Five Less Essential Coffee Rules

Oliv

These are optional, not mandatory. Although I live by them if you will.

  • Buy local. This goes for a lot of things, and it’s true for coffee beans as well. Buying local beans is not only a means to support local business, it also ensures that your beans are fresh. Buying beans at the supermarket means that they’ve been sitting on the shelves for a while, and they’ve had a long way to get there. If your beans are e.g. from Italy you can pretty much imagine how long it took them to get into your coffee. As a rule of thumb your beans shouldn’t have been roasted more than two weeks ago.

  • Don’t refrigerate your beans. Whoever told you that’s a good idea is just wrong. You won’t see your coffee shop of choice doing it, so you shouldn’t do it as well. What you should do is keep them in a sealed bag with a valve so you can press out the air every once in a while.

  • Stay away from coffee machines using coffee pads and capsules. You can imagine how long ago the coffee in them was ground, and how much of the aroma has been lost already. It’s usually okay coffee, but it’s not good coffee. What it definitely is: a rip-off. The prices for capsules and pads are outrageous. Still, people are willing to pay them for the added convenience. In the end, you don’t really get what you paid for. You paid a lot for the pads and capsules, but what you don’t get in return is good coffee.

  • Foam your milk using the espresso machine’s capabilities. There’s some appliances out there that claim to make steaming and foaming milk easier for you, but the results will never be the same as doing it yourself. There’s a good rule of thumb when you’re steaming the milk. Keep the nozzle close to the surface, and stop foaming when the milk pot feels too hot to hold with your hands. It’s also easy to see how coffee shops feel about foaming the milk. Some will just put the pot under the nozzle and let it steam without supervision, usually ending in milk that’s burnt and too hot. I only go to shops like that once. That also includes Starbucks, at least in Germany.

  • Pre-warm your cups and glasses. That way your beverage will stay warm longer. Especially important for espresso which (as opposed to filtered coffee) is almost undrinkable all by itself when cold. A good espresso machine has a warm surface area on top just for that purpose. Use it! For instant heatup (or in case your coffee makes doesn’t have a warming surface area) you can also just let a bit of water from the machine (or the tap when push comes to shove) into glasses and cups. Cleans the machine a bit more, and you get a nicely heated cup.

That’s all I can think of really. It’s all these little things that add up to a good coffee. There’ll be more little tips in the future though, not to worry.

In other news, if you didn’t notice already, I’m a contributor over at “words to shoot by”. You should go right over and check out this week’s word, “tradition”.

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Five Essential Coffee Rules

Light snack

The path to good coffee is not that hard to master, you don’t have to be a total coffee nerd too. It’s not like climbing Mount Everest. Far from it. For a full and all-around happy treatment check out this post on coffee over at Gizmodo, pretty good stuff in there.

My rules are simple:

  • Always use freshly ground beans. Only taking this step will improve your coffee experience manyfold. You don’t have to be a connoisseur to taste the difference, it’s very noticeable.

  • Always clean your coffee equipment right after and/or right before use. This prevents old coffee oils from getting stuck somewhere in the machinery and ruining future coffee.

  • Use softened or filtered water. This keeps away salts from the equipment, extending its lifetime considerably.

  • Always use fresh milk. No homogenized crap. Even fresh milk from the chilled shelves is homogenized these days, and it does make a big difference. Homogenized milk foams different and tastes different. The taste takes away from the taste of the coffee, therefore almost ruining it. It’s a quality sign for a coffee shop whether they use really fresh milk.

  • Pour your heart in it. Caring about coffee usually results in good coffee, simple like that. You don’t need to be a professional barista, you just need to care. Put away your Mr. Coffee, and get some real gear. It’s not even expensive, and pays off manifold. French press, mocha pot, espresso machine, you name it. It doesn’t have to be too expensive to get good results.

So, how’ve you been doing?

Put Some Black & White Film in Your Holga

The standard recommendation for the seems to be to stuff some good 400 speed color negative film in it. While that’s all good and fun, looking back I’m still wondering why that Lomography Holga package I got for Christmas came with a roll of 100 speed Fuji Reala.

Anyway, it’s all autumn and almost winter over here, and color film doesn’t really capture anything nice, because let’s face it, there’s not much color out there at the moment. Unless you’re living in Australia of course. Black & white film to the rescue!

World Toy Camera Day

I wasn’t really much of a fan of black & white film when I started shooting film. Not because I’m a big fan of popping lomographic colors, I just happened to shoot a lot when the sun was out.

Obviously at some point you want to shoot when it’s all grey outside as well, and the simple solution is to just shoot black & white film. While my wife still doesn’t really like it, I’ve grown quite fond of it over the course of this year. It’s a lot more flexible when it comes to over- and underexposure, and you can push and pull as much as you like. Of course it’s also easy to develop yourself, but I’m not quite there yet.

World Toy Camera Day

You’ll be surprised how many different types of black & white film there are, I know I was. There’s Fuji’s Neopan, Kodak TMAX, Tri-X, ADOX, Efke, Fomapan, Rollei Retro, Agfa APX, Ilford, and many more. Oh wait, and there’s infrared film!

Black & white film and the Holga are an amazingly great match. The vignette and the plastic lens’ dreaminess add something magical to the bleakness of autumn and winter. A stark landscape or urban life can become interesting again when they’re reduced solely to black, white and the grey contrasts in between.

World Toy Camera Day

Of course, if just shooting black & white isn’t enough for you, throw in some filters with e.g. the Cokin filter hack for the Holga. I have a set waiting, including an infrared filter. If only I could bring myself to finally try it out.

If you want to shoot on a rainy day, black & white film is just for you. I recently loaded some Neopan 1600 in my Nikon and loved it. Shame it’s not available in 120 format, but hey, you can just get a Neopan 400 and push it to 1600. Grainy awesomeness. Ilford 3200 is also worth trying, although my lab’s development price for it was inexplicably high. I’ll shoot it again when I have the facilities to develop it myself.

World Toy Camera Day

Even though the label says black & white, every film is slightly different. Some have more intense contrast, some will have a bit more washed-out blacks, others have an insanely good grain, while some are just about giving you as much detail as possible. There’s 25 speed films from ADOX, and cheap film like Efke and Fomapan (still good films I’ll have you know).

Go ahead, buy some and shoot it. You need to look a bit more for contrast instead of color, but it’s totally worth it. After all, film photography is a lot about experimenting with the different films, at least for me.

World Toy Camera Day

All of the shots were taken on World Toy Camera Day, when it was rather grey and a bit rainy outside. The film totally made up for that.