Useful Inexpensive Gadgets –
I’m not sure about you, but one of the things that has been keeping many of us sane during these weird, not-so-wonderful times, is coffee and tea. Besides the caffeine energy lift (for those of us who take it with caffeine), the imbibing of hot liquids can be relaxing, while iced coffee or tea can be very refreshing.
With that in mind, we’ve asked the staff of The Verge to tell us about their favorite coffee and tea brewers, grinders, and other paraphernalia. If you’re also an enthusiast, we hope you’ll enjoy looking over some of the gadgets that we enjoying using for our daily infusions. If you’re not, maybe this will give you some ideas of things to try.
As a dumb Midwestern American, my first introduction to the Moka Pot came with my very first European trip to Barcelona to cover the Mobile World Congress smartphone convention. I had no idea what I was doing, was traveling alone, and discovered my little hotel room didn’t have a boring hotel room coffee maker but this Bialetti thing and a small stove.
I figured it out with some googling and immediately fell in love. It works by heating the water below, which passes through a chamber with the coffee and then up into the pot above. The coffee it makes is a sort of halfway in between a percolator-style brew and an espresso. It makes a rich, full-bodied yet clean cup once you figure it out.
Getting it takes a little doing, but it’s worth it. Once you figure out how not to overheat the thing and boil the coffee, you start to get a feel for “dialing in” a recipe. You can experiment with just a couple of variables instead of the seemingly endless ones coffee nerds will talk about with pour-over systems. It teaches you a little bit about how coffee works in a more accessible way.
Also, it’s a pretty, elegant thing to have on your stove. It makes a satisfying little percolator noise when it’s ready, and it feels way more satisfying than your standard Mr. Coffee drip brewer to use.
For years, I only ever drank coffee at home that was brewed in a Bialetti Moka pot. But since working from home and finding myself reliably making two cups of coffee a day, I’ve switched almost completely to using an old AeroPress I had tucked away in a cupboard.
My switch had nothing to do with taste — although, for what it’s worth, I think the AeroPress makes great coffee. Instead, it had everything to do with how easy it is to clean. After you’ve depressed its plunger and gotten all your brewed coffee into a mug, you can whip the AeroPress’ lid off and plunge the remaining grounds straight into your food waste bin. Give the whole thing a quick rinse, and it’s ready to be used again, perfect if your household makes lots of individual cups of coffee throughout the day.
If you want to get fancy with it, there are a ton of AeroPress recipes you can try out, which vary how coarsely you grind your coffee, how much coffee you use, the temperature of your water, or how long you leave it to brew. Here’s one such video of nine recipes. Then, once you’re bored of those and want to throw caution to the wind, there are a couple of apps that auto-generate AeroPress coffee recipes. I use Aeroprecipe for Android, but there’s also CoffeeDice for iOS.
Is it a little annoying never knowing what kind of coffee you’re going to get every time you make one? A little, but when you’re going stir-crazy after working from home continuously for six months, a little variation in your coffee is no bad thing.
International news writer
It took me a while to move past the idea that I didn’t need a bunch of expensive machinery to make a good cup of coffee. That changed when I saw that some of my favorite coffee shops made each cup fresh pour-over style with a simple drip filter. At best, it tastes almost exactly like the coffee smells.
So I shelled out $20 or so for a Hario V60 ceramic drip filter, hoping to replicate the results at home, and I couldn’t be happier with each cup I drink. I’ve gotten great results with Stumptown’s single-origin El Injerto Bourbon Guatemalan coffee, but really any decent coffee beans will turn out a good cup.
Now, this is quite the opposite of a hands-free way to make coffee. I have to grind enough beans for a cup, then dump it into a paper filter that slides into the ceramic cone-shaped filter. Once the water is boiled on the range, then I have to slowly pour some over the coffee, little by little, until the cup is full. It’s not a fool-proof method, either. On tired days, I’ve accidentally poured too much water in, which causes coffee grounds to go into the cup. I’ve also totally knocked the filter off the cup, which leaves a truly glorious mess that’s just pleasant to deal with first thing in the morning.
But on good days, it takes no more than five minutes to make each cup. That might be too much of a commitment for you, but I find putting some time into something that will yield energy to be a worthwhile ritual.
All pour-over coffee brewers should be like this one. The Melitta single-cup pour-over coffee brewer has got two big holes in the base so that light shines into your cup and you can tell how full it is and when to stop pouring.
After one too many overflows with my old, inferior brewer, I finally upgraded to this one a couple of years ago and have been very happy. The Melitta is light without being flimsy, inexpensive, and great for camping trips.
VP, The Verge
In my household, we use a French press, and until recently, we simply went to the local supermarket and used their machine to grind a pound of coffee. However, when the pandemic hit, the supermarket got rid of its grinder — I guess it thought it might be a source of transmission — and we didn’t have any place local that would grind coffee beans to the coarseness needed by a French press. So we watched a ton of YouTube videos explaining how grinders worked and what type you should buy, laughed at the prices of most of the ones they were touting, and finally decided upon the Capresso Infinity Conical Burr Grinder.
This isn’t a top-of-the-line grinder by any means; it uses metal rather than ceramic burrs (and no, I’m not going to explain what a burr is; look it up), and it’s really hard to clean. But after a few trial runs, we’ve learned how to use it to grind coffee beans to a decent coarseness and can now have our morning coffee straight from the beans.
I’m usually a no-frills coffee guy: regular drip coffee with a splash of milk is my go-to order. But if you’re looking to turn your morning cup into something a little fancier, my wife swears by this funny little milk frother from Ikea. Ikea is usually pretty hit-or-miss when it comes to quality, but this frother has lasted us a couple of years now. All it takes is two AA batteries and your milk is suddenly whisked into a heaping pile of foam. Add the coffee, and voila: instant sophistication.
Andrew J. Hawkins
Let me say at the start that you absolutely should get an electric kettle for boiling water even if you’re not trying to up your coffee game. It’s wildly more useful than you might expect to have a dedicated thing for making very hot water fast.
Let me also say that paying $149 for an electric kettle is objectively nuts, and it puts you at serious risk of being called a coffee snob. But if you can swing it, the Stagg EKG is a lovely kettle. It has just the right controls: a simple knob for adjusting temperature that doubles as an on / off button and as a timer when you long-press it. There is a switch on the back for metric or imperial units and another switch that lets you set the kettle to hold its temperature for up to an hour.
You’re buying it for the elegant, easy operation, but you’re also buying it because it is a beautiful, well-made object. It’s incredibly well-designed, and though it doesn’t hold quite as much water as some others, it keeps that water at precisely the temperature you set it at. I prefer the gooseneck version as it is easier to do fiddly pour-over things.
It has quickly become the default option for a lot of people getting into coffee, and that’s for a good reason: it’s great. Expensive! But great.
I used to make cold brew in a not-so-efficient manner. After months of finding coffee grounds in my coffee, I decided to upgrade to this cheap alternative, and it absolutely changed my cold brew game. Gone are the days of using mesh sieves to filter my brews. I just remove the bag after 12–24 hours of steeping, and voila: great, ground-free cold brew. I used to be a summer-only cold brew drinker, but adding this bag to my routine is making me think cold brew season is going to last much longer than it has in the past.
Okay, I’ll admit it. Until recently, I was something of a coffee dilettante. I didn’t buy fresh coffee beans, grind the exact amount I needed, heat the water to exactly the right temperature, and preheat the French press before brewing. Instead, I got a pound of pre-ground coffee at the local supermarket and stored it in this cheap, plastic, but extremely useful storage container.
This is how it works: when I got the bag of coffee home, I would open the bag, fold it back a bit from the top, and then put it into the plastic dispenser. When I snapped the cover shut, an extension in the bottom of the cover held the bag open. After that, when I wanted coffee, I simply had to open a small door in the top of the cover, spoon out as much coffee grounds as I needed from the open bag, and snap the door shut again. It was convenient, and the coffee stayed fresh (or as fresh as pre-ground coffee can be).
Over the past six months, my household has graduated to actual coffee beans and a grinder. (But no, we do not preheat the French press — I’ve got limits, after all.) As a result, our little plastic coffee dispenser seems to have outlived its usefulness. But that’s okay. We’ll find something else to use it for.
I drink a lot of tea in the morning, and I like fancy mugs. Lately, my favorite has been East Fork’s handmade mug — dubbed “The Mug” — which is a delightful, good-looking way to enjoy your favorite hot beverage.
At $36, is it expensive? Yes. Does it function virtually the same as a mug that costs one-sixth the price? Also yes. But the clay is thick and heavy, keeping my tea warm and my hands unburnt. The design is lovely, with smooth, rounded edges and a sturdy handle. And the speckled glazes (especially the brighter, seasonal colors) look fantastic.
[NOTE: The Mug and other pottery by East Fork are currently sold out, but according to the company, presales will be available on Sunday, October 25th.]
A coffee bean subscription
You can buy all the fancy coffee gear in the world, but if you aren’t using decent beans, you’re only ever going to get so far. (Remember that old maxim: “garbage in, garbage out.”) Good beans can mean different things to different people, but basically, you want something that has been recently roasted (freshness matters a ton) and isn’t over-roasted, like some certain big coffee chains that happened to originate from Seattle like to do.
The easiest way I’ve found to have a regular supply of fresh coffee beans is to have them delivered to my house on a regular cadence. I’ve subscribed to various coffee delivery services for years, switching every once in a while to try out something new. We drink a lot of coffee in my home, so we can easily go through a 12-ounce bag each week. I generally have two bags delivered every two weeks to keep me stocked up without having to store them for too long.
The best coffee bean services roast and ship the same day, and depending on where you live, can get them to you in as little as a day or two. (I’m in New York, so roasters on the East Coast work best for me, especially with shipping times getting extended during the pandemic.) Most give you choices for blends or single-origin beans, with the same ones arriving each order or, in some cases, different varieties depending on seasonal availability. You will pay a little more for this convenience versus buying the beans in a store, but you also avoid having to make that last-minute run to the store and hope that they have the beans you like on the shelf. (Or in the case of where I live, having to settle for the subpar, months-old beans the local grocery stores stock on their shelves.)
I’ve had good success ordering beans from Blue Bottle, Yes Plz, Counter Culture, and Bixby Coffee (no relation to Samsung’s virtual assistant of the same name, but it does have a dog as a mascot). My current plan, though, is through Irving Farm, a New York-based roaster.
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