In Praise of the Coffee Blend

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When it comes to my espresso-based coffee consumption these days, I find myself drinking predominantly blends. There are a few main reasons, largely related to the challenges of consistent home espresso, however to be honest, I cannot say I’ve really missed chasing the next great single origin to any great degree.

I do like the inherent optimism in online dictionary definitions of blend, which go beyond the humble to mix:

to form a harmonious combination; to be an unobtrusive or harmonious part of a greater whole…

Sounds good to me, and that really is the key — while not all blends work, the ones that do result in something greater than the sum of its parts.

With every industry entrenched in social media and the internet these days, as coffee consumers we are often guided down the path of new and different. That’s often chasing a single origin, and increasingly these days it is produced using any number of unusual new processing methods.

While niche and interesting are great, and yes, I drink my fair share of those as well, might I suggest a well crafted specialty blend is equally as good, and in many cases better in certain ways than their component single origin parts. As always, flavour and enjoyment in the cup are paramount regardless, of blend or single origin coffee, however I think blends sometimes have an edge in getting there — particularly when brewing espresso at home.

The challenge of home

Brewing espresso at home is met with inherent challenges around consistency, particularly when the same coffee might only be intermittently consumed throughout any given week. It’s not so much the fact that a blend is necessarily more forgiving to dial in (though that indeed may be the case — even more so in a milk drink), rather the pattern of how I consume them.

As an aside, I thought this was a succinct and accurate definition of “dialling in” from Bean Ground:

Dialing in espresso is the act of calibrating your machine and grinder to follow a particular brew recipe. By manipulating the dose, time, yield, and grind size, you can align the parameters needed to pull the perfect shot of espresso with the coffee beans you’re using.

Sounds pretty straightforward right? Well maybe, maybe not…

So what does my typical coffee-day look like? It starts with one or two traditional cappuccinos before work, a pourover brewed into a Fellow Carter travel mug (for the mid-afternoon pick me up), and a trip to the office cafe mid-morning. Generally that’s a four day a week routine. Espresso? Well, apart from sneaking one in after work very occasionally, that leaves the remaining three days: a work from home day and the weekend when espresso itself is firmly on the menu as well. More below as to why this presents a challenge (though I also refer back to my intermittently consumed comment above).

The crux of the matter

Consistency, less waste, and no sacrifice in flavour or enjoyment. Noble aims in any coffee brewing endeavour. Thinking about my typical day above, being a milk is for morning type of drinker, a blend roasted for espresso lends itself well. The main development over the past year or so being I have increasingly used these blends for straight espresso as well.

Again it comes back to consistency, and the ability to tweak the grind and brew settings incrementally from day to day rather than having to dial in a single origin from scratch again on a Friday when I’d last done so the Sunday before. While aging is mostly the enemy here (the coffee, but ok… me as well I guess), other factors like the weather (I’m looking at you Brisbane humidity), and subtle changes in how the grinder might be behaving are at play. Depending on how those factors combine, that Friday can soon end up in the awkward: I’ve used more dialling in here than I’ve consumed scenario. Particularly when it’s taken three shots to dial in only to consume one, and repeat that over two or three weeks and watch that bag of coffee rapidly empty.

Now, although the espresso brew ratios differ for the morning cappuccino (1:1.8) and afternoon espresso (1:3), as the week progresses and tweaks need to be made with grind settings, by the time the weekend rolls around, I have a fair idea where to start once its time for one of those 1:3 lungos to exit the spouts. It’s an incremental adjustment rather than a baseline beginning from where I was a week before.

Consistency and less waste in brewing is one thing, what about quality and flavour? Well you’ll certainly find no arguments from me here. Of course, it depends on what blends and from whom you purchase them, however most specialty roasters are offering a number of blend flavour profiles, and its as easy as sampling each to find what you are looking for. Now although there is a view that a daily driver blend aimed at milk based beverages may not shine as an espresso on its own, I’ve generally found that not to be the case, and I don’t think specialty roasters really approach them that way either. To be honest I hadn’t really explored as many options as I should have prior to this point. There is something out there you’ll really enjoy, trust me.

Also, to acknowledge blends also can have their downsides (hiding cheaper or lower quality coffee, some may be uninteresting, not all coffees work well together) however I think most can be avoided if you purchase well. You know what? Ultimately it comes down to personal preference and your particular taste, as it always does.

So have I moved exclusively to blends as a result of the high praise above? No, not entirely, but I’m certainly drinking more (and more as espresso) than I ever have in the past, and I’m thoroughly enjoying them.

In wrapping this up, all I’d really like to highlight is that a well balanced, rich and complex blend has a lot going for it. While we all like to explore the tastes and styles of single origins and left field coffee processing methods, often times good and consistent over interesting might be exactly what we are after.

Some recent favourites:

Honourable Mentions:

Marked as Read – February 2023

An occasional link post from items in my feed which I found interesting, insightful or perhaps somewhat infuriating. Some likely warrant further thought and a little more commentary, however you cannot write about them all.

Adding Milk To Coffee May Have Serious Anti-Inflammatory BenefitsSprudge

A warm embrace. How I treat any coffee order and their attached person. The coffee-related posts on this blog would naturally lead to the thought I’m a snob about the stuff, however in reality it’s the exact opposite. I drink coffee black, white, short, long and anything in between, and you should too — but it’s not about me. Its about how you like it.

Something magical happens when milk touches espresso. There’s an alchemy to that tan elixir whereby the sum is greater than its parts. It’s velvety, rich, sweet, suitable both for the first coffee of the day and the finish to a perfect dinner. And it turns out, there may be some healthful synchronicity to the pair as well, as a new study finds that adding milk to coffee may double its anti-inflammatory effects.

There are many very good reasons people do or don’t add milk, sugar, or anything else to coffee. Outright snobbery isn’t one of them. A simple no thanks will do. When confronted with a down the nose “oh no… I never add milk, it spoils what the producer intended…” perhaps a simple “oh I’m doing it for the anti-inflammatory benefits… wait… you aren’t aware?” retort might be useful. Failing that, simply professing you’re undying love for milky coffee is also more than fine.

Write LessMatt Gemmell

As always, Matt Gemmell knows his way around a conceptual thought. Here as it pertains to short form blog posts:

It’s an absolute fallacy that longer works are better, or more valuable; indeed, shorter pieces are more likely to be read and digested, which intrinsically increases their value.

I found this interesting, for I’ve never really been able to drag myself away from thinking the blog is only for longer, fleshed out pieces either (I say with a sideways glance while posting this in a short form link post… yet case in point, the glance returns serve as I write too many words about a couple of links that caught my eye… the battle continues).

The Pods Must Be Crazy: Why The Coffee Pod Carbon Impact Story You Just Read Is WrongSprudge

A forthright opinion on a recent study into the climate impact of some coffee brewing methods, which claimed coffee pods have a significantly lower carbon footprint than filter coffee. Speciality coffee publication Sprudge in response:

Maybe instead of writing about coffee as though it were an interchangeable set of widgetified variables, researchers in the future will choose to actually, you know, engage with this stuff beyond the spreadsheets in the course of their research. If they’d so much as attempted to brew themselves a cup of coffee using the incorrect brew ratio in their study, it would have become immediately apparent their numbers—and thus conclusions derived from these numbers—were significantly out of whack.

Arguably there are certain assumptions in studies like these, though perhaps many folk brew by the “scoop” rather than the scale. I’ve certainly never brewed a pourover using the ratio outlined in the study, nor does anyone I know, so I wouldn’t mind knowing where the numbers came from either.

Selling Low: Corporate Dressing DownThe Contender

One from the archives, though new to me as I poked around online the other day. I do think we have lost a beat with the post Covid dress code, however I also think as with many things pandemic related, it was coming down the pipeline anyway, and just arrived a little sooner.

A suit is such an easy solution for anybody in a position of authority. I may have lost this battle, but I’ll be interested to see how people feel about being represented in court by a lawyer in athleisure.

Also, does working from home mean usual home dressing? I’m not so sure, I mean cameras are often on these days, though most of the time from what I’ve seen, people don’t seem to care too much. Each to their own I guess, and all I will say is I notice — people notice.


I have now set up an account over on Mastodon: Though I’m not sure what else to tell you, one thing I will say is that the sign up process is far simpler than what I’d initially believed.

What will I use it for? That I’m not sure, and you won’t find any posts as yet, however I guess we’ll see how things develop over the next little bit.

A pen and notebook – 25 years on

Towards the latter part of last year, my beautiful wife and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. As you can imagine there were gifts exchanged, and among them one suitably appropriate for a household (husband?) with an affinity (obsession?) for stationery. Before we get ahead of ourselves, while there is indeed a pen involved in this story, it is not in the “shiny new” way you might be thinking.

In this case, the “shiny new” is a notebook. In recent times I’ve taken to embossed notebooks to mark certain occasions, firstly a 50th birthday, and now the anniversary I’ve mentioned above. In all the excitement, something else quietly slipped by and has just come to me now. Four months later.

You see the bookend which begins this story is indeed a pen, and it was shiny and new quite a few years ago. It hit me just the other day — the pen I received as a wedding gift from my wife is of course also now 25 years old. My first fountain pen. All the way back then. Before the blog. Before any sort of foray into pen nerdery.

The pen

The pen? Well I’ve written about it before, even making the bold suggestion my first fountain pen was actually my grail pen. As pens go it was a fairly ambitious entry into the world of fountain pens. A Montblanc Meisterstuck Classique, in your standard black with gold trim. I don’t see many Montblancs recommended in the best beginner fountain pen lists out there — and for good reason of course.

The fact is though, I loved it then and I love it now. I get it, of course there are plenty of “more appropriate” beginner pens, though whether a more appropriate pen exists to mark the best day of your life? That I’m not so sure, but maybe I’m a little biased. In many ways it also leads directly to the point doesn’t it? These types of purchases are just as emotional as they are technical. Perhaps even more than we think.

The Classique along with another small anniversary getaway project. I probably wouldn’t recommend spending all weekend building the Death Star or the Millennium Falcon…

Little did I know the extent to which that pen would eventually contribute to a deeper dive into pens themselves, the internet of pens, and the genesis of this very blog. To say it developed an ongoing affinity for the brand is probably not too far from the truth either.

I’ve been fortunate enough to acquire a good number of pens since that day, on varying ends of the price spectrum, however there can only be one original, and I’m pleased to have had a certain naivety in the process of acquiring it. There were no apparent choices in size, nib, colour, filling systems or anything else that becomes a consideration the further into the pen world you go. Nope. Of course there were indeed quite a few options, however it was always this one and only this one. Even knowing what I know now about pens, I’ve never felt that pang of: I wish I’d picked a …….. instead.

So how is it fairing after 25 years? Well I’d have to say it’s doing very, very well, and firmly maintains its place in the standard in and out rotation of pens along with the rest of my collection. It’s faultless medium nib has never failed me and has now seen both the wisdom and folly of thousands of words from the mind of its owner, having long forgiven my stumbling first few months of ownership.

How sensible people enjoy the afternoon sun on an anniversary weekend getaway…
…while silly people with pens get a cramp in their hand from holding a phone weirdly for that “perfect shot”

The notebook

And the notebooks? Well, at the current time they remain in the yet to be used category, given I have a few others on the go currently. Their time will come. I say notebooks in plural, as the purchase involved one for each side of this anniversary occasion. I’m not sure what my wife might have planned for hers (the navy if you’re curious), however I’m thinking my black one will be up next as my home desktop notebook. When using an “occasion” notebook, there may be the tendency to designate it for a “special” project or use. The birthday notebook I mentioned above has indeed been assigned the duties of my long form writing project, and there is certainly benefit to that — possibly even from an increased significance or meaning to the notebook itself.

Mind you, I’m here to also sing the praises of getting them into general use as well. The same as my pens. The significance or sentimental value in my mind is not lessened by using them in this way. I’m sure many of you are the same, it’s often by use that the connection is strengthened: the patina on a pen or leather; the change of a page from crisp and blank to crinkled and full; flipping back through bold, colourful, ink filled pages.

…and yes, I emboss on the back cover, preferring a more subtle acknowledgement of the occasion.

Its fairly evident from the images in this post that the notebooks themselves are of the Montblanc variety, and are a little more expensive than your average notebook, however again, the spend doesn’t necessarily equal (or need to) the significance. I’m sure that affinity for the brand I mentioned earlier certainly influences my decisions here, and also further illustrates the myriad of factors which may go into this type of purchase.

In closing

Such a peaceful place

I guess one of the real joys of a pen and stationery habit is that there is always a “list” from which to choose when the time comes for either gifts or gift suggestions. Occasions like birthdays and anniversaries are of course prime candidates to cross something off that list and there will no doubt be a wide budgetary spectrum at play.

In the end it may be something expensive, or not so much, but the value to each of us will be inherent in the occasion it represents. Sometimes that will be a planned purchase for a life “milestone” but might just as easily be simply what you were using when a certain “thing” happened.

However it might occur, that significance will never be lost, regardless of cost, grandeur, or even whether or not it shows up on social media or written in a blog. It might even come to you out of the blue, say, four months past the event it commemorates, and that’s okay.

Just don’t wait four months after the date to remember your actual anniversary. No. Don’t do that.

My Viewsonic Portable Monitor

Gamechanger is a word thrown around a little too readily for my liking, however sometimes you do find something where you sit back and think: wow this really has made a massive difference in how I live/work/play…

In this instance the scenario is work. Not always the most fun topic to write about, however in this current world of hybrid work, I feel some sort of duty to pass on a good news story when I come across it.

Images courtesy of Viewsonic


I hadn’t really considered a portable monitor as a “need” until recently, when it became apparent I would be working remotely for a few days every month or so, but not from my home setup. Most days I’m working at a 27 inch Dell Ultrasharp monitor in the office, and a day or two per week at home in front of my LG 35 inch Ultrawide display. Both are connected via USB C. Clearly I’m used to the 13.5 inch laptop on the company issued Windows Surface 3 in combination with something a fair bit larger. I can (and sometimes do) work from the laptop alone, however the thought of regularly spending successive days doing that concerned me a little from a productivity perspective, so I began to consider some options.

I tend to be one of those individuals who prefers to be completely independent with whatever tech setup I use, and the gear I carry to the office each day reflects that. Its a mobile lifestyle they say, and yes it is, however to me, packing up and carrying your entire work existence in a bag or two need not involve compromise in how you like to work. A benefit of this mobile lifestyle is the very fact that when an alternative location becomes part of the rotation, what’s in those bag(s) has already taken care of 90% of the work in preparing for somewhere new. For most of us who like to be in control of these situations, as you’ve guessed already — 90% is a full 10% short of where we need to be. So I say to you new location… is there anything else I need to close that gap?

As it turns out the answer was yes, however I hadn’t quite appreciated how much of a benefit the anything else would turn out to be. I also confess having stumbled across a review or mention of a portable monitor somewhere was the trigger to look into this a little more. It’s certainly obvious to me in hindsight, however for someone who plugs into a second screen every day — apparently the idea of a portable one for the road wasn’t coming without a little nudge.

The Monitor

Although I’m no tech reviewer, onto the product itself. Once I began investigating things a little, one review I found pretty helpful was on PC Mag, appropriately titled The Best Portable Monitors for 2022. In the end, it’s perhaps not surprising I ended up with the Best for Road Warriors/At Home Workers pick, and I couldn’t be happier. A far better job on describing the tech details and providing you product pictures can be found on PC Mag’s review of the monitor itself, however I’ll provide this for immediate context:

ViewSonic’s VG1655 is a cleverly designed portable monitor with some uncommon features. It offers a fold-out stand with a wide tilt range. A five-way mini-joystick controller takes the place of the fidgety buttons found on most mobile monitors, and the onscreen display (OSD) menu system lets you access a wealth of settings instead of the handful offered by many rival panels. And it has two USB-C ports—one for power and one for data/video transfer—plus a mini HDMI port. Its poor sRGB color-gamut coverage makes it best for working with text and spreadsheets (versus photos and video), but it shines brighter than most mobile panels. Its surprising wealth of features, including built-in speakers, makes it our latest portable-monitor Editors’ Choice, despite its par-for-the-course panel.

PC Mag

The images accompanying this post are from the Viewsonic website, and paint the monitor in a far better way than a few amateur shots from me. There is one outlier however, and no doubt you’ll pick the Pete Denison original of my precarious looking but rock solid portable workspace.

I’ve come to realise in most cases when forking out of my own pocket for work related peripheral devices (which I’m happy to do by choice) that par for the course (in this case the panel/colour display) is generally more than sufficient for what I need, and my key requirements here were pretty much the following:

  • display quality that was good enough: yep, it’s work as you’d expect, all text, web, email and spreadsheets… (it’s an IPS 1920×1080 panel)
  • USB C connectivity
  • a little larger than my laptop screen (here 13.5 vs the 16 inch Viewsonic)
  • light weight (it’s a little over 800 grams without the cover or 1kg with it)
  • multiple viewing angles with a stable base (it has unlimited kickstand adjustable angles and also stands vertically in portrait if that’s your thing)
  • reasonable value for money in providing the points above

Overall, this thing is fantastic for what I need. It is seriously light, slides into the tote I use to carry my tech peripherals, has a screen I’ve never thought of as sub-par and simply plugs into one USB C cable for the laptop to power the display and transfer data. I haven’t noticed a massive impact on the laptop’s battery life, however it is often plugged in to power when the portable display is in use. It’s a simple set up, plug in and get to work.

Somehow the simplicity of powering and using this thing is what elevates the magnitude of my satisfaction. It’s one of those prime examples of minimal effort for maximum gain.

Rock solid and fully functional on my desktop sit-stand raiser

If we are talking effort vs gain, then I guess we also need to assess the bang for buck equation as well, which I think came in at a fairly reasonable level as well. The monitor in question was purchased online from Umart, and at $AU378.50, the benefit has been worth that many times over. Incidentally, working in a location 5 minutes down the road from a UMart collection point with 2 hour pickup available, is a very dangerous proposition when scrolling a tech catalogue…

Overall for what I’ve gained from this device, I’d consider it pretty good value for money.

Wrapping Up

As I’ve noted above, I don’t consider myself a tech gadget reviewer, and I’ve simply set out here to tell what I consider a success in purchasing a second, and extremely portable monitor for my mobile lifestyle. While that lifestyle mostly utilises two much larger screens in “toggling” my existence between home and the office, every few weeks the Viewsonic portable gets a run, and on more than one occasion I’ve found myself thinking ”wow — how good is this thing, I never would have thought I’d find it so useful”. That to me says it all.

If you are considering something to enhance your setup on the road, a lightweight portable monitor might just do the trick. This Viewsonic portable model might be worth a look, or failing that, a quick scroll through a “best portable monitor” post. It certainly worked (and continues to work really, really well) for me.

Back in Ulysses

Originally this post was to be about Setapp, which I’ve now been subscribing to over the past three months or so. Perhaps I’ll get to that at some point, however I probably haven’t poked around or utilised enough of the apps to really write anything of worth. One of the big draw cards though for hitting the signup button on Setapp was full access to Ulysses, and on that point I do have a little bit to say — not so much about the app itself, more so that it actually has me writing again.

Go figure.

Back in Ulysses… and actually writing

What is it about Ulysses then?

Before we get to that, just briefly, Ulysses being one of the plethora of text editors out there for Mac and iOS competing to be the heart of many a writing workflow. Running on a subscription model either direct from the developer or through Setapp as I’ve mentioned, it may just be the ”ultimate writing app” as the developer suggests:

Powerful features and a pleasant, focused writing experience combined in one tool, made for people who love to write and write a lot — this is Ulysses.

Sounds about right.

Image courtesy of Ulysses

While this post is about the app itself, it also isn’t at the same time. Of course no-one uses an app or system which is difficult to use or not to their liking. We all have our criteria here, and we could go down the path of the various UX and UI aspects of the app, and all manner of technical capabilities and limitations. Well, lets be honest — we could do that if I were in any way capable of such a thing, however in reality I’d be wading in waters I had no business being in. Add the debates around subscription pricing, data storage, true markdown and proprietary file databases and you have a lot more to discuss. That isn’t the purpose of this post.

No, the purpose of this post is explicit in the section heading above. Getting back into writing again despite a couple of very, very lean years here on the blog, during which time I was in and out of quite a few text editors. I hear you (and a smattering of YouTube thumbnails) telling me: It’s not about the tools it’s about doing the work…I certainly don’t entirely disagree with that sentiment, however I’m increasingly inclined to believe it’s even less true than I once thought.

Ulysses can’t do the writing for you though, surely?

No it cannot, and arguably there are just as many capable apps out there that will do the job (believe me, I’ve tried a few…). It’s just that for many years, Ulysses was where I wrote. Plain and simple. Back in the heyday of this blog, posting regularly, committing to a weekly link post, heck — even giving NanoWrimo a crack and getting 55k words done in that crazy month. All done in Ulysses.

So no, Ulysses didn’t put words on a page for me, but certainly helped me find my way and regularly do something I inherently enjoy — writing. Sure, most of what I write never sees the light of day, but cliche’s exist for a reason: it’s about the process (journey) not the result (destination). Somehow, somewhere along the way, that process for me became “writing in Ulysses” rather than simply “writing”.

Well if it’s so great why did you stop in the first place?

A very fair question given the high praise above. Part of me probably believes the blog would have gone from strength to strength had I stuck with Ulysses, although that would be a fairly unrealistic and flawed argument. There is no discounting the million and one other things going on in our lives, and truth be told, my writing consistency and rate of posting was on a downward — let’s call it a slope rather than the somewhat harsher spiral — long before I pulled up stumps with Ulysses the first time around (somewhere around 2017 I believe). In fact I do recall thinking that if I wasn’t writing all that much then there wasn’t much point in paying the ongoing subscription. In many ways a periodic “what am I paying for and what am I actually using” review of my subscriptions at the time. For the record, I have no issue with subscription pricing models, as a consumer, the power is entirely with me, and decisions simply need to be made from time to time.

So yes, that first time it was a casualty of competing priorities, commitments, general life challenges (nothing major mind you, just the day to day getting in the way a little), and perhaps a waning of will. The funny thing is, those very life challenges seem best countered by doing just this — writing, with my good pal Ulysses helping me along, and that’s exactly what I’m seeing and thriving on now. I for one certainly hope it continues.

Incidentally, I’d planned to link to a couple of previous posts relevant to what I’m discussing here, however going back through the earlier years of the blog really puts the recent me to shame as far as output is concerned, and indeed gave me pause. Here they are anyway:

NaNoWriMo – My Digital Tools

NaNoWriMo – Two Months On

Writing With Ulysses

Ulysses 2.6 – An update to my favourite text editor

In Conclusion

So there you have it. Me and Ulysses. Butch and Sundance. It’s not the tool it’s the mems!! It’s an ode to the golden years of my writing. The Once Upon a Time in Hollywood of markdown! Wow, I’m not sure how we ended up here, so it’s perhaps time to wrap this one up.

Whether or not this is some fleeting zen moment and things won’t actually change all that much will perhaps be seen in the fullness of time — or at least next January when thoughts again come to the year past and the one ahead. For now, the butterfly is in the sky and seems to be flying along pretty well.

I remain optimistic, with a trusted companion at my side(bar).