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.

Supporting Australia’s Locally Produced Coffee

Image courtesy Perfect Daily Grind

Among the many things which have become apparent about our somewhat fragile existence in recent months, is that a reliance on far reaching and complicated supply chains should probably be questioned. Sure, this year’s iPhone may make it’s release date, and while I couldn’t source one of those from a local producer adjacent to the NSW – QLD border (wherever that may end up…), coffee is a different story entirely.

A few years ago I did a little research into which varietal my humble backyard coffee tree might be. Yes it’s arabica (which is the species incidentally), however here we are talking variety (or varietal) — the sub-species if you will.

Originating from a coffee plantation not far from my parent’s home in northern NSW, many of the varietals grown there were of the SL (Scott Laboratories) type. Trying to match my own tree aside, at that time from my reading, the local coffee production didn’t seem to be in what you’d call a buoyant phase. Although things seem to be changing, according to this article in Perfect Daily Grind, it seems an overall awareness issue remains:

Australian coffee has something unique to offer, but the local supply chain is somewhat disconnected. Many local coffee shops and consumers are unaware it exists in the first place, while buyers and roasters don’t know what production costs or the quality of what is produced.

Buy (and try) local

Of course we are not all home roasters seeking green coffee from local plantations, and to be honest, it’s easier to support local growers through local cafes, where retail stock may be on offer in addition to what you are sitting down to drink.

Easier again are the many more online options, for example the True Brew 100% Australian grown offering from Moonshine in the Byron Hinterland:

True Brew is a naturally (dry) processed coffee from the Mountain Top Coffee plantation, Nimbin NSW. Spray and pesticide free and low in food miles this is a coffee that tastes as good as it makes you feel.

(Incidentally, seeking Moonshine in person doesn’t require a trip to Federal in NSW — for those in Brisbane, you can find it at their new cafe under the Story Bridge).

Although much of the awareness of locally produced specialty coffee relies on cafe’s actually serving it, the only way that will happen is if we as consumers get behind it when it is on offer. So, on the rare occasion some Australian specialty is on the menu at your local — give it a try, I’d love to hear what you think.

Failing that, perhaps stay at least a little more local, and try coffees from Papua New Guinea or Indonesia (you won’t be disappointed with either). My standard home-roasted blend these days nearly always has a PNG sourced green from my local roaster as part of the mix, which also appears in many of their roasted blends which you can purchase online.

And for those who are seeking some green stock to roast themselves, check out the Indonesia-Pacific tab at my favourite online green source, Ministry Grounds in the ACT.

There is plenty out there, so have a click around and do some some digging yourself. Support our local growers, reduce the miles and footprint, and enjoy some great coffee along the way.

It’s All New

In many ways it’s new, yet many things remain the same. Outwardly the world has changed — permanently I would imagine, though perhaps that will be clearer in another few months, or more likely years. The “same”? Well, that remains our own little segment of that world doesn’t it, narrowed even further by factors beyond our own control.

I find myself with the ability to have shifted from working in an office to doing so from home. One of the extremely fortunate group whose employment remains largely unchanged (for the current time at least), save for the change in geographic location. A good portion of what follows can (and should) be dismissed quite readily, for I really have nothing to complain about, as the first sentences of this very paragraph can attest. That said, many of the day to day challenges in this narrow little world of mine (and of many), remain well… the same.

A world of phone diversions, virtual portals and a mix of operating systems. Of screens both small and large, Zoom meetings and group chat. Substandard sound and connections (can you hear me…? they say, lips moving in their own silent isolation bubble — well for starters I don’t know what you’re trying to say, so lets go with no…), weird videoconference backgrounds, and the real likelihood of caffeine poisoning, I wonder whether this new reality is all that distant from a truly dystopian version. Perhaps it is a brave new world.

Now is the time for more communication rather than less, they say in the tips about managing virtual teams. True enough, and it certainly seems virtual conversations are far more frequent than the real ones ever were. Another email anyone? How are we doing with that cc field and reply all? Pretty consistent it would seem. More communication? Tick. More effective communication? Judgement reserved. Actually let’s not reserve it — you all know the answer.

Hold up. Yes, dismiss those two paragraphs. Nothing to really whine about when there are those with genuine, devastating problems having arisen from all of this. I remain very, very mindful of that.

I do have some genuine concerns, as I sit and work in the relative safety of my own home.

Many good friends I’ve left behind in Brisbane’s CBD continue (for now), to front up to work every day, managing or working in cafes and retail outlets — some ultimately having to close their doors.

With an economy like nothing I’ve seen before, not only will some of these businesses perhaps not see the other side of this situation, but their people are in constant direct contact with members of the public — many of whom seem to have no real concept of social distancing, let alone adherence to it. All I can really do is hope and pray I see you all in thriving businesses again, whenever that may be.

In the previous post I mentioned the journaling habit I’d managed to sustain over the past year or so, which continues each morning as I write this. Structure and routines are key when working from home (again… “they” say), and I must admit mine took a hit in the first couple of weeks remotely working. The journaling remained, the overall incidental physical activity level plummeted — notwithstanding the fact I no longer sit on a bus for two hours every day. I’m sorry — what are we doing with that time now? Certainly an adjustment, and one I am still making. Can’t be that hard right? Exactly what I said before this all started…

We now begin to enter a period of perhaps even greater uncertainty, as restrictions begin easing on our “path out”. I must admit to being a little uneasy at the fervour our general populace has shown in embracing this new “freedom”. Perhaps this unease will need to subside if I’m to see those businesses mentioned above thriving again.

Eventually there will be an office to return to. I guess…?