It’s that time of the year again, when everyone publishes their Christmas gift guides. Well, never one to be accused originality, here’s the Coffee Spot’s entry into the fray, an eclectic selection of gifts for your coffee-loving friends/relatives.
Let’s be honest, the coffee-loving community can be awkward to buy for, particularly if, like me, they’re towards the far end of the coffee-geek spectrum, when any choice runs the risk of being ill-informed. Do you get them coffee? Or coffee-related kit? Or a book about coffee perhaps?
Never fear, the Coffee Spot’s here to help you out, whether you’re a novice, looking for pointers for gifts for your coffee-obsessed friend, or if you’re that coffee-obsessed friend, looking for a handy guide to point your friends towards. There’s also a few suggestions for presents to help those of your coffee-loving friends who’re at the top of the slippery slope of coffee-geekdom and who just need a helping nudge to start them on the headlong descent into the rabbit-hole of speciality coffee.
Of course, while this is styled a Christmas gift guide, feel free to return to it throughout the year. It serves just as well as a birthday or anniversary gift guide…
You can find my suggestions after the gallery.
As with all things Coffee Spot, this guide’s not definitive, nor is it a “best-of” list. Instead, my suggestions are all things which I’ve come across over the past year and thought “that would make a good present”. With one or two exceptions, they’re things which I own, having either bought them or been given them during the year, so don’t worry, it’s not a proxy list of things you should be getting me this Christmas!
Let’s start with the obvious: coffee. What follows is some general advice on buying coffee, so if you are already well versed in the art, feel free to skip the rest of this paragraph. However, if you are thinking of give coffee as a gift, then there’s one key rule: if in doubt, buy whole beans, not ground coffee. Once ground, coffee starts to lose its freshness, no matter how well packed (although pods seem to be the exception to this rule). On top of that, there is no method known to mankind that can turn ground coffee back into beans. Whole beans, on the other hand, can always be ground; worst-case scenario, most speciality coffee shops will happily grind beans for you if you ask them nicely enough. Of course, if your friend really wants ground coffee, perhaps you should consider the gift of a grinder instead.
However, sticking to coffee, there are plenty of options these days. Most roasters offer on-line ordering services for their coffee beans, while something else to consider is a coffee subscription. The options vary from those where the roaster sends out a selection of coffee to subscriptions which allow the recipient to choose the coffee each month. One roaster that stood out this year is Tank Coffee, which offers various African coffees, including one-off purchases and subscriptions, plus this interesting Christmas gift option.
Another possibility is the advent calendar from coffee-by-mail specialist, Pact, although it’s actually sold out this year, so this is more of an early heads-up for next year. I was sent one by Pact at the end of November, receiving a beautifully-packaged box with a pull out draw containing 25 sachets of coffee, one for each day from 1st to 25th December. The package also contained a flip over calendar, giving details of the coffee and the farm where it is produced. The best feature of the calendar is that there’s a wide range of coffee to try, although the biggest issue is that the coffee comes pre-ground, so it’s not suited for all brewing methods. I’ve found that it works well through my cafetiere and my pour-over filter, although I’m a little worried about how fresh the coffee will be by the time Christmas Day rolls around.
However, what’s really new and exciting this year is speciality coffee in capsules. These are the ideal gift for your coffee-drinking friend who owns a capsule machine and would like to get into speciality coffee, but doesn’t want to/hasn’t got the time to start grinding beans, making Aeropresses, etc. It’s a really easy way to introduce someone to the joys of speciality coffee without any of the hassle.
I’ll admit that I was initially sceptical when I first heard about speciality coffee pods, but a talk by Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood completely changed my mind. As well as Colonna Coffee, I’m also aware that Pact and Neighbourhood Coffee do speciality coffee in capsules. I’ve not had the chance to try Pact’s offering, but I was mightily impressed when I sampled one of Neighbourhood’s capsules at the Manchester Coffee Festival last month.
You can see my next gift selection after the gallery.
One of my personal hobby horses is disposable cups, something I’ve written about over many years on the Coffee Spot. I now own a remarkable number of reusable cups, made from a variety of materials, including plastic, glass, ceramics, bamboo and recycled coffee grounds! Any and all of these would be a great gift for your coffee-drinking friend who keeps instagramming pictures of their coffee is a disposable cup.
We’ll start with the grand-daddy of them all, the KeepCup, which has been so successful that in many circles it is synonymous with “reusable cup”. KeepCups come in various sizes, but I’ve always focused on the 8oz glass KeepCup, which fits all my needs (I tend not to like plastic cups because they can affect the flavour of the coffee). I own a number of glass KeepCups and they are my benchmark against which I judge all other cups.
Another glass cup is the JOCO Cup which comes in a variety of sizes. Again, I focused on the smallest, the 8oz cup which is on a par with the KeepCup. My only issue is with its durability. Both mine have cracked while being washed.
Both my KeepCups and JOCO Cups have proved durable and survive being carted around in my day sack, but I can conclusively state that they do not bounce when dropped on hard surfaces. So, if having something made of glass worries you then two BPA-free plastic alternatives are the Frank Green Smart Cup and the Upper Cup. The BPA-free aspect is important since it leaves the plastic taste free. However, I have to be honest here and say that I don’t really like the feel of plastic, although the Upper Cup is small, light and very durable, so has tended to come on long trips with me. It also offers a measure of insulation, although if that’s your main criterion, nothing quite beats the Frank Green Smart Cup and its spill-proof lid.
This year has seen a crop of new entries into the reusable cup market. The first is Jody Leach’s Therma Cup. Designed and manufactured in the UK, this is a double-walled, thermally-insulated ceramic cup that has an 8oz internal capacity, although it’s a fairly bulky unit. I was initially sceptical about its durability, but it’s proved itself in action, having survived numerous UK trips and one to Phoenix! For me, it combines the best of the glass cups in terms of taste/aesthetics with the lightness and thermal insulation provided by the plastic cups.
The final two entries really appeal to the environmentally conscious. The first is the Ecoffee Cup which is made entirely of bamboo. It comes in a variety of sizes, the latest being its smallest, an 8oz cup which I received a few weeks ago. It’s small and light and, while I’ve not given it a complete shakedown, my initial impressions are extremely favourable.
Last in this category is the Kaffeeform cup which is made of recycled coffee grounds. Technically the Kaffeeform range isn’t designed for use as reusable cups, but I’ve found that the espresso cup, which is light and durable, slips perfectly into my day sack, where it’s been for the last six months. I don’t use it that often, but every now and then I fancy an espresso from somewhere which only has paper cups, in which case, out comes the Kaffeeform. It also makes for an excellent conversation point.
Finally, I want to mention the Espro Travel Press. This is both a cafetiere-like coffee maker and a thermos-flask style cup with a screw on lid. Initially I was sceptical, but having been used it for a few months, I’ve been impressed. It makes decent coffee and, when travelling, it far more durable than a glass or plastic cafetiere. I don’t actually use mine as a cup, rather I brew the coffee and then use it as a thermos to keep it warm, transferring the coffee to my reusable cup of choice for drinking. My Travel Press has been all over the world with me, including a recent trip to the Grand Canyon, where it made the cover of this year’s Coffee Spot Calendar.
You can see my next gift selection after the gallery.
Another option is to help improve someone’s coffee-drinking experience with some coffee-related kit. Many roasters offer gift kits of coffee and brewing equipment, ranging from a humble pour-over kit to some quite sophisticated gift pacts.
If you’re looking to nudge a coffee-drinking friend to that next level of coffee-geekery, how about a set of scales? I got hooked on scales a couple of years ago and now wouldn’t be without them. I started off with a relatively cheap pair and then moved onto the On Balance Envy Scales, a lovely bit of kit that’s small and robust enough to carry around with me. You can get a set from various on-line retailers such as Coffee Omega and Espresso Solutions.
However, while I still use these for travel, these days my day-to-day scales are the Bonavita Auto Tare scales. These were a gift from Bonavita and there are equivalent products out there on the market, such as the Brewista Smart Scale from Coffee Hit. Both are water-proof and have numerous features, including built-in timers.
If you want to go another step down the line, you could consider a gooseneck pouring kettle. I got one this year, again a gift from Bonavita, and it’s revolutionised my pour-over game. In fact, it’s got me making pour-over filter coffee again, having given it up for a bad job. As with the scales, there are various options out there, including cheaper versions which are just for pouring (mine also heats up the water, allowing you to set the precise temperature, which is a neat feature). If you are interested, I wrote an entire article about my Bonavita kettle.
Finally, I’d recommend something that is now turning into a perennial item on my Christmas Gift lists, the amazing hand-grinders from Knock. I’ve got two of these beauties, Woody, the world’s first wooden feldgrind (which, for the moment, has been discontinued) and a bright red feldfarb (which you can still buy). They are, in my opinion, the best hand-grinders that money can buy. Your biggest issue might be getting your hands on one, and no, before you ask, you can’t have one of mine!
You can see my last gift selection after the gallery.
My final gift category is coffee-related publications. These range from books, through maps and magazines, to (and you probably saw this coming) calendars. Starting with books, there hasn’t been that many that have crossed my path. One, however, that stood is out from Ruth Hampson, owner of Harrogate’s Bean & Bud, which is an auto-biography of sorts, detailing her journey into speciality tea and coffee. It’s well worth a read and can be bought directly from Ruth by e-mailing Bean & Bud directly. All the proceeds go to charity and if I’d been paying attention, I would have made a note of which one!
Sticking with books, there’s the ever-popular London Coffee Guide, which I wrote about a couple of years ago. This has been joined by (from a different publisher, SALT Media), the Independent Coffee Guide, which started off with the South West Guide has since been joined by the Northern and Scottish Guides. Listing both coffee shops and roasters, along with a smattering of interesting articles, the guides are organised geographically, by city or region. Both the South West and Northern Guides are now onto their second editions.
If books aren’t your thing, then how about a stylish map? The Speciality Coffee Map of London, from Blue Crow Media, has been my go-to guide for some time now, the folding map having a permanent place in my rucksack until it was superseded by the app. However, it still makes an excellent gift, as does the poster version which adorns my study wall. Since its original publication, it’s been joined by New York, Paris & Berlin and a whole host of other, non-coffee maps!
Talking of things that can go on the wall, how about a nice calendar? I still have copies of this year’s Coffee Spot Calendar (as well as a few spare ones from previous years!) or there’s always the Café Art Calendar, which supports the homeless. Each year, hundreds of disposable cameras are distributed to homeless people in London and the best photos are chosen for the calendar.
Finally, why not give the gift of a subscription to Caffeine Magazine? It’s the ideal gift for the coffee lover in your life who doesn’t live near any stockists…
In the spirit of disclosure, I was given all of the reusable cups that I have written about in this guide. I was also given the Bonavita products, the feldgrind and all of the books and maps mentioned except the London Coffee Map. I should also point out that I write for Caffeine Magazine and the Coffee Spot Calendar is my own production, the proceeds of which go directly to me.
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