Small World….

“Who is left that writes these days?” – Polly Jean Harvey

I’ve been astounded lately at how different life is for the new generation of kids compared to when I was growing up.

I know this is not a new revelation.  Every generation is hit by the same thoughts as they age and watch the world change.  Dawnyele and I often quote one of the most accurate references in history on this context; from the Simpsons, Abe to a young Homer:

“I used to be with it, but then they changed what “it” was.  Now what I’m with isn’t “it”.  And what’s “it” is weird and scary to me.”

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and it’ll happen to YOU!”

One thing I thought of recently that, while still remaining in concept, has taken on a very different form is Pen Pals.  Remember them?  You’d write a letter (using actual hand-writing…remember hand writing?), send it off to some kid on the other side of the world, and 3 months later you would get a reply delivered to your door!

If you wanted to be a great pen pal, you’d write a letter and maybe stick some photo’s in of where you lived.  So you’d take the pictures on your dad’s film camera, wait a month for him to take the remaining 20 shots on the film (or speed the process up by secretly taking 15 photos of the dog), take the film to get developed, pick it up a week later, get reprimanded for taking 15 photos of the dog, mail the letter which would take a few weeks to get there on a boat, then the pen pal would do the same in a similar time frame!  That kind of lead time was normal and acceptable back then!

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Growing up in Australia with a mum from Pennsylvania in the United States, writing back and forth to family was very common for us.  As a teenager I was in frequent contact with a second-cousin, Suzi Fukushima (then Wiencek).  She was an awesome pen pal.  We’d send photos galore, video cassettes (remember them??), presents….it was great.  We tried setting up her best friend with my best friend as pen pals but it never took off for them.  I did, however, get to meet this best friend of hers on a trip over in the mid-nineties.  She was absolutely gorgeous and an amazing girl.  So I married her and brought her back to Australia.  Not then and there, that would have been weird.  It took another few years of writing 20 page letters back and forth, calling, visiting.  But here we are, 18 years and 4 kids later; and she’s still gorgeous and amazing.

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Dawnyele Renee Messenger

Now I watch my kids texting their cousins on the other side of the world.  Or Skyping them!  It’s instant and in real time!!  It’s weird and scary to me.  But I still love it.

This year I’ve been involved in two international coffee swaps and it’s a bit like going back to those old days of pen pals.

The first was with David Fortner (@practical.coffee).  Via email, we had been discussing the difference in roast profile preferences between the States and Australia.  My experience had been through coffees I’d either had while over there or had shipped to me, that they generally roasted darker than we do here for specialty.  So we agreed to pick a coffee from a local roaster that accurately depicted a “standard” roast profile for what we were used to.  Five Senses unbelievably hooked me up with the complete set of their Colombian Cultivar Collection to send over, and David sent me a bag from Peixoto of their very limited Panorama offering.  He put this fantastic package together of the Peixoto, 3 vials of Third Wave Water to try, some Peixoto merch, and a bag of Colombian coffee he had roasted himself under his Full Service Coffee Roasters banner!

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The Peixoto coffee had specifically been roasted light, so it probably wasn’t indicative of the “standard”, but it instantly became the best coffee I’d ever tried.  I still haven’t had a coffee since that topped that one.  Didn’t matter how I brewed it, it was liquid gold every time!  Cheers David!

The second, more recent, exchange was with Ryan Proctor (@itsyourboyproctor).  There was no mention of roast profiles or scientific agenda, it was a simple “let’s swap locally roasted coffee between Melbourne and Northern Ireland”.  My son thought this was a bizarre concept.  He knows enough about coffee to know that Ireland doesn’t grow coffee, and we don’t grow coffee, “so what if you both send each other a Kenyan?  What’s the point?”  I explained to him that different cities have different preferences in how they roast the coffee, so the same coffee could express itself in two very different ways.  “Yeah but it might not….”  While I can’t argue with his logic, it was raining on my parade.  So we stopped discussing.

I bought two bags of Five Senses Acacia Hills Tanzanian Geisha and sent one off to Ryan and keeping the other for myself.  Ryan’s package arrived safely after much anticipation and did not disappoint!  He’d included a map of Belfast that plotted out all the specialty coffee shops in the city, and Indy Coffee Guide’s book of specialty coffee roasters and shops of Ireland!  I LOVE maps!

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The coffee was from Bailies of Belfast.  A washed Red Bourbon from Honduras.  I LOVE central American coffees!  10 points to Proctor for picking maps and central American coffee!!  The girls instantly named it the prettiest coffee bag they’d seen.

Ryan had recently posted an article on cupping on the blog that he and his brother write.  If you haven’t read it, check it out.  It’s great!  I’ve never cupped at home, but have been to a couple public cuppings.  As previously mentioned, my wife’s palette is far more on point than mine when it comes to identifying tastes, so I roped her in to take notes and we cupped using the method Ryan describes in his article.

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The coffee was delicious and I was blown away by how sweet it presented itself as it cooled.  Dawnyele found notes of roasted chestnuts and sweet potato in the aroma (I couldn’t find them on the flavour wheel, but once she planted that seed in my head I could definitely smell it too).

We took the kids up to the snow the next day for the sunset and I brewed the coffee on the V60 using melted snow for water.  The cup cooled incredibly quickly, but the flavour was amazing.  Very juicy and a nice full body.  I look forward to exploring the rest of this coffee in a warmer environment.

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The communication exchange with Ryan while we patiently waited for respective packages to arrive was great.  Never met the guy.  Probably never will in this life.  But there’s some people that, even through email exchange, you get the sense that they’re one of the good ones.  Ryan Proctor strikes me as one of the good ones.  I sincerely hope to shout him a coffee one day either here or in Ireland.  Preferably Ireland as it means that I would have got to travel to Ireland.

I asked Ryan if he would collaborate on this article with me and share his experience of the coffee swap, so without further ado, here’s Ryan Proctor!

What an introduction! I reached out to Tim a few weeks back and pitched him the idea of a coffee swap. I have seen this concept before on other social media sites and was quite eager to try it out sometime. I messaged a roaster from my local place and he recommended a few bags that they currently had to offer, so I decided to send Tim a bag of Honduras La Florencia which was roasted by Bailies Coffee Roasters. Whilst we were exchanging messages I could see that Tim didn’t know much about the growing coffee scene here in Northern Ireland so I decided to also send him a well put together coffee guide and also a very well designed coffee map of all the specialty coffee shops in our capital city.

This whole coffee swap thing has definitely taught me patience! Every morning I was waiting on a message from my wife to say that the package had arrived or I was rushing home from work to see if it was waiting for me at the door. When it finally arrived it honestly felt like Christmas morning. My wife made fun of me for making this comparison but she needs to experience this to get it! Tim put together an incredible package, he added some Australian mints, a lovely pin and a lovely message wrote on the back of a postcard. I could instantly tell he had put a good bit of consideration into this coffee swap which made it all even better and more exciting.

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photo by Ryan Proctor

I couldn’t wait to get stuck into this bag of 5 Senses Coffee. I adjusted my grinder to where I would normally start when brewing new coffee and for the first time in my life I think I got it pretty spot on first time. The coffee notes for this coffee are Lemongrass & bergamot, light tea-like body & short aftertaste. I brewed this through v60 and it was such a smooth and easy coffee to drink. If it wasn’t for the fact I want to savour this bag for as long as possible I probably would’ve made multiple cups that evening! I cannot wait to dive into this coffee more and hit it with a few more brewing methods.

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photo by Ryan Proctor

As Tim put it on instagram ‘How small is the world thanks to social media’, this statement is something I highly agree with. I would highly recommend to those coffee enthusiasts out there to try a coffee swap with someone on the other side of the world. Make those connections with people you may never meet but share an interest with, we now have the ability to do so!

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photo by Ryan Proctor

I hope to make a few more swaps with Tim in the future and I am loving continuing getting to know this great guy and following him on his journey*. I just want to thank Tim for taking the jump and agreeing to the coffee swap and also making it an enjoyable experience for me.

*please note: Ryan Proctor received no financial incentive to write such complimentary words. 🙂

I do love how much easier sharing experiences like this is now thanks to social media.  Participating in something like this and getting to know someone on the other side of the world makes you realise the world is a lot smaller than it seems.

Maybe a little too small….

Dawnyele grew up in the very small town of Sligo, Pennsylvania about 20min down the road from where my mum grew up in Clarion.  We obviously had family that knew each other, and it even turned out that my uncle had worked with her dad years before.  Small world!

About 10 years into our marriage Dawnyele got a copy of my mum’s family tree that had been immaculately researched.  She was looking through it on the computer while I was reading something else on the couch.  The tree showed a long history of my family’s residency in the Clarion County area.  The ensuing interaction was as such:

Dawnyele: “Hey you have Shirey’s in your family too! (Dawnyele’s maiden name is Shirey, quite common for the area)

Me: “Ok.”

Dawnyele: “Ha!  You also had a Charles Shirey!  My grandfathers name was Charles!”

Me: “That’s nice, dear.”

Dawnyele: “What the….um….he had a son, Walter……”  (Dawnyele’s dad’s name is Walter).

Me sitting bolt upright.

Dawnyele: “….my brothers and me are listed here…..oh no….”

I’m not sure if I swore out loud, but I’m sure it went through my head.  Along with rapid firing thoughts of:

  • “Dear God, we’re related!”
  • “The kids all seem normal…..”
  • “It’s been 10 years….no one needs to know!”

After a few scary minutes of frantic research it became clearer what was going on.  The relative that had prepared the family tree knew the Shireys.  She had branched off from me to Dawnyele, then began working backwards up the Shirey line as far as she knew….

Turns out we’re not related.

 

 

(quantum) Particle Distribution

 

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Thurra River dunes, Wingan Inlet, & Red River.
Croajingolong National Park,  Victoria.  Australia.
Code Black’s Kainamui – Washed Kenyan SL28 & SL34
(and a failed Minipresso attempt with Small Batch’s Golden Ticket X)

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“The Messenger Effect” is a term thrown around often in our circles.  Usually jokingly, sometimes not so much.  It was coined by a friend in an attempt to label whatever phenomenon seems to cause so many of my adventures to end with lights, sirens, and the subsequent hospital visits thereafter.

The majority of injuries haven’t been me, but the people that are with me at the time.  This was becoming a problem a few years back when I was running out of people whose wives were prepared to let their husbands come out to play.  We’ve had concussions and bike helmets split in two upon impact, broken fingers, fractured shoulders, appendages pointing in directions that look far from natural, even a rupturing kidney.  All people taken out by the so-called “Messenger Effect”.

Theories as to the cause range from being:

  • mystical: some sort of curse is upon us
  • to sensible: people are simply being pushed beyond their normal limits
  • to totally improbable: that our activities may be unsafe
  • and to the obvious and very likely: quantum entanglement is dictating that if two sub-atomic particles (in this case; riders) are emitted from the same source,  the outcome of particle 2 (person 2) is determined by the observation of particle 1 (person 1).  The observation of particle/person 1 causes the quantum wave function to collapse which INSTANTANEOUSLY determines the outcome of particle/person 2, regardless of their proximity to each other in space-time. Therefore if a conscious observer witnesses particle/person 1 successfully navigate the rutted, tree root-laden section of a downhill mountain bike track at 60kph, the wave function collapses, determining that particle/person 2 will superman over the handlebars, fly 15 feet before fracturing wrists, having to reset his thumbs back into place on the side of the track, and subsequently need 13 weeks off work.

The science seems so solid.  I am usually particle/person 1.  Riaan Burger was, unfortunately, a particle/person 2.  More on him later.

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My love for Croajingolong National Park goes back to the 1980’s.  Between the Thurra River, Mueller River, and Wingan Inlet, the area featured heavily in family camping trips growing up.  It lies in the far east of Victoria and runs from Bemm River right up to the New South Wales border.  Boasting some sensational coastline with endless hiking and kayaking opportunities, its the perfect place to get your kids into camping or head out solo.

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Dad with the first thing he ever caught on fly – an East Gippsland Water Dragon that was more interested in the fly than the fish were.

Wingan was Dad’s idea of heaven and I’ve accompanied him on plenty of great fishing trips there in his collapsible “Portabote”.  He loved the place and would have moved there if it were possible.  When he died it felt right that that’s where his ashes should be scattered, making it a very special place for our family.

The drive up from Melbourne is always enjoyable.  Roughly 6hrs through some beautiful landscape and a few nice small country towns.  For the amount of times we drove this route as a kid, it really doesn’t seem like I’m on my way until you get through Sale at the 2.5hr mark.  It annoys Dawnyele that, thanks to Dad always taking us so far up the coast to camp,  it doesn’t seem like a camping trip if it takes less than 5hrs to get there.  “Why stay overnight when you can turn around and be home again in 6hrs?  It’s just down the road!”

This trip was meant to be a short, two night, coffee fueled hiking and fly fishing weekend with Kingy.  When he had to bail last minute (literally last minute) Dawnyele was gracious enough to say “you’re packed anyway….just head off on your own.”  God bless that woman!

Wingan coconut.JPGI stuck mostly to the original plan, which was to spend a night at the Thurra campground and then do a 20km round trip overnight hike from Wingan to Red River and back along the coast.  I had packed the Aeropress, Minipresso, and Jetboil to brew; all of which are perfectly pack-sized and super convenient.  My last couple of outdoor brews have been made easier by pre-grinding my beans at home which means the Hario mini-mill doesn’t need to come.  I still love the appeal of grinding on the trails.  It makes the experience feel so much more complete or “natural” for want of a better word.  Being one for tradition I find it hard to give in and pre-grind, but I’ve been loving Chris Baca’s Youtube channel for a while now and his thoughts on pre-grinding as a means of finding balance between effort vs experience caused me to rethink and give it a go.  In this case, the sacrifice of one part of the whole experience was definitely outweighed by the benefit of packing lighter.

WINGAN TO RED RIVER

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Red River at sunset

The Wingan portion on the trip involved leaving the car at the Wingan Inlet campground, crossing the Inlet, then following the coast for 10km over beach and rocks to Red River.  This river is only accessible by foot and feels totally remote and untouched.  This was the third time I have done this hike and each time I forget how taxing hiking in the sand is.  It was disappointing to get to Red River and find the mouth of the river closed.  This meant the river was so high that the IMG_1526.JPGbanks were underwater.  The water was all the way up to the dunes, so between this and the strong wind it made fly fishing difficult.  Catching one nice sized Bream on a fly my dad had tied was reward enough for the effort.  Being so remote, the system is very healthy and not fished often.  There are plenty of good sized bream and estuary perch around.

 

The hike back the next day was in the non-stop rain.  The tide was also high, making many of the rocks I’d walked on the way in inaccessible.  It made for a slow and slippery walk back to Wingan with some semi-treacherous rock-hopping involved.  I had timed the hike to reach the Inlet at the peak of high tide.  This was critical as trying to cross the inlet mid-tide is quite an experience.  IMG_1511.JPGMassive volumes of water rip through the mouth on incoming and outgoing tides, causing strong currents and whirlpools.  Not having the kayak this time meant bagging up the backpack and swimming across the Inlet.  The first time I attempted this I was stupid enough to hit it on the outgoing tide.  I ended up about 200m down river, only reaching the bank just before the river meets the ocean.

Crossing this time on the way to Red River, I’d stripped off, swam, and dried off on the other side before continuing.  On the return I was well and truly over hiking in wet sand and slippery rocks, and being already soaked from the rain I just bagged up the backpack and swam over boots and all.  The water at high tide is crystal clear and was surprisingly warm compared to the ambient air temp.  In the still of the tide change it was a pleasant swim back that I took my time and enjoyed.  I brewed a well earned Aeropress in the rain afterwards and spent some time flicking a fly around the mouth hoping for a salmon or flathead before heading back to the car.


THURRA RIVER

img_1485The Thurra River has a network of sand dunes about 2km upstream from the campground.  Unless you’ve been there and seen it for yourself, it is very hard to comprehend the size and expanse of the area these dunes cover.  It’s truly breath-taking to come up over the first crest and see it all laid out before you.  The dunes start near the coast and run about 2.5km inland before a massive dune drops down to the Thurra River 130m below. img_1490 Approaching the edge of this tallest dune and looking down on the forest below feels very intimidating.  I have heard that these are some of the tallest dunes in the southern hemisphere but cannot substantiate that claim.  It wouldn’t surprise me though, as they are insanely high.

I have a real love for this river and dune system.  I have been coming here since the late 1980’s and it’s been incredible to watch the landscape change over time.  The dunes are constantly marching inland, consuming the forest and rerouting the river in the process.  When we started going there, the major dune IMG_1396.JPGstopped at the river and there was about 40ft of river before the forest.  A dead tree stood in the middle of the river.  In the early 90’s, the dune was up to the base of the dead tree and the river was narrow.  By the early 2000’s all you could see of the tree was the tip sticking out of the face of the dune, and now the dune has cut the river off totally and ends well into the forest.  The river has carved a new path about 50m into the forest.  Millions upon millions of tonnes of sand must shift every year, yet the dunes never get any smaller.

IMG_1425.JPGMy plan was to brew at the peak of the dunes at sunset.  If you take the walking track from the Thurra campground it’s about 4km to the top.  Getting there late in the day meant if that I set up camp first I’d miss the golden hour to brew by.  I decided to pack my gear and sleep up on the dunes to save time and also avoid having to walk back in the dark.  It ended up being the absolute ultimate brewing / camping experience.  I have never in my life camped or brewed in a more beautiful place.  The sun was just off the horizon and was bathing the whole landscape in gold.  The whole setting was totally surreal and silent.  I fired up the Jetboil and just sat in awe of the view while brewing.

IMG_1447.JPGI had brought the last of a washed Kenyan SL34; Kainamui from Code Black Coffee Roasters.  It had come in the last Three Thousand Thieves subscription mail out and had taken a while for me to dial in and hit the sweet spot with it.  I think part of this was due to it being the first pour over coffee I’d ground on the new Baratza Sette grinder.  The consistency of the grind on the Sette made the coffee taste so different to all previous brews.  So much sharper and less muted flavours.  It took me some time to work out a good window for the settings, but in the end this coffee came into it’s own.  On the dunes it was bright and acidic with a sugary-honey aftertaste.

thurra-dunes-7After dark on the dunes was phenomenal.  It was a full moon and the whole area was lit up bright.  Sitting on the edge of one dune, about half a dozen bats were zipping around me snatching insects out of the air.  They would pass so close you could feel them zipping past.  Light clouds were blowing through and drenching everything, so it was a mistake leaving the fly off the tent despite the warmth.  Everything got soaked through from the moisture in the air.  A small price to pay for the experience.

IMG_1470.JPGThe next mornings brew wasn’t too successful.  I had been enjoying an espresso at home from Small Batch Roasters; their Golden Ticket X blend.  This coffee is great; I got dark cherry flavours and some well balanced sour aromatics out of it.  My espresso game had been pretty lame up to this point.  Until I got the Sette, I didn’t realise just how much of an impact the grinder had on quality shots.  My old grinder couldn’t grind fine enough so all my shots were pulling in 20 seconds or less.  The best I could get was a flavourful but really sour cup.  The Sette changed all of this and I had been soaking up any info I could on improving my shots.  Everything from particle distribution, to extraction theory, and tamping techniques.  (Chris Baca again….he’s like the Richard Feynman of espresso!  His videos makes it all so easy to grasp)

IMG_1493.JPGI had pre-ground some of Small Batch’s coffee and brought it to try in the Minipresso.  This little device has been great.  Comparing it side-by-side to a proper espresso, there’s definitely a difference, but when you’re out on the trails its a killer tool to have with you.  Problem this time was that the grind was obviously too tight for it and the pressure I needed to apply to get any water through was putting the thing at risk of breaking.  Mental note for next time to grind coarser than I would for home espresso.

I went without a coffee and packed up for the hike back.  We normally walk back down the river on the way back, but being that the mouth was closed, it was too deep to wade.  So I resisted the urge to run down the face of the big dune to the river and took the walking track back to the car.

This big dune holds the record for by far the worst of “The Messenger Effect”.  Enter Riaan Burger……


RIAAN BURGER

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Riaan (r) pre-dunes

I met Riaan in early 2013.  He had just relocated from Johannesburg to Melbourne for work and we met through a course I was facilitating at the time.  I gave him a lift to the train station on the day we met and he asked what we got up to for fun around here.  I told him about our hiking, camping, kayaking adventures in East Gippsland and he was sold.  I mentioned the Thurra dunes I grew up camping near and that we’d just been to with my son and father-in-law.  He said he’d love to get out on an adventure like that and asked if I’d take him one day?   Done.

Over the next few months he became a solid family friend and even lived with us for a while.  A man of great faith and a fantastic relationship with God, he was inspiring and a pleasure to spend time with.  He was due to move back to South Africa at the end of the year so we locked in a date in October to head up to East Gippsland.  The plan was to spend the first night at the Thurra River and walk the dunes, then spend the next couple of days at Wingan Inlet kayaking and hiking up the coast.

dunes-1Kayaks loaded, we left home at 5am for the 6hr+ drive (7hrs including a stop where he was introduced to the evils of the Vanilla Slice at a Cann River bakery).  We set up camp early afternoon and headed off on the 6km round-trip dunes walk, taking my old body board that is always fun to ride down the dunes on.

Riaan was blown away by the dunes, even as a well-seasoned traveler.  He said it’s the first time he’s ever been in a place where he could see desert, ocean, and “jungle” all in the same view.  We explored the southern section towards the coast briefly before he tried the body board out, taking it down some of the smaller, 20m – 30m dunes to get a feel for it.  I told him to keep his hands dragging in the sand behind him both to steer and use as brakes.  He got the hang of it pretty quick so we headed over to the top of the big dune to ride down and walk the 2km back to camp via the river.

Staring down the face of the behemoth he must have forgot the bit about using your hands as brakes.  He started off and just latched onto the board for dear life.  He picked up some incredible speed very quickly, and spinning out of control ended up flipping backward and cartwheeling down the dune, disappearing from my view behind some bushes.

I’ll be honest and say I laughed most of the way walking down the dune to find him.  For all the times I’ve done it myself, we’ve had some massive spills; lost some skin, pulled some muscles, but that’s about the worst of it.

img_1428When I got down to him he was flat on his back holding his arm and his teeth were grinding so hard I could hear it from some ways off.  It wiped the smile off my face pretty quick.   He said he couldn’t move his head and asked me to check his arm as it felt like a bone had punched through his skin.  I checked, there was nothing visible.  I asked him if he could move his feet to which he tried but not very successfully.  In the first minute I was with him his feet had gone from looking normal to dark purple.
He lay still for a long time while we tried to determine the best course of action for me to get help.  No mobile reception, 40km from the nearest town.  We were at least 2km from anyone, and even then it was a slow, hard walk back wading the river.  Going back up the dune and following the track wasn’t a viable option as it would have taken too long.  The img_1438only real option was me running down the river and either dragging a kayak back up and trying to float him down to the car, or leaving him there and driving back into Cann River to mobile reception and calling in the Air Ambulance.  In classic male thinking, he told me NOT to call in a helicopter as he wasn’t sure his insurance would cover it.
Everything from this point on goes against all first aid training I’ve ever had on managing a spinal injury.  He had started trying to turn his head from side to side and was getting a little bit of movement back.  He wanted to try sitting up, which I discouraged, but he was adamant.  With a lot of sweating and pain he managed to sit up and I sat in the sand next to him, relieved at least that he could move enough to do that.  He wasn’t keen on being left there alone so we discussed further options.  We knew we had to make up our mind quick as the sun was getting lower.  The pain in his arm and neck was excruciating  and he just wanted to sit and quiet himself for a while.

20130323_114257.jpgAfter a period of peaceful silence he said he just wanted to pray quickly for wisdom on how to proceed.  The man of God that he is floored me as he starting by thanking God for his time in this beautiful area.  It certainly wouldn’t have been my opening statement if I had potentially broken my neck but it was a true testament that Riaan’s  focus wasn’t solely on himself.

He felt that he wanted to try and stand up, feeling like the only real option was for him to be able to walk out of there.  I helped him to his feet and almost immediately the colour flooded back to his feet and feeling returned.  We were still about 30m from the bottom of the dune so very gingerly we took one step at a time and worked our way down.  The problem with walking back down via the river is that there is very little of the journey that you can get out of the water due to the reeds and banks.  The water flows through the sandy river bed and as you step you find pockets where the sand disappears beneath your feet and you drop 6 inches or so.  Not at all easy when every movement of your spine is giving you grief.

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A broken Riaan post-dunes.  Giant dune in the background.

I don’t remember how long it took to get back to camp, but by the time we were there the sun was definitely behind the hills and it was cooling down quick.  We walked through the camp ground and found the park manager putting a notice on our tent reminding us to pay for the site.  We told him we wouldn’t be staying and what had happened and he went thurra_dunestraight into emergency management mode which was good to see, but Riaan would have none of it and just asked if I’d make him a coffee.  Lucky I wasn’t into specialty coffee back then or it would have taken forever to set the Hario Syphon up and weigh out all the beans (God forbid he should ask for a cold brew…..we would have been there all night!).
img_1399Instant coffee it was, and while he drank it we spoke with the park manager about options.  He was hell bent on calling in a helicopter to which Riaan kept persisting “NO, I just walked 2km; I’ll be fine”.  Finally the guy gave up and wrote down the passcode for the gate to the lighthouse should we change our mind and want to call them in.  He said the nearest help would be the bush nurse at Cann River.  She closed about an hour before we got into town.

Riaan was worried about getting stuck in a rural hospital so far from home so we wanted me to drive as far as he could manage the pain before pulling into Emergency.  We drove out and got mobile reception a few km out of Cann River.  I called my  wife and Riaan’s first question was if she could call his insurance company and see if he was covered.  Turns out they would have paid for the helicopter…..

IMG_1499.JPGAfter 6hrs driving and ever-increasing pain, we made it all the way back to the Angliss Hospital in the eastern suburbs around 2am, funnily enough, passing the Upper Gully train station where 8 months prior we had discussed this very trip.  I joked that if this was a Simpsons episode it would have shown us driving and him saying “I want you to take me on an adventure like that!” then cut to an ambulance speeding past the same location on route to hospital.  The humour was lost in the moment.

Turns out he had broken 2 vertebrae in his neck, only millimetres away from doing permanent spinal damage.  The pain in his arm was from tearing the ligaments attached to these vertebrae.  The stupid thing was that as we walked into Emergency, the triage nurse asked how long ago it happened.  When he told her “about 8hrs ago, including 6hrs driving”, she scoffed and told him to take a seat before being seen to hours later!  The doctor was less than impressed with that nurses handling of a suspected spinal injury.

16 weeks in a neck brace and a slow recovery, sadly Riaan isn’t keen to come back and try sandboarding again.  But he still tries to tell my kids that their dad is a hero and if it wasn’t for me he probably would have died up there.  I’m pretty quick to remind him that to the contrary….if it wasn’t for me, he wouldn’t have been up there in the first place so that compliment is null and void.

 

 

 

 

Gear Junkies and Flat Earthers

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Mount Cannibal, Victoria, Australia.

V60 – 2016 Costa Rica Cup Of Excellence winner #3 – “El Cerro”

Aeropress – Veneziano’s Silvia Solkiln.  Natural processed Panamanian Geisha

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They say that men are attracted to hobbies that come with a multitude of accessories.  Cycling, camping, hiking, and fishing are good examples.  Tech gear is shocking for it.  We’re like bower birds when something new or slightly different from what we bought last week comes out.

When you’re not into someone else’s hobby, their enthusiasm and money spent on the items they collect seems absolutely absurd.  Years ago I would have said spending $120 on some feathers plucked off a glorified chicken was the most stupid thing in the world.  Now I’m into fly tying.  That’s actually a pretty good price.

Speaking of absurd enthusiasm; on a trip to Yarrawonga a few years back my wife stopped in at the house/museum of an eccentric man who collected salt & pepper shakers.  He had just returned from the “Salt and Pepper Shaker Conference” in the States.

Eccentric Man “Everybody should collect something.  What do you collect?”

Dawnyele “I don’t really collect anything”

Eccentric Man “Well then you’re pretty boring”

(awkward silence)

Eccentric Man “What about your husband?  What does he collect?”

Dawnyele “I like to say that he collects hobbies because he seems to have a new one every year”

Eccentric Man “Well it sounds like he has more of a life than you do!”

External link: Yarrawonga News Tourist Punches Local Collector in the Face

IMG_3927.JPGDavid King and I have done a good amount of hiking and mountain biking together.  He’s a great one to get out on the trails with for a coffee and was instrumental in the conception of this Bike Hike Brew project.  He’s also one of the few people who haven’t ended up in hospital after one of my “what could possibly go wrong” adventures so he’s on a roll.

As an avid trail runner and ultra-light camper; he, too, is a gear junkie.  He’s far more tech-savvy than I am which is awesome because it means he can spend all the money on GoPro’s and drones and I can just reap the benefits!

Kingy and I had been waiting for the weather to fine up so we could collaborate on a clear sky night-hike to experiment with some long-exposure coffee photography.  On one of the first perfect evenings of spring we headed out to one of his regular running trails at Mt Cannibal.

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At the base of the hill we went over what we’d cart up the track and what we’d leave in the car.  This is when both of us being gear junkies makes it challenging.  “Will we need both tripods?”  No.  “Do you think it’s excessive that we’re taking up the GoPro, two Canon EOS SLR’s, a compact camera and the iPhone?” No, bring it all.  “Is it worth taking all the V60 gear as well as the Aeropress?”  Yes.  “Do I carry the heavy coffee case up or just pack what I need into my back pack?…wait, my back pack is already full with 3 litres of water, an SLR, two speed lights and a flash diffuser so I have to take the case”  (which is really funny now that I think back on it that all the camera gear was just thrown into my back pack and the rock-solid padded case contained coffee and a kettle).

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The ascent was pretty steep and rocky  in parts which gave me an even greater respect for Kingy running 6 laps of this circuit.  It wasn’t hot but I was sweating profusely by the time we reached the top.  Partly due to carrying the gear, partly due to me being stupidly unfit at the moment.

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I took a breather at the first lookout which gave Dave a chance to play around with some shots of the coffee on the elevation marker.  In trying to keep a new coffee for each article, for this hike I’d bought a washed Costa Rican Caturra/Catuai that had won 3rd place in the Cup Of Excellence a couple months ago, roasted by Proud Mary.  Hopes were high on this brewing a great cup.  At AU$400/kg (I only bought 70g, Dawnyele, don’t stress), it deserved its place in the hard case and I had refused to even open the jar until minutes before the brew.  The plan was to brew this on the V60, along with some Panama Geisha’s from Veneziano on the Aeropress that were a long time off roast date and I had to use up.

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 It’s only a short stretch from the elevation marker to the main granite outcrop and having never been here before I was blown away by the views and perfect timing of our arrival.  Not a cloud in the sky and the sun was just hitting it’s magic half hour of golden light.

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The Hario kettle and glass V60 are so photogenic, especially in this light, so we spent a fair amount of time messing around with the cameras before even thinking about brewing.  The iPhone took some nice shots but it certainly couldn’t capture the warmth of the suns glow near as well as Kingy’s SLR.

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Before we lost light it was time to brew.  The wind had picked up significantly since we arrived and it took some strategic arrangement to shelter the Jetboil enough to stop the flame blowing out.  I ended up having to surround the burner with my hands to allow enough heat to generate so the water would boil.  Out of the wind this thing is a power-house, but it doesn’t seem to cope well with anything more than a strong breeze.

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I finally cracked open the jar of El Cerro and the aroma was amazing; very creamy with a mix of dry spice.  I’ve been favouring 1:15 ratio’s lately so ground 28g for a 420g brew.  I pretty much butchered the rest from here.  Well at least in my head.

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I’m not yet at the stage where I can chill out on the trail and happily brew by just winging it; no scales, no timer….just using instinct and intuition.  My mind still wants numbers, data, and methodical order.  This mindset doesn’t make it easy when the wind is affecting my scales and I’m getting a 0.7g variance that is messing with my head, or the water temp drops from 94 degrees down to 90 and I stress out that I’m going to ruin the brew.  Something for me to work on….

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I’m probably being a bit harsh on myself here because the result was fantastic regardless.  The 420g brew was going to be too much to brew directly into one cup, so I decanted the boiled water into the goose neck kettle and put the V60-01 straight onto the Jetboil.  It’s almost like they were made to go together as the plastic base of the V60 has small claws that sit perfectly around the rim of the Jetboil.

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Pouring directly into the Jetboil served two purposes.  (1) It’s a larger vessel which means I didn’t have to break it down into 2 separate brews.  With an 800ml capacity you could safely pour 3 good sized cups into it.  (2) It worked well in this environment as the Jetboil is insulated and therefore kept the brew hot in the wind.

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The only downside to this was that I couldn’t get the Jetboil onto the scale to measure the pour.  I estimated the volume until it felt like double what I’d normally pour for a single brew.  The resulting cup was very strong but delicious.  A very zesty acidity that left a ginger-like dryness in the aftertaste.  Not bad for winging the last half of the brew….

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One challenge of brewing outdoors is water management and clean up.  On a short walk you’re not going to carry enough water to do a full wash up of everything, so after a basic rinse you’re essentially putting everything away still pretty dirty.  No problem if you’re heading straight home, but a hassle if you’re going to do multiple brews.

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Much of the rest of the time on Mt Cannibal was spent on photographing the sunset and playing around with time-lapse functions on both the iPhone and the GoPro.  We have been throwing ideas around for a while about how best to create short videos of these adventures.  The ultimate for locations like this would obviously be a drone, and up here you sure could have some fun with it.  (anyone with a spare DJI Mavic laying around….feel free to get in touch).

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Dave is good value for projects like this because his enthusiasm runs in line with mine. It’s the difference between someone listening to a plan for a crazy adventure and saying “you’re insane”, and him going “let’s do it” and working on how we can make it even better.

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Conversation as the sun set covered everything from drone reviews, to quantum superposition, and even flat earth theory after Dave had recently had someone try and convince him that the planet isn’t as spherical as “they” would like you to believe.  Apparently I, as a Christian, am classified as a “they” and am responsible for the conspiracy that the earth is round.  I would love for someone to explain to me how exactly Christians benefit more than others from a sphere over a disk.  The theories are all very interesting and made for some great discussion on just how the world would actually work if it were true.  The image I captured (below) on a 10 minute exposure showing the stars rotating across the sky is enough to convince me that I am standing on a ball, although I’m sure it could be debunked somehow.

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Before we packed up for the night I brewed up an Aeropress to use up the rest of the Geisha’s.  I’ve really enjoyed this coffee from Veneziano.  I originally tried a Geisha at the start of this year after hearing all the hype over them.  They’re very different and I liked them, but I found it hard to brew a consistent cup.  This lot was the second time I’d tried a Geisha and it seemed much more forgiving.

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Even this long off roast (a couple months), the flavour when brewed in the Aeropress is still very vibrant and sharp; strong floral and tea notes.  The recipe I used is a great one when brewing for two people as it allows you to get more out of the Aeropress.  It’s called The Stubby and I’ve been using it regularly since hearing about it from it’s creator, Brian Beyke, of the I Brew My Own Coffee podcast.

It’s a 1:6 ratio initial brew that you dilute post-press to a 1:10 total cup.  This Geisha has been an absolute winner brewed this way and I love this recipe for it’s strong concentration of flavours.  With a 1:6 ratio you can get enough out of the Aeropress that, once diluted, it easily serves 2 people.

The best laugh of the night came from the creation of the video below.  We’d had plenty of discussions about how we’d best plan and shoot footage for a video that Kingy (being the one with all the camera gear and editing software) would edit and put together for the website.

While I was waiting for the 10 minute exposure to complete, I started playing around on the iPhone with pics and video I’d randomly snapped on the way up.  Apart from the title logo, the whole thing took mere minutes to piece together and resulted in a 2 minute clip that Kingy said would have taken him hours to compile and edit from his GoPro on his PC.  It irritated him that with all his gear, I had pumped something out on a free app of reasonable quality while waiting for a photo to expose.  After hating my iPhone for a long time, I think there’s something to be said for the convenience of this tech gear.

It will certainly make for a lighter travel on the next trip.

First Wave Problems or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The French Press

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Seven Acre Rock, Powelltown.  Victoria.  Australia.

Industry Beans’ Kii AA.  Washed Kenyan.

 

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The French Press gets a bad wrap sometimes.  In specialty coffee it’s often the poor cousin to V60’s, Chemexes, and Kalita’s.  It certainly brews a very different cup than all of these devices.

Up until a year ago I viewed the French Press as a sub-par device that only produced very muddy and bitter cups.  That was until I learned that every single French Press I’d been served or made myself had been done wrong.

These may be some broad generalisations, but when you think about the average household pulling out the French Press to make a gourmet coffee when they don’t want to serve their guests instant, it’s usually

  • supermarket shelf, vacuum-sealed first wave beans roasted God-knows how long ago.
  • finely pre-ground from the producer (normally for filter or espresso brewing)
  • beans pulled out of the fridge or freezer
  • brewed with no accuracy of brew ratios or time

I’ve been totally guilty of doing this myself time and time again.  And therein lies the explanation to why I never liked French Press coffee.  It all makes sense with a little understanding of particle size and extraction.

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Graffiti is bad….but this guy gets two thumbs up for creativity.

The filter attached to the plunger on a French Press is quite coarse meaning the finely ground store-bought coffee will pass right through.  This results in a very gritty cup full of unwanted sediment.

The smaller surface area of the finer grind also speeds up the extraction process.  Brewing for a few minutes with all that extra surface area exposed to the water will over-extract the coffee in no time giving a very bitter and charred tasting cup.

Another common mistake is that the coffee isn’t decanted once brewed which means the grinds at the bottom keep extracting long after the first cup has been poured.  Any subsequent cups poured later will taste nothing like the first.

So the key to a great French Press is:

  • Start with quality, freshly roasted beans
  • Grind them yourself on a coarse setting
  • Weigh your beans and water for a consistent brew
  • Decant the coffee immediately after pressing

You’ll still get some sediment; that’s inherent with the French Press and it only adds to the full bodied mouth feel of the cup.  Done right, the French Press delivers some nice results.

I recently shopped for a more convenient way to boil water on the trails.  Up until now I had always hiked with a Trangia (which I still love) but it’s bulky and requires carrying a bottle of liquid fuel.  After doing some homework I settled on the Jetboil.  It appealed to me for all it’s self-contained glory.  The gas canister, burner head, canister stabiliser, cup, and lid all pack down into itself in one super-portable little package.

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All this……….packs down into this.

I’ll be honest though….the real reason I chose the Jetboil was because you can get a French Press add-on for it.  It meant I could take one extra brew method  on the trails without taking up any extra space.

img_3663The model I bought was the smaller of their range; the Zip.  It’s an 800mL cup that comes with the basic match ignition burner as opposed to the models above it that are piezo ignition.  I wish I had remembered this on my first attempt at brewing with it on a day hike.  I forgot matches.  I debated making a cold brew but had to be back to pick the kids up from school in 6hrs.

The first chance I had to test out the French Press functionality was on a walk to Seven Acre Rock.  I had planned on riding there from Mt Beenak but it was wet and very cold and it would appear I’m getting softer the older I get.

The walk from the car park to the lookout is a little under 1km and pretty easy going.  After all the rain the track was very muddy and slippery.  I got all excited at one point after seeing some huge cat-looking prints in the mud….the Gembrook / Beenak area has long been rumoured for its big cat sightings.  Google disagreed and told img_3629me they were dog prints.  But being that they were huge, fresh, and there were no other human foot prints around it meant the dog was big, feral, and here I was out on my own in the middle of nowhere……

The wind out on the rock was bitterly cold and at times had a bit of force behind it.  I was curious to know how the Jetboil would perform in these circumstances.

One advantage of the Jetboil in this regard is that the burner head is slightly sheltered by design and the Flux-Ring around the bottom of the cup adds some extra protection too.  This Flux-Ring (the ridged metal heat conductor attached underneath the cup) adds to the effectiveness in the cold as it evenly disperses the flames heat to the whole cup.  Also, the Jetboil comes with an insulated cover which not only holds in the heat while boiling, but means it’s cool to the touch for handling.  Great design all round.

IMG_3640.jpgThe beauty of a French Press is that you can get nice results from both filter and espresso roasts.  The beans I had brought were an espresso-roasted Kenyan Kii AA from Industry Beans in Fitzroy, Melbourne.  Pulled as an espresso shot, this is a super-juicy and sweet coffee that I have found goes well straight or with milk.

I ground 28g for a 1:15 420g brew.  The Jetboil did it’s thing in amazing time considering the 5 degrees temp plus wind chill.  I did find that I had to set it up against my coffee case as the wind played havoc with the flame.

A 30 second bloom and 3 and a half minutes later, down went the plunger and the taste testing began.  I wasn’t sure how much sediment the Jetboil press would let through as the metal img_3645filter is surrounded by a plastic ring that looked like it may let some grinds through.

Being a 420g brew in an 800mL cup, it seemed like I only had to press a little to hit the grinds.  A large percentage of the brew would have been left behind after the pour.  Ideally a 600g+ brew would have been more effective in this size vessel.

The result was the familiar French Press heavy mouth feel full of sweetness and plum-like juiciness.  Overall it was a little weaker than I’d like and next time I’ll try a 1:13 ratio for more strength.

Regardless, in the cold it went down a treat.  Money well spent on the Jetboil and I know it will feature heavily on future third wave adventures.

Seemed like a good idea at the time

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Mt Baw Baw to Mt Saint Gwinear, Victoria.  Australia.

Code Black’s Karatina.  Washed Kenyan SL34.

Many of our greatest adventures have one thing in common; spur of the moment.

  • Going right back to our first trips as a married couple; getting home from work on a Friday and deciding then and there to head out to the Grampians for the weekend.
  • Receiving an invite out of courtesy for a wedding on the other side of the planet and saying “why not? let’s go!”
  • Getting last minute texts from a mate saying they’re heading out mountain biking and me shooting a look towards Dawnyele hoping for approval to go.

You learn a lot through spur of the moment trips.  Mostly that there’s a lot to be said for forethought and planning.  You learn by overlooking the little things like

  • by the time we actually get out to Halls Gap at midnight there’s not going to be anywhere open to check into for the night.
  • food comes in handy on a weekend camping trip.
  • 6hrs is a long way to be from home when you realise you forgot the flies on a fly fishing trip, so driving the whole way home to get them and back again.

For someone who needs order and structure to feel like life is stable and all is well, it’s strange that these “drop of the hat” trips don’t stress me out.  I’m blessed with a wonderful wife who is very tolerant of my impromptu schemes.  Not everyone can be so lucky, so many of these trips end up being solo expeditions when friends remind me they need more than 3 hours notice to come on a weekend away.

west-tanjil-1Mt Saint Gwinear was intended to be a solo trip.  Dawnyele had generously encouraged me to disappear for the weekend after couple of stress-filled weeks.

I had never been to Mt Baw Baw before but had read about the mountain bike trails up there.  I poured over some maps and the Heatmap on Strava and plotted out a route from the alpine village across the plains to Mt Saint Gwinear.  About a 14km loop.

The plan was to set up a camp off the road along the Tanjil River, ride to Saint Gwinear and back during the day, fly fish the evening and morning, then drive home.  In classic Tim fashion, that’s not what happened.

Baw Baw summit.jpgArriving at the village it was 3 degrees and very cloudy.  I half-heartedly kitted up to ride.  It was hard to get motivated with the cold and the wind.  The path I took from the alpine village winds up to the summit of Baw Baw on a walking track covered in wood chips which sapped a lot of energy.  So much so that I hadn’t even noticed that by the time I got to the cairn on top it was sunny and warming up.  This whole part of the mountain is very accessible by foot and provides amazing views in all directions.  Just down from the cairn is a great picnic area at Muellers Lookout decked out with a viewing platforms and some tables.

baw-baw-mtbFrom the top down towards the plains there is a nice variety of cross country single track for mountain bikers.  The trails are tight but flow nicely through the snow gums.  On this trip there were a few trees down which broke the flow a little, but I still got a good feel for the area and a desire to come back and explore some more.

You can follow single track almost the whole way to the junction of the alpine resort and the national park.  This is where I left the main trail and took the walking track that links the Baw Baw Resort park to the Australian Alpine Walking Track.

The vegetation and scenery from this point on exemplifies everything I love about the Victorian alpine regions.  The snow gums start looking a lot more weathered and baw-baw-plateauhardened from being more exposed to the wind and snow.  The forests open up into the beautiful heath-covered plains littered with granite boulders.  This part of the trail has been extremely well constructed.  Any swampy areas are built up with boardwalks, and the ascents and descents are protected well from erosion with stairs and run-offs.

While the tracks have obviously been built with walkers in mind, they are easily ridden with no adverse affects on the environment or need to leave the trails.  On a bike, the descents down the rocky chutes and stairs are sometimes technical but extremely fun and fast.  Well suited for a dual suspension bike, but nothing too rough for a hardtail.  Getting up them is a different story.  There was a bit of walking involved.

About half way towards the Alpine Walking Track, the trail crosses the headwaters of the Tanjil River.  It’s a beautiful little alpine spring that offers crystal clear water at a convenient location on the ride to top up water bottles.

Baw Baw Snow Gum.jpgFrom here the trail rises to Mt Saint Phillack, then across to Saint Gwinear and track gets considerably rougher.  Once you hit the Alpine Walking Track it is evident that you’re on a much more frequently traversed trail and some sections are heavily worn and rutted out.

The entire ride so far I hadn’t seen a single person, so it was a surprise to come across a decent crowd at the summit of Saint Gwinear.  You can park about 2km from the summit on the north east side of the mountain if you don’t want to cross the plains from Baw Baw.  There was a near constant stream of people coming and going from the time I got which certainly broke the serenity of the area.  I didn’t stick around long and began to work my way back.

baw-baw-plateau-1Stopping for a breather at Phillack Saddle is where my plans for the day changed.  This spot was absolutely stunning and I was disappointed I didn’t have any coffee gear with me to make a brew and soak up the views.  I had brought my whole coffee case with the Chemex in the car to brew by the Tanjil that night, but obviously that wasn’t going to fit on the bike.

Spur of the moment , I decided that this is where I wanted to camp for the night solely for the purpose of brewing here at sunset.  Even if it meant hiking back carrying the coffee case.  7km…how hard could it be?

I tore back to the car on the bike and packed everything I’d need into my hiking pack.  It proved difficult as I had planned on camping at the car so had brought a medium sized gas camping stove.  I managed to squeeze it in along with food, sleeping bag, bed roll, tent and clothes.  It seemed to weigh a tonne for a simple overnight walk.  The coffee case was stocked to the hilt with everything required to brew but didn’t feel too heavy as I set back towards Saint Phillack.

I took the shortest route around Baw Baw which climbed up Muellers Track; a black diamond downhill MTB track that I had thoroughly enjoyed tearing down on the way back to the car.  Very rocky and technical, going up it on foot was a challenge with a heavy pack and the coffee gear.

west-tanjil-head-watersHiking back across the plains, I swear the case was collecting rocks on the way as it seemed to be getting heavier and heavier.  About the time I reached the Tanjil spring I was doubting whether or not it had been a good idea to try and cart so much weight 7km each way for the sake of a coffee.  I decided to dump the tap water I’d brought and fill up with fresh alpine spring water to brew with.

The quality of the water you put in will drastically change the taste of the cup.  Collecting water from a natural spring or creek will add tannins and other organic material.  Depending on the source, it may not taste as it would using bottled spring water, but I love that it’s crafting a cup that is unique to the location you’re in.

Phillack Saddle.jpgI set up camp not far from the summit of Saint Phillack in a pretty clearing that had a convenient boulder to use as a brew bar.  The sun was getting low and the temperature was dropping quick.  The evening light was casting a beautiful orange glow that looked amazing against the pink speckled snow gums.

The coffee I’d brought was a washed Kenyan SL28 & SL34 from Code Black.  I’d only brewed it once before this trip and had really enjoyed it off the V60.  I had a feeling that after the trek carrying all the gear, I would appreciate it a lot more.

coffee-on-st-phillack-1It took forever for the water to boil as the wind coming up from the valley was absolutely freezing.  I ground 20g of beans for a 1:16 ratio to make a 320g brew.  Not really enough for the 6 Cup Chemex, but I didn’t want to waste beans not knowing how it would turn out.

Being glass, the Chemex was cooling rapidly and I had a bad feeling the brew bed wouldn’t be holding a suitable temp.  I made the mistake of not returning the kettle to the stove between pours which in the end resulted in an under-extracted cup that had a deliciously sweet and sharp taste, but was lacking something to balance it out.

coffee-on-st-phillackAs referenced in a previous post, my palette is far from accurate in being able to discern and identify many individual tastes present in coffee.  But I know from brewing this same coffee in less arctic conditions that when all the flavours are present it is full of sweet peach notes and very fruity.  One thing I really notice about brewing using locally sourced spring water is that it seems to highlight the acidity beautifully in some coffees.  This was a major difference I noted in brewing this in the alps versus brewing at home.  So while the alpine brew didn’t turn out too flash, it was delicious in a way it only could have been up there which made for a great experience.

After a cold, cold night in the tent, I hiked back to the car and never did get any fly fishing in.  I’m looking forward to the next trip up there that will have a little more forethought put in to taking a more convenient brew method.

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Rainbows and Unicorns

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La La Falls, Warburton.  Victoria.  Australia.

Wide Open Road’s washed Nicaraguan

 

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Dawnyele called me from her friends house one night saying “Hey you need to come around here and check out Matt’s coffee setup.  It looks like a science lab.  He just served me a coffee made from rainbows and unicorns.”

Obviously I went.  Who wouldn’t be intrigued?  It turned out to be my introduction to the V60 and specialty coffee altogether.  I was blown away by the fact that coffee could be made in a way that I enjoyed straight black.  The panela sugar Dawnyele had put in hers was from Brazil and the bag mystically claimed it to be made from rainbows and unicorns.

When you’ve never witnessed manual brewing before all the different devices seem bizarre and complex, like some sort of magic is being woven into a cup of coffee.  Or in the case of my son’s friend walking into our kitchen when I was making a syphon brew, the look on his face as he slowly backed out of the room told me he thought he’d just walked into a meth lab.  “Here, buddy.  Try some of this……”

waterfallSpeaking of mystical coffee; brewing in a rain forest, surrounded by Lyrebirds putting on their show, and sourcing water from a waterfall is pretty wizard.  I lucked out today when I bailed on a mountain bike ride due to being soft and not wanting to get cold and wet.  I decided to head to La La Falls in Warburton instead to try out the new Jetboil for V60 usage.  It was a great choice as the rain let up upon arrival, I had the place to myself, and the Lyrebirds were on display and didn’t seem to mind me being around.

The walk to the falls is only 1.6km and is a gentle incline the whole way.  The path has been done amazingly with beautiful little stone bridges over the water crossings.

I had my whole travel case in the car as it was the best way to get all the gear plus Hario pour-over kettle around.  I’d expected to brew at the car at my originally planned mountain biking start point, but now I’d be lugging it up to the falls.

I had never used the Jetboil for pour-over coffee before.  I had debated attempting to use the supplied lid which has an opening to pour from as the pour-over kettle to save taking the Hario.  But for purists sake and not wanting to bugger it up, I decided to take the Hario.

img_3695The thing about pour-over coffee is that you want total control over your pour to accurately dose the right amount of water over a specific amount of time, and minimise unwanted agitation to the brew bed.  I had a feeling the Jetboil lid would just dump water into the V60.  No doubt if you wanted to simplify while camping you could make the Jetboil spout work, but lets be honest….if you’re trying to simplify while camping you’re not going to be trying to brew on a V60 in the first place.

I love the thought of sourcing water from right where you’re brewing.  I don’t think you could make the experience any more natural than that.  In this case the results were amazing.  I had brewed this same coffee on the V60 at home the day prior but this tasted totally different.

img_3702The coffee is a washed Pacamara from Nicaragua, roasted by Wide Open Road.  Yesterday when I first brewed it I thought it had a bit of a zing.  That was nothing compared to this brew.  It was downright amazing and delicious.  The flavours pretty much punched me in the face.  It tasted like a cola fruit tingle.  I don’t even know if those things exist, and I’m pretty sure Cola Fruit Tingle isn’t on the SCAA Flavour Wheel but that’s the best I can come up with.

My wife’s palette is far more refined than mine, and she doesn’t even like brewed coffee.  I’ll give her something to taste and she’ll rattle off descriptors almost identical to those on the flavour profile:

“I taste red seedless grapes….and hazelnuts.  No wait, Brazil nuts.”

“Dude that’s exactly what it says on the bag!  So you like it?”

“No it’s horrible”  😦

 

 

Brewing on the path less travelled

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Cheers Dad

I grew up with a dad that had a fire in him for the outdoors.  His was a youth filled with camping trips in old Volkswagens, cave diving in Mt Gambier, bushwalking, and fishing or diving every bit of coastline from Melbourne up to Eden and beyond.  I give him full credit for passing that passion on to me.  His life was full of adventure and he was never short of a story.  We enjoy retelling his stories to our kids, even more so now that he’s gone.

He also drank copious amounts of coffee.  Not a passion he passed on to me.  “International Roast” is enough to put a kid off coffee for the rest of his life.  Luckily living around Melbourne you’re exposed to just how incredible good coffee can be.

In 2014 Matt Esse introduced me to specialty coffee and manual brewing.  I wasn’t even aware that there was quality coffee outside of espresso.  He made me a V60 with some Columbian Beans from Sensory Lab, and gave me the whole song and dance that goes along with the V60 process.  He had me hooked with the words “….the science behind coffee”.  I’m a stats and figures guy.  If I can quantify it, graph it, and repeat it; I’m in!

So began my journey down the proverbial rabbit hole that is Specialty Coffee.  Like any great interest there’s no end to the learning opportunities.  From experimenting with the fullsizerendermultitude of different devices available, to the basics of brew ratios and particle size, right up to extraction yield theory….it’s got to be one of the more delicious sciences out there.

What I love about specialty coffee is that it doesn’t treat coffee as a commodity, but focuses on the relationships surrounding it.  From sourcing it directly from a remote farm, to working on improving and sustaining the lives of those producing it.  Even on the consumers end; a good specialty coffee shop works to develop relationship with the end-user, imparting knowledge and wisdom to the customer.  It all becomes part of the experience that is specialty coffee.

Sometimes the process of manually brewing a cup is just as, if not more, enjoyable than drinking it.  So combining my passion for outdoor adventures and the experience of brewing makes perfect sense to me.  Not so much to others who seem more amused as to why so much trouble is gone to for a coffee.  Some convert, some don’t.  But either way we’re sharing an experience which is what it’s all about.

The portability of manual brewing interests me because with minimal equipment you can technically brew fantastic coffee anywhere.  Something as simple as a french press and some quality beans is enough to perk up any mediocre camping trip.  With a little more effort you can set up a brilliant travel coffee case:img_3113

Excessive?  Probably a little.  Travel safe?  Yep.  It would require forces equivalent to nuclear fission to destroy it, but it also weighs a tonne.  However, it has absolutely everything required brew a great cup and spin everyone out at the same time!  Between the Chemex and the Aeropress you can cover all your pour over & full immersion brews.  Also nicely fits scales, grinder, and goose-neck kettle!

Camping-coffee setups can be as straight forward or complex as you want them to be. But they’re not entirely practical for my big 3: mountain biking, fly fishing, and hiking.  A french press isn’t likely to last in a backpack when you fly over the handlebars of a bike on a trail, nor does a Chemex fit well into my fly fishing vest.

Enter the Aeropress.  One of the most practical and travel-friendly brewers on the market.  As indestructible as the aforementioned coffee case, but compact enough to fit in a small backpack.  Makes one hell of a cup when done right and is super simple to clean.  I’ll write more on the Aeropress in future posts.

The Aeropress is the device that made outdoor brewing exciting to me.  It’s all well and good if all you’re after is great coffee on the go, but that’s not what this project is all about.  I want to test and document both the practical and impractical methods out on the trails.

I want the whole experience to be a combination of the brew, the location, the adventure getting there, and the people involved along the way.  Hopefully it’s enjoyed by others, or at the very least provides some entertainment.  I’m happy for people to laugh at me, if not with me!

If nothing else, it should give my kids some funny stories to tell long after I’m gone.