The Covid-19 pandemic hasn’t only changed the way Americans are drinking beer, wine and spirits. It’s also had a significant impact on how we drink coffee.
While some coffee shops are open, if only for to-go orders, most of us are consuming the vast majority of our coffee at home. So how exactly do we do that? With fancy equipment? What about beans? How can we replicate some of the coffee-shop experience at home?
That’s the topic for this week’s VinePair podcast, where Adam Teeter, Erica Duecy, and Zach Geballe share their individual approaches to making and drinking the best coffee possible while working from home. In addition, they offer tips and tricks for stepping up your coffee game.
Listen online, or check out our conversation here:
Adam: From Brooklyn, New York, I’m Adam Teeter.
Erica: From Connecticut, I’m Erica Duecy.
Zach: And in Seattle, Washington, I’m Zach Geballe.
A: And this is the VinePair podcast. And guys, it’s gorgeous out today. It is Friday, May 15th when we’re recording, I’m staring out my window, it’s about 78 degrees outside, and all I want now is a blended drink.
Z: Did you buy the blender, Adam?
A: I did not. Because Vitamix is sending me one. Thank you Vitamix! I really appreciate it.
Z: Oh my God! Look at you. We never did any follow-up about you guys getting sent wine and spirits. I have not yet received anything. All those people out there in the industry who listen. Adam’s important but give a shout out to your humble West Coast correspondent.
A: Zach would like anyone who makes Pinot Noir rosé to please send it to him. Email us at email@example.com I will send you his address and we will all convince him that Pinot Noir rosé is in fact delicious.
Z: I actually drank one last week.
A: I know you did. You sent me the picture.
Z: I figured you would appreciate it. I didn’t say they were all bad. I said they’re not what I opt for. But there are some good ones out there. I had Kathleen Inman’s Endless Crush Pinot Noir rosé which was quite tasty.
A: Her wines are amazing.
E: That’s good.
Z: She’s a lovely person too, I had the chance to visit her last September, and it’s beautiful. If and when we are ever able to go visit wineries again I would love to go back.
A: I would love to go there for the first time. You know what I’m saying?
Z: I have a question for you guys that I was thinking about that is not related to our topic, so I’m going to pose it now. Have you felt when you’ve done, as I’m sure both of you have, these virtual tastings or classes with winemakers, do you find that it scratches that itch or does it remind you that I really wish I was doing this in person?
E: Well, it goes both ways. Knowing that I can’t travel right now I do like to hear what winemakers have to say about their wines. It’s the second best thing to the in person or really frankly the only other thing we can be doing right now. And the Zoom calls or FaceTimes or what have you. They’re better than being on the phone. I do like them for that reason. However, what drives me nuts is that a lot of times people are tasting through six bottles and, you know, you’re not going to have all of those bottles yourself. It can be a little bit frustrating to hear people going into such depth about the flavors and the tastings and the textures when you don’t have it in front of you and when you’re not tasting it. I’d say that’s my frustration.
A: I’ve actually found them to be pretty cool in all honesty. The issue isn’t that it’s six bottles you can’t have, but it’s when it’s six bottles in general and thinking God, this is a lot. It’s a lot harder to hold my attention an hour and a half sometimes. They’re really good when they’re 30 to 45 minutes. That’s the sweet spot. And when you can hit that sweet spot, there’s enough to talk to the winemaker about whoever else is representing the wines. There’s enough for them to talk to me about, and then we can go on our merry way. That’s what I find to be really interesting about them.
A: When someone tries to give a tutorial, and I like it when it’s an interaction, the other thing that I’ve really enjoyed is when I get to have questions and comments back and forth with them, which is cool. It’s cool for a lot of producers who are smaller in the wine, beer, or spirits base that wouldn’t normally have been able to travel to New York anyways.
A: Right? So this has been a cool excuse to talk to some of them. And it’s easy for them to send a bottle to my apartment and not as easy for them to get on a plane and travel, pre-Covid obviously. I do like it, Zach. I do.
Z: That’s actually a really good point, Adam. It has in some ways helped to level the playing field a little bit in that you’re able to potentially connect with a winemaker at a smaller winery or a place that you might yourself not travel or haven’t had the chance to travel or that you might not otherwise be aware of. That the fact that we’re all doing this from our homes or places of business does provide that opportunity. It’s been cool because I’ve gotten to at least hear from some winemakers and in a few cases taste some wines that I might not otherwise have come across. They’re not even available in Washington State, now but they can send me a sample bottle, and I can taste the wine and hear from the winemaker. That’s super cool.
A: It is. So before we kick off today’s topic, which is coffee, I do want to let listeners know about something really cool coming Wednesday. Which is that in your feed on Wednesday, there’s… going to be the first episode of our brand new podcast we’re launching called Wine 101. And Wine 101 is going to be hosted by our tastings director Keith Beavers. Over 30 weeks, he’s going to take you on a journey where you’re going to learn everything you need to learn about wine. Now there are a lot of people who listen to this podcast who probably already know a ton about wine. You may think, “Eh, this podcast isn’t for me.” But I’m telling you, Keith’s style and the way he approaches wine is so incredible that everyone that listens will get something out of it. So just search Wine 101 in iTunes, we’ll also have a link to how you sign up when that first preview episode drops in the feed and then the rest of the episodes will all live in the Wine 101 feed. But we’re going to give every listener here that special taste on Wednesday to hear what we got cooking in the VinePair podcast studio.
E: And Keith is also hilarious.
A: He is!
E: So if you ever wanted to find any parallels between say, “Star Wars” and rosé, he will find them, I promise you.
A: He will. And it’s going to be pretty awesome. I listened to the first two episodes so far and they are really, really awesome.
Z: This is the VinePair podcast network now. You’re starting to reach a critical mass.
A: We’re going to launch a third one soon.
E: We have something exciting coming up on Thursday as well.
A: We do, Erica. Tell everybody about it.
E: Our Text a Somm program. We are doing a fundraiser for the United Sommeliers Foundation, and for the upcoming four weeks on Thursday and Friday nights, we will have sommeliers from around the country working shifts. We as VinePair are paying for them to work a shift, and for three hours every Thursday and Friday night, they will be available to answer your individual questions. To find out who is going to be appearing, and they’re really amazing somms from everywhere around the country, you can follow us on social and go to VinePair.com and you’ll see plenty of information coming up about it all next week.
A: It’s going to be super dope. Everyone text. And Zach you should text too because I’m sure there’s some things you could learn.
Z: There always is, and that’s what I love about wine, I’m never done learning.
E: It’s true. It’s true.
A: You can say, “Hey, Seattle somm texting this somm I have a question. How do I know a wine is corked?”
Z: That one I’m pretty confident I know.
A: “How do I get into Pinot Noir rosé?’’ Anyways, let’s get into today’s topic which has nothing to do with wine, beer, or spirits. But instead it has everything to do with why I am so amped right now and that is coffee. So let’s chat about it. We do do a fair amount of coffee coverage on the site but probably could do more. There’s quite an appetite for coffee in this world. We did have the CEO of Intelligentsia coffee on as one of our Covid conversations. For those that listened, I thought he was super interesting. So both first to Zach and Erica, were you big coffee drinkers prior to Covid? Are you bigger coffee drinkers now? What’s your relationship with coffee?
Z: The biggest change in my coffee consumption since Covid is I really almost drink no espresso now. And espresso was a big part of my coffee consumption previously, working in a restaurant I would say 98% of my shifts would start with either a double shot of espresso or a cappuccino if I wanted some extra calories, essentially. I often would also potentially have some espresso drink in the morning. But we don’t have an espresso machine in our house, although it has come up in conversation for my wife and me. So that may change in the future. But now I’m pretty much a strictly drip coffee drinker. We do go to our neighborhood coffee shop once a week, and I’ll get a latte or something but that’s basically it. But I drink a fair bit of coffee and I have for a very long time, living in Seattle, it’s pretty much mandatory here. I held out longer than most. I made it to about 18 before I started drinking coffee. I actually love brewing coffee, but I’ve always loved drip coffee. Even though it’s not necessarily the absolute best coffee you can have from a flavor perspective, there is something about the ritual of it. It’s something that both of my parents did when I was a kid, and there’s something about that full pot of coffee in the morning that makes me feel good. And God knows in these times, finding those small daily wins where you feel good for a little bit is important. That’s my coffee routine. I don’t know, Erica, how about you?
E: You’re going to love this. I have had an espresso machine since I was 15 years old.
E: I’ve been a coffee junkie since I was a freshman in high school. It’s crazy. I grew up in Seattle, so it makes sense, right? Everyone drinks coffee. There are drive-up espresso huts all around the city. People think it’s the weirdest thing but there is such a coffee culture, and when I was a teenager that’s when Starbucks was coming to be a big thing. I wish I had invested back then but unfortunately did not. And since then I have always been really a coffee junkie. I would say that my routine has slimmed down over the years. While I used to exclusively drink espresso and espresso drinks, now I’m pretty streamlined and minimalist with my approach. So there’s definitely coffee blends and coffee companies that I love. The one that I have as a go-to right now is Counter Culture.
A: Me too.
E: I don’t know if you know them. Counter Culture, yes! So they’re from Durham, North Carolina. They’ve been around for 20 years, and they’re an amazing third-wave coffee producer. And there’s this blend that I found at a café in New York a couple of years ago called Big Trouble. It’s their blend that is the most rounded mouth-filling, incredible, caramel, nutty, chocolatey coffee I have ever had, and I am deeply obsessed with it. I have two bags delivered every two weeks and I do a very simple pour over but I can’t substitute it with anything else. Now I’m completely obsessed. So that’s my latest coffee obsession. I have gone through many stages over the years but right now it’s the Counter Culture coffee Big Trouble and I do a little bit of steamed and frothed oat milk, a little bit of agave and top it with probably, 7/8ths coffee. That’s what I drink, every morning without fail.
A: That’s amazing. I love that you have the entire breakdown of how much milk is in it, and it’s super precise. It makes a lot of sense. I got into coffee when I was in high school because I thought it was cool and basically I had a really good friend and he and I would go on a Friday night because we didn’t want to hang out with the other people that we went to high school with, and we’d go to Waffle House and we’d sit there and drink coffee and hang out. That’s right, guys, I was really cool. And so basically, I got into coffee through that burnt diner coffee, which actually I still have a real love for, because that’s that coffee that you can literally drink 20 of and feel nothing.
A: But there’s something really great about that sometimes. And so then obviously when I got to college that evolved and thought, “Oh, I want to get into making espresso drinks and yada-yada-yada.” There were a few third-wave coffee shops in Atlanta but they weren’t the rage really until I was almost done with college so it was still Starbucks and that actually ruined me on coffee, because I didn’t at that point think that anything was that delicious. After graduating college and moving to New York I became obsessed and it was espresso drinks first and then I became pretty obsessed with making the perfect pot of coffee. I’ve always had this thing in my coffee journey where I take a few years off of it. So then I stopped drinking it for a while and then I came back and drank it again, wondering if I was getting too dependent. And then when I finally went back to get my MBA I went all in on coffee. It was the only way I could basically work during the day and go to Stern at night. There was no way I was going to be able to do both. And I got back into some of these cool coffee shops, and I got really into Intelligentsia and La Colombe and Think and all this stuff was around the campus of NYU. And then I graduated and instead of getting any of these crazy machines I was gifted an espresso machine. This is really convenient and a lot of my obsession with making coffee disappeared out of the convenience of both then starting VinePair and feeling I didn’t have enough time in the morning. And so I lost that romanticism I used to have, that ritual of I was going to wake up and either make a French press or make a really fresh pot and I had one of the pots that was those machines that did the actual pour-over brew. I stopped all of that and went straight to Nespresso. And now I’ve been reexamining: Should I go back to something romantic and do I want to get an AeroPress? I know people who are obsessed with AeroPresses. I asked you guys on the end-of-day check-in, on the Zoom yesterday if anyone on the team had an AeroPress. Tim did and says it’s good. But, I’ve done a lot of reading, I don’t know. There is something so cool about that ritual in the morning that it reminds you that it’s time to take a little pause, don’t get stressed out, don’t get into your emails immediately and have your coffee.
Z: That’s an awesome point and one that I was going to mention as a nice benefit to this time. Part of the thing that I love about drip coffee or brewed coffee and that whole thing is that it does take a little while. When we’ve been traveling, sometimes everyone you’re in the hotel room and you want the Keurig instant coffee because you want it right now. But I love that my home set up takes 10-ish minutes to brew a pot of coffee, and that’s nice. It makes it feel a little more special. I also have one aside, which is funny because Adam and I, you were at NYU a few years after I was and when I was going to NYU, my coffee shop was Café Dante, which is hilarious to me now that it’s also this world-famous cocktail bar.
Z: I used to sit there three days a week, and sit there and have a cup of coffee. It’s not the kind of place you go set up shop and do work. But I would love to have a cappuccino and sit there and watch people walk by, because there’s great people-watching in the West Village. The third-wave shops were opening, but when I was at NYU, my classmates all went to Starbucks. Then there were all the East Village haunts, but it wasn’t what it is now. It’s striking to go the last times I’ve been in New York and see how many great coffee shops there were because 15 years ago, they weren’t really there. Or if they were I wasn’t aware of them.
A: Was Think there yet? Do you remember?
Z: I don’t think so. Not to make a bad pun, but my recollection is that that whole stretch, that whole part of and again this is sorry, for most of you this is probably not very interesting, but that whole area around the NYU campus had not developed the way that it is now. That area, that neighborhood was a weird transitional neighborhood. It wasn’t the glitz of SoHo, it wasn’t the bohemia of the East village, it wasn’t whatever of the West Village, but it was its own weird pocket. NYU was growing really rapidly and taking over all these buildings and so they had a lot of the smaller places that had existed. The holes-in-the-walls were getting driven out one way or another. Either their buildings were being bought up or their rents were going up or whatever. So, it wasn’t until that next wave came in that said, “Hey we can sell five, six, seven dollar coffee drinks. and we know how to do it and we make them really good.” And Starbucks was everywhere around that area, probably still is. It was the joke among my classmates that there was a Starbucks. The Starbucks in Astor Square you could stand in front of and see three other Starbucks.
A: That is…
Z: Pretty remarkable.
A: I don’t think it’s still the case, but it was even when I first moved here. I have two questions for both of you, but I guess we’ll go with the first one because it’s building on my AeroPress question. Do you have coffee tools that you love? So whether it’s something like the AeroPress or some people are really into the Chemex or the pot of coffee. I’m not into the pour-over method, so I’m curious.
E: Well, I, first of all have a burr grinder. So if you don’t know the different types of coffee grinders, to grind all of the beans, what you should get is a burr grinder. So this is a certain type of grinder that makes a difference. I’ve experimented with all sorts of different coffee grinders, all sorts of different Chemexes and so forth, and the burr grinder has the best grind. I have a Cuisinart burr grinder, but that’s as opposed to a blade grinder. So, it grinds the coffee differently.
A: So what does it do, Erica? I have one too but for those that aren’t familiar with it… A lot of people like my dad, growing up always had that blade one… You press it and it will pulverize the beans. What does the burr grinder do that’s different?
E: I don’t know exactly the technical reasoning about why it is different. But I do find that it leads to a better product. I don’t know if it’s mellower or rounder or something like that. It does have a qualitative difference at least to my palate that has made me decide that between a blade grinder and a burr grinder side by side, I prefer the result of the burr grinder. So that’s my grinder. And then having tried all of the tools and ways to make coffee, I do a simple cone. So I have a cone, and a recyclable paper filter that’s unbleached and I heat everything up. I heat up a thermos with boiling water and then I do the pour-over. When I’m doing the pour- over, I bloom the coffee. Blooming the coffee is very important. So that means you have your filter and then you pour a tiny bit of the boiling water into the grounds and then let the coffee, let the grounds bloom a little bit. And then I pour about a quarter of a cup of boiling water at a time on top of that, to extract the most amount of oils and aromatics. That is the best result that I have found for making coffee.
A: Zach, what about you, man?
Z: So also a burr grinder person and because to me the way it’s always been explained to me is that the benefit of the burr grinder is two-fold. One, it doesn’t heat the coffee as its grinding, there’s not as much friction. So, you can get the issue with a burr grinder, or with a blade grinder is that you can char the coffee if you’re particularly trying to get really finely ground coffee. Your grounds come out much more uniform, so you’re better able to essentially control the degree of either coarseness or fineness of your coffee grounds which gives you a different flavor, even with the same beans. We’re a household where I like being able to pour things in a machine, hit a button, and then walk away. I’ve definitely occasionally made pour-overs but my mornings don’t have that leisure time in them. I have a younger child than Erica so I can’t rely on him to entertain himself for 15 minutes while I make myself a cup of coffee. Plus I like to know that if I want to refill it that’s not another 15 minutes. I’ve definitely been a French press person when I was single. It was a more efficient, or a more effective amount of coffee. I like it when other people put that much effort in sometimes for me, but that’s when I go buy a fancy cup of coffee somewhere and make them do all the work. I like to drink coffee, I drink a lot of it, but I have found and this may come as a surprise to listeners, it is one of the beverage areas where I have not been able to bring myself to get too nerdy, I guess. I know vaguely stylistically what I like in terms of the kinds of beans and maybe the source, but I have only so much capacity to care about this slope of this hill in this place. And that is dedicated to wine and to a lesser extent to beer and spirits and it doesn’t go for coffee for me.
A: I’m really into coffee. I lost it when I started VinePair and I didn’t have time anymore and the Nespresso became so convenient and I know that there’s a lot of people who knock on it. They’re saying “it’s better than the Keurig but not much. It’s an espresso, I guess.” But to me it’s a solid cup. It’s a solid espresso, that’s all I drink, I don’t use it for anything else. It’s that hit of caffeine I need but now in these Covid times I am missing that which is why I was excited to have this conversation because I do want to think about purchasing something else. Is there a product I should have that I should get into? Are there bean blends? So that is my next question which is, Zach, you have to have a preferred roast, yes?
Z: Again this is probably going to get me some hate mail, but I’m a dark-roast guy. I don’t know whether from that’s what I grew up around in Seattle and that was a thing but I like the darker side, not fully French roast. I don’t use espresso beans in my coffee machine, but I like the caramel, chocolatey, rich side of coffee more than I like the fruity, acidic, tart side that you certainly find from some roasters that’s more their style. For me if I’m going to have a really, really nice single pour-over, and I’m going to have it without any milk or any sugar or anything else in it and I’m going to really sip on it and think about it, then I can find those kinds of blends or those single origin beans as being interesting. But when I am talking about my day-to-day coffee routine, I like a little cream in my coffee, sometimes I even like a little sugar in my coffee, and I like the robust flavors. Not charred, I don’t want to feel like I’m drinking tar, but I do like the darker, deeper, richer flavors, which is my style, I guess.
A: I feel that.
E: I like medium roast. I have to say, after drinking dark roast for so many years, at some point decided that I wanted a little bit of, I guess it’s a rounder flavor and a rounder mouthfeel is how I’d describe it, for lack of a better term. And I’m definitely not a coffee expert but one area that I’ve been interested in following a little bit more is instant coffees. Have you guys seen these, the third-wave instant coffees?
A: I have. I’ve seen people who’ve also done taste tests of them and stuff. I actually did have one that was interesting. It was Counter Culture, a tea bag.
E: Right, I saw that!
A: It was actually pretty good. I do wonder now how much there’s going to be a use for these in the foreseeable future. You’re in a hotel, you’re traveling, you throw a few in your bag, you’re in the hotel, all the hotel has is the Keurig, you don’t want to go downstairs even if they even have coffee in the lobby… And so, you use the Keurig to make hot water and that’s what they were pushing when I had it. You dunk the bag like you would tea and you have a much better cup of coffee than you would have otherwise. But I can’t see myself doing that at home as an alternative to either something like Nespresso or what you guys are talking about, actually grinding my own beans and making a pot or a French press or something like that.
E: We’re doing an article this coming week about five of the best instant coffees and they’re pretty pricey…
E: So out of the taste test we came up with Swift Cup, Waka Coffee, Tandem, and Verve street. Swift Cup had two selections in there, and it ranges from $10 to $16 for six cups of coffee.
A: That’s a lot, man.
E: It’s a lot! The coffees are really delicious, there’s no question about it. Where I would purchase these is when I’m going overseas, which may not be for a while. But when I’m going out of town or going to another country and I’m not sure if the coffee is going to be to my liking, then I can see traveling with these. That’s a great use case.
A: That’s the only use case I see. If you’re that kind of person that is a big “pod person,” a Nespresso or a Keurig person, I can see how this is an upgrade, especially with the Keurig… But with better flavor and it’s still fast. Erica, did you taste these yourself?
E: I’ve tasted some of these. I didn’t taste them for this particular tasting, but I have tried a couple of them.
A: How fast is it to make them? What’s the process?
E: So, you open the packet, pour the very finely ground grinds and its freeze-dried, so they’re freeze-dried grounds. Pour boiling water over it, so it’s five seconds. It takes five seconds to make a cup of coffee. And it really is the same quality as one of the pour over coffees that we’re discussing.
A: Why are all these third-wave coffee places getting into this? I’m actually very curious.
Z: I have a thought. The other place that I could see this functioning is an office setting. Which again, may seem super unfamiliar to most of us right now but was a dominant coffee consumption place. My wife b*tches endlessly about the quality of coffee at her office, and justifiably, it’s pretty bad. But if you are the kind of office place that you have access to hot water, boiling water on demand, or a boiling water tap or something like that, the thought of being able to get up, dump one of these packets into your cup, pour water on it, walk back to your desk and drink it, it’s probably better than the brewed pot of coffee that’s been kicking around in the same carafe for who knows how long. There’s a place for it there. But I agree that this doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.
A: No, not at all.
E: Right, too expensive.
A: That’s insane. That’s really insane. Well, guys, that’s our coffee conversation.
Z: I have one last thought.
A: OK, go.
Z: Which is that this is the ideal time, because, what the hell, right? Coffee plus booze can be a really fun combo. Granted, we’re getting into the time of year as Adam mentioned that’s nice weather so we’re not thinking about coffee drinks as being a big part of our lives because they’re something we associate with cold weather. Cold brew and cocktails go really, really well together. There’s some really excellent ways to use cold whether you’re making true cold brew or frankly you’re chilling down brewed coffee which is not as good but sometimes does it for me because it’s what I have time to do. It can be really nice. To me it’s often my equivalent of happy hour indulgence is a cold coffee drink with a little booze in it, gives me that last bit of energy to get over the finish line of my day but also is a little bit of booze because I like that, too. That is what most of us are into on this podcast. I tend to put a little amaro in there or something that’s a little bit like Frangelico is another flavor that I like to add in. You can certainly go a little harder with whiskey or rum works really nicely as well. I love that combo. I like dark roast coffee so it makes sense to me that I would like the richer, deeper flavored spirits with it, too.
E: Getting back to Adam’s blender drinks, one of my favorite things to do in the summer is to take cold brew coffee and throw some ice into a blender and then pour a little bit of Amaretto or a little bit of Cointreau or a little bit of any type of liquor. Best blended drink ever.
A: That sounds delicious.
Z: Oh my God, now you really have to get the blender Adam.
E: It’s a coffee granita with a little bit of booze.
A: That sounds amazing. I will say, one of my favorite coffee if we’re talking about now alcohol drinks, I do love the Caffè Corretto. It’s a shot of espresso and then a shot of Sambuca. But you can do it with a shot of espresso and an amaro next to it or something as a nice way to end a meal. Even in the middle of the day, just feel a little good. Little bit of amaro, little bit of espresso, just correct, correct. I like it. It’s good.
Z: You and I may have had a few of those in Italy.
A: We definitely did. We definitely did. Well this has been another great conversation. Thank you guys both for joining me as always. I may have to go and buy an AeroPress now and then have some updates for you guys down the road because I feel a little left out that I like you’re both at least somewhat drinking the legit coffee and I’m sitting here with a Nespresso. So I might have to try to change my ways, and I’ll update you guys next week.
E: Sounds good.
Z: Talk to you then.
A: Thanks so much for listening to the VinePair podcast. If you enjoy listening to us every week please leave us a review or rating on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, or wherever it is that you get your podcasts, it really helps everyone else discover the show. Now for the credits:
VinePair is produced and hosted by Zach Geballe, Erica Duecy, and me: Adam Teeter. Our engineer is Nick Patri and Keith Beavers. I’d also like to give a special shout-out to my VinePair co-founder Josh Malin and the rest of the VinePair team for their support. Thanks so much for listening and we’ll see you again right here next week.
Ed. Note: Transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.