Friday, February 14, 2014

PRODUCT REVIEW: Planetary Design Airscape Canister

Don't bother reading to the end of the review. Go out and buy one immediately.

Still reading? I'll assume that you've already placed your order and are now reading to find out how awesome your canister is going to be when it arrives, because it is going to be awesome.

There are very few products out there that I would call a necessity for the average tea or coffee lover. The Airscape is a necessity. It will keep your tea and coffee fresh for as long as you need it to be fresh.

One of the biggest problems with both tea and coffee is getting it. You have to open the canister to retrieve the leaves or beans. Even if you use an air-tight canister, every time you open it, you are letting in new air. That air will, time after time, degrade your tea and coffee.

For most of us, this degradation is only apparent when we go from the last of the old stuff to a new package. The differences are so stark as to be detectable by even the most uncaring.

For me, the Airscape is a godsend because espresso amplifies the effects of aging beans. I am aware of it from day to day, even hour to hour.

In my old canister, my first couple of days of espresso shots were smooth, accurate, crema-filled cups of pure heaven. But after that, the shots failed increasingly frequently, the crema disappeared, and the rich chocolates and caramels went bye-bye. To compensate for this, I bought coffee in very small amounts — sometimes as little as an eighth of a pound.

The Airscape eliminates the need to do this. I can buy coffee in bulk, store the majority of it in another sealed container and keep my Airscape filled. The act of pressing the air out every time prevents the coffee beans from ever being exposed to new air for a long period of time.

The effects of this are so significant that I barely if at all have to alter my grind settings on my grinder as time passes. The ambient temperature and humidity levels become far more important for determining grind than the age of the beans. That is a revelation.

Tea is more sensitive to aging than coffee. My wife, a tea aficionado of the highest order, can taste the degradation of loose-leaf tea as time goes by. This canister eliminates that entirely. Your tea will always be fresh, punchy, and delicious. Once you determine your ideal steep temperature and time, you will never have to adjust that as the leaves age. You need this.

There are a number of other vacuum canisters out there, but none of them are as good as the Airscape's simple design. The Beanvac is impressive as it automatically sucks out all of the air surrounding the beans. The bad part is that it is battery-powered, thus requiring replacements, costs more, and doesn't do any better a job. There are also a number of other canisters that require you to manually pump the air out. None of these achieve the easy simplicity of merely pressing the cap down until it reaches the beans. It is not a pure vacuum, but it comes so close as to make no difference.

Buy the Airscape. You will not regret it.

Planetary Design Airscape: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Thursday, February 13, 2014

PRODUCT REVIEW: Lavazza Super Crema Coffee

I love espresso, as I'm sure any regular reader of this website knows. I drink two shots per day: one to begin it, the other to end it... which makes it sounds like I drug my own coffee.

Espresso is an exceptionally demanding mode of coffee preparation. Not only must the beans be good, they must be well-roasted and exceptionally fresh. If anything is off, your shot will come out poorly.

As such, my quest for the perfect espresso roast/blend is neverending. I love Black Cat in all the ways that man should love coffee, and even a few ways that he shouldn't. It's flavor is without peer. Sadly, its crema levels are very low. If you are pouring small amounts of milk for lattes and cappuccinos, this isn't too big of a deal, but if you like to pull triples into a big cup and be heavy on the milk, the crema layer is pushed too far and your latte art suffers.

It may seem absurd to desire a coffee purely for its ability to accept milk designs, but espresso is more than just taste; it's everything involved. As such, I went on the hunt for a coffee that provides thick, rich crema into which I can pour art.

Lavazza's Super Crema fits the bill, as the name would imply. Does it live up to the promise?

Yes. Mostly. For one thing, it is a very good price. $25-$27 will get you 1 kilo (2.2lbs) of coffee. With shipping, Black Cat costs over $20 for a pound. This also works out cheaper than high-quality grocery brands like Starbucks while also being better.

I can also say with confidence that the beans are very fresh and of high quality. As I said, espresso is very demanding. If anything is wrong with the beans, the fault may not necessarily show up in drip coffee. Espresso makes everything apparent. Even under this microscope, Super Crema shines.

The flavor is good. Not great, but good. There is certainly nothing wrong with it, and it more than stands up to other major brands, but after having finely tuned works of art like Black Cat, it does lose a bit of its luster.

It has a very earthy flavor and is low on chocolate and caramel notes. It is very "coffee" flavored, if that makes any sense. It takes very well to flavoring with cocoa and vanilla. This mellow flavor makes shots of espresso go down like water. It holds up better than you would expect under heavy milk. It tastes very good in a cortado, almost as though the blend was created specifically for that purpose.

But what about the name?! Does the crema stand up to scrutiny? I can safely say that yes, it does. Lavazza is not lying. This coffee will produce huge amounts of crema for your latte artistic ambitions. And if you keep it stored in a good vacuum canister like the Airscape, it will produce perfect crema right to the last bean.

To give you an idea of the quality, here's a drink that I poured.

Not the best art that I've ever poured, but not bad. Besides, all drinks end up looking like this anyhow.

As you can see, you get a thick, stable layer of crema and foam that has excellent definition and contrast between the brown and white.

If the coffee was more interesting in flavor, it would easily win my high recommendation. As it stands, it gets close, but not quite there. If you care about your latte art and don't have a nearby roaster, this is a very good purchase. But similarly, if you don't care about that, you aren't missing too much. This is a good coffee, for a good price, that produces great crema.

Lavazza Super Crema: RECOMMENDED

UPDATE: Bonus latte art.

This one is much better.