It's that time of year again, and time for an annual tradition at CoffeeGeek - finding the coolest coffee products on the planet for you to give (or receive) this holiday season!
As a regular visitor to CoffeeGeek, you're most likely the person in your social circle that everyone looks to for advice on great coffee. And when the holiday season rolls around, most of your friends think a coffee related gift is what you'd like the most. And as we all know, the thought is what counts the most in this holiday season, but for those who want to make sure they're choosing the very best the specialty coffee and espresso market has to offer, we're here to help!
Over the course of this week, CoffeeGeek will try to help you and your loved ones out by providing a few suggestions on great holiday gifts that suit a true CoffeeGeek. Most of these products are things we've had first hand opportunities to test and use in the Lab, and we're only recommending the top products. First up are gift suggestions to find under $35! In the coming days, we'll be posting additional lists at other price points and new this year, a few dedicated lists just for espresso equipment and coffee subscriptions!
Many of these products are linked to CoffeeGeek's Amazon Affiliate Link, which helps offset the costs of running this website. For the second year in a row, for the entire month of December, we'll be donating 100% of the income generated from these holiday gift suggestion links to our favourite charity - CoffeeKids.
UPDATE: We've managed to raise $2,000 for CoffeeKids via these links in December (2012)! CoffeeKids will be getting this donation in late March once we get the funds from Amazon. And to continue the donation drive, we're leaving the Holiday Gift Lists up for a while, and in January 2013, we're donating 50% of all link proceeds to the charity. So if you use these lists and buy your items from Amazon in 2013, a portion of our link proceeds will continue to go to CoffeeKids!
We encourage all our readers to make CoffeeKids your charity of choice too and consider donating money directly to this great organization. More than ever, they need your help.
With that important message out of the way, let's get onto a wide selection of coffee and espresso gifts under $35!
We absolutely love the entire product range from Cafelat, but will only be featuring three products in this Holiday Gift Guide (we recommend you do check out the entire lineup!).
First up is this fantastic little design for a tamping mat - something to protect your counters when you're doing a headstand-tamp of several thousand pounds down into your portafilter with your tamper: it's the Splat Mat from Cafelat. It's a great design; meant to mimic a spill of inky black liquid on your counter. Whimsical, functional, and very well made: the rubber is quite thick and stands up to a lot of use.
We have two of these in our main espresso machine testing area, and after a full year of use, they don't look any worse for wear. These should last you several years of heavy abuse!
There are some poor copies of these great designs elsewhere online, but you can't go wrong buying the original, and the price is fantastic.
Siphon coffee is a favourite here at CoffeeGeek but for many people, the prices of fancy standalone brewers from Hario and other companies are too cost prohibitive. So every Holiday Gift List, we try to find you a siphon that is budget friendly.
This year, we noticed that our friends at Orphan Espresso have a Yama stovetop siphon for under $30; this is quite amazing!
It's a 5 cup (about 500ml) modle that comes complete with everything you need except for the coffee and grinder. It includes a cloth filter, stirring spoon, and filter assembly. This is your entry point into great coffee!
If you want a standalone siphon brewer that includes a cloth-wick burner, Orphan also has you covered, with a 3 Cup standalone model for under $50 which is also a fantastic deal.
Here's a variety of coffee books we heartily endorse and recommend - every single one of these is in the CoffeeGeek Library. Click the images to get to the book on Amazon. All the books are priced below $35, with some as low as $5!
The Art and Craft of Coffee Kevin Sinott is very famous in the world of coffee and this is his most recently updated book on the subject.
Uncommon Grounds Fantastic history of coffee as seen through Americans' eyes. It is US-centric, but an extremely detailed historical view.
The Coffeeist Manifesto A consumer's journey into finding what really good coffee really takes to achieve.
A History of the World in Six Glasses Another great history piece that looks as the six key beverages that have influenced hour our world evolved, including coffee.
Home Coffee Roasting Still regarded as the "bible" for home coffee roasters, this edition was last updated in 2003.
Joe. The Coffee Book Book written by NYC cafe owners giving the perspective of the indie cafe, interacting with everyone from consumers to coffee farmers.
Coffee Life in Japan Fantastic book delving into the history and culture of coffee in Japan going back to the 19th century.
The Social Life of Coffee A look into the history of coffee in Britain, going back to the 17th century.
For years, I've been bragging about the prototype filter I had from the inventor of the Aeropress - one that was photo-chemical etched, very precision holes, and it brewed what was by far the best Aeropress coffee I've ever had.
Now you don't have to hear me brag anymore. Because this year, Able Brewing released their latest generation DISK filter for the Aeropress, the DISK FINE, and it is every bit as good, if not better, than that old prototype. In fact, it is nearly perfect for the Aeropress.
A lot of thought and engineering has gone into this filter and the result is a fantastic brewed cup with the big fat plastic syringe we all know and love as the Aeropress coffee brewer. This is one of those must have choices if you have an Aeropress or plan to get one.
These are some of the most sought after and popular espresso and cappuccino cup designs available today. They are the NotNEUTRAL porcelain cups and much attention has been put into their design, handle shape, even the saucer style.
Previously only available as branded cups for a few coffee roasters, you can now get these sought-after cups in plain white porcelain.
The quality of these cups, from the super high fired porcelain, to the finish, glaze and weight, is all first rate. They are perfect frames for the cappuccinos you pour. They're also available in espresso cup sizing, and latte cup sizes as well. Highly recommended!
A lot has been said about the precision filter baskets for espresso developed by VST under an agreement with La Marzocco. CoffeeGeek even covered these baskets extensively with an exclusive article just prior to 2011's SCAA show. Suffice to say, these baskets developed by Vince Fedele are some of the hotest things to hit the espresso scene in 2011.
At just under $30, they aren't cheap by any stretch, but they will fit pretty much any espresso machine with a standard 58mm portafilter, and in most cases, will improve the espresso you produce. How can they do this? The primary feature of the baskets are a uniform hole shape and pattern. Most of the holes in the basket are within a few microns of each other in their shape and size. The holes also extend almost to the edge of the flat bottom filter basket. And the filters are made with a thicker, more resilient steel than almost every other basket available today.
This is most likely the best stovetop kettle you can buy for manual drip coffee preparation; certainly it is the best bang for the buck out there. At less than half the price of most competing gooseneck kettles, our tests at CoffeeGeek prove it is also the fastest when used on a induction range, even when going head to head with the Hario and other models.
In fact, it is about 20% faster, and will do a full 1.2l water boil in under 3min30sec. It's secret is the maximum contact surface on induction ranges that transmit as much heating power as possible to the water. The long gooseneck provides you with good control when pouring all those intricate patterns you want to do during manual coffee brewing, and we've found the flow rate just nearly perfect.
The quality of construction is really good, and small attention to detail here and there, like the nice vibration-free fitting lid and the contoured handle make this a fantastic purchase.
This is the scale to get for almost all of your coffee and brewing needs. Here's why:
The price is cheap! At $18 (and sometimes much less), this is almost throwaway pricing; you can stock up should you ever damage the scale with liquid (and you probably will).
The scale is small! It fits on almost all espresso machine drip trays, not to mention most other surfaces where you might brew coffee. The weighing pad is small, but big enough for you to delicately balance a portafilter on to zero-out the weight before dosing coffee into the filter basket and re-weighing. The weighing pad can hold up to two espresso cups at once.
The scale is accurate to .1g with a 2kg maximum weight! There's almost no other scale on the market (at least near this price) with those two features - big capacity, small .1 accuracy. This is very important for weighing anything espresso related.
We use this scale almost exclusively in all our product testing and coffee evaluations. Highly recommended. Just put some no-skid rubber feet on the bottom of it.
The under $25 list would not be complete without this item! This is what we call our magic coffee button. Whenever I press it, Mark (the Head CoffeeGeek) appears from nowhere and makes me a cappuccino or espresso or whatever I want coffee related!
Well, if you get one, you won't have the head CoffeeGeek turn up at your home to make coffee, but maybe you can work something out with your partner! Mark bought this for me as a gift, and promised that anytime I pressed it, he would stop whatever he is doing and make me a coffee. So far, in three months, it has worked every time! (he wrote about it here)
When it is pressed, it lights up, and one of three long skits is heard with Hoops and Yoyo interacting with each other and talking about coffee. One is military themed, one is all romantic about "french roast coffee" and the third is just someone really needing coffee RIGHT NOW!
If you are the barista in your home, buy this for your partner and promise her the same thing Mark promised me! They'll love you even more for it!
A quality espresso tamper for under $30? You betcha. Seattle Coffee Gear has you covered with this Rattleware stainless steel tamper.
It features a textured handle and its shape is suited for a wide variety of hand shapes. This is a much, much better choice than the cheap plastic tampers that come with most espresso machines. A great stocking stuffer for the starting espresso geek at home.
This device - the Scandinavians love it (they hold the Aeropress World Championships) - and the pros in the US and Canada seem to be really getting into it too. There's even coffee bars that use Aeropresses almost exclusively for non-espresso coffee. We have our own love-hate relationship at CoffeeGeek with the Aeropress. We love using it. We love that you can "hack" it to brew different ways. We love how it can produce a beautiful cup of coffee in under a minute.
We don't necessarily agree with the packaging, marketing and instructions for this product: it doesn't make anything closely resembling true espresso, and you should not brew your coffee with water heated to only 175F. Also, using different ratios of ground coffee to water would probably be to your benefit. There's plenty of sites out there showing how to get the most out of the Aeropress (Brewmethods lists a dozen choices). Regardless of how the product is pushed, we can say this: it makes damned fine coffee and it's cheap!
The iconic shape of what a press pot is supposed to look like is realised in the Bodum Chambord press pot. The design, originally created by a company called Mellior back in the 1920s, was bought by the Bodum Company in the 1960s. Bodum has been producing (and subtly improving) the Chambord press pot design ever since.
The most recent incarnations of the Chambord feature a new collar on the top lid for better securing in the press, and a slightly revised filter. It still retains it's classic, legendary look. The Chambord is an iconic, classic design for the press pot. CoffeeGeek uses 1.5l versions of the Chambord in the Lab for their community coffee samplings.
The best part? For the first time in years, we've been able to find the 8 cup model for under $30 - both the 8 cup and 3 cup models can be had for a very reasonable price.
This is not a frothing pitcher for the "pros". This is a frothing pitcher for the rest of us! I asked Mark to include this on the Holiday Gift List because this pitcher made a hopeless milk steaming person (me) into a milk steaming pro. I'm able to do some amazing textured microfoam milk steaming, and it is all because of this pitcher: the Espro Toroid Milk Steaming Pitcher.
It works for me because of the shape and design. It has a pronounced bell curve inner shape, and the middle of the pitcher is dimpled upwards. As long as you point your steam wand directly into the centre of this pitcher, you will get amazing milk froth - the kind latte art dreams are made of!
I liked it so much, I bought one for my mum, who also had bad problems steaming milk - this made her a microfoam wizard too! This pitcher is selling for $36 most places, but we found one listing for under $30 for the 20oz size.
There's something about drinking espresso from a beautiful demi cup; you've provided the perfect frame for your artistic labour. These cups definitely fit the bill. They're normally around $50 for a set of 6 but the yellow glass streak model can be found this Christmas for under $20.
The cups are well made, with porcelain bodies and acrylic handles and bases. The bowl inside the cup is nicely suited for espresso, and the handle works well with your thumb and forefinger when drinking. Other colours are available including blue, red, green, gray and white, and we prefer the blue and yellow models.
Hario's got two hand grinders on the market now - the much-talked-about Hario Skerton (around $40ish), and this one - the Hario Mini Slim model.
Functionally they are almost identical, and the burr groups are the same. Where the differences are is that the Skerton comes with a glass jar base, and this one is polycarbonate and smaller. It makes this one the better travel companion by a long stretch.
People like the Skerton because it can more or less directly fit onto an Aeropress while grinding. But we like this model because it is lighter overall, works just as well, and is smaller and more compact for travel use. It also does a full range of grinding, from press pot and drip, all the way to espresso, albeit without much control over the super fine adjustments you need to brew great espresso. A great gift for the coffee lover who travels a lot!
Another Cafelat product we really like is their line of knockboxes. They are designed for absolute abuse but also super easy cleanup. We use the full size plastic and rubber knockbox while testing machines, but also have a few of the smaller Tubbi models around for a small footprint, heavy duty knockbox that can handle any size portafilter.
These knockboxes feature a very durable, textured (and thick) plastic shell that also has some flex to it. The bar itself is a thick piece of rubber wrapped around a plastic core, and it will take everything you throw at it. Our main Lab knockbox as probably been 'hit' over 5,000 times or more, and with a quick rinse under the tap, looks nearly new!
The Tubbi models come in a variety of colours to choose from, and have a solid rubber pad on the bottom to help prevent it from sliding around the countertop.
If you want to make stovetop espresso the way 98% of Italian families do in their homes everyday, a stovetop moka pot is how you go about it, and we only recommend the stainless steel versions. Problem is, finding a good quality stainless steel moka pot for under $35 is proving harder and harder to do these days!
But we found this excellent model - the super-long named Vev Vigano Carioca Stovetop Espresso Maker - from Espresso Zone. In fact, a few years back, I reviewed this very model for Consumer Reports and found it very capable for the job.
Made in Italy, this moka pot is all stainless steel including the filter, and with a brass pressure relief valve. It is modern, stylish and works well on induction ranges as well as gas and electric stoves (with a trivet). The 3 cup model is under $35, and the 5 cup version is under $40.
You have to say one thing about Handpresso: they do have a certain style and flair. I bought the Handpresso Dome Wild bicycle pump espresso maker, and while it doesn't really do all that great a job, it does get the job done and the kit I bought also came with these fantastic little cups.
Now you can buy the cups on their own. They're made from polycarbonate, but I've never tasted "plastic" in the shots I've had from them and normally I am sensitive to plastic tastes. They are also dishwasher safe, to a point, but will scratch easily so treat them kindly and they'll stay looking great for a long time.
There's also a bonus - the polycarbonate is thick and this helps retain heat really well in your small 1oz shots of espresso. The entire volume of the cup is around 2oz so they are very small. A nice little stocking stuffer and bonus! You can see your espresso!
One of the most popular guides we have on CoffeeGeek is the Beginner's Guide to Cupping. In that guide, we run you through how the professionals cup coffee, but also how you can cup coffee at home with your friends and family. We recommend tools you can use straight from your cupboard, but it's also nice to have tools designed specifically for this method of evaluating coffee!
And now you can - 8oz Coffee sells starter cupping kits featuring 3 bowls, 2 cupping spoons and coffee trays for just $22. A larger 6 bowl / 3 spoon set is just $38. These are good prices and better than dedicated cupping sets we've seen in the past. The bowls are the standard design used by most roasters and coffee evaluators, and the spoons are specific to the task.
If you coffee lover seems to have everything coffee related, chances are he doesn't have this!
If you have a great auto drip coffee maker that takes #4 Melitta style filters but are tired of the paper taste they produce and your old permanent filter is a bit long in the tooth, this is the ultimate upgrade.
It is the 23k gold foil plated filter designed by Frieling. Why gold? First and foremost, gold is very neutral when it comes to flavour - much more so than plastic, steel, or aluminum. Second, it lasts a long time. Third, it has a negligible (but still measurable) better ability to trap and stop the passage of coffee fines due to the characteristics of gold metal.
A gold plated filter also allows essential coffee oils to pass through to the cup, which paper stops from flowing. Coffee oils provide all the rich and complete flavour you'd expect from great coffee.
Plus let's admit it. It is pretty bling.
At $35, this is actually quite a bargain (considering gold's price these days).
It's no secret that we love the iconic shape of the Bodum Chambord line of press pots. Recently, Bodum has expanded its lineup of Chambord-designed coffee devices and one of our new favourites is the Bodum Chambord stovetop moka pot. It's available in two sizes, and two colours (black and aluminum).
This moka pot is aluminum in design, and as such should work on most stovetops except for induction stoves. The construction is very solid, and compared to other moka pots, is easy to use and maintain. The three cup model brews roughly 3 cups of steam espresso, or about 100ml. There's also a five cup model available for $10 more.
Do you or your gift recipient own a Baratza Encore, Maestro, Maestro Plus or Virtuoso grinder? This is the perfect add on gift for these grinder owners - the Baratza Portaholder insert!
Designed to accommodate a variety of portafilter designs from 49mm Elektra lever PFs all the way up to 58mm La Marzocco handles, this portaholder has adjustable bars for the rests. Once seated inside the grinder, you can insert a portafilter, hook it into place, and let go as the grinder does its job. The hook and mount are also designed to position the filter basket in an optimal way under the grind chute. We also like how the base is designed to catch some stray grounds.
This may seem like a boring choice but to be honest, it shouldn't be. One of the most important things you should be doing in your day to day espresso brewing is cleaning your machine. If your machine has the ability to backflush (as in it has a 3 way solenoid valve that immediately flushes out back pressure after you brew a shot), you should have a regular stock of espresso machine cleaner to use.
This is our choice - we've been using this in our home and in the CoffeeGeek lab for years now - the Full Circle cleaner line from Urnex. Espresso machine cleaning suds are not terribly great for the environment by any stretch, but the Full Circle line is probably the most environmentally friendly cleaners you can buy today. And they work really well. It makes a great stocking stuffer for that guy who has a total man-cave of an espresso area, or even a Rancilio Silvia sitting on the kitchen counter.
If you're not only a CoffeeGeek, but true geek, we probably don't even have to tell you about ThinkGeek and the Molecule shirt, but we're going to anyway. It's one of the very few products to make our list every single year, and this year's no exception. And we can add that this shirt has been featured on the TV Show Big Bang Theory more than a few times!
In a super deep blue colour with neon green for the imprint, this shirt shows the actual caffeine molecule structure, right up high, loud and proud. The shirt is a regular feature in the CG Lab, and it's also been seen on Big Bang Theory, so it is definitely geek-approved from all circles!
Now here's something new - a steaming pitcher that lets you hold the pitcher direct thanks to an insulated rubberized coating!
The Rattleware Handle Free steaming pitcher was designed based on professional barista feedback. Many practicing baristas find it easiest to pour controlled latte art when holding the pitcher directly with forefinger and thumb guiding the subtle moves required. With this pitcher, there is no handle to get in the way, providing even greater control.
The pour spout is specifically designed to provide better pouring control for latte art as well. The pitcher holds 16oz of milk to the brim, making it ideal for pouring two cappuccinos or one latte.
It's never too early to plan for the warmer months! One of the more popular how-tos on CoffeeGeek is the Vietnamese Iced Coffee How To and here, for under $5, is you chance to get one of these little brewers as a stocking stuffer idea.
They are pretty basic filters - a steel enclosure with perforated filters in the bottom and a push down top. But they do get the job done and result in a fairly strong brewed coffee. Follow the recipes in our How To, or experiment with different grind, doses and more. One of the smallest portable filtering brewers you can buy as well!
To this day, this style of pitcher, from Rattleware, remains the best pitcher for steaming milk and pouring latte art.
The shape is what makes it so good to work with. Specifically the spout. The double lip shape helps control your pour, and also makes the pour smooth; a slight tip of the pouring hand and the foam will start to flow, allowing you to make detailed shapes and patterns.
It is also one of the least expensive steaming pitchers available today. This one listed is the 12oz model which is perfect for most home espresso machine setups, and will allow you to steam (just barely) enough milk for 2 traditional cappuccinos or up to 4 macchiatos or cortados. Get the 16oz or 20oz models if you are into lattes at home.
Another great little product from Cafelat, this is the "Tamper Seat" and really, serves almost no purpose other than to bling out your tamper and espresso setup area just a bit.
Well, that's not really true: it does serve some purpose: it helps keep your tamper clean and avoids situations where you might sit the tamper down in a damp or wet area, which can be a hassle if you go to tamp another shot. It can also double up as a tamper mat, protecting your counter as you tamp down on your portafilter. It works with both chopped and spouted portafilters; but if you use them this way, make sure the spouts are dry!
They're available in four (or more) colors and it works well with any 58mm tamper.
The Hario pourover steamroller shows no sign of stopping! A range of ribbed, V60 class brewers are available, but we really like the ceramic models, which range from $18 to $30 in price, depending on the style and size. Our link below is to the $18 small size model, which is fine for brewing up to 250ml of coffee.
What sets the V60 apart from your typical Melitta pourover is the ribbed design of the cone shape, and the special cone - with point - paper filters. Entire websites are dedicated to this brewing method and how to best pour your water to ensure a great cup of coffee. Prices range from $5 to $23 for the various V60 models, and don't forget to pick up some of the paper filters as well.
A great idea that I kinda wished Bodum would have done years ago. Borrowing from the Eva Solo Cafe concept of a neoprene jacket around glass to help retain heat, Bodum has designed a variety of wrappable neoprene jackets for their range of press pots.
This particular model fits most of Bodum's 8 cup presses, and works particularly well with the Chambord line of press pots, including our Lab models. Heat retention is quite good and well suited to press pot coffee - it will keep the brew warmer, but not sizzling hot for hours; instead, it just draws out the cool down by about 50% more time. You should never leave a press pot steeping on its spent grinds for too long; that said, sometimes presses just cool down too quickly. This one strikes a nice balance.
We like the gray one the most, though there's a colour to suit almost anyone.
We're always on the lookout for unique single cup brewing devices that work well and look great. This one came via Twitter and also our forums.
This MiniBru looks fantastic. But does it work great? We found one CoffeeGeeker who owns one and he loves it, but points out it doesn't work well with milk or cream. He takes his coffee black and it works perfectly for him at work.
ThinkGeek also has a video showing how this brewer works:
Column Description Whether it's up to the minute, happening this day, this week, or in the recent past, this column's goal is to present coffee and attempts to make the experience truly culinary. You'll find short reviews about past events, interesting coffees coming on the market, new and different ways to enjoy espresso and other brewing methods, and give an insight into efforts around the globe to make coffee a truly culinary thing. Column written by Mark Prince.