Coffee in the Office

I’m going to start this one off with a very important disclaimer. I am not a coffee connoisseur, at least not in any way that can compare with Andy, Ben, Sam, or Samm. Andy has always sought out great coffee, while Ben and Sam are so obsessed they buy green beans in bulk and roast their own. Meanwhile Samm has a high end grinder and nice espresso machine in his house.

On this scale, then, I am near the bottom. But I do enjoy coffee. I usually have 2 cups in the mornings on workdays, and 2 or more at home or at a restaurant on weekends. I rarely make coffee at home on weekday mornings, largely because I don’t leave myself much time between getting up and getting to work.

For several years I have dealt with this in the laziest way I could. I drank the coffee from the drip machine in the break room. It’s a fairly standard coffee service arrangement where they provide the commercial drip machine and pre-packaged ground coffee.

While an acceptable arrangement from the lazy man’s perspective, the coffee is not very good. I drink it with cream and sugar just to make it acceptable, and not even that can save it after it has been sitting on the burner for an hour.

I’ve been OK with this arrangement for a few years now, but I’m finally ready to give in and exert some effort for better coffee. Preferably coffee I can drink black, and only apply cream and sugar as an occasional style choice rather than a necessity.

I came up with several ideas to solve this, and my friends were able to supply a few other good suggestions:

I rejected the first two ideas because they include daily or near daily carting of equipment or coffee back and forth, and that is not something I am good at. I rarely bring in lunch and when I do I often forget to bring my lunchbox back home for days.

The French press idea was a pretty good one, as I have a press that I rarely use so this would cost no money at all. Because I almost exclusively brew coffee at home with an aeropress it was my favorite idea, but it would require buying a second aeropress for the office (remember that I don’t want to cart things back and forth frequently).

In the end I settled on testing a few of my ideas. I made a fresh pot of drip coffee and had a cup of that. I made a cup of the Starbucks VIA instant coffee. Then I made a cup of coffee with the aeropress, using the pre-packaged work grounds (I only tried this because it would completely eliminate carting of things back and forth between work and home). Finally I tried the aeropress with the supermarket whole bean coffee I generally drink at home. For hot water for the aeropress and the instant coffee I used water from the hot water dispenser they installed by the sink.

Here’s how things fell out, ranked in order from best to worst:

  1. The Vail Mountain beans ground at home at my normal settings and brought in using a spare Illy coffee container, brewed with the aeropress.
  2. Starbucks VIA instant coffee (thanks, Andy).
  3. Work grounds brewed with the aeropress.
  4. Regular work coffee.

Based on this, it was clear that my best bet was probably another aeropress and the smaller hassle of grinding a few days’ worth of beans at home and then keeping that at work. I would still have to cart something back and forth but it wouldn’t be every day. In a pinch I will keep the instant coffee around as well.

It was also clear that although brewing the work grounds with the aeropress was better than straight up work coffee, it wasn’t really very good, and the grounds are too coarse. A lot of water seems to drip through the aeropress before I ever press, and I think the coffee got a bit over-extracted. My grinder at home is dialed in to a pretty optimal setting, which is about halfway between espresso grind and regular drip.

Based on this test I brought in my current aeropress and all its accessories and ground a few days worth of beans and took all that to work, and I plan to just leave that stuff in the office. For home I just ordered another aeropress, since they are only about $25 on Amazon.

Other than the significant increase in caffeine intake (the drip coffee is kind of weak), this is a net win. My coffee is actually good now, and I can drink it black again. Cleanup is quick and easy, and I only look a little bit silly. I kind of wish I had done this earlier.

— Steve

Posted on 11 February 2012