If you’re reading this expectantly, I think Stanley Spadowski probably summed up your situation best.
Relax. Gifts- what are they good for?
If you’re in a new relationship with another human being, gifts are good for A LOT, probably. If, on the other hand, you’re trying to set the bar for a low-gift season with family so that you don’t break your back lugging things through an airport that you don’t want to give or, conversely, lugging things home that you didn’t want to receive, consider giving the gift of your coffee expertise and elbow grease. Tired of being known for your holiday tech support skills? Make sure your loved ones buy into a computing platform that you don’t own, so you can claim ignorance and then make a name for yourself as the coffee guy. Everybody loves the coffee guy; that is, except the tea guy. Oh, that self-righteous Tea Guy! (EDITOR’S NOTE: I like tea.)
Here’s a few gift-like ideas that will keep you close to the coffee and away from the cracked iPad screen that your cousin is just SURE you can pry off and fix.
Want to make yourself useful? Clean up that gear. It’s not glamorous, but you and I both know your family’s gear isn’t disassembled daily and scrubbed.
If you’re working with an automatic drip brewer, dish soap and water is usually a huge improvement. Remove the water reservoir and scrub it. Is there an ancient water filter in there that no one’s bothered to replace? Toss it, offer to order a new one, or buy them a cheap Brita-type pitcher/filter to use instead, since it’s doing the same job. Having filter replacements just down the street goes a long way towards actually replacing them on a regular basis. Next, go to work on the brew area where you pour in and dump out the grounds. There’s a reason brew baskets are black – they stain, but, being black, they consequently don’t show coffee grounds or accumulated oils. Try to gently dislodge the basket and give it the soap and water treatment. Another great place to check for mess is the shower head above the brew basket. At the least, wipe the brew head off with a damp cloth. Try unscrewing the shower head and scrubbing it in the sink too. Make sure that any parts hitting the sink are thoroughly rinsed. The last thing you want to hear after all your hard work is, “You’re right. The crisp acidity of this Huehuetenango is really shining through. No wait, that’s Lemon Joy soap I’m tasting.”
Are the folks you’re staying with using a press pot to brew their coffee? Despite its classic status, some people still don’t know you can (and should) unscrew the 3-piece filter assembly and clean the parts with soap and water after each time you make coffee. How do you know if it’s clean? Pick up the pieces after they’ve dried. Are they greasy? That’s coffee oil. Scrub with soap, rinse and repeat. How does the filter smell? That’s right: Hold it up to your face. It shouldn’t smell like anything but metal. Anything you can smell now is going to end up in the next batch of coffee you brew. Now, taste the filter… perhaps I’ve said too much.
If your holiday boarders do a reliable job of keeping their gear clean, maybe hand them some pro-level cleaning products. It’s like the hotel mint on the pillow, except this mint keeps kitchen fistfights from breaking out before 10am.
Is that a grinder you see on the counter before you? Did someone take your advice about buying whole bean coffees? Having a great burr grinder at home is key to making really good coffee. That’s right, I said burr grinder. Blade grinders are good for grinding spices or whatever else your state and local governments allow, but not coffee. Having said that, blade grinders are an open-book when it comes to cleaning- What You See Is What You Have To Clean Out Without Bludgeoning Yourself On A Grinder Blade, WYSIWYHTCOWBYOAGB, as they say. Burr grinders, not so much. The burrs do a great job of precisely grinding the coffee, but you can’t pop the top and expect to see the grounds and oil in there. Here’s where you come in. Get your hands on some burr grinder cleaning tablets to get those coffee bits and oils out of there. Be sure to flush out the grinder with some coffee beans so you don’t have any lingering cleaner down in there. Feel like you have a MacGyver rep to keep up? Flush the grinder with white rice. Follow that with some whole bean coffee. If it’s easy, remove the plastic hopper and wash it with soap and water.
But what if your home-away-from-home has an espresso machine? Back up slowly. Unless this person feigns complete ignorance to the machine and its care and implores you to help, put that caffeine wrench down. They most likely spent hundreds of dollars on this machine and either feel good about their coffee and maintenance game or have a ritual including a small animal sacrifice that helps them brew acceptable coffee. You don’t want them turning their sacrificing on you, do you?
But do you know what’s even better than nothing? Gifts!
If you must give gifts, my favorite coffee gift is still a small but accurate scale and a timer. Nothing says “I’m maintaining my 17:1 water to coffee brewing ratio” quite like a pocket scale with 0.1g accuracy.
Looking for that metal Starbucks card you heard about on the news? Break out that checkbook and fire up ebay.
Gizmodo has put together a nice gift roundup here.
Prima coffee has assembled Christmas Crunchtime brewing bundles for quick shipping here.
NYT’s Oliver Strand has a fine list of books for coffee lovers here.
Then there’s the grand daddy of all coffee gear sites, Coffee Geek, complete with four coffee buying guides.
Always the paragon of polite coffee society, Sprudge has a lineup of gift gimmicks to avoid. You saved that receipt, right?
If you have burning coffee questions that would make interesting Nerdist Coffee fodder, please @ me – or add a comment below.