Fork in the Road is publishing a series of local gift guides this year — one from each regular contributor. This one comes from our Filtered columnist, Lauren Mowery.
For caffeine hounds that range from the budding coffee or tea enthusiast to the pour over aficionado, this year’s list of gift ideas offers surprise and delight, no matter how many gadgets he or she has already stockpiled in the quest for the perfect cup. Looking for a precision grind in the woods? Check. Need a museum-approved coffee flask? Check. How about a page-turner for the java-loving bookworm? Also, check.
Craft Coffee Subscription, $134.94 for a half-year, $74.97 for three months
The first step to making good coffee is obtaining fresh whole beans. That means continuous shopping trips for small batches, checking the roast date, and likely working from a limited assortment of options. Williamsburg-based Craft Coffee does the work for you by canvassing the ever-expanding world of microroasters and carefully selecting the best beans from over 50 blind-tasted varieties, then shipping the winners to you three times a month. Each shipment brings 12 ounces of coffee comprised of three four-ounce samples. For the six-month subscriptions, that’s $22.49 a month, shipping included.
Porlex Hand Grinder, $47
After fresh beans, the next most important element to making coffee is a good burr grinder. Help your coffee-loving gift recipient relegate that whirling Krups or Braun grinder to spice duty by presenting them with a much more substantial — and consistent — electric burr grinder. Or consider giving this manual grinder for its use in and out of the home (pour overs in front of the campfire, anyone?). When traveling, you can easily stash a lightweight ceramic burr grinder in your backpack, carry-on, or check-in luggage. Its slim, stainless steel housing is less than eight inches long and one pound, and it will grind any brew, from Turkish to AeroPress — and it fits inside the chamber of the latter.
David’s Perfect Infuser, David’s Tea, 275 Bleecker Street, $12.50
Time for the resident tea-lover in your life to toss out those steel tea balls — you know, the ones that smash your leaves as you try to stuff them into the useless metal globe.The too-small ratio of leaf surface contact with water makes for a weak, sad brew. Instead, this deep and wide single-brew strainer allows leaves to unfurl and float (wet leaves can expand up to five times their dried size), spreading flavor cheer throughout the cup.
Bonavita Gooseneck Variable Temperature Electric Kettle, $95
Water does not need to reach its boiling point to make tea or coffee, but you know that already. Bonavita allows you to do something about this knowledge. Last summer, the company introduced a one liter variable temperature electric kettle with a goose neck spout. Tea and coffee drinkers can ensure high accuracy and control (with digital temperature settings) in a durable package.
It’s on display in the MOMA and featured in several movies and television shows. While the beautiful hand blown glass flask attracts the most attention, the key to a Chemex brew is the manufacturer’s proprietary filter paper. Heavy and fibrous, it moderates the drip rate of water through the grinds, staunching oil and sediment, to make the cleanest cup of coffee you will ever try. Be sure to include the filters if you’re giving the flask as a gift — using other filters can cause spilling and even scalding due to poor adherence to the sides of the flask.
Home Brewing for Beginners, Joe New York Pro Shop, 131 West 21st Street, $32
When Manhattan’s own Joe Coffee introduced its pro shop last year, it opened up the opportunity for the general public to become familiar with basic techniques or enroll in more intensive courses to learn specialized skills. The Home Brewing for Beginners class, held every couple of months for one and a half hours on a Saturday afternoon, demonstrates the process and capabilities of various pour over methods. It’s just right for someone who wants to refine his or her coffee-making skills or learn to differentiate between what may initially seem like several confusingly similar brewing methods.
Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee, $16
A book is an easy gift, and there are several well-written, in-depth options when it comes to the world of coffee. But if you’re looking for a book that the recipient will actually use and enjoy reading, try this missive written by Blue Bottle founder James Freeman. His personality and philosophy — and the personality and philosophy of the Blue Bottle Company — permeate each section, which can be read out of order, from front to back, or skimmed when the evocative photography catches your attention. A collaboration with his wife, pastry chef Caitlin Freeman, about one third of Freeman’s book features food recipes that can be paired with coffee, making it useful for cooking and baking even if you only drink instant.
ROK Espresso Maker, $199
Like the Chemex flask, the ROK is an elegant countertop display. It’s also distinct: It’s a manual — and therefore quiet — portable (at six pounds), relatively inexpensive espresso maker. All metal parts are engine-grade and guaranteed for ten years. The dual levers, reminiscent of a double-hinged corkscrew, are capable of imparting the required pressure (nine bars) for espresso. Pulling a quality shot takes some patience to endure the trial and error stage, but that’s the case with a commercial machine as well.
Jono Pandolfi’s NoMad Cup and Saucer, Brian Morris Gallery, 163 Chrystie Street, $35
Everyone has a mug. Your targeted recipient may even have a collection expressive of their personality. But the vessel is often nostalgic rather than aesthetic and too large and fat-lipped for ideal drinking. To help someone better sip and taste both coffee and tea, consider gifting a handcrafted ceramic cup and saucer by Jono Pandalfi from his Union City studio. These same cups were commissioned by the restaurant NoMad, which has an eye for quality and design. Order online or pick up in person at Pandolfi’s annual holiday sale this Sunday and Monday, December 15 and 16, from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m.
Sample box of Signature Blends, Bellocq Tea, 104 West Street, Brooklyn, $32
For the tea aesthete, this atelier in Greenpoint sources the finest full leaf teas and ingredients from around the world, artfully blending flavors delivered in handsome, elegant packaging you’ll want to repurpose rather than toss. While you can order these products online, it’s better to stop by in person and be swept up by the romance of colors and aromas in the workshop — and indulge in a taste of what your recipient will soon be sipping.