Restocking – a trip to Bookbinders

Although I’ve posted an image to Instagram from yesterday’s visit to the Bookbinders store on Brisbane’s Northside, readers of the blog and my social media following are not one and the same, so I thought I’d share a couple of things in a brief post.

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It was my second visit to the actual store itself — such a wonderful, calming space amid the chaos of rainy Friday afternoon traffic. The Bookbinders team do a fantastic job, stocking great products and provide outstanding customer service. It was great to hear business is strong, with foot traffic continuing to increase at the store itself.

It is definitely worth a visit if you have yet to do so, and of course if you already have, you don’t need me to encourage you to return — I’m sure that is inevitable.

Though it wasn’t a big haul by any stretch, the few key items on my list were ticked off.

Coffee drinking and roasting logs

I’ve written in a recent post about my thoughts and plans for recording my coffee roasting data, and the main reason for the visit was to pick up the new 33 Roasts log from the 33 Books series.

My only concern (immediately alleviated upon closer inspection) was whether the log contained units in degrees celsius as well as Fahrenheit (being a US publication). All good to go here, with units in celsius appearing on the R hand axis of the roast graph. Key details from each of my roasts will end up in a spreadsheet, and the entire notebook contents scanned, indexed and saved for safe keeping and easy search (perhaps a post for another day).

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A few drops of coffee in the ink is a nice touch

My coffee drinking habits? Well why not 33 Log those as well? When out, I use a modified version of this Day One / Launch Center Pro template (also available as Workflow app action if that is your preference) to rate the beverages cafes serve me, however when at home I’d like to record a little more often in relation to drinking what I’ve roasted myself. The 33 Cups of Coffee log seems like a good way to go here.

Upon completion, these will also be scanned, and I’m thinking perhaps the 4 and 5 star rated cups are worthy of indexing for future reference. I’ll give that one a little more thought.

 

Writing

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Though 40 pages less, a considerable reduction in paper weight from the Life Symphony to the Monokaki

One of the most pleasing aspects of visiting the store was seeing the healthy stock of Monokaki notebooks, which still remain my all-time favourite. Previous posts about those? Yes — here and here if you are interested. Having passed my 50% rule (that is, of usage in my current notebook before searching for another), it wasn’t a hard choice as to what I’d pick up next.

The masuya paper contained therein is a perfect mash-up of Tomoe River-like weight with a little more tooth to the nib. Just the way I like it. In order to share my fondness, some of that very paper will also be going out in handwritten correspondence from the Yuga Letter Pad I picked up as well.

Signing off

Given this was never intended to be a lengthy post, in closing, I think we are very lucky to have the Bookbinders team not only based in Brisbane, but having a brick and mortar presence as well. They are wonderful people with a passion for the industry — something well worth supporting as a consumer.

Happy writing, roasting and drinking.

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Selfish writing

A good few posts here on the site reference learning as one of the key reasons for commencing this blog and indeed carrying on to this point — some four years later. A noble goal — or at the very least — a reasonable basis for applying a little effort towards producing content.

Over that time period, I’ve been through various phases and feelings about writing here. Beginners nerves (which merely evolve into more experienced nerves upon hitting “publish”); gaining some, then wanting more readers; realising more posts gain more readers and writing them; burning out a little, and realising 20% less monthly readers affords 80% (if not more) better balance. Blogging as a hobby really should not be a chore.

Now? I’m quite content with how things are. Thanks for asking.

Accompanying the passage of time has been a realisation the knowledge I gain through researching, reading, and organising my thoughts on various topics and posts is indeed quite valuable to me. It is however, secondary to something far more important. Something I perhaps didn’t anticipate, understand, nor fully appreciate until now. Something inherently more selfish, which far outweighs the learning — and indeed sharing — of knowledge by a significant order of magnitude. It is probably also time to own up to that truth.

When all is said and done, I’m really just writing here for my own sanity. Plain and simple.

The longer I do this, the more I realise the predominant, though unintended (yet most welcome) benefit of all this is the process of writing, and the switch-off it affords from most other goings-on while I’m doing it. Even better? The option at any time to not do it for a while — whether by choice or circumstance — and return when I choose.

Should this really come as much of a surprise? Probably not, and is simply a classic case of forest for the trees if ever there was one, however I am glad to be a little more aware of such a welcome reality.

Undoubtedly this is probably not a surprise to anyone who writes in a similar way, unencumbered by deadlines, contracts or commitments. Then again, who am I to assume — perhaps those who write for a living feel the same way, although I suspect there is at least some additional burden on the minds of those who do.

Maybe arriving at this point was inevitable, and I was simply unaware of it when starting out. After all, those sayings don’t lie do they. You know them: the process not the outcome; the journey, not the destination; the writing, not the readers.

I’ve taken some liberty in including that last one, and to explain further, you — the reader — are extremely important to me of course. I simply realise doing my best to provide readable content which may (hopefully) be helpful or provide value in some small way is part of the process, may be an outcome, however is not stoking the fire as it once was. Or at least as I thought it was.

So, have I been lying to you all this time?

I’d say no, however perhaps no more so to you, the reader, than to myself. Let’s think of it merely an oversight rather than outright deception. What next then? Well, I guess there is nothing to do but continue, and do so in the knowledge at the heart of these pages lies an intrinsic motivation which will likely keep me writing far longer than any extrinsic reward.

For that, I am extremely grateful — as I am to you, for reading.

Life Symphony A5 Spiral Bound Notebook

img_7800An interest in fountain pens inherently carries with it a similar level of attention to paper. Although I’ve written about some budget friendly notebook options on one or two occasions, I’m not averse to paying a little more for them either.

One such notebook — while not prohibitive in cost — is the L!fe Symphony N93 Spiral Bound A5 currently sitting on my desk. For the remainder of this post, I will mostly use Life rather than L!fe, as I do find it a little distracting, and an online search term of Life Symphony Notebook will bring up what you are looking for.

Look and feel

In summary, I’d say the Symphony notebook has no bells and minimal whistles — just high quality design, construction and performance.

Though technically a soft cover notebook, the Symphony carries very thick, stiffened card stock front and back which is about as hard as you’d find in a soft-cover notebook. As the images in this post show, I purchased what is described on various retail sites as the “grey” version. The front cover features some intricate detailing reminiscent of a dense vine, and is quite attractive to my eye. The back cover matches in colour, however is unadorned with any detailing or labelling.

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A colour

To be honest I’m not sure how I’d describe this colour. At the time of purchase, I was drawn to the contrast between the prominent brass coloured double spiral binding and the deeper, slightly more mysterious looking cover. Something enigmatic to provide a little mystery, and shroud what would ultimately be a collection of fairly superficial writing you might say.

Speaking of the binding, those brassy double spirals follow the lead of the cover, in that they are very stiff, providing a solid backbone to the book in a way befitting the overall quality throughout. There is a little wiggle room or “play” in the pages, however I’ve not noticed this when writing, and believe me I would, for it is a pet peeve of mine with spiral bound notebooks.

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Those spirals!

Referring back to the “no bells” statement above — rather than a criticism, is more a reference to a design which appears focused on the essential requirements, and doing them exceedingly well. There are no pockets, bookmark ribbons, elastic enclosures or pre-formatting on the paper other than the 8mm ruling in subtle grey.

I do tend to use ribbon markers if they are in a notebook, however equally don’t mind if they aren’t — avoiding the need to get them out of the way once the notebook is open to write. Pre-formatted page numbering and perhaps a date field? Again, generally used when present, though inconsequential if not. Plain, grid or ruled? Personal preference, for which I’ll take ruled nine times out of ten these days.

Specifications

The subject of this post:

  • L!fe Symphony N93 Notebook
  • Size: A5 (15x21cm)
  • Cover: Thick, stiffened card stock front and back
  • Pages: 200 (100 Sheets) acid-free paper; estimated at 80-90gsm
  • Binding: Brass coloured double ring
  • Style: 8mm Ruled
  • Features: Fountain pen friendly paper, hand-made
  • Source: Made in Japan
  • Purchased: Pen and Paper, Brisbane CBD, AU$26.95 (December 2016)

Looking around online, you’ll find A5, B5 and A4 variations, available in grey, red, and blue covers. I was unable to find a specific gsm weight rating, however the paper feels very similar to your usual Clairefontaine/Rhodia type weighting. Searching around reveals 8mm ruled, 5mm grid, and plain paper variations, however I am not sure how widely available these options are.

Some online retailers:

Writing Performance

Of course most of the notebooks you see on these pages from time to time are great for writing, and whether they reach the “just about perfect” status is really a matter of personal preference isn’t it. I’ve written ad nauseam about my preference for a little feedback on the page, rather than skating about one a little too slick. No surprises the same thoughts will be applied here.

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Bookbinders Snake Inks Ground Rattler (l) and Eastern Brown (r)

As I write this, I am 130 pages in of the 200 available to me in this notebook, and I’ve certainly no intention of not continuing right through to the last.

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Whether running a finger down the page or forming letters along a line — the paper is quite smooth. Not Clairefontaine notebook smooth (a skater for me) by any stretch, and not quite Rhodia smooth either — however probably not far behind. Therefore, on the feedback/tooth scale I’d say it sits squarely in the upper end of my preferred window.

Currently in my hand is a Pilot Custom Heritage 92 (FM nib), containing Bookbinders Snake Ink Red Belly Black. On cheaper, softer paper, the CH 92 will occasionally want to “dig in” a little, however that is certainly not the case here. Both the sensory and auditory feedback (on a quiet pre-dawn morning), are pleasing to say the least. I’d be happy enough if restricted to this paper for the rest of my writing days.

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Bookbinders Snake Ink Red Belly Black

Using a stiffer nib, such as my medium Platinum President, I find more of that “skating across the top” feel, highlighting the nib and paper interaction, which influences the perception of all our writing experiences. Add to that the usual differences in writing on the left hand page atop the stack of 65 or so filled sheets versus the harder, compressed, yet to be written sheets on the right. Whatever your particular preference or thoughts here — this is great paper for fountain pens.

img_7811Feathering, show through, or bleed are nowhere to be found, and I feel you’d have to use a very broad nib containing extremely saturated, very wet ink to change that to any great degree. You will be safe with most general writing pens. Dry time is commensurate with my Rhodia notepads, or a perhaps a touch faster with certain inks.

At this point I am probably meant to test and demonstrate numerous different pen types to illustrate how this paper handles them all (and I am thankful to those who do), however looking back through those 130 pages, I can find all of about three with non-fountain pen markings (Retro 51/Schmidt rollerball from a Baron Fig Squire out of interest). As you’d expect, handled with aplomb by the paper.

In a notebook bought on the basis of being great for fountain pens, that can hardly come as a surprise, and call this a “review” if you like, however this post is written merely as a reflection on how I’ve found using rather than “testing” — the Symphony notebook over the past few months.

In Use

One of the more common uses for my notebooks is to carry them on my lunch break, perch on a stool at the bar of my favourite cafe, and do some writing. Having purchased the Symphony notebook with this activity in mind, I soon found its suitability for the task was not quite spot on.

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With that iPad Air 2

The notebook itself is fantastic of course, however given its thickness, something as simple as the size of the spirals prevents it sitting nice and flat against my iPad Air 2 when carried together. A big deal? Hardly – though why bother when I don’t have to, particularly when there is plenty of flatness in say, the Baron Fig Vanguard of similar size (not thickness) which is currently fulfilling lunch break longhand duties.

Beyond such silly personal eccentricities, the Life Symphony No. 93 is what I’d consider a perfect desk book, where weight, thickness and spiral size matter less. It’s perfect for long form writing, with the A5 size constraining my hand, which at times can become a little unwieldy and careless on a larger sized page. Brief notes or meeting minutes – all perfect as well, however to me, a notebook like this begs for something a little grander. Perhaps some poetry, elegant prose, or even a your next novel.

In rounding things out here, I’d have to say from a construction and aesthetic perspective, the Symphony is more than well equipped to handle just about anything you could throw at it. Perhaps you’d see some wear and tear from repetitive backpack in/out cycles, though I think it would stand up pretty well.

Signing off

I’m certainly enjoying the quality of both overall construction and paper of this Symphony notebook from Life Stationery. It’s traditional without being staid; functional yet solid; and clean without feeling underdone or sparse. While it doesn’t suit my particular style of carry, it makes a fantastic desk notebook, and if you are someone who always uses a bag, my concerns are a moot point.

Whether a notebook like this represents value for money really comes down to how you personally value quality of construction and overall aesthetics. It is a notebook I consider represents excellent value for money, and would certainly buy one again – for my desk of course.

A Coffee Appreciation Course – Extraction Artisan Coffee

Crossing the threshold to greater coffee knowledge…

If I am entirely honest, a good few of my Saturday afternoons are spent reading or napping on the couch. Sure, there may be lawn mowing or other activities involved, however external educational opportunities are not the norm. Let’s face it, my favourite segment of the weekend – with all of it’s promise – often finds me in a comfortable chair, utilising the I’ve got all day tomorrow to (insert procrastinated activity here) principle.

That being said, last weekend provided an opportunity too good to pass up, and the chair received a wave goodbye as I headed out the door on my way to Extraction Artisan Coffee’s inaugural Coffee Appreciation Course. It was obviously not too difficult a decision to go and learn from a very passionate and knowledgeable professional in Danny Andrade, whose acquaintance I made several years ago when he worked as a barista in the Brisbane CBD.

Social media and the occasional Bean Brewding Coffee Tour have provided a means with which to follow along as Danny’s coffee career has progressed, and I was over the moon to see the initial teasers a little over a year ago as Extraction Artisan Coffee began to take shape. It looked like my kind of place — and even better — is on my side of town.

Always on the lookout for opportunities to learn more about coffee and refine my home roasting and brewing skills, I enthusiastically ventured to Extraction in the knowledge I’d be leaving far better off in these areas than when I arrived. Really — is there a better way to spend a Saturday afternoon?

The Course

Theory

The afternoon began in an upstairs meeting room, with Danny taking us through some slides explaining and illustrating many things, including but not limited to: the taxonomy of coffee; how it is grown and produced; processing methods; and world coffee production, farming, and trade relationships (including Extraction’s philosophy and future plans in this area).

Passed around the room were various green bean samples from different countries, growing elevations and processing methods, along with some examples of green bean defects which need to be removed prior to roasting.

A recurring and very important theme throughout this part of the course was the immense amount of resources required, and the inherent difficulty in producing specialty grade coffee. Those working hard to improve the industry — whether back at the farm or at your favourite café — are certainly worthy of our respect and support.

Roasting

Roasting theory

Next it was downstairs to the roasting room adjacent to the café itself, where we observed a washed Colombian coffee go through the sample roaster. Here we learned some more specifics about the phases of roasting, and Danny’s particular approach at Extraction, which aims to preserve and highlight as many of the flavours in the coffee as possible.

After tracking the time, temperature and key points within the roast, we had a look at the resulting curve produced, and compared that with a recently completed roast profile of the 10kg production roaster Danny uses to keep the Extraction grinder hoppers full of either single origin coffee or the signature Gratitude Blend. A quick colour analysis on the sample roast confirmed it was to the required medium-light level, and we then moved onto the sensory stage of the course.

Sensory training and cupping

A few of those aroma samples

With a lot of thought and no shortage of competitive spirit after splitting into two groups, it was time for some aroma analysis and identification using the Le Nez du Café aroma kit. With our olfactory systems doing their best to identify the various samples, we eventually reached a little sensory fatigue on the last few aromas.

Overall I think we did pretty well, and whether I was in the “runner up” group or just the one which had the “harder” of the two series of samples I’ll leave for you to decide. I’ll be sure to make note of that cooked beef aroma next time I’m in the kitchen!

Next up, the familiar slurp of a cupping room, as we compared a washed process Colombian coffee with an Ethiopian natural, assessing and noting the contrast (origin differences aside) and effect different processing methods impart on the resulting cup. Along the way we also learned more about the methods and importance of cupping, and how it relates to what is ultimately served in the café.

Brewing

Espresso theory

Once our taste buds had been awakened, we were keen to move onto espresso and manual brewing, the result of which was always going to be plenty of drinking and tasting. We worked through some espresso brewing and extraction theory, with Danny providing tasting samples from across the extraction (certainly not the usual Extraction) spectrum.

Comparing under, ideal, and over extracted espresso, I must say it is the first time (and what will no doubt be the only one) in about 8 years that I have ever received sub-par espresso passed from Danny across the bar. Jokes aside, the intended lesson was heeded, with a group of twisted faces savouring not one moment of the sour, under extracted cup, with the bitter, over-extracted version not fairing much better.

Check out what I – umm… I mean Danny created

With the knowledge of what we were not aiming to produce, we were then let loose (with close supervision) on the Mythos One grinder and VA388 Black Eagle gravimetric espresso machine (yes — I did notice a couple of differences compared to my Baratza/Sunbeam combo at home). We all managed to produce espresso within Danny’s requisite brew parameters, and with a little further assistance, managed to top them off with some textured milk. I wouldn’t call what was on top any sort of art as such, however they were certainly enjoyable to drink, and it was nice to put a few key principles together and enjoy a successful result in the cup.

Finally, and with Danny giving up a lot more of his valuable time than originally planned, we moved on to manual brewing, looking at the V60, Trinity One, immersion cold brewing and cold drip. Once some preceding theory and brew parameters were discussed, much tasting ensued, with a controlled fermentation processed coffee a very fruity highlight.

The finish

While scouring the internet and reading books are valuable learning methods in their own right — there is nothing quite like having a passionate, knowledgeable, and very successful industry expert graciously passing on some of that knowledge to those enthusiastically seeking a better understanding of the subject at hand. The Coffee Appreciation Course at Extraction was a perfect example of that.

The key concepts, principles and theory are important, as are their practical application, however an opportunity like this goes far beyond a simple learning exercise. It’s about hearing a philosophy. The reasons behind a certain approach — and thinking about those reasons a little more fully. It’s about understanding the meaning of it all in the grand scheme of things, and the people, processes and effects behind the entire chain of a particular coffee.

To me, that is what those few hours were all about. The intangible benefit of hearing about an entire philosophy, and its influence on everything up to, and including making a high quality cup of coffee. Something not able to be conveyed in its entirety on a screen or in print. It is here the value of a course like this really lies.

Extraction’s ‘Class of June 17’ (image courtesy Extraction Artisan Coffee)

Overall, it was a whole lot of fun. A thoroughly enjoyable and informative way to spend an afternoon, and certainly comes highly recommended from me if something like this sounds like it may interest you. My recommendation? Keep a sharp eye on the Extraction Artisan Coffee events page (the next Appreciation Course is being run on Saturday 29 July) and social media (Facebook, Instagram) for what is coming next. The team have plans…

Recording coffee roast data – a new analogue option

Image courtesy 33 Books Co.

Though I’ve yet to get my hands on one directly, this bite from Sprudge recently caught my eye. The folk at 33 Books Co in Portland, Oregon, have just released a coffee roasting log: 33 Roasts, which looks just about perfect for an enthusiastic home roaster. Reading about this new offering triggered a few thoughts on how I’ve recorded my home roasting data in the past, and how I might continue from here.

Recording my roasts – so far

While there are many ways to record data when roasting your own green coffee, I’ve generally found analogue systems well suited to my needs, having tried digital methods on and off over the four years I’ve been roasting at home. If I could suggest one thing to someone considering having a go at home roasting, it is to record data somehow. The exact means is not important, however as trends emerge and you look to make adjustments, having something to refer back to is fairly valuable.

So how do I do it? The most obvious means of doing so given my fondness for all things analogue, is a notebook and pen. In the absence of setting up some form of more automated temperature logging and roasting software (the probe, thermocouple and roasting software based “HeatSnob” from Coffee Snobs for example), I have always relied on taking down data points manually (time, temperature and heat settings) — irrespective of whether these end up in something digital or remain on paper. After keeping things in Evernote for a short while, I ended up simply taking the relevant notes down in a pocket-sized Field Notes notebook, and have many filled to the brim with roasting records now safely stored in a shoe box.

Meaningful scrawl in a notebook

In recent months I’ve been using an infrared thermometer gun 1 to capture temperature readings, and manually entering the data on a per minute basis into a spreadsheet template I stumbled across online via the Home Barista Forum. The advantage of course being the roasting curves produced automatically as the data is entered, however I generally don’t have a look at these until the end of the roast, simply following the rate of rise by looking at the temperature change down the column as the roast progresses (also calculated automatically as I enter the raw temperature readings).

Raw data and curves

I’ve found it easier to take note of the readings rather than look at the curve, given I cannot really see it easily working in split view on my 9.7 inch iPad Air 2, with a third of the screen displaying the timer.2

Using one-third split view on iPad for the timer

I have enjoyed using this method, as I can see a visual curve of how the roast progressed, though at times it can become a little tiresome to manually capture and log the temperature readings every minute or so. Again, with dedicated, connected temperature probes this would be a breeze, however that might be a project for another time.

Why the move back to analogue then?

Well, the obvious why not? aside – even when using a spreadsheet, my notebook is always on hand, as I find in the heat of the moment around first crack, it is easier to keep an eye on things and scrawl down the time and temperature data by hand rather than worrying about entering data onto the spreadsheet. Given things can happen fairly quickly at that point in the roast, I usually fill in the blanks on the spreadsheet once the beans are out and cooling.

There are some apparent disadvantages to an analogue system in terms of search, and viewing or manipulating data, however remember we are not talking about a professional, commercial-scale roasting operation here (very far from it actually). Most times in the past I’ve flagged the great roasts and referred back to my previous records be they digital or analogue fairly easily anyway. Having recently begun creating a digital index of my analogue archives (irony not lost), I plan to get around to my roasting logs and do the same. Of course keeping on top of things like this as I go would be a much better idea. You might be surprised how easily things are found with a decently constructed and searchable index. Then again perhaps you might not, for I guess it is common sense really isn’t it.

Finally, there is a simplistic ease in opening a notebook and recording data, without setting up my iPad, opening Numbers, selecting a spreadsheet template, creating a new file, copying some tabs and then entering some preliminary information. Sure, analogue isn’t for everyone, however after using a few different systems (both digital and analogue) over the past four years, I’ve come to know what I like, what I need, and what works best for me.

Reason enough.

33 Roasts: A Coffee Roasting Log

Analogue is well… analogue. Why the need for a pre-formatted option such as this latest offering from the 33 Books company?

For one, I think they look fantastic, and the pre-formatted pages contain just about every field you might need (particularly as a home roaster), along with a notes field for any little extras. A graph to plot those data points on a curve? There as well. Add to that a ratings field for retrospectively adding tasting notes over subsequent days or weeks is also a nice touch.

Image courtesy 33 Books Co.

Speaking of nice touches — from 33 Books Co., something unable to be captured in a pixel:

A teeny, tiny amount of real freshly-roasted coffee is added to the ink in each new edition, which is cryptically noted on the back.

At 5×7 inches — or what I’d call just the right size, the log is similar to my current general note-taker in the Baron Fig Vanguard, or the new upsized Pitch Black Field Notes offering. Incidentally, one my favourite roasting logs in the past was the Field Notes Arts & Sciences edition, which came in at this same slightly larger-than-pocket size.

Signing off

In noting down these thoughts on my coffee roasting logs, of course I’ve yet to get my hands on one of those beauties from 33 Books Co., however the fine folk at Bookbinders are on the case and will come through with the goods pretty soon – of that I’m certain.

Having just taken delivery of a new coffee roaster (another post for another time), what better time to start afresh with my data logging process – and for that, the 33 Roast Log seems pretty much spot on.


  1. Although the readings lack validity, they are reliable for comparisons of minute to minute absolute temperature, and to monitor rate of rise over the course of the roast. ↩︎
  2. Yes I could indeed use my phone or some other time, however the size of the iPad screen is ideal to have the timer visible from a distance. ↩︎