USB Warmer CoolerI’m a big fan of gadgets so when I saw that Vat19 had a USB device which would act as both a cup warmer and cooler I just had to try it!

Vat19 claims the device “Keep a beverage piping hot or cool as ice.” A bold claim for something which powers itself on the small amount of juice the USB bus can put out, but out of the box the device seemed well constructed, so I was optimistic.

First thoughts:

Unfortunately I noticed the first two flaws with the desktop appliance before I even plugged it in. First, there was no on/off switch anywhere on the unit which, while not tragic, would become a problem if your only free USB port is on the back of your system. Second, the switch to change from warming to cooling is on the back near where the cord exits. While neither of these flaws are tragic, both proved irritating.

In action:

Warmer Cooler TestI plugged the USB Beverage Warmer & Cooler into my free USB on my laptop and heard the fan on the unit spin up. Surprisingly the small fan made quite a bit of noise, considerably more than my Dell laptop, even more than most modern desktops.

Ignoring the noise I set the unit to warming mode and put my coffee on the unit. Now another problem… The heating/cooling element was too small for a normal sized coffee mug. A half hour later, with my mug straddling the heating element my coffee had cooled to its typical tepid.

For my next cup of the day I switched to a smaller mug which would fit on the heating plate and got somewhat better results. My coffee stayed warmer than usual, but still not warm enough to justify another device and the loss of desk space.

(Please ignore the small army of drinking birds in the background of the picture above. They are of no concern to you.)

Hoping for better results on the cooling side I unplugged the unit and let it cool to room temperature. After lunch I flipped the switch to cool and plugged it in. I was surprised at how quickly the plate cooled so I put my bar-style pint glass full of water on the plate. Half an hour later my water still seemed enjoyably cool, but was it cooler than without?

I decided to do a more scientific test of the cooling capabilities of the unit, so I got two cans of Coke out of my fridge and grabbed the trusty cooking thermometer. With one can on the cooler and the other on the desk (far enough away to not be heated by the exhaust from the cooler) I measured the temperature of each over a two hour interval.

With an ambient temp of 70 degrees F and a starting beverage temp of 39 here are my findings over the next two hours:

After 30 minutes, can on cooler = 50, can on desk = 50

After 1 hour, can on cooler = 57, can on desk = 57

After 1:30, can on cooler = 59, can on desk = 61

After 2:00, can on cooler = 60, can on desk = 63

After the full 2 hours I sipped from each Coke and could tell some difference, but again, not enough to justify another device on the desk.

Conclusions:

While I love the idea of a USB beverage warmer & cooler the current model from Vat19 falls short of both “piping hot” and “cool as ice”. While the price point of $24.95 is very reasonable the novelty quickly wore off and the many drawbacks doom this gadget to the junk drawer. Perhaps a future rendition will bring improved performance and flexibility, but for now there are better warmers to be had and the cooling effect is not enough to justify this unit.

gadget, review, usb, food, drink, cooler, warmer, office toy

The Coffee Snob cold drip coffee maker is yet another alternative to traditional drip or percolator coffee brewing. The beautiful device, which looks like belongs in a 19th century laboratory not a 21st century kitchen, slowly drips ice water through coffee grounds to make a concentrate similar to that made by the Toddy cold brew system. The coffee concentrate is then mixed down to your preferred strength and heated or served over ice.

Coffee Snob cold drip coffee makerThe theory as with other cold brew systems is to reduce undesirable oil and acidity extracted in the brewing process by using cold water. The end product, for better or worse, typically contains somewhat less caffeine as well. These are real benefits to people with a sensitivity to acid or who need to reduce their caffeine intake, but it is important to remember that there is still some caffeine present.

The coffee concentrate can be stored in the refrigerator and used to make a single cup at a time. This is the biggest advantage to this type of maker, especially to those who may be brewing a pot of coffee but may only drink one or two cups of it.

The process is different from other cold brew systems I have used. Instead of soaking the ground bean in water, water slowly (one drop per second) drips through the cup of grounds. A reusable cloth filter at the bottom of the grounds allows the coffee concentrate to drip down the amusingly twisted outlet tube and into the carafe.

The drip process is controlled by an easily adjusted valve at the bottom of the water reservoir. The use of ice, and a small amount of watter insures a slow brew using cold water throughout.

The brewing setup is easy but the brew will take many hours to complete (8 or more hours.) This is acceptable since the system makes a fair amount of concentrate in one brewing, but if you’re out of concentrate you can forget about that quick fix.

The only problem with brewing is where the coffee drips from the filter outlet to the carafe. Due to the height and open carafe there were coffee drops on the counter for two feet in every direction.

Cleanup (of both my counter and the Coffee Snob) was easy and the reusable filter is a big plus.

The results

The coffee concentrate is mixed with water to achieve your preferred strength. The ratio in the instructions (which I have lost since getting the unit) will result in a fairly weak coffee. I found a stronger mix of 1 to 2 parts water to 1 part concentrate to make a satisfying, somewhat strong American style coffee.

The resulting coffee is very good with considerably less acidity and with no bitterness at all. While some of the flavor and body of the coffee is still lost, the Coffee Snob creates a concentrate superior to the Toddy cold brew method.

The concentrate will also find uses in recipes and lattes and cappuccinos are easily made using the concentrate. Lattes and cappuccinos are different from the coffee shop fare as they lack the bitterness of a true espresso.

The Coffee Snob does require a fairly large amount of ground coffee for a modest amount of concentrate. This is typical to cold brew systems as less flavor is extracted with the cold system.

Conclusions

The Coffee Snob produces a very tasty cup of coffee with low acidity and little to no bitterness. While the brewing process takes some time, the resulting concentrate is convenient and ready to use.

The coffee is not as full-flavored as a traditional drip coffee and the cold brew system is less efficient in number of brewed cups per pound of coffee. These two factors keep the Coffee Snob from becoming my everyday brewer, but these are a small sacrifice for those with a sensitivity to acid.

Overall I would recommend the Coffee Snob to those who are sensitive to the acidity in coffee or those that are curious about cold-brew methods. The maker also offers the benefit of being a beautiful addition to any kitchen.

Green Mountain Coffee RoasterGreen Mountain Coffee Roaster is a New England icon. Their coffee is served in everything from restaurant to gas station here in New England. Founded in 1981, today Green Mountain is the nation’s largest seller of double-certified Fair Trade organic coffee. Recently I had the opportunity to try two of Green Mountain’s Fair Trade Organic offerings.

Green Mountain’s Organic Sumatran Reserve is an appealing coffee with an earthy richness you could expect of an organic coffee from the beverage’s birthplace. This is a pleasant, medium bodied coffee which, while it doesn’t disappoint in the cup somehow left me wanting more. A decent floral nose is the highlight of this coffee and, though the flavor is somewhat earthy the aftertaste is clean and smooth.

The roaster’s PBS Blend is a Mexican coffee with an interesting story (see their site for details.) I found this coffee rather disappointing. While the coffee was smooth with very little acid and no bitterness it also lacked any defining flavor. A hint of caramel was all I could discern from what was otherwise a surprisingly ordinary cup of coffee.

Green Mountain Coffee Roasters has a large catalog of coffees. Through the gourmet coffee revolution they have become ubiquitous in New England and, while I was not impressed with the PBS Blend, the Organic Sumatran Reserve is a good coffee for those shopping for a Fair Trade organic coffee.

Unfortunately Green Mountain has adopted the all too common industry trend of cutting back their bag size. Currently their coffees are offered in 10oz bags, both of these being between $7 and $8 per bag on their website. This equates to around $12/lb which, while not unreasonable, is a premium price for coffee. Part of this is undoubtedly due to the coffee being Fair Trade, the end result of which is the farmer seeing more of this money.

Conclusions: Despite the premium price, those looking for a good organic coffee should enjoy the Organic Sumatran Reserve but a lack of richness or any defining flavor left me disappointed with the PBS blend.

dining, food, coffee

Blanchard's CoffeeBlanchard’s Coffee Co. is a small, relatively young, family owned coffee roaster in Richmond, VA. Started less than two years ago they are already well on their way selling their coffee both mail-order and in area supermarkets.

But the proof is in the cup. I recently got the chance to try several of Blanchard’s coffees. Here’s what I thought.

Blanchard’s Tanzanian Peaberry is an outstanding coffee. Well balanced with a good body, this is my type of coffee! It is rich without any taste of smoke or burn.

Ethiopian Yergacheff was also excellent with a medium-light body. I would recommend this as Blanchard’s best all-around coffee of the ones I tasted. Low acid and hints of florals make for a superb cup.

Brazilian Daterra Sunrise nicely rounds out the roaster’s offerings as a light bodied, very smooth coffee. Many light bodied coffees lack complexity and flavor but this one is a notable exception. With practically no acid the coffee has a very clean finish that will leave you wanting more.

Blanchard does a monthly decaf coffee and the one I got to try was a Columbian Decaf. It is a good representation of Columbian coffee with a medium body and good flavor. While not overly complex this decaf doesn’t sacrifice flavor and I would recommend it to those relegated to decaf.

Unfortunately Blanchard’s House Blend didn’t match the quality of their other coffees. The bean was very dark and oily suggesting it was over roasted and though it was not ovely bitter in the cup it had a smoky, burnt flavor. There was no real depth to the flavor of the house blend and I really thought it was not very good.

Blanchard’s Coffee Co. is turning out some fantastic coffee. Roasting small quantities they roast their coffee within days of shipping and their attention to quality shows through in their product.

With the single exception of their House Blend, this coffee is outstanding, and how can you beat a roaster who says on their about page: “If you are in Richmond, come share a cup of coffee with us and watch us roast!” I love these small roasters.

coffee, food, dining

Why would you want to follow a true bonehead through a chapter of his life in corporate America? Because it’s hilarious.

The Management Secrets of T. John DickIn the book “The Management Secrets of T. John Dick: a truly professional novel by Augustus Gump” we are taken into the world of the title character, the Marketing Manager of SuperPumps, Inc. Marketing Manager at a company like SuperPumps, a flagging pump manufacturer, is a tough job, but T. J. is committed to its success. T. J.’s unique gift of organization (his secretary can quickly find any needed files in his office) and vision (two words, “mission statement”) make him a great leader in his own mind, but perhaps his greatest strength is pointing out what his greatest strength is… which is just about everything according to T. J.

“One of the secrets behind my management success is to keep a very tidy desk. I always emphasize the importance of this to my team and make sure to set an example with my own desk. Half an hour each morning and evening arranging papers, writing utensils, calculator etc. is time well spent in my opinion, and American business would run more smoothly and efficiently if more people realized the value of a tidy desk.”

We’ve all hear of the Peter Principle which proposes that an employee will rise to the level of their incompetence. Unfortunately the Peter Principle falls short in describing the main character of “The Management Secrets of T. John Dick”. To do proper justice to this character we would need a new principle, the Dick Principle. The Dick Principle would have to state that “Once an employee has exhausted their advancement in accordance with the Peter Principle it is possible, largely due to a lack of proper accountability in upper level positions, for them to advance even further and faster.”

A quick and fun read, “The Management Secrets of T. John Dick” won’t teach you how to be a more effective manager, but it’s sure to amuse those who deal with the absurdity of corporate culture. If you need a corporate executive to laugh at that won’t get you fired, T. J. is here for you.

book, books, book review, humor, office humor, management, corporate, funny

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