Coffee & Tool & Coffee Tool of the Day

Today I’m featuring an electrician’s Leatherman, the E4 Squirt, and a Modern Times (beer brewer/coffee roaster from San Diego) Black House coffee brewed in a Bialetti moka pot my mom gave me. (I think it was from my Zia Wanda’s kitchen in Cassino, Italy.)

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I really like the E4 because it’s got a good set of wire strippers/cutters on it, and the Philips screwdriver is a pretty nice one. I keep it in my jeans coin pocket.

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Build a Behemoth Cold Brew Drip Tower

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[This is republished from an article I wrote for Make: magazine]

I love cold brew coffee. Its rich and delicious flavor, and low acidity, means it tastes great over ice. Traditional hot-brewed coffee methods simply can’t compare; when chilled and served on ice they tend to taste diluted and acidic. I have a small commercial drip tower that works very well, however, given the fact that cold brew takes up to 18 hours to brew, it’s disappointing to finish it off in just a few drinks. You can buy large cold-brew towers, but they’re very expensive, aimed at coffee shops. I decided to build a much larger brewing tower from scratch, and to make it considerably higher precision while I was at it — drip rate is everything when it comes to cold brew — using a microcontroller-driven solenoid valve for exact drip rate.

A cold-brew coffee tower consists of three main parts: a water receptacle at the top with a drip control valve, a chamber for grounds in the middle where the brewing takes place, and a carafe to receive the brewed coffee at the bottom.

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Sourcing parts was a bit of an adventure. I had planned to use chemistry lab glass for all three systems, but eventually realized that this would be either too expensive, in the case of using a separatory funnel for the tapped water receptacle, or impractical — a Buchner funnel large enough to hold 150 grams of ground coffee would be much too squat and wide to saturate evenly. After much hunting I found the ideal components: a water serving pitcher for the top receptacle, a siphon brewing upper beaker as the grounds chamber, and a flat-bottomed boiling flask as the receiving vessel. For a bit of spiraling glass laboratory aesthetic I added a Graham condenser to the mix, purely for looks.

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Boing Boing Weekend of Wonder slideshow

The Boing Boing Weekend of Wonder was delightful. Star Foreman’s LA Weekly slideshow is a nice glimpse into the activities.

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The above photos Star shot capture a few of my activities during the event: a talk on creative making featuring Chauncey the flower care robot, workshops I taught on lock picking, and an impromptu human body tricks performance during a talent show one evening.

Drill Roast coffee roaster

Here’s a bit of info on my previous coffee roasting rig from a few years ago. It started life as a steel popcorn popping pot, which is just like a stovetop cooking pot, but has a hinged lid and handle mounted hand crank mechanism to turn a paddle at the bottom of the pot and agitate the beans.

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I drilled a small hole in the lid and fed in a thermocouple probe from my multimeter to measure temperature. I used the gas side burner on my outdoor grill for roasting — there is simply too much smoke to roast this way indoors.

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This worked well, but I wanted to make the 15-20 minute process less physically taxing! So, I took apart the hand crank mechanism and I grafted a power drill directly onto the shaft of the pot’s paddle. By wiring down the trigger at a slow speed, I could sit back and enjoy watching the coffee roast itself.

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Ultimately, this method still produces quite a bit of unevenness in the roast, so I eventually abandoned it for a purpose-built home roasting machine, the Behmor 1600. But, it was a fun period in the evolution of my coffee roasting process that I wanted to share.

Cool Tools Interview

Mark Frauenfelder and Kevin Kelly at the super excellent Cool Tools site recently interviewed me for their terrific Cool Tools Show podcast. We talked about some tool-like I recommend, including a coffee roaster, and gym rings. Stay tuned for the bonus, unexpected tool question at the end.

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Over at Cool Tools we interviewed my good friend John Edgar Park, who is one of the most interesting people I know. When he is not combing the streets for street sweeper blades to turn into picklocks, or practicing impossible yoga positions, or roasting his own coffee, he’s doing secret things at the research wing of Disney Imagineering. Kevin Kelly and I asked him to tell us about some of his favorite tools, which you can learn about in this episode of the Cool Tools Show, and by reading the show notes (Why not subscribe to the podcast and never miss an episode?)

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Morning Cappuccino

Here’s a look at the morning ritual — grinding beans, dosing the portafilter, tamping, pulling the shot, steaming and pouring milk. Not pictured: drinking this deliciousness.

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