m also hoping to finally meet Jodi – I probably won’t get meet her guinea pigs this time around, though. But we have to start somewhere.

me and christina! photo courtesy of christina, of course…

What are some of the cool ways you’ve met friends? Tell a story in the comments below!


2015 Summer Coffee Tour – Introverts Edition

Alright, so my “I’m going to blog every day of the trip” thing is off to a great start! But you know what? Sometimes life just gets in the way of Social Media.
I was going to give you a blow-by-blow of the last 4 days, but I’ll give you the 1,000 ft aerial view.
So far, we have had 6 espresso drinks at 5 different locations, been to the LA Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, hung out in the Armenian section of Glendale, and spent a wonderful afternoon with my 2 best friends from high school. Among other things.
The coffee has been pretty good – here’s how things are adding up:
Stellar: 0
Solid+: 4
Solid: 1
Nope: 1

G&B Coffee, DTLA
G&B Coffee, DTLA

Really, those numbers aren’t bad. The Boyfriend and I don’t agree entirely on this breakdown, but that’s to be expected, and generally we’re in the same ballpark. One thing’s for sure – it’s been super fun so far! My stomach has bothered me every day though, and I’m soldiering on, but I’m really thinking of going to an Integrative Medicine clinic when I get back home… Also maybe the pizza and ham/caramelized onion/cheese melt on brioche aren’t helping. But in some ways they’re SO worth it.
Yesterday my 2 best friends from high school came to the beach and we spent the afternoon together. We hadn’t been all together since 2011 so it was a real special occasion. They are such amazing people, I love them both and am so happy we’re still friends and that life seems to be great for both of them.

kim, julie, and crazy hair
kim, julie, and crazy hair

Over dinner, we were talking about being introverts, and how this affects our lives. I guess this is a big topic these days and as I read more about it I realize it explains SO MUCH about my behavior (that and my Dad. I am SO my Dad’s daughter. He is a pretty extreme introvert actually).
Are you an introvert or an extrovert, do you know? How do you re-energize, by spending time alone or by surrounding yourself with people? Have you ever thought about your behavior or your habits in terms of being introverted / extroverted? This is a topic I’ll probably explore more on this blog, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on this…
But anyway, here I am, sitting at the beach, no TV, no radio, no wifi. I do have my laptop, because I’ve actually been doing some work on this trip, and I have internet on my phone… but it’s very quiet this evening and the apartment is still and we feel oh so relaxed.
These days it seems that we’re so connected, all the time, that we never unplug. And it’s true that I do still have internet connection and have been posting to Facebook and Instagram, but I’ve also spent way less time in front of a screen and way more time being present to this experience.
It’s like I can breathe easier here. But it’s always been that way, even without the context of consciously unplugging. Did you know that introverts will, when in a public place, often sit on the end of an aisle or in a seat that has easy access to the exit? It’s as if we feel like we need a quick getaway, in case the social situation somehow becomes too much for us to handle. (We also don’t like to talk on the phone, which, if you’ve ever tried to call me, you’ve probably figured this out by now – but I’m sorry, and that’s another story). Being on the edge of the continent seems to be the Introvert’s Dream Come True – at least it is for me. When things get to be too much, it’s OK, because I’m at the edge of the action – I’m where things are quieter, and I’m out of the fray, on the sidelines where there is a little more space to breathe. This is one of my favorite things about staying at the beach. Room to breathe.

all the introverts, feel the love!
all the introverts, feel the love!

PS Sorry for the state of my hair in all current and future 2015 Summer Coffee Tour photos.
(Andrea’s Hair + Beach Humidity) – Hair Dryer = OMG