Category Archives: coffee

Coffee: Keep Cup

Travel mugs. We all use them and no one really talks about them. Everyone has one that they think is the BEST ever, and they aren’t shy about telling you why theirs is better than yours. We’ve all been disappointed by one in the past. Well, at least in my circle of friends. I’ve gone through a slew of travel mugs over the years. Most of them I have destroyed through dropping, dishwasher, or some other mishap. The big problems that I’ve found with mugs is that they leak either through the sippy mouthpiece or from around the lid. Either way it’s shirt disaster.

I’m always on a search for a good travel mug, and I’ve accumulated a lot of them. Save 3 of them, they are in my cupboard abandoned. Occasionally, one gets taken to work and abandoned, mostly they sit and collect dust. I really ought to toss them in a bag and take them to the thrift store.melchiorThat brings me to today’s review. Keep Cups. I realize I’m slow on this product, they have been around for a few years but I was finally able to get one locally.

Keep Cups are plastic travel mugs with a lot of silicone leak-proofing offered in many color combinations. When ordered online you can get any color combination you want, which is nice. When I bought mine in person I had to make a choice between a few color combinations that I really didn’t like all that much. In the end I chose a blue cup, orange band, light teal top, with a green stopper. It is a bright, eye searing color combination, one I actually like quite a lot.* Everywhere I’ve used this cup I’ve gotten compliments on it, and people ask me where they can get one. In disclosure, mine was purchased with my own cash, at Equal Exchange on Causeway Street near North Station in Boston.

Mine is a medium, which means it will hold 12 fluid ounces of my favorite beverages. It has a line in it so that it can be filled with only 8 ounces if one so desires. The plastic is sturdy and doesn’t break when dropped. Yes, I know this for fact. The grippy textured surface of the plastic reminds me of old Tupperware cups, in a good way. I like it. It’s tactile and nice. It’s easy to keep clean too, it washes by hand or in the top shelf of the dishwasher with ease. All the parts and pieces disassemble to a thorough cleaning. I like this very much. One of the things that I hate with a travel mug is that sour stale coffee taste you get when old rancid coffee is held in the mug since the last time you used it. Gross, the Keep Cup’s easily separated parts solve this issue.

The lid of the Keep Cup is easily sipped through, and allows a decent amount of coffee through, large gulps and small sips are possible. The vent is hidden and seals as you turn the stopper. It doesn’t leak so I didn’t get a nose full of coffee as I walk and sip, or sat and sipped.

As much as the Keep Cup solves many of my travel mug problems- unbreakable, leak-proof, right size, and is lightweight, it has two main issues. The first is that it is made out of plastic. I really hate drinking out of plastic. HATE it. Plastic is gross, leaves a taste, and just blech. I feel juvenile drinking out of a mug that looks something like a sippy cup designed for my 3 year old nephew. If this thing was made out of stainless steel, oh baby, it would solve so many problems, not to mention, dead sexy. They do offer a glass version, but that defeats the breakable beauty of these cups. The second issue is that it is not insulated. A fresh hot cup of coffee quickly heats the body of the cup to scorching and it’s all cold from there. These cups quickly lose their heat. The cup’s warmth doesn’t last, and soon enough the brew is chilly.

Overall, I really like the Keep Cup. It’s small and light enough that I can toss it into my bag and not notice the additional weight. I don’t have to worry about dropping and breaking it.** It’s bright, and many of my friends (and a few Baristas) have complimented me on it. A stainless steel double wall version would still be lightweight, unbreakable, and insulated. It would be the perfect travel mug.

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Coffee: A Tale of Two Grinders

I purchased a Hario knock off coffee grinder on Amazon around six months ago. It’s worked great for me. The version I bought has an all steel drive system and has worked flawlessly at grinding anywhere from 16g to 40g of coffee almost every morning.  Grinding my coffee in the morning has been a  great way to get the blood flowing and a somewhat meditative exercise. In all fairness, I did make a lid for the grinder, since I was slopping beans all over the kitchen and irritating my spouse. To do so I simply cut the soft plastic lid from a tub of cashews to the right size. It works well at keeping my beans in the grinder and not making a mess. When I purchased the grinder it was $25, it is now hovers between $25 and $30 on amazon. When compared to all the other hand grinders on amazon that is not a bad deal. If I were to do it over again I’d go with the Hario portable version. But that is a whole other blog post that goes into hand size and grip and, yeah, not going there.

I troll the waters at kickstarter on a regular basis. I love kickstarter. I’ve backed a few really awesome things (Twist Bullet Pencil and Metal Comb Works Titanium Page markers,) some things that have been just okay,  and one thing that I’m STILL waiting for (Let’s not talk about it, I’m sore about it.) J love the idea of helping someone create something awesome or even mediocre, makers need help, and I’m glad to do it when I can afford it, and it fills a need. I happened upon a couple of coffee grinders. One that I’m considering backing and another that smacks of hucksterism and snake oil.

Let me explain the hucksterism and snail oil aspect of the second grinder I linked to. First, when I got my Hario knock off grinder, I took it apart to wash and clean oils and any unsavory particles that might have remained from manufacturing. Manual coffee grinders are very simple machines. Basically, you’ve got a handle and a crank that rotates a ceramic burr against another burr resulting in the grinding of the coffee. To adjust the distance of the burrs from one another you rotate a series of nuts and washers along the long bolt that goes through the whole assembly. If you don’t put it back together properly, it rotates sloppy, just like in that GIF. When you adjust it right, it’s not sloppy. Also until you get beans into the grinder the top burr will seem to float around. This is normal and not a problem.

When a creator offers a solution to a made up problem such as the “sloppy burrs” of a coffee grinder that is obviously not put together properly, well my red flags go up and my spider sense screams out, “Watch out!” In short, my opinion is that the guide they have created is worthless and not necessary. (I also think that what they are billing as a bearing is a bushing, but that may just be ignorance of the difference by the creator.)

Then we come to the general design of the grinder. Yes, the glass is different and there is a necessary lid, but inside it’s not so different from the grinder I bought on Amazon 6 months ago. The little silicone base is the same, the same frosted black plastic, the same lid for the cup. This grinder is so similar to the grinder I bought on Amazon that I at first thought it was the same grinder.

The grinder I bought on Amazon is a damn fine grinder. It is simple, easy to use, and cheap. It’s not going to win any design awards but it does the job. So for $25 to $30, this kickstarter item isn’t a bad deal, even if it does claim to solve a problem that really doesn’t exist. Any price over $30 is a waste. Personally, I wouldn’t back it because it encourages this hucksterism and snake oil sales on Kickstarter and that is a damn shame.

Addendum:

As an addendum to this piece I want to point out that I’m a tad on the hyperbolic side of writing with my opinion here and that snake oil may have been a strong term to use. The main issue that I have with the kickstarter in question is the GIF used of the grinder in a position that can’t possibly grind beans. If I were to adjust my grinder so that it had that much slop when I dumped beans into the hopper they would pour through the grinder, without grinding. Some amount of play or float is expected with these simple grinders.

In my mind when you buy a hand crank grinder in the $20 to $50 range you look for one that is well built, has a metal drive mechanism, and of course, has good reviews. Even though it’s only a $20 to $50 investment you still want it to work well for however long you need it.

I digress. My point is that some amount of slop, float, and movement is expected in these grinders. I happened to get one that grinds pretty well, some do a shitty job. I picked well, others don’t. You can’t expect a $20 hand grinder to do the same job as a $200 electric machine. It’s just not going to happen. What you do need to do is be aware of what is acceptable to you and what grind you plan to use. For me, my cheapie Hario knock off does the job because I keep it at a medium fine setting, which allows me to use it for both my aeropress (modified brew method not tradition aero) and pour over. When I want to use it for French Press I have to adjust it. I don’t very often, it’s a pain in the arse. Anyway, these grinders, while they do the job, and do a better job of grinding than other grinding methods, they aren’t perfect. To expect an antique method of grinding beans to do as good a job as the grinder at the local cafe or even the large grinder at the supermarket is the way to madness.

So when I said that this was an answer to a “made up problem,” I am specifically speaking to the slop they show in the GIF. I believe in truthful advertising, and when someone shows me a picture of something that is so unrealistic as to not be usable, I feel I have to then question everything else they are saying. If they aren’t truthful to make a point in one space, it is likely they aren’t being truthful everywhere. Ethics, it’s not just a thing for Doctors, Attorneys, and Therapists, it’s something we should all strive for. And yeah, I think selling something based on a half truth or a stretched truth or exaggeration is unethical.