Tools and technique


We have way too many tools and implements for brewing coffee in our house and this week I bought one more.

There are many ways for ending up with a great cup of coffee. The biggest variable to watch at each step is freshness. You need to start with coffee that was roasted this week. Next, you need to grind it moments before you brew it and your grind should match the technique you are using for brewing. Vaccum, espresso, automatic drip,… each method requires a grind that matches how and for how long the water comes in contact with the water. The final word in freshness is that you need to drink it right after you brew it. You don’t want to leave the coffee pot on a heater underneath the basket still full of grounds.

I bought a Hario drip funnel and paired it with the Buono pot for pouring. The Hario looks funny. It can’t possibly work. It is a ceramic funnel with a huge hole in the bottom. The hole is way too big—it can’t possibly work. Everything I read said that what makes it work is the technique of the brewer.

The funnel arrived Wednesday morning and sure enough my first attempts produced a good cup of coffee but not a great cup. This morning with four days of practice under my belt the three minutes of brewing looked just like it did in the videos I’d found on line. The coffee bloomed and I was able to keep it just wet enough and at a constant temperature that the coffee in the cup showed off the full range of the grounds that it had passed through. Both the depth of the Timor roast and the high notes rolled across my tongue.

The right tools will make the task easier, but there’s no making up for bad technique. Tools like the Hario put your technique front and center. Anyone sipping that cup of coffee could taste the success or failure of my technique.

As you must know, this is also true about writing.

You aren’t the first person to fuss about just the right tools. Which software do you want to use to write and store this important work you will write? I prefer a simple text editor. I don’t need to use something that will make my words look nice. I want to use a text editor that, like my Hario, has a big hole in the bottom. In a text editor the words look stark. There’s nothing to distract me. Either the words tell the story I want them to or they don’t.

You can use Word, or Pages, or LaTeX, or HTML. Beware of using a tool that allows you to vary the font or the spacing or the color. All of these things make the layout nicer but they don’t make the writing any better. Pick a tool that stays out of your way.

This problem isn’t new. Before this, writers wasted their time picking out the write typewriter. Some of us fuss about which pen we’ll use in which sort of notebook. None of that really matters. It’s fun to have the right tools, but spend your time on technique. Put words on the page.