So, you want to give a coffee gift…

Hi there, all. Bill here. I don’t have much to say on the blog these days, but Tasha asked me to make this post. I’ve had a few people ask me recently about gifting coffee stuff to people in their lives, and I wrote a pretty long email to one of them recently that contained my thoughts. Here’s an edited version thereof.

So, a couple of caveats before I start: I assume the person you’re purchasing for is into schmancy coffee to some degree. Someone who just likes a basic cup of coffee may not appreciate a bunch of this, but who knows? You might just start them onto a new hobby and some better coffee to drink. Also, I have no idea what your budget is: I’ll mention roughly how expensive things are, but that’s all you get. I’m linking to a variety of online sources I like, but I don’t get a kickback from any of them, so do your thing. I’d strongly recommend finding somewhere local to purchase if you can. If you’re in Chicago I can probably recommend. 🙂 Finally, I’m not going to talk about espresso at all: good espresso machines are expensive, they’re work, and frankly I don’t think it’s worth it at home yet. Cheap machines or all-in-ones aren’t really the same thing. If you have one, cool, I’m glad you enjoy it, but it’s not my thing.

So! In no particular order, a bunch of fun coffee stuff that most people would love to receive:

The Chemex pour-over is fantastic. I received one for my birthday this year, and it’s been my go to almost every morning since. It’s a touch more complicated than a Mr. Coffee (see their brewing instructions), but it’s not so complicated that you need a cup before you take it on. You’ll be able to make a range of amounts in a Chemex, and it’s good looking enough that you don’t have to hide it away in a cabinet when you have company over. I like the glass handled one instead of the woodneck because it’s less fussy, though they’re both quite nice. If you go this route, remember you’ll need to buy filters, and it will appreciate a good kettle (see below). They also make a handblown series that is lovely, and not super expensive.

If the recipient of your coffee awesomeness likes a little more sediment in their coffee (aka, they like a French press), you could slap a Kone metal filter in there. I’ve had coffee out of this at a shop, but don’t have one at home, so I can’t speak to how awesome they are or not.

Along a similar vein, and a little less intimidating, is the Hario V60, or any similar on-cup pourover (lots of options at Sweet Maria’s). These are all something you put on top of a mug and pour water through grounds in. There are differences among all of them: plastic vs ceramic, multiple holes vs a single hole, straight sides vs swirls. You probably don’t care. You prepare coffee in all of these in about the same way you do the Chemex, but one cup at a time. If you’re buying for someone who’s the only coffee drinker in their household, these are awesome. Like the Chemex, it’s a touch more involved than the Mr. Coffee, but you’ll manage it even if you need a cup before you can do anything useful around the house. I’d suggest the V60 model in ceramic to get you started. Like the Chemex, to get the full potential out of this thing you’ll need a good kettle. I’ll talk more about those below.

Even better for single cups is the Aeropress. The company that makes Frisbees and stuff also makes one of my favorite coffee brewing devices. Like the V60 the Aeropress sits on your mug while you brew, but there are two big differences: first, you just dump the water in and stir, no careful pouring. Second, it adds some pressure to the mix, which clearly makes different coffee, though I’m not sure what’s going on there. No matter how it works, I love this thing. It was my only home coffee kit for quite a while and I was super happy with it. As a nice bonus, it’s all plastic and pretty lightweight, which means it travels well. No more hotel coffee! I’ve made coffee in this thing in something like 7 states this year alone. Along with my hand grinder (also below) I can make a good cup of coffee anywhere. Highly recommended unless you live in a house full of coffee people and need higher output than this thing will allow.

If you like that extra sedimenty coffee, there are two options for metal filters for the Aeropress: Able Brewing and Kaffeologie. I have the Able disk and, frankly, I don’t use it very much. Your tastebuds may vary. 🙂

If your lucky gift-receiver already has a morning coffee apparatus that they love, there’s always going for something flashier: a siphon! If you need to make coffee, but make your friends worry that you’re setting up a meth lab, this is for you! A few companies make them, but Yama is the big name. Here’s a link to the one I have: Yama Tabletop Siphon- 5 Cup with Butane Burner. The siphon makes a really good cup of coffee, but it requires some fiddling with, and it’s hands-on for five minutes or so while you use it. It also, as you can see, is somewhat more expensive. A good friend gave me one of these last year for Christmas and I love to dig it out. Plus, as a bonus, it looks like some mad science gear on your countertop.

Many come with an alcohol burner instead of a butane burner: don’t go for the cheaper option. The alcohol burner doesn’t really give enough oomph to boil the water, so you have to help it along by starting with boiling water, and it takes a bit to get going. There’s also the option of a stovetop siphon, but I have no experience with those. They also require a cloth filter, which you have to keep wet in the fridge and change the water every few days. It sounds like a hassle, but it sure is fun!

Another downside to this being your morning setup is that the coffee comes out almost boiling; you need to have some patience to let the coffee cool before you scald your face off drinking it.

No matter what you’re using to make your coffee, the grind matters. The coffee loses some flavor after grinding, so if you’re used to getting it ground at the store (or buying pre-ground), your existing coffee maker will do a lot better job if you grind fresh. The whirly-blade type that everyone has does a pretty uneven job, and it’s impossible to get things to the same fineness each time. What you really want is a burr grinder, preferably a conical burr. On the other hand, coffee nerds go pretty big on their grinders, and I’m not really going to suggest you buy a $1k grinder for home. Assuming you’re not doing espresso, I really have two suggestions. I own both at this point, so take this with some little bit of authority. 🙂

If you travel all the time and are eyeing that Aeropress, a hand grinder can be wonderful. It’s a bit of work, but that can help wake you up! A Porlex travel grinder was all I used for about a year. At ~$70 it’s a bit pricey compared to the electric option below, but I still use mine when on the go. Cheaper options that I don’t know much about (but are well-loved brands) would be the Hario Mini or the Kyocera, uh, grinder. It sounds like it will be a pain to do every morning, but it wasn’t bad! The downside is this made Tasha substantially less likely to make coffee for me (though it still happened from time to time).

If you want an electric grinder, the best one for a somewhat reasonable price is the Capresso Infinity at $90. There’s also a stainless steel one for $130, but it’s the exact same grinder. No, coffee nerds, it’s not as good as your beloved Mazzer or Baratza, but it’s far far cheaper. I’ve had one for a few months and it’s still going strong. Cleaning it isn’t super awesome, but it’s not horrible.

Finally, if you’re doing any of the pourover options (the V60 or Chemex), something to pour from with a long narrow spout will make a huge difference. It’s hard to believe, but trust me on this. The go-to for these is a Hario kettle, available in electric or stovetop options. Bonavita also makes both that look like they would be good, though I don’t know anything about them. Electric kettles are nice because they’ll get hot quickly, but it’s extra money when you could put the thing on the stove. Up to you. Whatever you do, you really want one. Options include:

  • The Hario electric (I only found it at EspressoParts, but I’m sure someone sells one on Amazon somewhere) – $75
  • The Hario stovetop, via EspressoParts or Amazon – $50-60
  • The Bonavita electric, via Amazon or (EpressoParts, who no longer carries it — 2014-10-17) – $50
  • The Bonavita stovetop, via Amazon or(EpressoParts, who no longer carries it — 2014-10-17) – $30

I’m likely to purchase the Bonavita stovetop in the near future, unless someone talks me out of it. If that happens I’ll revise this post!

If you’ve gotten down to here, I’m impressed! I just kind of braindumped here. Things I didn’t cover, and why:

  • French presses: I’ve got one, and it’s sometimes fun, but it’s not really my thing. Also, I know almost nothing about what differentiates them.
  • Moka pots: they sound fun, but I don’t have one, and I don’t think I’ve even had coffee out of one.
  • Turkish or Greek coffee makers: much like the Moka pot, I have no idea. I’ve had coffee from both, but I know nothing about it.
  • Espresso machines: like I said, expensive and a big time commitment. Probably a blast to learn, but not something I would give someone unless I really knew what they wanted.

Next up from me, how to use all this stuff! No promises that this is before Christmas, but I’ll do it soon. — Bill

Note from Tasha: Just a reminder that no link above is an affiliate link. We were, at one time, Amazon Affiliates, but once they discontinued the program in IL, that stopped. If ever this changes, we’ll let you know. Note from Tasha: Things changed again. We are affiliates again, and I changed the links this evening (30 Nov 2014) to affiliate links. So the Amazon links here are affiliate links, which means I get a tiny percentage if you buy the linked items or other things via Amazon after clicking. Your purchase price won’t change. And if you do for charity, they stack (and every link is pre-linked for you). Still without changing your purchase price.

6 thoughts on “So, you want to give a coffee gift…

  1. So, I am highly intrigued by these stovetop kettles. But, as a predominantly French press and tea household, is there any benefit to these long and curly spouts or is there use primarily for more pour-over types of coffee?

    • Other than being prettier than other kettles, I don’t think you’d get much out of them. 🙂 It’s all about having better control over the pour rate. Full-immersion coffee makers (like the French press or the Aeropress) don’t really care about that, you just dump water in them and the coffee steeps.

      An electric kettle, of this type or others, is super nice! They heat up really quickly and tend to be pretty efficient. We have a monstrosity of an electric kettle, but a smaller one would be even quicker.

  2. A few questions:
    1. How are the “pour hot water over grounds” setups different from my Cuisinart drip coffee maker? Is it a water temperature thing, or is it the specific filters used with those devices?
    2. How is an electric kettle “extra money” vs a stovetop kettle? My stove needs juice to heat the water up, too.
    3. Are any of these devices or combinations thereof worth the expense if I’m not up for buying the pricey coffee and grinding it myself in the morning?

    • Good questions!

      1. The filters aren’t too different than your Mr. Coffee-style drip machine, and the water temperatures probably aren’t either (though you have more control over temperature in a pour-over). The big difference comes in how the water pours over the coffee. In most drip systems, you have a U-shaped basket of coffee and a stream of water coming from the top. The grounds directly under the water spout get saturated quickly, but all the water coming in runs through them. The grounds at the sides only get water by absorbing water that’s already run through all the grounds between there and the center.

        Your coffee grounds have a bell-curve of flavor output over time/water, and an always increasing curve of bitterness over time/water. Thus, for maximally tasty coffee, you want to hit that middle point for flavor without over-saturating and getting too much bitterness, for all of your grounds. The drip machine is dumping all the water on the center grounds (getting way over into the bitter graph) and not much on the outside (not getting the tasty stuff out of it). Or, possibly, just over-saturating the whole thing.

        I’m ignoring the super-fancy drip machines out there that do a better job: they’re almost all commercial units, and even the supposedly at-home ones are expensive. There are also automatic machines that aren’t drip (such as the Bunn Trifecta that do a good job without any hassle, but I don’t think most people can stomach a $600 machine. 🙂 It turns out that Bunn, at least, makes machines that don’t do what I just described a “drip” machine as doing (their Phase Brew). Maybe I need one of those for testing…

      2. Up front they cost $20-30 more, which make sense as there’s more going on there: the stovetop kettles are just shaped metal, the electric ones have a heating element in them and all the safety bits. I don’t know about long-term costs, but I suspect either option is pretty cheap day to day.
      3. Yes! I think that any of the options (better brewing apparatus, better coffee, grinding at home) makes an improvement. If you use the grocery-store stuff that comes pre-ground, it could still taste better out of a better machine. If you change to fancier coffee, but have them grind it for you, that’s an improvement. Or, if you buy the same coffee and grind it yourself, but keep using the drip machine, that’s an improvement too! They all make for better coffee. I have a friend who puts Folgers pre-ground through his Aeropress. Is it amazing? No. However, is it less bitter than when it goes through the drip machine? Yes.
      • Thanks for the info. I will buy whole-bean and grind my own once my current stuff runs out. I set up my drip coffeepot with its timer at night, though (thank goodness for automatic machines), so it won’t be “fresh”. Just freshER. And one of these days I’ll try an Aeropress or similar. I’m just upset I bought into the French Press hype a couple of years ago, because I can’t stand the sludge that ends up in my coffee when I use it. After that, I’m not sure I’m ready to love again…

Comments are closed.