It’s that time of the year, when everyone publishes Christmas gift guides. This year, due to my recent trip to Shanghai/Beijing, I’m a little bit behind, but if you’re looking for some last-minute presents, here’s the Coffee Spot’s entry into the fray, an eclectic selection of gifts for your coffee-loving friends/relatives.
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 your coffee-loving friends who’re at the top of the slippery slope of coffee-geekdom and just need a helping nudge to begin the headlong descent into the rabbit-hole of speciality coffee.
While this is a Christmas gift guide, feel free to return to it throughout the year. It serves just as well as a birthday/anniversary gift guide…
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 or two 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.
The big idea last year was speciality coffee in capsules, something which I was sceptical about until I attended a talk by Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood, which completely changed my mind. Speciality coffee pods 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. The most interesting new entry this year has been a range of fully-compostable pods from Volcano Coffee Works, which I was mightily impressed by when I tried them at this year’s London Coffee Festival.
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.
To help you out, I’ve written a handy guide to all the reusable cups I own. Rather than repeat myself, I’ll just highlight a couple of new developments. The first is a new glass cup, the SoL Cup, which I first came across at this year’s London Coffee Festival. Like the majority of reusable cups, the SoL Cup is from Australia, but its main feature is that each one is hand-blown. I don’t know if this is a consequence of the method of production or not, but the resulting cup is much thinner and lighter than any other glass reusable cup I’ve used. I was initially concerned that this might make it fragile, but after 2½ weeks of travelling around Japan with it, I’ve put those concerns to rest!
The second development is with Jody Leach’s Therma Cup, which is designed and manufactured in the UK. A double-walled, thermally-insulated ceramic cup, it’s become my favourite of all my reusable cups and, despite being slightly bulky, has accompanied me on trips, including to the Grand Canyon and the Great Wall of China! Up until now, you have been able to have any colour Therma Cup you want, as long as it’s white. However, following a successful Kickstarter, Jody now has a range of coloured Therma Cups, available in yellow, grey and blue.
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 several 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. You can also find equivalent scales from a wide range of on-line retailers.
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.
Another step up on the coffee-geekery scale is the gooseneck pouring kettle. I was given one last 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.
Alternatively, if you really want to push the boat out, there’s always an espresso machine. While there are any number out there, ranging from cheap and phenomenally expensive, for a long time the market-leader, in terms of value for money, has been, in my opinion, the Sage Barista Express. I was lucky enough to be given one last Christmas by Sage and it’s been a dream. Like the gooseneck kettle, which got me making pour-over again, the Sage Barista Express has got me making espresso at home again. If you are interested, I wrote an entire article about my experiences.
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, sadly, has been discontinued) and a bright red feldfarb. This year, there’s a new addition to the line, the Aergrind, designed specifically for travel and which fits inside a standard Aeropress. I was given one in the middle of this year and have been using it extensively on my travels. Again, I’ve written an entire article about it.
My last gift category is coffee-related publications. These include books, magazines and (you probably saw this coming) calendars. Starting with books, I heartily recommend the Independent Coffee Guide series from Salt Media. This started off with the South West and South Wales Guide, which has since been joined by the North and North Wales, Scottish and Irish Guides. Listing both coffee shops and roasters, along with a smattering of interesting articles, the guides are organised geographically, by city or region. Salt Media is dedicated to keeping these guides up-to-date, with the South West and South Wales guide up to its fourth edition already, while the others are not far behind!
A couple of interesting books have come my way this year. The first one is The Coffee Dictionary by none other than Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood, three-time UK Barista Champion and owner of the famous Colonna & Small’s in Bath. Published by Octopus Books, it’s a handy, hardback A-Z of coffee which sits just off to my left at my computer desk. Yes, I know that in this day and age, I could just look it up on-line it, but there’s something reassuring about reaching up for a book and flicking through the pages. And, let’s face it, you can’t get much more authoritative than Maxwell.
The second, also published by Octopus Books, is by friend of the Coffee Spot, Dhan Tamang, head barista at the Coffee Lab. Simply titled Coffee Art, it’s a step-by-step guide to creating great latte art from the five six-time UK Latte Art Champion (Dhan was five-time champion when he wrote the book, but I’m sure he’s won another title since then; honestly, I’m losing count…). It’s a lovely little book, packed full of practical advice and, most importantly, pictures, which now has a permanent spot next to my espresso machine. As an amusing aside, I was actually approached by the publishers to write this book. Once I’d stopped laughing (have you seen my latte art?) I told them that they really needed to ask Dhan to write it and the rest is history.
Talking of being asked to write books, I was also asked, by the British Library, no less, to write a book last year. The result is The Philosophy of Coffee, a short but entertaining history of coffee from its origins in Ethiopia to the present day. In a fit of excellent timing, it’s out in January, just in time for the post-Christmas present buying spree. You can pre-order a copy direct from me if you like.
An interesting alternative to a book is a Taste Tripper Explorer Pack. There are several of them, but the one that caught my eye is the London Coffee Explorer. The packs are designed to allow you to explore the London coffee scene and contain a copy of the London Coffee Map, vouchers (with short guides) for eight top coffee shops (including Climpson and Sons, Curators Coffee Gallery, Prufrock Coffee and Taylor Street Baristas), a coffee tasting wheel, some handy fact cards (one explains the ins and outs of speciality coffee for example) plus a couple of recipe cards. Something for everyone, in fact.
Talking of alternatives to books, how about a nice calendar? I still have copies of this year’s Coffee Spot Calendar 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…
If you’ve been inspired by this little guide, then I’ve done my job. If not, see if the Christmas gift guides from Manual Coffee Brewing, Bean There At, London’s Best Coffee and Perfect Daily Grind can help.
In the spirit of disclosure, I was given everything that I have written about in this guide. I should also point out that I write for Caffeine Magazine and wrote the copy for Volcano’s new website, while the Coffee Spot Calendar is my own production, the proceeds of which go directly to me.
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