Ah, Thanksgiving. It’s a magical time of year. The air is crisp, the leaves are changing colors, and drinking hot coffee all day long doesn’t require any additional justification. It’s that special time of year when friends and family get together and the important things in life are really put into perspective. But these familial gatherings generally occur at Grandma and Grandpa’s or some Great Aunt’s house, places that aren’t typically known for their coffee quality. And listen, I love my family, but the reprehensible nature of their coffee setup is a yearly test of my affection’s fortitude.
So in order to avoid staring barefaced at such harsh realities, we here at Sprudge have come up with a Thanksgiving survival guide for getting through another holiday season while keeping your relationships with loved ones (and your taste buds) intact. A few pieces of gear, a few choice bags of coffee, and you’re set to survive another year of coffee at Thanksgiving. Good luck!
The simplest and most effective starting point is to just bring your own damn coffee. You can share it with the family and maybe give them a glimpse into why you have invested a good portion of your life exploring every nook and cranny of this particular rabbit hole. And there are a ton of great options that pair well with these very festivities.
Coffee to Please Grandma: Ethiopia Reko by Ruby Coffee Roasters
The Ethiopia Reko is a really beautiful coffee, and who doesn’t enjoy vibrant, floral notes in their brew? Actually your Uncle Ray might think this tastes like “sissy coffee tea”—you can’t please everyone. And while maybe Gam-Gam doesn’t give two hoots about mouthfeel, she’ll absolutely adore this coffee—or anything by Ruby for that matter—because it’s from a roaster named after the owner’s grandmother. If that’s not enough to elicit a, “oh well isn’t that nice, dear” from her, then nothing will, and Gam-Gam may already be dead inside.
Best Coffee to Hide the Smell of Whiskey: Colombia Los Rosales by Counter Culture
Family time can be rough. And in this particular political climate, one of your uncles—the one with the truck—is sure to say something really, truly terrible. Like, just offensive on a fundamental human level, in that particularly American holiday pastime kind of way. In order to survive such avuncular assholery without making things awkward for everyone else at the dinner table, you’re going to need booze. Gallons and gallons of booze. But you’ll also need a way to cover the smell lest everyone thing you have a problem (you don’t have a problem; it’s Uncle Ray with his antiquated, Draconian worldview that has the problem). Though any coffee will do, really, I’m a fan of Counter Culture’s Los Rosales. Notes of black cherry, plum, and milk chocolate pair exceptionally well with that smoky whiskey, and “Los Rosales” is sibilant enough where your family won’t be able to tell if you’re slurring your words because you’re drunk or because it’s just really hard to say.
In 2017, whiskeys have come a long way. Not just abrasive, leaving your mouth feeling like you licked a lump of charcoal, whiskeys can be floral and sweet with some nice fruit notes. Because of this (and not at all because the Los Rosales is no longer available), this year we’re suggesting the Ethiopia Idido from Counter Culture. The washed coffee is floral with notes of melon and citrus, perfect for the new whiskeys of the world.
Best Blend: The Celebration Blend by Intelligentsia Coffee
Isn’t family really just its own blend, trying to survive in this crazy little roasting drum we call life? Some of the beans are sweet, some are nutty, some a little acerbic, and some are downright herbaceous (like Aunt Carol, who claims she went to Woodstock and spent the majority of her twenties insisting on being called “Moonwillow”). Each bean plays an important part in the familial flavor profile. And so, why not celebrate this menagerie with a blend as unique as our own? Allow me to recommend Intelligentsia’s Celebration Blend as a great starting point. It’s sweet, spicy, and full-bodied, just like the lot at the Thanksgiving table. There are a host of great blends out there; you’ll just have to do a little digging to find the one that matches your own family profile.
Bringing a full-blown coffee setup to Thanksgiving is a dangerous play; making good coffee is important, but perhaps not at the cost of appearing to travel with your very own meth lab. And sure, there is the trusty portable Aeropress solution, but then you might wind up stuck making single cup after single cup for hours, pumpin’ your press in a back room somewhere, which is just uncouth. But fear not. When it comes to brewing for the holidays, there are family-friendly options.
Technivorm Moccamaster/Bona Vita BV1800SS:
This is my go-to. Sure they are a little big and bulky, but these little babies look enough like your everyday coffee machines that you can surreptitiously switch it out for whatever Mr. Coffee knockoff is sitting on the counter and none will be the wiser. And while the optimal water temperature for brewing coffee is between 195 and 205, the optimal number of questions about “are you brewing coffee or cooking drugs” is approximately ZERO. Both of these coffee makers brew fantastic coffee, without a lot of fuss, muss, or shame.
The Commandante Hand Grinder
Keeping a low profile is important in our secret mission of bringing good coffee to the whole family. Loud electric grinders are anathema to this. The hand grinder is the only tool for the job, but it requires some pretty refined ninja grinding skills. Your best bet is to hang out with Aunt Carol when she sneaks off for a jazz cigarette, and do your grinding there. Aunt Carol has decades of experience finding the best hiding spots; use her as a resource. Normally, I would suggest the Porlex Mini—it’s the best combination of price and function—but I’ve found that it just won’t hold enough grounds, which means multiple grinding sessions. That’s why I recommend the Commandante. It’s got metal burrs, is super stylish, and is big enough to only require one trip behind the big oak tree in the neighbor’s yard. Then just come back inside and pop the grounds in the filter, and VOILA! Coffee is served.
So there you have it. Another Thanksgiving come and gone, and another year narrowly avoiding really bad coffee and any associated ill-will toward loved ones that it may cause. Hopefully, this handy field guide helped you spread your own caffeinated version of holiday cheer with the rest of your family. And remember, they may be a crazy, ragtag group of coffee know-nothings, but they’re your crazy, ragtag group of coffee know-nothings.
Particle size distribution
Asking what the TDS of the tap water is
The many reasons why you can’t just brew up the bag of beans you left at Grandma’s house last year
The Ethiopian Commodity Exchange’s newly implemented traceability systems
Zac Cadwalader is a Sprudge staff writer based in Dallas, Texas. Read more Zac Cadwalader on Sprudge.
Illustrations by Zachary Carlsen for Sprudge.com