Espresso at Home

One of the things I’ve missed most about the world during the pandemic has been hanging out in coffee shops, so I’ve spent the past year turning our apartment into one.  It’s partly why I bought those nice speakers (mentioned in the last issue). I started to think about how I could bring more coffee shop vibes into our apartment, and it’s turned into a full-blown hobby.  With so little else going on, the little ritual of making a great coffee in the morning became the highlight of my day. I’ve been sampling different roasts from around Pittsburgh and beyond, measuring every detail about my espresso to get the perfect shot, and failing at latté art.

The Brew StationBreville Bambino Plus

When I traveled to France during college, I fell in love with espresso.  Since then, I’ve always wanted to have it at home.  When I realized we’d be working from home indefinitely, I invested in a basic espresso machine.  I bought a Breville Bambino, which I liked because it was small and beginner-friendly.  

I didn’t expect to get so invested in the science of brewing a consistent, perfect shot.  While the Bambino does make great espresso, there isn’t a lot that can be controlled about the other little details that go into each cup (like water temperature, pressure, extraction time, etc). Even when I control for as many variables as possible, I still get different results.  This is me being really, really picky.  Overall, it still makes great espresso and I’ve found that the most important thing is starting with great beans. 

With the Bambino, I also got a grinder and kettle (for pour overs, French press, Americanos, or tea).  The grinder is the Baratza Encore, which is considered a great all-purpose Burr grinder.  It’s better suited for pour-over and French press than espresso, but it does the job.  I also decided on the Fellow kettle because it is so well designed, but I also like that you can set the exact temperature.

Practice makes… progress 

I’ve learned how to pull shots from my espresso machine.  Measuring progress making espresso shots is easy because everything is measured in seconds and grams.  Latté art is different and most of the time, I get blobs and swishes of milk instead of precise leafs, hearts, or flowers.  There are a lot of things that factor into latté art: the freshness, temperature, and texture of the milk, the angle which the pitcher is held as it froths, the angle the pitcher is held as it is poured, etc.  It is not as easy as it looks.  I also don’t drink lattés every day, so it I don’t get as much practice as I’d like.

Practice makes… progress 

Supporting Independent Coffee Shops

Beans 

This may sound obvious, but the most important component to a great shot of espresso is freshly roasted beans.  While I love the selection from Commonplace, our favorite coffee shop in Squirrel Hill, I’m having fun sampling different roasts.  I’m keeping a little log of every type I’ve tried this year.  So far, our favorite is shop out of Wisconsin called Ruby Roasters.  Because of the shipping costs, it’s pricier than buying from a coffee shop in the neighborhood, but it’s definitely the best.  If you have any favorite roasters, please let me know! 

Merch

In addition to shopping small for all of my coffee beans, I’ve been slowly collecting merch from my favorites.  I’m currently living in this shirt from Commonplace, which is incomprehensibly soft.  Rob and I also have matching sweatshirts from Tandem Coffee Roasters in Portland, Maine.  I think it’s a great way to give coffee shops a little extra support now.

Subscribe 

At the beginning of the lock down, I joined Tandem’s “The Good Thing” coffee and vinyl subscription.  There is a waitlist to join!  Each month, Tandem ships out a bag of beans and a record.  I love that they include a flyer talking about why they chose the record.  Subscriptions like this are great because they give business a guaranteed stream of revenue.  I’m also considering subscribing to coffee from Ruby Roasters

Commonplace TCommonplace CoffeeTandem’s Coffee & Vinyl SubscriptionCommonplace MugBaratza Encore GrinderThe Boy with the Arab Strap on VinylBreville Bambino PlusFellow KettleKLVN T

For a nice treat to go with that coffee… see my posts about scones and cardamom swirl bread

My Favorite Travel Items

Some unglamorous (but practical) travel must-haves:

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Field Notes Notebook, Sony Alpha A6000, S’well Bottle, Anker Portable Battery, Shampoo Packets, Travel Pouches, Muji Garment organizer, Turkish towel, Small Suitcase 

Most of the time, my monthly shopping list features a lot of thoughtfully-designed, bespoke pieces.  This month it is a little more basic, just a few practical items for travel.

I always travel as light, because it is so much easier.  I’d rather repeat outfits than check a bag.  I like to be prepared (I always travel with a towel, you might need an extra one!  Plus, Turkish Towels can serve other purposes, are easy to pack, and dry quickly).  I never assume anything will be provided. I try to bring just the basics and plan ahead to do without.

I started packing sample packets of shampoo and conditioner instead of little plastic bottles.  I usually have some on hand from my Sephora free sample stash, they are available on Amazon.  This is great because as you use them, they take up less room.  Also, a little sachet of shampoo takes up a lot less room than a mini bottle.

I stay organized while packing by partitioning everything into little baggies.  I bought this set off Amazon and use it to sort my cables, beauty products, and other miscellaneous small items.  I even used the largest bag to separate dirty clothes.  These packing cubes from Muji also help keep my suitcase organized.  I only ever travel with a very small, hard-sided, four-wheel spinner.

A few nice-t0-haves: I like carrying this S’well water bottle with me on trips because it is my only bottle that reliably fits in all sorts of pockets and cup holders.  It also keeps things hot or cold very well.  I pack it empty and fill it up with water at the airport.  Even though I have an iPhone with a very nice camera, I still pack a “real” camera.  I recently (after a lot of research) picked up a Sony Alpha A6000.  This model is a few years old, but takes great pictures and is very comfortable to hold and shoot with.  I like that it charges in a standard USB port, so I don’t have to bring another charger.  While traveling, I charge almost exclusively off of an external battery.  This one from Anker can last me for several days and charge two things at a time.  And finally, I always travel with a little notebook and pens because I really like to put pen to paper when jotting down any thoughts or notes.

Herbivore Botanicals Mask Review

Herbivore’s Pink Clay Hyaluronic Acid Mega Moisture Creme Mask ($48)

 

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IMG_0657I bought this mask last September from Sephora and only really used it twice. This is totally out of my own laziness and not a reflection of the quality of the mask at all. I bought this for two reasons: I wanted a hydrating product for winter and the gorgeous packaging (is that bad? I’m just being honest). Initially I was VERY turned off by the separation of the product. I even considered returning it when I saw yellowy goops of oil bubbling between gobs of pink gooey clay. Also, I think the product leaked and the box had an oil stain on it. But that stuff is just a mark of a genuine small-batch, independent beauty company. Speaking of small batch, I don’t think this product is available anymore. That doesn’t mean a true Internet-sleuth couldn’t dig up a jar, it just means Sephora isn’t selling it.

I admire Herbivore Botanicals for their commitment to using high quality ingredients when formulating products. They make a variety of face oils. The most popular on Sephora.com is the Blue Lapis variety, but they have specialized oils for cell rejuvenation, youth preservation, and hydrating glow oil. A short aside on the topic of face oil: I’m a firm believer in face oil, I love layering the stuff all over my face before I go to bed and waking up to baby-soft skin and how smoothly my make up goes after applying it. Oils have become an essential step in my skin care routine. Anyway besides oil they sell facemasks, soaps, lip moisturizer, mists for literally everything, and bath salts.

On to the mask I bought. I am somewhat of a mask-hoarder. I love trying different skin care products and my biggest weakness is a great mask. It’s so fun to see your face transform after slathering on a mask. I like brightening with minty green algae masks and pore vacuuming with charcoal. Masks also deliver amazing results that are both instant and lasting. I am all about a great mask.   Herbivore’s Pink Clay Hyaluronic Acid Mega Moisture Creme Mask, which I promise I will never write out again for the rest of this review, is hydrating without leaving my skin feeling oily. That’s my key takeaway. I like that my skin feels soft and smooth and clean but not, well, too oily. My skin just feels clean and hydrated and nice. Applying the mask is a little messy. I wouldn’t do it without the provided spatula and although some things I’ve read online call it “pre-mixed” I absolutely recommend thoroughly mixing it before use. I let the mask sit for about 20 minutes and it does not ever dry out like other clay masks (probably because of the oils in it) so don’t wait for the mask to dry into a hard layer. I just splashed it off with warm water and then pat my skin with a towel to dry.

Is this the absolutely greatest mask I have ever used? Probably not. It’s better than average and because I admire Herbivore Botanicals I will buy their products again. I mainly bought this mask to support a good company and try out their line. I really want to try out their charcoal products, texturizing hair spray, and lip products.

 

And just for fun and a good laugh, here is my Snap Story quick take of the mask.

Useful Links:

Herbivore Botanicals

Herbivore at Sephora

 

Bialetti Moka Pot

Recently I purchased an Italian coffee pot and it makes a truly great product.  I love coffee and espresso but not enough to spend thousands of dollars on a legit espresso machine, but my Bialetti Moka Pot works just fine.  From what I’ve heard, the more the pot is used, the better the coffee tastes.  The Internet is full of stories about people pulling these out of their grandma’s attic and using them for years.  They are relatively inexpensive ranging from about $20 upwards depending on retailer and capacity (note that the capacity is measured expresso cups, approximately 2 oz, not 8 0z of liquid).  The coffee is not a true espresso but it is very strong and richer in taste than drip coffee.  I hear the coffee produced makes a great cappuccino or latte but I only like black coffee.  These little pots are pretty intuitive but don’t actually come with instructions.  After scouring YouTube tutorials, articles, and forums, lots of trial and error, and a moderate dose of patience, I think I’ve come up with a good method.

Here’s what to do:

  • Warm up a burner to medium heat
  • Boil water
  • Once water is boiled and the burner is warm, add hot water to the bottom chamber of the moka pot, fill just below the steam valve
  • Place in coffee holder and fill with coffee (I used Illy), then screw on top.  Make sure to hold the bottom with a pot holder (it’s hot)
  • Set the pot directly on the stove until coffee erupts and fills the pot (listen for a gurgling noise), remove from heat when top is full
  • Place hot pot on a trivet
  • Serve coffee with a small cookie and enjoy.

Bialetti Moka Pot Sur La Table (34.95), Illy Coffee Sur La Table (15.95), Plate CB2 (1.95), Espresso Cup and Saucer Crate and Barrel (3.95), Espresso Spoon Crate and Barrel (2.50)