Pen collection thoughts – niche or narrow?

When it comes to a pen hobby, some may consider it niche, others not so much. Sure, there are plenty of folk who love their stationery, however the more “nerdy” pen types likely fit the niche descriptor one way or another. From there, well I guess it is just a matter of how far you go down the rabbit hole, which in many ways brings me to my point.

Depending on your approach, going deep into any hobby or interest carries with it the inherent risk of limiting the breadth you may experience across that same endeavour. Specialising, or carving out your own… ok — niche, indeed has many benefits, however again, there are sacrifices in this approach if we begin to take a broader view. There is of course no right or wrong to any of this, simply the path(s) you choose. Further, that old adage you don’t know what you don’t know springs to mind as well.

Why am I writing about this? Well as with anything reflective in nature, the trigger is often some occurrence which makes us ponder things a little. Where you ultimately arrive with those thoughts may be a side tangent you hadn’t necessarily seen coming. I guess that’s the thing about serendipity.

It’s around nine years or so since I started this blog, and it was only a little before that I found myself revelling in the discovery that many likeminded people shared their love of pens online. What was one to do? Dive right in of course.

You begin poking around online, one blog links to another, and progressively a nice cache of RSS feeds mounts within the “Pen” folder in your reader. The associated social media and podcast(s) inevitably follow. You immerse yourself further. These are your people! There may be a local group or two where online becomes face to face, and as good as that may be, for the introverted amongst us that aspect may just as quickly fall away. Again, nothing wrong with that — we are each to our own. Online though, it’s all there. All around.

Fast forward a few years, and as your interactions broaden a little, you begin to see that despite all you’ve opened your eyes to across the entire (or so it seems) internet, your view may be a little narrower than first thought. I guess all that’s left to do is chuckle as you are reminded large parts of your hobby are actually unknown to you. You’ve completely missed them.

Why?

Well I’ve probably answered my own question earlier in the post: …one blog links to another… All well and good, however there is the tendency for things to work their way around in a nice circle as a result. Podcasts at times can be similar. Opinions somehow become fact and we all end up hearing or writing similar things. We buy the same things from the same companies. Is it FOMO? Maybe, or perhaps so we can contribute to the conversation?

Whatever the reason it can certainly stifle any natural growth which may occur in directions other than everyone else’s well worn path. Maybe there is a fine line between community and echo chamber. Perhaps it’s one and the same. Mind you, I say that with the utmost respect, for I think there is simply a natural tendency for things to develop in such a way.

So what is this serendipitous event I speak of? Well the mere existence of a large swathe of pen models by a certain large pen manufacturer which existed through the 70’s and 80’s which I knew absolutely nothing about, yet are certainly out there if you care to look. I’m talking of the Montblanc Generation, Noblesse, and Carrera. Throw in another slim line two-colour twist mechanism ballpoint for good measure. Bringing these types of pens into a collection certainly results in a little background research, and it is only then you begin to realise the extent of the gaps in your knowledge.

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The exact pens themselves aren’t the point here (they certainly may be in a future post of course…). The narrow-ish field of view I’ve somehow developed to this point is.

I understand many of us live in the “now” or “next release” of the pen world, and do not necessarily seek “vintage”, or have any interest in it, which is absolutely fair enough. I hadn’t really ever planned on doing it either, however found the main benefit to be a richer and broader overall view as a result. That being said, the point of this post is not even to sing the praises of vintage pens, but to simply explain the catalyst of putting pen to paper which ended up being what you are reading now.

The moral here? If I could speak from experience and with brevity: No matter what you think you know, or who you choose to read, watch or listen to, there is far, far more out there which may indeed be of interest — perhaps surprisingly so.

If everyone else has/wants/suggests a certain pen, might it be worth casting the net a little wider and  considering something different instead? You never know what you might find.

A Less Wasteful Home Espresso

After many years dutifully following the “don’t even bother with the single basket” mantra in my home espresso routine, I began to increasingly lament the wasted shot from the other side of the spout at every push of the pump button. To confirm, yes — I’m a single shot espresso drinker. Always have been, always will be. Of course, the term “single” is a relative one these days, however I’ll get to that later. Suffice to say, I felt something needed to change in how I approach things from a waste and cost perspective, while preserving the quality, flavour, and respect for the coffee and those who produce it.

That being said, if you are happily capturing the full yield from say, a 16 – 20 gram dose in your cup and drinking the entirety, much of what follows is moot. Simply to say I acknowledge none of what I’m saying here is groundbreaking, nor does it apply to the majority of full yield-drinking home espresso enthusiasts out there (as You Tube and Instagram would seem to suggest). At the end of the day, writing a blog is perhaps just talking out loud to yourself anyway, which is precisely the case here.

In any event I will press on, and although things will inevitably continue to change, I think stepping back and looking at a few aspects of my “why” turned out pretty well.

Tools

To paint a frame of reference:

As a brief aside, discussions around equipment and tools are very much point-in-time aren’t they? To say things constantly evolve is perhaps an understatement, given 12 months ago this looked a little different, and by the time I get around to writing a planned follow up post it will likely be different again. Thankfully though, the topic at hand is more enduring.

Well served by the Breville Dual Boiler – of course things are apt to change

My puck preparation involves grinding into the Niche dosing cup, flipping that into the filter basket, palm tapping the side of the portafilter, performing the Weiss Distribution Technique (WDT) with a single “needle” followed by a Pullman chisel distribution tool spin (my use of this varies — somtimes yes, other times no), and tamping. The more you play around, the more you realise puck prep is such an important part of the entire process.

I run the Dual Boiler anywhere from 93 to 96 degrees celsius for darker to lighter roasts respectively, with preinfusion set at 55% pump pressure for 5 seconds, though occasionally will play around with this as well. When running longer (ie greater volume), faster flowing shots (lungo and beyond, “coffee shots”, “turbo shots” — see links below), this may run as low as 91 degrees, however we’ll go into that another day.

Dosing, basket foibles, grams, and spouts

I mentioned in the introduction of taking my espresso by the single shot.

When talking grams, a true single is really a double, and standard speciality coffee establishments would typically serve a triple shot. Then again, what is “true” here? My terminology here assumes we are talking the typical Italian style dose of 7 grams as our “single” unit of measure. My “single” has evolved into 13-14 grams (aka a “double” by gram weight), and the typical cafe serving of around 20 grams give or take, therefore approximates a triple shot by gram weight.

The whole single or double reference however (at least in my experience here in Australia), has generally involved a split shot from a dual spout portafilter. That is, do you want both spouts of this 20 gram dose or “just a single”. I think you get my drift here. For consistency and clarity, henceforth I will quote the dose I use in grams as we move through the post. Thankfully most of what you view or read online now has adopted the same approach in terms of gram weight descriptions. Three cheers for standardisation and consistency in terminology!

Single or double? Aka one or both spouts as it were…

My filter baskets are of course matched to the relative doses, with a 14g (La Marzocco), 17-19g (Pullman) and 19-21g (Pullman) sitting by the machine. I must admit to keeping the ridged “single” basket which came with the machine from Breville, however it’s only use being to fit the blind filter attachment inside for cleaning. For a little further clarity, it is this ridged single basket that is the subject of derision and the “don’t even bother with it” mantra I mentioned earlier — not to be confused necessarily with a lower dose in a higher quality, gram-matched ridgeless basket.

The generally outcast ridged basket at left

To close this out: for years I’ve used a 19-20g dose and split the shot. One spout into my cup, the other discarded. More recently as part of this rethink, I’ve moved to a smaller 14g (ridgeless) basket, capturing the full yield into my cup. I’m now using this for both espresso (at 1:2 up to 1:4 brew ratio) and milk based beverages (usually 1:1.5 brew ratio) and couldn’t be happier with the result.

So there is the what, let’s get more into the why.

A changed approach

Why

Waste. Cost. Conscience (though not entirely in a way you might think). The long term viability of this whole espresso set up. All of the above and anything else you might find in this post really. I guess it is sitting back and thinking about why I’m doing certain things and whether they can be done any better — or at least more efficiently, less wastefully, and with no loss in quality.

With a little thought, research and experimentation, the answer turned out to be yes.

Waste

The concept of wasting coffee is of course as much tied to cost as anything, however also bears an important discussion on its own merits.

I’m sure none of us set out to intentionally create waste in any aspect of our lives and this post is the outcome of realising I was essentially doing exactly that. Wasting a heap of coffee (and yes, money) with how I was approaching my espresso making at home. Arguably, the waste is a far more important issue, although sometimes it is the realisation about cost which nudges you to think just that little bit more.

While waste and cost may be inextricably linked, the moral to this story lies somewhere between experimentation, having an open mind, and questioning why you are doing what you’ve always done. Further, despite what you might think, your home is not a cafe – regardless of what you’ve spent(!) on equipment over the years. Generally, the only customer you might lose through experimentaton is yourself, and is a situation that should be pretty easy to turn around in a hurry…

It’s pretty clear that excess and mindless waste don’t quite fit in a world where sustainability and doing better for the environment are so important. As an individual, how much will my contribution of minimising waste make? Perhaps not much, I’d hope the little things do add up when each of us do our part.

Cost

A standard 250 gram bag of speciality roasted coffee. For arguments sake I’ll call it AUD$18.00 at current prices. If we are dosing our espresso at 20g then we are looking at 12.5 doses per bag. After dialling in and rounding, we are probably left with 10 usable doses per bag, or $1.80 per cup.

The key point to remember here is that for me, half of that 20g dose was going unused. My own fault entirely, however there isn’t another member of the household to utilise it, nor as I’ve said above would I typically use the full yield myself at any given time.

Well it’s sure cheaper than cafe prices! True enough, though a heck of a lot more goes into what you are served in that context, and it doesn’t absolve me from trying to do better at home.

Now, proceeding further into the weeds.

That same 250g bag of specialty coffee at doses of 13-14g will provide us with 17-19 doses. Give or take dialling in, lets say 15-18 usable doses per bag. Already we skip to 50% more doses, the entirety of the shot yield utilised, at a cost of $1.00 to $1.20 per cup. Nicely done.

What if we bought our coffee in a larger amount? Estimating costs for a 1kg bag of specialty at say $60.00 per kg we arrive at $0.92 per cup (at say, 65 doses after dial in). Finally, throwing in something from left field: Aldi’s Lazzio Medium Roast is $12.00 for a 1kg bag (There I said it. For milk based drinks, give it a shot. You might be surprised). That’s about $0.19 per cup.

It takes all sorts…

It is here we proceed with a little caution. Should we be suspicious of larger scale production at cheaper, commodity level prices? What about sustainability, cheap labour and the like? All valid concerns, and I’m not about to propose any answers. To be fair, nor am I casting aspersions on anything or anyone in particular. These are simply considerations in this somewhat complex world we live in.

There is certainly a lot more to say about fairness in price in the world coffee market, however that is beyond the scope of this post.

Conscience

Is this not the typical result of some type of existential thinking – bringing it all back to being about you, and whether “making a difference” is really just a way to feel better about yourself?

Yes and no.

Anyone with a passing interest in specialty coffee, let alone someone who might refer to themselves as an enthusiast, pays some attention to the plight of the coffee farmer, who typically is on the lowest rung of the value chain. Many are doing it tough, and climate change, fluctuating international coffee prices, and the effect of Covid certainly isn’t helping. As for the fairness in price issue? Another reason I’ve looked into utilising my coffee a little better. When you use a lot, it can get expensive, however cheapest may not always be the best option – particularly given this approach has its own issues as I’ve alluded to above. In view of that, I do try and support local specialty roasters who source quality coffee, which may be at slightly higher cost.

There we have conscience part one.

Part two? Well that relates to the guilt many enthusiasts, hobbysists, or whatever you may call your particular self may feel at any given time. None of this comes cheap, and we can, over the course of many years (or let’s face it – in an instant with a simple click), spend a significant amount of money on the “tools” that come with said passion or interest. That dedicated coffee bar; the need for an expensive grinder to do this espresso justice; the natural upgrade creep that occurs in rewarding your “skill” increments over the years; or just a shiny new thing that’s hot right now in coffee…

For some it might be jet skis, bikes, cars, or tech gear. Heck, it might even be some weird fascination with pens (go figure…). Suffice to say, that with every “yes” in this little world of my passion means “no” to something I could pay off faster, improve around the home, or visit with my family. Although, who is to say an espresso machine is anything other than a home improvement. Jokes aside, spending significant amounts of money affects more than just me, and is something which has weighed on my mind at times over the years.

The relevance of this sentiment here? Well, where opportunity exists to change things a little and the result is a more cost effective way of doing things, I see no reason not to try and do a little better.

Using it all

Use it all. Largely a message to myself. Do you need a fancy machine to experiment with dose, shot time and yield? Of course not. Remember most cafes you enter these days are still not pulling a minutely detailed flow, pressure or any other profiled shot. Some might be, they also probably have a better grinder, better water, and have dialled things in far better than our at home once or twice a day heat-up-the-machine-and-go approach. So many opportunities to improve if you haven’t got those things on point already…

So where did I end up? The turbo shot? Chasing the perfect lungo? Something in between? Well, any and all of the above. I’ll leave some links here, given the considerable discussion in the last 12-18 months about different approaches for both accessability (to newcomers in espresso), consistency, and as a beneficial flow on – sustainability (which is, well… for everyone’s benefit).

The links below contain information, concepts and ideas which mirror a fair proportion of where my experimentation took me, and I’ll have more to say in a follow up post. I’ve listed them here in the event they may be of interest, some of the videos are a little lengthy.

The Finish

If I have learnt anything from this process over the past six months or so, it is to give yourself permission to do something different. The best part? At home, no-one can hear you scream, see your “that’s-lemon-juice!” face, or spit things out at the extreme under or overextraction that inevitably results from experimentation. Ironically there will be a little waste as you sort things out, the longer term gains will indeed be worth it.

Having written a couple of thousand words here, I do have more to say, and plan to run through a little more about why I’m particularly enjoying these new found brew recipes and approaches. After all, while less waste and saving money are indeed noble endeavours, they cannot come at the cost of taste and enjoyment, and it is here that I’ve had the most pleasant surprise…

I’ve actually found it far, far better.

Sorry – not with those swirls

I’ve never been one for those colourful and swirly finishes on the body of my fountain pens. Actually pretty much any of my pens, fountain or otherwise. At times I wonder if I missed out on the creative component of my being, or maybe I’m just exceedingly dull. Not in the best position to make an objective call on that one, I’d like to think it’s merely a case of I know what I like or perhaps more to the point — what I don’t.

Exhibit A – Fountain pen drawer one

As I look through my collection of pens, it is decidedly lacking in colour variation. Actually is black even a colour? Sure, there is a splash of red, a drop of blue and some demonstrators, however we have what many would call an overwhelmingly conservative collection. What I’d call it? A collection of classic styles, designs and overall character. I absolutely love it. I’ve written before about a very kind and generous gesture a few years ago which swelled the number of pens I own considerably. The fact is, had this been a slower one by one accumulation to where I sit today, things would look exactly as they do now — to the letter (or colour and finish, as it were).

Exhibit B – Fountain pen drawer two

I’m not entirely sure when this anti-swirl sentiment began, and I can only assume it is some innate tendency leading me to gravitate towards the opposite. In looking further afield at things such as my accessories (mostly leather – again, generally black) and even more broadly across my wardrobe, you see classical and largely timeless rather than overtly expressive. Again — exactly as I like it, and exactly as I curate it. The classics? They say never go out of style I seem to recall.

I must point out this perspective is written merely as a personal observation of my own situation, rather than some sort of argument against the colourful swirl of many a fountain pen. Further, at times I do feel a twinge of guilt in not offering much support to the smaller independent pen makers who produce and offer these types of designs to the market. Let’s face it, your standard black body and platinum trim are typically the bread and butter of larger players rather than the indie battler. At the end of the day I guess you can only buy what you like, and hope you end up liking what you buy. If that is indeed how it turns out, there is a compelling case to repeat the behaviour.

Of course I’ve also bought my fair share of pens through Kickstarter or direct from smaller manufacturers, yet funnily enough, I’m not sure any strayed too far from the flock. Take these rollerballs for example. Further, in bolstering my stable of ballpoints over the last year or two, the purchases have been your standard dark makrolon, ultra (let’s call it matte) black, and black and platinum respectively. So the trend continues, although the same cannot be said for the refills.

In bringing this post to a close, I hand it to those makers who are doing fabulous things with those dreamy, swirling creations, and I’m certainly glad there seems to be a healthy market for them.

However just as it should be at this and every other juncture in this pen caper, we are each to our own.

The Carter Everywhere Mug

Locked and loaded

After changing employers late last year and moving from Brisbane’s CBD, perhaps the only thing I’ve really missed (apart from long standing colleagues) is the abundance of cafes I no longer have daily access to. Although there is a cafe on site in the campus style suburban workplace I now find myself in, let’s just say it is likely not one I’d choose if my previous options were laid at my feet again. That said, I am appreciative of my mid-morning flat white (notwithstanding the inconsistency day to day), however truth be told the lactose free milk which sweetens the bitterness is probably what gets it over the line.

Being someone who typically prefers their brew unadorned with milk come the afternoon, the lack of available options leads me to roll my own. Enter the Fellow Carter Everywhere mug.

Why the Carter?

I must admit to being quite fond of many items in the Fellow range of coffee goods, which combine impressive aesthetics with sound, practical, and well researched functionality. My first purchase from Fellow was a Stagg stovetop kettle, which I enjoy using and gawking at each day, so when it came time for a travel mug, the Carter was always going to be a strong contender. After purchasing the Carter you see here about 18 months ago, I’ve been using it ever since.

When carrying a travel mug in my bag, I’m always a little paranoid about the potential for leaking disasters. To that end, one option of course is a full thermos, and one of the better ones I’ve kindly received as a Christmas gift in recent years is a model from the Zojirushi range. For reasons we’ll get to below, this does however create an additional step between carry and consumption, with my preference being to simply grab from my bag and get sipping.

Priority One: Heat retention

I’m sure I’m not alone in rating this aspect pretty highly when it comes to travel mugs. If I’m going to bother brewing a V60 during the pre-work rush hour at home, it needs to be hot enough to enjoy come the time for drinking. These days, this is anywhere between about 2:30 and 4:00pm depending on meetings. With brewing occurring around 7:00am, the heat retention requirement needs to span a good 6–9 hours or so. After that length of time I’ll say the Carter is hot enough without a doubt, and I’ve definitely been served batch brew at specialty coffee establishments which is cooler than what I am talking about here. If I was a legit coffee blogger, perhaps I’d measure the temperature and include it in this post, however I can say it is amply hot enough for me, though we’ll all have our own preferences here.

Always hot enough…

The Zoshirushi thermos I mentioned? Perhaps one of the only pieces of coffee consuming equipment I’ve ever burnt my mouth on a good 5–6 hours post brew. It is absolutely amazing, and if the sole criteria was heat retention — a winner hands down. The same goes for picnic trips in the car and the like. Though when we are talking priorities not absolutes, things become a little more competitive, bringing us to the next point.

Priority Two: Seamless utility

Right up front I need to include leakproof(…ness?!) here. As I’ve alluded to earlier the paranoia is real when carrying these sorts of things along with various IT Related equipment and a bag you are quite fond of. Secure seal over heat retention? Perhaps, however a nuclear seal with a lukewarm brew upon opening ain’t much good either. Here I get both anyway.

That “extra step” I referred to above? Well in the difference between pulling a travel mug (say the Carter) from my bag and getting down to it, versus a thermos which requires me to go to the kitchen to preheat a mug (yeah… I can’t not do it) adds enough of an extra layer to err on the side of the travel mug. Again, assuming priority one is met — it’s all good.

Sure, there are many questions as to why I won’t go the extra yard with a thermos arrangement.

How hard can it be? (Not hard, I prefer not to is all). Just use a small pour from the thermos to swirl and preheat the mug for the rest of the coffee! (Granted, a rational approach. However we hot desk and taking a mug is another item to carry each day – easy but doesn’t make the brutal necessity threshold when I have other options). Isn’t getting up from your desk and walking to the kitchen a healthier option? (Sure is, however I get up and walk at anytime, so refer to the answers to the previous two questions). Just drink from that well crafted mouth on the Zojirushi thermos! (Yes I could — but swigging from the thermos? I’m not an animal).

I have a million more of these which rolled through my mind prior to arriving at my current arrangement, and you’ll have a million more of your own. As you work through them I’m sure your final outcome will very likely differ to mine.

So to wrap up utility: I grab it, it hasn’t leaked, I open it, steam rises, I take a sip, and ahhhh… there it is, absolute bliss in a (travel, Carter Everywhere by Fellow) cup. Afternoon won.

Priority Three: Ease of brewing

Good old mornings before work. In the new way of working part of my week where my commute involves a stroll from the kitchen to my desk at home — no real challenges. Of course, those days don’t require the Carter at all, merely a few choices throughout the day between freshly made on demand (by yours truly) espresso or filter. On the other three days per week I do attend the office, an efficient brewing process leads to shall we say, a calmer mindset in the lead up to my morning departure. Although the V60 perhaps isn’t the ideal set and forget brewer (I’m in the process of investigating other options), for now it is the one tasked with the job.

Keeping that lid hot during final drawdown.

The key point here being the ease of brewing directly into the Carter with the V60 sitting on top. Even more important? Pre-heating the Carter to within an inch of its life to minimise any heat loss and maintain that smile on my face many hours later. The process? Adding boiling water and closing the Carter lid for several minutes before brewing; proceeding efficiently with the brewing once that water is removed; brewing with hot water immediately off the boil; and heating the lid of the Carter on the open kettle during the final draw down of brew water.

Very hot now equals well and truly hot enough later.

Priority Four: Style

The Carter’s clean lines

Who are we kidding? This is really number one, however I’ve put it down here so you wouldn’t judge me… Well sort of but not really. I’m not going to lie, it certainly is an important consideration, however in all seriousness doesn’t rate above those I’ve already listed. Regardless of how something looks, if it’s not a seamless fit, loses heat, and might leak — its a non-starter here.

That said, I do like the minimal aesthetic of the Carter, and chose the matte grey over black or white for a softer, “blend in” kind of vibe. Upon checking the Fellow website, there are certainly a few more colours to choose from these days. Hmmm… don’t mind that green.

In my ideal world, the overall profile would be a bit slimmer, however did I mention heat retention being important? I assume the thickness of the walls has something to do with that.

Priority None: Miscellaneous

Just a couple of other points here.

The Carter has a removable lid and you drink from a mug-style lip. I prefer that. Although we’re all adept at drinking from spout or hole-style reusable or single use takeaway cups, it has never been my preference. Each to their own, however it was a consideration which placed the Carter in good standing when looking at my options. Of course, any travel cup option has a lid which can be removed, however the Carter is designed to be used that way and in my opinion is a better option if that is your preference. Less exit points also equals reduced bag-spill paranoia because I know that lid is sealed tight.

A word on size. The Carter is available in 12oz and 16oz versions — I have the 12oz. I have a preference for the more compact versions of these types of things, and would buy an 8oz in a heartbeat if it were available. That said, as I have mentioned above, there is a certain thickness to this mug, which I assume relates to the insulated wall, and an 8oz version is likely to have a similar footprint anyway. Sure, it isn’t the 5oz Not Neutral ceramics I have at home and nor should it be. Don’t make an 8oz version Fellow — there is no need.

If anyone is interested, I brew straight into the Carter with the V60 using 15–16grams of coffee to about 260ml (just under 9oz) water. The bloom is 45 seconds, I use two subsequent pours with a total brew time of approximately 2:45 to 3:00 minutes.

A few others

Amongst other options are some contenders depending your preference, and in certain situations I use the Zojirushi thermos every time. If you have a strange desire to surprisingly burn your mouth 6 hours after brewing, pop the lockable lid and go to town on the Zojirushi’s sipping-designed wide mouth opening. A nice touch rather than the usual thermos opening, though please be careful — the heat retention here is somewhat remarkable.

Others I have used and can recommend giving a shot are options from Sttoke and Frank Green. With so many options around these days I’m sure you’ll find something that suits, but for now I think I’ll sit pretty with my current arrangement.

Wrapping it up

So much for a brief post on what I use as a coffee travel/work option, though these posts tend to take on a life of their own sometimes. I am glad there are some great products these days to take care of things when your coffee DIY option is more enjoyable (and generally cheaper) than a cafe counterpart. When it comes time to get sipping, at least you know what you are going to get.

Carter Everywhere? Why yes — I think I will.

My way or the cahier

I have more than a few rough notes laying around containing thoughts on the humble cahier (“ka-yey””)style of notebook. Most are written when its new notebook time, and I start thinking about exactly what I might need. I guess the usual pro’s and the con’s type of thing. While far from exhaustive, the following outlines why the humble cahier more often than not fits the bill — at least for me.

As pen people, we all understand the joy of any writing instrument (fountain or otherwise) is inherently tied to the paper we’re using. Despite quality paper coming in many formats, we’ve probably all been in the “I can’t find the exact thing my ridiculously picky pen-nerding soul wants right now” situation more than once. At times like these a default go-to works more often than not, and for me that has long been a cahier of some kind.

While Dictionary.com tells us the cahier (ka-yey, kah-; French ka-yey) is, amongst a couple of other things, a notebook, paperback book, exercise book or journal, most know it simply as something like this:

There have been a few…

Start Here

Although the adage goes something along the lines of any journey begins with a single step — occasionally it’s a stumble. Though perhaps a little harsh, fountain pen users will know what I am talking about here. My first cahier experience? A set of three from Moleskine. I mean, back in those early days of my stationery exploration, that’s what people who cared about such things used wasn’t it? Well, perhaps according to shrewd marketing, airport gift shops and large department stores — however this soon ran contrary to my paper quality sentiment above.

Since those early missteps there have been quite a few more positive experiences. Familiar to many, there have been Clairefontaine, Rollbahn, Rhodia, Baronfig, Milligram, and currently a set from Lamy which I’m finding very pleasant to use. There are no doubt a good few others in my tried-those list which escape me at the current time.

I refuse to even start down the specifications rabbit hole, and with so many unique dimensions around the place these days, there is hardly a cahier “standard” of any sort when it comes to sizing.

To be honest that doesn’t really bother me too much, however the following would be the general description you would find from most sellers – here, the Dymocks bookstore Moleskine product page:

The medium-sized Moleskine Cahier is a beautifully made Moleskine exercise book. It’s a soft-cover notebook with a flexible cardboard cover and visible thread-bound stitching.

…The plain notebook is the perfect art notebook, university notebook or personal journal, with simple mid-sized blank pages. The Kraft notebook has a beautiful, natural-cardboard cover that will appeal to those who love earthy tones.

…perfect for students, designers and creative people who take a lot of notes. Each has 80pp with 16 perforated pages and an expandable inner pocket.

All shapes, sizes and colours…

Whether you are a stickler for specific definitions or not, a cahier to me is a thin, softcover notebook. Having used thread bound, staple bound, A5 (and A5-ish), B5 (and B5-ish), and up to A4 — my definition is fairly broad.

Cah-yay…

So, why this humble notebook?

A simple answer to that question is found in that sublime interaction of paper quality and utility. I’ve always found most manufacturers who produce quality, fountain pen friendly paper, generally have a cahier in their line up alongside the usual hardcover notebooks. So in most cases, there are numerous choices if paper quality lies anywhere within your key criteria. Again, if you are reading this, I assume it probably does, and if your fountain pen performs well on the paper, generally most other pens will too.

As for utility? Well we could just as accurately substitute mobility here. There is a certain lightness about the cahier which a hardcover notebook will never quite match. Here I’m not talking about simply mass in grams — more so the overall footprint. Absolutely, your typical cahier will weigh less than an equivalent hardcover, though beyond that, a cahier is generally unobtrusive in nature. Tucked beside your iPad or laptop walking to a meeting? In and out of a briefcase or back pack? Stacked on a bookshelf or corner of a desk? The cahier is an easy carry, straightforward in and out, and seamless fit for any space.

Ok, so in praise of this jack of all trades — what about compromises? Generally where significant breadth of application is apparent, we tend to sacrifice depth, or quality and performance in a few key areas. To my why of thinking, the question should relate more to fit for purpose than what may be lacking compared with an arbitrary list of criteria. Any criteria need to be yours don’t they? Further, they should indeed be very specific to you.

For me? Paper is a deal breaker, and I’m sure anyone this far into the post thinks exactly the same. As I’ve mentioned though, with the right brands, there aren’t any real compromises required here. The softer, card-stock covers? As long as they prevent the the front and back pages ripping off as it goes in a bag — all good. Further, they allow each half of the notebook to be folded back on itself — perfect for cramped desk spaces or perhaps when you have no desk at all.

While they perhaps don’t look quite as a good as a hardcover on ”my minimalist desk setup” posts, and may get a little scuffed going in and out of a bag, for my own purposes, I cannot really come up with any significant negatives.

Well that’s me. You? It may be all, all wrong, so thank heavens for the choices we have in this stationery caper, and as usual, that’s why we’re so often invested in the search.