Roll of Quarters

Fresh off a divorce, I moved into a one bedroom apartment near downtown Seattle in the Capitol Hill neighborhood in the spring of 1995. My possessions included an aging computer, an old Aztec patterned couch, and a calico cat with a bad attitude.

My post-college life wasn’t on the trajectory I had anticipated.

Finances were tight, and I was beginning to understand the cost of living in Seattle was a lot higher than Rock Springs, Wyoming, where I’d moved from a year earlier. I’d recently taken a job with an internet service provider, and I was learning skills that would pay dividends much later. But I didn’t make a lot of money, and those last few days before payday were rough.

My apartment was small. It wasn’t particularly modern, but it was clean and well maintained. And best of all, it was free because each month I took deposited checks from the 19 other tenants and occasionally showed apartments to potential renters on the weekends.

Near the end of each month, a maintenance man would show up and make sure the two washers and two dryers in the tiny laundry room were working properly. He also dropped two rolls of quarters through my office letter box. The first time he did this, he included a note detailing how the quarters could be used for refunds if a tenant had a problem with a machine. Otherwise, I could keep them.

What the maintenance man probably didn’t realize was that $20 worth of quarters often was enough to cover food for a week or more until my next paycheck arrived. When I’d open my office door to retrieve the rent checks at the end of each month, it felt like Christmas seeing two rolls on the dingy orange carpet. That $20 felt like $200.

Even today, when I hold a stack or roll of quarters I’m reminded of that incredibly kind gesture from a man I might have seen three times in the four years I lived in that apartment.

Heihox Manual Coffee Grinder

Back in 2015 when I was first getting into making coffee at home, I purchased a small Hario grinder. For under $50, it worked well for over five years. I dropped it a few years back, and cracked the outer shell, but it still worked just fine.

As I began to experiment making larger batches of coffee, the Hario became more time-consuming that I felt it should. I considered an electric grinder, such as the high-rated Baratza Encore or Virtuoso+. But I decided I like the manual coffee making process too much to go that route, so I began to look for a higher quality manual grinder.

In my search, I came across the YouTube channel by James Hoffman where he compared a number of high-end hand grinders. This introduced me to a few features I hadn’t considered such as burr material, hopper capacity, and grinder size. I really wanted the Comandante grinder, but I didn’t want to pay $250.

I eventually found the Heihox grinder on Amazon for about $100. The review were mostly positive, but I had a hard time finding any review outside of Amazon. I decided to buy it and try it and then return it if it didn’t perform like I wanted. It arrived in a good quality box which was a good first impression. I’ve been using it almost daily for about two months, and it’s a big improvement over the Hario. The grinding motion is much smoother, the grinds are more consistent and the steel burrs make quick work on the coffee beans.

I haven’t come across many downsides. I wish the hopper capacity was a little more than 30 grams of beans, but that’s not a deal breaker. It feels really substantial and balanced in my hand while grinding. The picture above doesn’t show this, but it comes with a textured grip made of rubber which helps you keep a firm grip on the grinder. This grip slides down the grinder, but it’s easy to pull back up before I begin grinding.

I mostly grind my beans for pour over using a Chemex. Sometimes I’ll grind them a bit finer for AeroPress. And lately, I’ve been using the course grind setting to make cold brew coffee using a Frieling French Press. If you’re looking for a grinder for Espresso, I don’t know if this model allows for that fine of grind setting.

Maybe one day I’ll have a Comandante, but until then, this $100 grinder from Heihox punches above its weight class. I’m keeping it.

My Coffee Subscription

As I improved my coffee-making skills in the French Press, AeroPress, and Chemex, I began to consume more coffee. Coffee I purchased at the grocery store was fine. Here in Southern Utah, we have a few local coffee roasters that sell beans I can grind at home. But over the past year, I got bored with my limited choices. So I began to search for a coffee subscription service.

trade-coffee-new

I decided to give Trade Coffee a try, mostly because I like the design of their website. I signed up, and my first bag of beans arrived about a week later. Besides offering coffee beans from dozens of roasters around the US, they have some features that keep me with the service. Among them:

  • Ability to change order date (earlier or later)
  • Coffee rating system
  • Gift service (sending my favorite coffee to friends!)
  • Tips on different brewing techniques

I didn’t expect to be so satisfied with my first foray into a coffee subscription, but Trade has been fantastic in exposing me to coffees I wouldn’t have otherwise tasted. When I signed up, Trade asked me to answer a few questions to determine the type of coffee I might like along with my preferred brew method. Of the dozen or so bags of coffee, Trade has sent, only one bag wasn’t that memorable.

A couple of my favorite coffees so far: Colombia San Roque and Guatemala Finca Nuevo Vinas.

Interview with Jim Fosina of Amora Coffee

I had the opportunity to interview Jim Fosina, CEO of Amora Coffee. Amora is a premium coffee roaster and coffee subscription service that was founded by Jim and spouse in 2011. By 2015 they added tea to their offering and have served tens of thousands of coffee enthusiasts like myself.

Tell me how you got involved with Amora Coffee. DiJim_Fosinad you work in the coffee industry before Amora?

I started my career 30 years ago working for Kraft General Foods within their Direct to Consumer Home Delivery Coffee Subscription called Gevalia Kaffe, a part of Maxwell House Coffee. Years later, I founded a Direct to Consumer Subscription Advertising Agency called Fosina Marketing Group which I grew over a period of 15 years before selling it but during that time, we Founded Amora Coffee in 2011 as our own Direct to Consumer Coffee Subscription Service.

How would you describe what sets Amora apart from other coffee roasters?

The meaning of Amora is LOVE and the configuration of the Amora name is the reverse spelling of Aroma. You have to LOVE the AROMA of your Coffee as that is your first impression and to have great Aroma, you have to have really FRESH coffee. Amora prides itself on LOVING Coffee and getting it to our customers just as fresh as we possibly can…..Fresh Coffee delivered right to your doorstep, the way you want it when you want it, the coffee subscription service you completely control…..That’s Amora!!

What is the process for selecting the coffees to offer?

Our Master Roaster is always looking and selecting beans from crops and origins all around the world that bring the most balanced blends to your cup based on coffee growing region seasons. The blends are selected for the best delivery of flavor and aroma based on the level of roast intensity

How do you feel about the health of the coffee industry given the state of the country under quarantine right now?

Very healthy. People are not drinking less coffee, they are just getting it differently during quarantine time. More coffee is being consumed at home rather than bistro’s, offices, and schools. So delivery has changed but the needs, wants, and desires of coffee is very healthy.

What does your coffee routine look like? Do you have a favorite brew method? Bean origin or blend?

My personal routine starts first thing in the morning just as the day starts. I like a darker roast so I drink either Vigorosi or Intenso. I prefer to use already ground beans rather than grinding myself as the grinders we use at the roaster are much gentler on a bean than most at home grinders that shatter or overheat versus truly grind the bean to the Roastmaster specification. I use a pour-over for the most optimized extraction and I don’t add anything to my coffee…..straight black.

What is the most challenging aspect of running a coffee roaster?

Amora roasts only in small batches in a highly monitored 9 stage roasting process for optimal quality and then hand packs into small 8 ounce bags to avoid mass production and deliver a product to consumers in smaller bags to minimize prolonged oxygen exposure. Our process is very labor-intensive and not mass-produced.

What trends do you see in coffee right now?

Coffee continues to become the new basis of beverage concoctions that appeal to younger Gen Z and Millennial populations as consumers shift from fizzy sweet sugary drinks to coffee-based beverages.

What are a few items one should look for in selecting a coffee subscription service?

It is important that the consumer is always in control of their subscription. Consumers need the ability to EASILY change the coffee types they receive, how many bags at what interval of time while also being able to skip shipments, suspend service, cancel their subscription or change any part of their account including payment, shipping, and contact information. Live Customer Representatives should be available 24 hours per day every day of the year and easy access to an online dashboard for customers to service their own accounts. Service is paramount in subscription, taking even more precedence than the product itself.

For someone just getting started with quality coffee, what tips would give them?

Coffee appeals to two of your primary senses…..smell and taste. Experiment, Experiment, and Experiment again until you find what suits your fancy. Besides, it’s fun!!

What is your beverage of choice when you can’t have a coffee?

Black Tea

My Coffee Routine

With the coronavirus running rampant through the world, I’ve been making a lot more coffee at home. The Starbucks, Perks and other local coffee shops are open, but only for take out or drive-thru. After several years of using mainly the French Press method, I switched to Chemex. Here is my routine for making coffee each morning for my spouse and myself.

Equipment

Preparation

I begin by measuring 1100 grams of filtered water into my kettle, and then set it on the stove to boil. I then measure 62 grams of coffee beans and hand-grind them at a medium to course setting. I set the ground beans aside and prepare my Chemex. I’ve found folding the Chemex filters down the middle helps keep it in place when I begin my pour-over.

Chemex, Coffee and Chris Botti

One reason I like the Pour Over gooseneck kettle is because it includes a thermometer on the lid. When the water reaches just past 200 degrees Fahrenheit, I pull it off the stove. I then put my Chemex with filter on my scale and tare it before I pour 100 grams of water over the filter. This rinses away any paper taste from the filter and helps warm the Chemex vessel.

Dump the water from the Chemex, and then carefully place your coffee grounds into the filter. Tare the scale again, and slowly pour about 120 grams (or twice the amount of coffee) over your beans, make sure to cover them all. The goal here is to allow the water to release the carbon dioxide from the beans and prepare them for the pour over. Let the coffee bloom for about 30-40 seconds.

Then take your kettle and slowly pour about another 400 grams worth of hot water over the beans. I’ve found making smallish circles with the gooseneck allows for a more even extraction of beans. Take a spoon or bamboo stick and gently stir the slurry to make sure there’s no clumping going on. Then pour the rest of the water using the same circular motions.

The entire pour-over, from start to finish, should take about 3:30 to 4:30 minutes, although don’t stress too much if you take a little longer. I’m probably taking closer to 5 minutes most mornings, but that could be because I’m barely awake before my first cup.

I allow the coffee to brew until I see it begin to drip from the filter before tossing it in the trash. I then give the fresh coffee a quick stir before enjoying it with a few ounces of half-and-half. If you’ve used good quality coffee, give it a taste test before adding a lot of sweeteners. You might find the flavors of the coffee are enough to please your palate.

The 2020 Election

My ballot for the Democratic primary arrived by postal carrier last week. I sat the large envelope next to my computer as a reminder to vote and send it back in time to be counted among the few blue voters in Utah.

The 2016 election feels like a decade ago. Each election season the candidates tell us this year is the most important election in the country’s history. I guess that’s how it goes, but was the 2000 race between Bush and Gore more historically significant than the 1980 race between Reagan and Carter? Who knows.

What I do know is that the 2020 election feels important for a number of reasons. Gas prices are low, as is unemployment. Economic indicators look pretty good, especially if you can afford to invest. We might at war in the Middle East, but it doesn’t feel like we are at war, and that’s important. The biggest threat to the country might be the coronavirus.

I’m not a Trump fan which should come as no surprise. I used to follow the nonsense in Washington D.C. a lot more than I do today, but it became exhausting and depressing. Tuning into Maddow used to be part of my nightly routine. While I still admire her work, I refuse to add more Trump news into my life than already sneaks into conversation.

So I finally opened my ballot and ran my finger down the list of candidates. I didn’t recognize some of the names. I just barely started spelling Klobuchar correctly. All summer, I was learning toward Warren, and she remain the only candidate I’ve supported with my wallet. I read up on Pete and liked what I found. Biden has never connected with me. And neither had Sanders until recently. Bloomberg? The former REPUBLICAN mayor of NY? No.

One of my favorite shows on TV is The Weekly on FX. I watched the episode where the NYT interviewed all the Democrat candidates in preparation for their sought after endorsement. Based solely on those interviews, I came away most impressed with Klobuchar and Warren. The NYT happened to endorse both candidates. And while both have shined in the debates, neither has a clear path to the nomination and little momentum heading into Super Tuesday.

I stared at my ballot for a few minutes. With whom do I align with the most? Which candidate annoys me the least? Which seems the most presidential? Which one will tell Moscow Mitch to go to hell every day? But it really came down to one question: Which candidate do I believe can beat Trump in November?

I voted accordingly.

Defending Utah

I find myself defending Utah every now and then.

But the more I think about it, Utah doesn’t need a lot of defending.

We have a number of majestic national parks. We are an educated group. Most of our schools are a safe place to send your kids. Residents can drink the water without getting ill. We have lakes and streams and forests to both hunt and fish.

Have you skied the powder in our mountains? Have you driven through the red rocks of southern Utah? Or hiked Angel’s Landing at Zion? Have you dropped a ski at Pineview Reservoir?

The people I hear making fun of Utah probably haven’t visited many states outside of Wyoming or Idaho.

Yep, we have some strange liquor laws. Sometimes the dominant religion puts its thumb on the political scales. The air isn’t great around the Salt Lake area during the winter months, and you will drive behind a lot of minivans and big ass trucks.

But hey, have you been to other states?

Favorite Product of 2019

I didn’t purchase a lot of new technology in 2019. I replaced an aging HP printer with an HP OfficeJet 8035 printer my kids use to copy and scan and occasionally print. I wanted to update our AppleTV with a newer model but can’t justify the $150 price tag right now. My Windows 10 PC is starting to act sluggish when I have more than a couple of browser tabs open and try to launch Adobe Acrobat or Photoshop. But for the most part, between my PC and my MacBook Pro, I can perform the tasks I need to for work and play.

A few months ago, my daughter bought AirPods. She loved them immediately. My son followed with his own pair a month later and told me used them every day. So for my birthday, I bought myself some AirPods and figured I could return them if they didn’t impress me.

If you’ve owned wireless headphones or earbuds, you know that Bluetooth can be finicky. My Jaybird buds mostly worked once connected, but switching them between my iPhone and Mac wasn’t as easy as it should be. But they worked for the most part, and I enjoyed them for a couple of years. I never really got used to how they sealed off my ears from outside sounds.

My AirPods have become one of the best Apple products I’ve ever purchased. I use them every day, on my Mac and my iPhone. The only place I don’t use them is while at my PC because I have a Turtle Beach headset there that works well for making calls or joining conference calls.

Like most Apple products, AirPods just work. I open the case and they immediately connect to my device. The tiny case keeps them running for about 20 hours total, or about 5 hours per charge. The ubiquitous white buds fit my ears well and stay in place surprisingly well. They also sound great for earbuds. I highly recommend them.

The Gift to Not Believe

One of the things I’m most proud of as a parent is giving my children the gift to believe or not to believe.

It will be their choice either way. They won’t be forced to attend the same church I was raised in. I like this quote from Richard Dawkins:

It is a remarkable coincidence that almost everyone has the same religion as their parents and it always just happens to be the right religion.

Children naturally gravitate to the belief system of their parents. Whether your parents are Catholic, Buddist, Seventh-Day Adventist, Mormon or one of the nearly 4200 religions around the world, there is a good chance the religion you believe to be true will be the same one your parents believe to be true.

If our children want to try out different churches, they are welcome to do so. Even though I don’t believe in God, I will encourage them to learn as much as they can about the people, history, and doctrine of any religion they consider joining.

Man-Made

I didn’t drink coffee until I was into my mid 40s.

Same goes for beer or any type of alcoholic beverage.

I was told what color of shirt to wear to church. I was told what type of activities I could join in on Sunday. No swimming because Satan controls the waters!

R-rated movies were discouraged.

When I decided to have a vasectomy, I was supposed to consult with my local bishop.

For over 40 years I thought God made the rules and it was my responsibility to follow them. I felt incredible amounts of guilt when I failed.

Until I realized it was all man-made.

God doesn’t judge me if I have an Americano with cream. He doesn’t care how I spend my time on Sunday or what I wear.

If there is a God I bet he cares more about how I treat others than if I’m wearing the right underwear.

I had followed rules created by men.

When I allowed myself to act outside these artificial restrictions I began to think for myself again.

And as for God? Man made him too.