In a haphazard though never-ending quest for consistently better coffee quality at home, recently I have found myself tinkering with some brewing water recipes.
Why think about the water you brew with?
Whether espresso or filter brewing, if you think about what is actually occurring – water breaking down ground coffee particles, thereby extracting flavour compounds and solids from the coffee into the water you are about to drink – it makes sense that tweaking the water not only to provide an optimal extraction and also taste better makes a whole lot of sense.
The more you read and research, it is clear a more scientific approach is being taken to many aspects of brewing, and thankfully resources exist which help the consumer at home apply at least some of them to improve the standard of our coffee. One such resource being Barista Hustle, where you can find instructions and recipes for optimising brew water at very little cost.
Why would you want to do that? Well, for very little money (ultrapure or distilled water, sodium bicarbonate and epsom salts), you can test for yourself whether you notice any difference in your coffee from the water you are currently using. Let’s face it, delving further into the science around optimal coffee brewing can at times lead to the choice between either an expensive purchase or a dead-end for the home tragic who doesn’t carry an unlimited budget for such tweaks.
My advice? give the recipes a try, and experience for yourself the astonishing difference in flavour and cup quality that using tailored brewing water provides. Again, think about what is occurring during coffee extraction and the proportion of water in the final beverage in your cup. Believe me, it is definitely worth it – particularly when you go back to basic filtered water after running out of the supply you prepared earlier!
A timely Kickstarter campaign
Maintaining my water supply is precisely why I find the Peak Water Kickstarter project so compelling, and now eagerly await the day the jug arrives on my doorstep. As I mentioned above, using a recipe and making the water yourself isn’t overly complicated – keeping enough distilled or ultrapure water on hand sometimes can be. Water can be bulky to store and buy – filter discs not so, and I’m excited at the possibility of even more easily optimising the water I use for brewing at home.
From the project page:
At the heart of Peak Water is our innovative disc filter, combining precisely calculated flow dynamics with our new ‘filter maze’ system — ensuring that your water is completely treated, every time. The filter utilises highly specific ion-exchange resins to control and manipulate bicarbonate — the variable with the greatest impact on a coffee’s cup quality — while balancing the water’s ph level and retaining crucial minerals required for great brewing.
I guess this post is part encouragement to experiment with the water you use to brew coffee with, and part suggestion to perhaps do so in the next few weeks before the Peak Water Kickstarter ends – just in case.
The maiden crop from my backyard coffee tree provided as many challenges as it did joys – yet I suppose I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Our most satisfying accomplishments generally make us work a little harder for them. The rewards? Well, just that little bit sweeter.
In toying with prospective titles for this post, one which immediately came to mind contained the words ”a producers diary”. Although (perhaps) technically correct, what is involved at scale in producing coffee, and the nature in which it supports growers, their families, and even entire communities, is a far cry from my little hobby. Such a title, even though tongue in cheek, would be a little disrespectful to those who derive their livelihood from such an endeavour.
Documented in a previous post was a chronicle of my initial foray into the art of coffee processing. On that occasion, it was a small lot picked from some of my parent’s trees which I processed, roasted, brewed, and thoroughly enjoyed. Never having processed coffee straight from a tree prior to that, it was certainly an experience which involved considerable learning by doing, albeit after a fair bit of prior reading. Of course, the most productive and effective means of knowledge acquisition was listening to my mother (something I’m sure she would confirm I was always very, very good at) – who has been processing her own coffee for many years now.
Apart from ending up with some pretty decent coffee to drink, one of the main reasons for such an undertaking back then was the coffee tree slowly growing in my own backyard. Eventually, it would also bear fruit, and with it the requirement to process the resulting crop, in the hope of ending up with something much the same in my own cup.
The Long Haul
True to the theory books – and my mother’s expectations – three years into its life the little-tree-that-could flowered and subsequently bore fruit. The next phase had finally begun, and with it, my own little vertical monopoly through the supply chain from seed to cup. Maybe not enough to retire on, but enough to at least retire to the lounge on, with a satisfying home-grown filter brew in my hand.
Growing – for the longest time
While not a photo-a-day type record, I have intermittently documented in Day One the tree’s progression from that initial planting in March 2014, and looking back it has indeed been a journey. After one year the tree was a little over 40cm tall; two years along it was 95cm; three years after planting it measured about 140cm.
Now approaching its fourth anniversary, the tree is heaving with a second crop, and is healthy and robust, standing just over two metres tall. This season’s micro-lot will be a little less micro, though I doubt I’ll need a team of pickers.
Although unable to pinpoint the exact varietal of the tree itself, it can be traced back to a small coffee farm in northern New South Wales, with a plantation of Arabica trees largely comprising the SL 34 designation. While this information no longer seems available online, we’ll proceed on that assumption, though of course it is not critical to the outcome of what follows below.
Back to the initial crop, and although I didn’t expect much, could not have been happier once the tree flowered in November of 2016. Sure enough, after a brief period sporting beautiful white flowers, in the subsequent months the buds turned into green fruit, followed by further development and ripening. “They’ll be ready in about eight months,” said my mother. In the middle of 2017 (precisely eight months later), many of the cherries had turned a beautiful deep red, and in July picking began in earnest.
With the cherries reaching peak ripeness at slightly different rates, picking occurred over four successive weekends into the beginning of August, and processing followed in a similar way. The entire useable crop in whole cherry form weighed in at approximately 700g. Interestingly, this provided just under 100g of green beans (or 14% of the cherry weight) once processing and drying had been completed.
Although expected, this dramatic reduction certainly gave me pause. Thinking about the sheer volume of coffee consumed around the globe and the amount which must be grown to service this demand boggles the mind a little.
At this juncture, I must admit to never having been the most attentive gardener, and the timely watering, fertilising and general care was more regularly applied by my understanding wife than by yours truly. As I find with most things, to say I could not have done it without her is as much an expression of gratitude as a statement of fact.
Success! That little tree grew, flowered and produced a decent crop of fruit.
Given the small (tiny!) yield I would be working with, the decision was made early on in the piece to process the crop using the washed method. Having successfully utilised this method in the past, I was fairly confident of doing so again. Washed processing also leaves less to chance (at least to this amateur) with variables such as optimal drying time and weather conditions compared to dry processing techniques.
While it is tempting to use other methods or even compare a washed process sample with a naturally processed one, perhaps that is for another year when the yield is much higher. Having detailed the washed processing method more extensively in a previous post, I will not restate things in detail, however should this be of interest – that link again:
Over a number of weeks, I fastidiously worked my way through pulp removal, rinsing, and soaking/fermenting the beans in water to remove the sticky exterior mucilage before laying them out to dry. Once dry, the remaining husk or parchment was removed, followed by a couple of weeks additional drying time to reduce the moisture content, and we were then ready to roast.
With each processing step resulting in ever diminishing returns as far as the overall crop weight was concerned, a further 10–15% was about to vanish into thin air with the usual moisture loss of roasting.
Now roasting a batch of green stock weighing a drum-busting 98 grams was always going to be a delicate proposition, and to be honest I’m equal parts pleased and relieved with how things turned out.
A little forward thinking about how I would be brewing, dictated the planned level of roast. If we think about it, 98 grams of green equals 80-something roasted. A grinder purge, then dialling in an espresso say, at 20g – even nailing it on the second round – and I’m through roughly 50 grams already. Once more and I’m pretty much done. Filter brewing with a V60 at my usual 16 or 22 gram dose, I am looking at four or five brews with minimal loss at the front end dialling in.
So with a filter roast profile in mind, a bright spring day saw the Behmor 1600 Plus set up, warmed up, and loaded with green coffee, not five metres from where it was grown. Very satisfying to think about as I sit here and write these words.
As I alluded to above, things went pretty well with the roast, yet as I come to the point of describing it for you in a little more detail, now realise I’ve thrown out my notes. Correct. For all the nerdy note taking and piles of notebooks and paper around here, I’ve called my own organisational bluff and thrown them out when tidying things up, inadvertently not scanning them first as I usually do.
I do recall the roast was quite short (as you’d expect with such a starting weight), somewhere in the order of about seven and a half minutes, or maybe 7:45, with first crack at about 6:30. The overall development time ratio would be around 16% or so. I do remember thinking at the time I’d have preferred a slightly longer overall roast time and additional development subsequent to first crack, however as you can imagine, was a little paranoid about taking them too far and losing the lot.
A delicate balance between enough for adequate development, without scorching the exterior of those oh-so-valuable green beans. The final yield? A no-bag-too-small 88 grams of freshly roasted goodness, ready to rest for a week or so before brewing.
With a sigh of relief at having navigated perhaps one of the shortest, yet most stressful part of the journey, I was safe in the knowledge brewing would be a somewhat more relaxing process.
They say the proof is in the cup, and I must admit to receiving a pleasant surprise here. Sure, I didn’t set the coffee flavour wheel spinning, however filter brewing with a V60 provided a sweet, delicate cup. Not knowing what to expect, my first sip drew an audible laugh and a wow – that’s actually not too bad.
I can be well satisfied in saying I’ve managed to produce a light to medium bodied coffee, which is quite well-balanced, sweet, and carrying flavours of chocolate, with a hint of spice. For all the effort which came before it – I’d say it was just about perfect.
There are only so many ways to stretch out 88 grams of roasted coffee, however what I did manage to consume over the subsequent fortnight was both enjoyable and highly rewarding nonetheless.
Three years ago I planted two small coffee seedlings in our garden near the back fence. Although one didn’t make it, the other flourished.
At the other end of that same garden is a lemon tree, which is also bearing a nice crop of fruit. It is there any similarity ends. The lemons will grow, ripen, and once picked, be ready to use – job done.
The coffee? Once ripe and picked from the tree, things are only just beginning. From that point on, there are all manner of ways to ruin it. Even if we do eventually make it through the processing, drying, roasting, storage, and brewing without robbing it of too much quality at each step – have we presented in the cup the best version of what that coffee is, or what it has the potential to be?
On this occasion, I’m hopeful I did somewhat of a reasonable job, although if the answer was a flat-out yes, then the motivation to improve on the next go around perhaps drops off a little. As I look out the window now and see a thriving tree filled with green fruit, I’m determined this next crop will not only be bigger – it will be a whole lot better as well.
Depending on who or what you follow online these days, you‘ve likely seen NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) mentioned as the month of November approached. With things having kicked off on November 1st, the progressive daily word counts are now beginning to appear in my social media feeds. To those participating this year, I wish you every success, and to those “I’m already behind” tweets – where there is a will there remains hope – a thought which worked for me a few years ago.
While not diving into the full NaNo experience myself this year, I’ve decided to take a slightly different approach (though I’m not sure whether to suggest its an easier or more difficult one), and revise the 55k words I committed to pixel and paper in 2014. At the time, I wrote a couple of posts on the tools I used to get there, and a quick search of the term NaNoWriMo on this blog will pull up a few posts outlining how I managed to fall over the 50k word deadline before month’s end.
Memories of how November went in 2014 fall somewhere on a continuum between I never want to do that again and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Where my thinking lies on that continuum varies day-to-day, however one thought always remained – I never quite finished it. Sure, the actual story or first draft is finished – it has just never been revised and edited. You know… finished.
Have I not had the time over the intervening three years to read, revise and improve on that initial effort? Absolutely. Just couldn’t do it. I even started a couple of times only to be thwarted by some innate inability to read my own work, let alone embrace the apparent enormity of the task.
So why now? A very good question, though perhaps not as good as the one which asks: what makes you think you can do it this time?. To be honest I’m not entirely sure I can, however in my own mind am a little more definitive about giving it a go this time. After all – I have a plan!
Three years on, the statute of limitation seems to have expired on those feelings of oh wow… I can’t read this, so away we go I guess. Besides, is it not the least I can do after having put my mother through proof reading and editorial duties the first time around?
Diving into a river of bad grammar, poor punctuation, and let’s face it – a somewhat dubious plot line and story structure requires some sort of plan.
I have 55,000 words over 32 chapters, so the common sense approach would seem to be about one chapter per day. With reference to my Tools below, I plan to make a first pass through each chapter making corrections and notations by hand, subsequently transferring those to digital form.
Being relatively confident I will get through the initial markup, my fear is becoming bogged down in rewriting and larger changes. Should this be the case I think I’ll leave any major section rewrites to a later time if things head too far in that direction (says he who sets himself up for failure: hmmm…yes, that’s too time consuming – I’ll just do that bit later…).
With reference to those previous posts about the tools used in creating the first draft, I might simply argue if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, however that would be oversimplifying things a little. The fact is I tend to proof and revise things far more efficiently and effectively in a very different format to what they were written in, and am of course far from alone in this way of thinking.
At the very least this takes the form of a text editor’s preview pane or say, Marked 2, in an entirely different theme to the editor pane itself. Better yet, with the physically printed word I am able to hold and manually scratch, scrawl, and mark up or annotate by hand. I don’t believe I am necessarily in the minority with this type of approach either, however perhaps a generation of digital only writers, editors and reviewers are now on the scene, and I would be considered a “throwback”. If not the case already, that time certainly cannot be far away.
In any event, given my reticence to get stuck into this task in the past, I’d suggest I am in need of selecting not only the best tools for the job, but those most likely to maximise my chances of success.
Pen and paper
For all of the notebook and paper reviews I’ve done extolling the virtues of my favourite types, the manuscript is printed out on standard office copy paper. Yes I know – I thank you for your kind thoughts and commiseration, however do believe I’ll cope. Strangely enough, my previously abandoned attempt at this task found the paper – while nothing to write home about – certainly usable.
I cannot recall the pen I was using, however the J. Herbin Orange Indien ink feathered just a little, and demonstrates some show through, however I’m simply taking anything I can see through the page as a sign of progress. I’m here to mark up, and can see it’s mark up I’ve done – a positive approach I’ll run with as far as it takes me.
This time around, I’ve settled on Montblanc William Shakespeare Velvet Red, ably distributed by a Pilot Custom Heritage 91 and its FM nib. The Shakespeare is my most recent ink acquisition, and seems perfect for the task in that it isn’t too bright, yet stands out from the printed black ink. I’ll leave it to your imagination whether I’m perhaps trying to channel some other form of inspiration with this choice as well…
The pen? Well it really could have been any of a number of choices, though in the end the FM nib squeezes my corrections and notes in and around those tighter spaces, as well as minimising feathering given its relatively restrained ink flow. The maroon with silver trim simply seemed like a good fit for the ink colour – or perhaps I thought it would set a creative mood?
If I’m to make a permanent record of any of these planned improvements, a digital element to this process is rather important. The choice here was easy, despite the significance of throwing 55 thousand words in a text editor, needing robust iOS syncing (I’m using Dropbox), and trusting my hard work will be safe, saved and ready to go anywhere over the next 30 days.
You may be thinking I’ve said the choice was easy given my loyalty to Ulysses for writing over the past three years, however given the title of this section, clearly that isn’t what I mean. I began using Ulysses through the promo trial for NaNoWriMo back in 2014. Fitting then that I’ll be testing something different this time.
My reference to the choice being easy, simply relates to a recommendation from a very good online friend who has helped immeasurably in much of my Mac related development over the past couple of years. I still maintain the best thing to come out of this blogging caper are the people you become acquainted with as a result. So, when someone whose opinion you highly respect makes an app recommendation, I feel it is well worth trying out.
Armed with the Pro version of MultiMarkdown Composer v4, I am ready to work through and make any necessary adjustments or rewrites. As you can see, I have dropped the text into a Markdown file, and MMC4’s Table of Contents provides me with a nice sidebar view of my chapters. Although arguably possessing a few less bells and whistles than Ulysses, MMC4 provides everything I need for the task at hand. It’s a robust and powerful text editor, and if that isn’t what I need for the task at hand then I’m clearly approaching this all wrong.
I’m also interested so see how the iOS Files app handles Dropbox syncing when I use Byword on my iPad to squeeze in a few updates at lunch time. A few days in I can report so far so good. It would however be remiss of me not to mention encountering more than a couple of Byword crashes when using Copied in split view on my iPad (Air 2 running iOS 11.1) putting this post together.
Enough talking, as the time to commence reading, critiquing and rewriting has already passed. I’ve indeed made a start, however am yet to convince myself that my will is strong enough to push on and get this done in a month. I’d like to at least think I can make one complete pass through with pen in hand – even if the rewriting comes a little later.
To all of those creative and motivated souls who’ve dived headlong towards the 50k word target, I wish you well. While its fair to say I have a certain reticence towards fully editing my first draft, I’m certainly glad I managed to create it.
Anyway – it can’t be that bad. My mother wouldn’t lie would she…?
The title of this post may just as well have been A Surprising and Very Generous Gift, given the pen recently turned up out of the blue in my letter box. These types of things will occasionally happen when good friends stop by the Lamy store in the company’s home town of Heidelberg, Germany, though it certainly doesn’t make me any less grateful a recipient.
Written correspondence between myself and said good friend, is often filled with pen related matters — some of which in recent times has centred around this particular pen when he spotted it at a Lamy exhibition in Frankfurt late last year. It was then titled the JM1 (for reasons now apparent), and slated for release in 2017.
So, on the receiving end of a very kind and generous “this is that pen we were talking about, see what you think” — what follows is, well… what I think.
Look and feel
I’ll be honest with you. Upon arriving home from work and picking up the pen my first thoughts were: wow, its bigger and heavier than I expected; gee I hope I can use this; and I think there will be many who won’t like it. To be entirely honest I wasn’t overly keen on it myself.
In the few days and weeks that followed, much to my absolute surprise, this opinion completely turned around. Ultimately I cannot speak for how it may or may not suit other pen people’s tastes or writing styles, though it quickly aligned with mine.
So right from the outset, I’ll make it clear I’ve many positive things to say about this pen, however didn’t know I’d love it until I used it… a lot. Had you asked me the same question on the first day or two, it would have been a very different story, which perhaps doesn’t bode well for a quick in-store test if someone were considering a purchase.
Those initial first impressions were influenced somewhat by the product shots I’d seen, which to me, were of a pen somewhere in the Lamy 2000 size range (comparisons to which are inevitable, and for frame of reference I’ll run with that at times in this post). In reality, its bigger, and a lot heavier. I’d also go so far as to say it feels even bigger and heavier than what it actually is when compared to the 2000.
First thought: this will be too heavy for any long form writing.
Reality after more use: the balance makes it perfect for longer writing sessions and I’ve found it as comfortable as many of my other favourites.
First thought: this design doesn’t seem to be a huge departure from the overall theme you see in some of Lamy’s other pens.
Reality after a little reading: oh… I get it. That’s absolutely spot on then.
A little more on that.
Lamy’s design aims
Sidenote: I am not much of a designer so take the following within that context — though I guess I am a consumer with an opinion.
Probably a relevant question here is whether I should be required to research the manufacturer’s PR release or product sheet about a pen to know whether I like it or not? The answer of course is no, though in doing a little reading I did find I developed a better understanding of what appears to be scope and philosophy of the design behind the Lamy aion.
Whether it is a decent pen or not is another, more straightforward question entirely, which I’ll deal with in other parts of the post. I say straightforward simply because that is largely a matter of personal opinion and preference, and I’m happy to outline my thoughts on that.
Lamy seems to cop its fair share of criticism for releases which may be seen as less than innovative or not different enough for some tastes, and though I could be wrong, think it is inevitable the aion may be seen in the same light.
Again, whether the design and functionality of the pen suit your particular preference is entirely for you to determine, however as for the merits of the design or Lamy’s decisions in general, perhaps a little background and context is helpful.
Disagreeing with the design of something does not make the design wrong, nor prove the company got it wrong, and perhaps most importantly — does not make you wrong. It simply means it’s not suited to your style, taste, or how you may use the particular product from a functional perspective.
Its success story began over 50 years ago with the LAMY 2000: in 1966, the model established the clear and unmistakeable design which still defines the style of all the brand’s products today – the Lamy design.
On working with Jasper Morrison:
Designed by the British industrial designer, Jasper Morrison, this is absolutely in harmony with his conviction that good design is maximally simple – yet, at the same time, maximally functional.
About the aion:
…epitomises the Lamy design
…this is minimalist
An attitude absolutely compatible with the design principles of the LAMY brand…
There are many more quotes I could pull from the three pages of information on the pen, and of course any of the above can be debated on their own merit (particularly how maximally functional the pen may or may not be). I do think however, Lamy has — and probably always have — clearly shown their views on what these types of statements represent to them, and largely banked what appears to be a very successful company on them.
If that is the aim, kudos to Lamy. Kudos to Jasper Morrison, who appears to have nailed the brief.
There will invariably be different views on what is modern, minimalist and functional — as there should be. There will be those who prefer pens with perhaps a bit more flair, colour and variety, and not derived from a familiar theme — as there should be.
Notwithstanding the above, I think Lamy has successfully achieved what they set out to create. No pen is for everyone, and individuality both in opinion and purchasing makes this hobby what it is after all.
Back to matters at hand.
The aion comes in two colours: black and olivesilver (yes — one word). Though I expect an eyebrow or two to be raised over the naming here — to be honest, does it really matter? I say no — particularly if you’ve checked the names of car colours, house paint or even fountain pen ink offerings lately (none of which I have any issues with either mind you).
As you can see from the images, the model I have is black, which as you would expect is darker than the 2000’s makrolon. The matte and anodised finish, while not as dark as your high gloss resin pens, as you’d expect doesn’t reflect the light like those either. The only contrast to the barrel are the silver nib and spring-loaded Lamy clip.
As far as the shape is concerned, there is no real taper to speak of in the cap, a minor one nearing the top of the pen, and a slightly more pronounced one as the grip approaches the nib. As you can see from the comparison table and image, at its widest point, the Lamy 2000 carries similar girth to the aion, however once the 2000’s taper begins (towards either end), any similarity quickly ends.
I’d tend to agree with the sleek, modern, minimalist group of descriptions you’d find on the Lamy product page. Yes, the aion is created in the spirit of the 2000, however the brushed aluminium and matte finished aion is a very different pen in its own right.
A little more on the construction from Lamy:
…the aluminium housing elements are formed by deep-drawing. The surface structuring is computer-controlled by robot-supported grinding. For its unique finish, the components of the LAMY aion are first brushed, stained, polished and, in the case of the grip, blasted and then finally anodised.
For a firsthand look at the manufacturing process, I refer you to the aion product page which contains a video demonstrating these steps in the pen’s construction. Precision and quality control are words which come to mind when viewing.
There is slight change in both the appearance and texture between the grip and the rest of the barrel. To me, the anodised grip feels a little smoother than the matte-finished barrel, though I have not found any issues with grip or control when writing.
At the junction of the two (which unscrews to allow access to the cartridge or converter), the small seam can be felt by a finger running back and forth across it, however is imperceptible during use. Given the change in texture, having a seam probably makes no material difference, so to sound somewhat ridiculous, the seam is probably as seamless as you could find, with the exception of those on the 2000 which are effectively invisible when closed.
The cap can be posted (as Lamy’s product images show), however to do so feels impossibly heavy to write with, and thankfully more than enough length exists in the pen to use it without posting the cap. While we’re on the cap, the snap closure is a very solid one, requiring some force to disengage, almost preventing a thumb and forefinger one-handed snap-off which I tend to do on occasion.
A couple of other points to note here. When snapped on, the cap itself spins freely, and if I shake the pen there is a small rattle between the cap and the body. As I’ve mentioned, there is certainly no danger of it coming loose, however there is some play there. Whether this is the case as standard or simply on this particular pen I’m not 100% sure, however seem to recall something similar mentioned on Reddit. Occasionally when recapping the pen, I need to slightly readjust my direction before the cap snaps home.
Though I point these things out, I have no great issues with them in day-to-day use, where pen performance and writing comfort are more important to me anyway.
The aion series of fountain pens are fitted with a steel mono colour nib in silver, which although very similar, is a departure from the usual form, as you can see from the comparison image below.
Lamy describes the nib unit:
For the first time, a Lamy fountain pen has been equipped with a series-exclusive, newly-formed nib. Jasper Morrison gave it an unconventionally-proportioned outline, thus giving the writing instrument an avant-garde character
Although I perhaps wouldn’t go that far in my description (don’t think I’ve ever referred to anything as avant-garde), it is certainly something new for Lamy, and I actually quite like the nib shape (more on writing performance later in the post). While I don’t necessary think one of the original Lamy nibs would look out of place on the aion, to my eye the broader “shoulders” of the tines certainly suit the fuller overall profile of the pen.
The remainder of the nib as it fits into the housing appears to be identical to the Lamy nib units we are all familiar with, and from what I have read (again via Reddit), a Lamy rep somewhere has confirmed it can be swapped with other Lamy nibs in the usual way.
In any event, when talking nib shape, a picture certainly will provide you with far more than my words, so I’ll end this here. In doing so though, again even if not something extraordinarily new — kudos to Lamy for providing something different, which I’d say successfully ties in with the overall design of the pen.
Though the key points in relation to the specifications remain the size and overall weight, in isolation these are only chapters of the story. A story which is only complete when balance and function put them together. That said, this certainly isn’t a pen you’d carry in a shirt pocket all day.
If you click-through to the Goblet Pens page, you will see the aion carries a list price of US$71.20 with a MRSP of US$89.00.
Although a conversion to Australian dollars at the time of writing is just over the AU$100 mark, I would be loathe to make any strong prediction as to the actual cost here (which would also be a little unfair to local retailers), given various other factors which may be involved in setting local prices.
At the time of writing, my favourite local retailer in Brisbane’s CBD had not any word through on price or release date.
Or in other words, the money ball. Design scope and brief, construction, finish and marketing aside. Its a pen. It needs to write, and write well or we’ve really got nothing much have we.
The aion certainly does that — and does it in spades. This is a fantastic nib. A stock standard steel nib (albeit in a newer shape), and it writes like a dream if given the best opportunity. I have a blue Lamy cartridge providing the ink, and as far as I can recall, there have been no false starts, skips, or holidays in any strokes over that time. It produces a wet, full, vibrant line and continues to do so for as long as you need it to.
The overall feel of the nib is firm, and takes some pressure to increase the line widths, however I do not find that aspect much different to the other Lamy steel nibs I use from time to time. I’d also mention here, that the only time I’ve found the sweet spot more difficult to find is when I’ve used a slightly heavier hand with the pen.
The real joy in using the aion comes from a fairly high, light grip, and having the weight and balance work for you. Don’t choke down and micromanage those letters and I think you’ll likely find the same. It needs a loose rather than tight rein, and is the “opportunity” I mentioned above. In a pen body sans threads, bands or steps, you really have the option of any grip point you like, and its worth adjusting things a little to see what placement suits the balance of the pen.
Of course we all have our own styles of writing, and if the above doesn’t sound like something amenable to yours, I wouldn’t say this pen is not for you, however I’d give it a thorough test prior to purchasing if that is at all possible. I acknowledge though, in many cases it often is not.
I received this pen in the mail on the 1st of August, and as I finalise this post, it has had what is now approaching four weeks of solid use. I mention this simply because that is generally a far shorter time period than for other pens I write about here.
Having been lucky enough to have had the opportunity to use the pen prior to its wider release, I’m hoping this post may be of some assistance to readers who may consider purchasing the pen once it does hit the shelves.
As I’ve mentioned in other posts, most of my pens are either shorter idea-jotters/notetakers, or longer form writers, as I find some pens just aren’t comfortable over longer periods of use. On the day of receipt and for a couple after, I must admit the aion was almost chained immediately to the notetaker pole. There was no way this hefty thing would leave my hand ache-free over a multiple page letter or blog post draft.
Once those initial few days had passed however, it was moved firmly into the long form writer camp, and after a couple of weeks, resides with those pens I’d likely use more often than some of the others. A pen like this one will always default to a notetaker until proven otherwise, which, in continuing to surprise me to this day, is exactly what happened.
I’ve found the overall balance (unposted) to essentially negate the weight of the pen, making it effortless to use over multiple pages. Not only that, it encourages me to use a lighter grip and more fluid writing motion — something which I often struggle a little to maintain. Of course your personal writing style is likely to be vastly different to mine, so consider this simply one viewpoint on the matter.
Is it that good? Well in my view, for the price point it certainly is a great pen with a great nib. Will it be great for you? That I cannot be certain of, and the thing I wish to emphasise here is the key to all of this I guess: for me, the aion is that good because it’s simply that suitable for how I use it to write.
Remember, you are reading the blog of someone who isn’t as fond of the Lamy Safari as many readers probably are. Great pens no doubt — just not a great fit for me. Each to their own, and I think in the coming months we will find strong opinions both ways as the Lamy aion gets into more hands.
Whether I’m reading or writing them, I’ve always approached pen posts as tales of subjectivity, with really only a table of specs to the contrary.
After all, the look and feel? My opinion. The weight, balance and what the pen is good for? My opinion — on how it suits me and what I tend to use it for. An underperforming nib is perhaps an exception, but its general characteristics? Just as much what I personally prefer as anything.
And so it continues here. As you can tell from probably too many words above, I like this pen — a lot. Initially? I didn’t like it very much at all. As surprised as I was (and still am), the aion has certainly made an impression by completely flipping my initial views on their head, and I cannot help but think that means something.
Perhaps that is the epitome of great design. Perhaps it is something less profound (ideal weight, a great nib and solid performance). Whatever it is, I’ll take more of it, and although many will say: “this pen is not for me” — I won’t be one of them, and what a positive outcome that is.
My thoughts about Lamy’s design intentions are certainly just that — my thoughts, however regardless of how you view this pen, I’d argue Lamy have achieved what they set out to create. In the end, whether that achievement is enough to add the aion to your collection, only you can answer. In any event, it won’t be long before the question is asked.
Upon seeing these correspondence notepads arrive in stock at Bookbinders several months ago, I had no hesitation in adding one to my shopping list for the next store visit. With my fondness for the Masuya paper in the Monokaki Notebook line well-known to readers here, it wasn’t a difficult decision to pick up another product containing that same paper stock.
Of course there is always the possibility of slight differences in the feel of a paper when presented in a different format, and I wasn’t completely certain about the 12mm line spacing in relation to my writing style either.
After finally visiting the store a few weeks ago (yes I could have bought them online — but what’s not to love about visiting an actual stationery store), as you can imagine — I needn’t have been concerned.
Look and feel
In summary, this is your standard B5 sized notepad designed for use in written correspondence.
Packaged in the commonly used cellophane clear wrap, that new stationery aroma hits you upon opening. I don’t think anyone would disagree that on first tactile impressions, the feel is one of a quality product.
Visually, the overall aesthetic is one of elegance with a touch of the old school conservative about it — for want of a better term. I quite like the maroon (or burgundy I suppose) cover with white trim, though perhaps the gold embossed bordering around the branding may not have been necessary. The maroon and gold combination does provide a certain “regalness”, and despite my personal preferences around these types of things, minor aspects relating to appearance aren’t overly bothersome to me one way or the other.
Overall? I think it looks great.
The back cover is made of the stiffest card stock you’ll find, and though you could say is perhaps overdone, is indicative of the overall quality in the notepad itself. Further branding, other details, and the made in Japan stamp appear across the top on the front cover overlap.
The pages themselves are glue bound at the top, with the cover opening up and away from the binding. There are no pre-folds or breaks for specifically folding back the cover (a la Rhodia notepads), however if you were a little pushed for space the cover will fold back easily. The only caveat here is the blotting sheet may come adrift if that is also folded back, effectively being attached as the first sheet of the notepad.
When used on my desk at home I generally prefer to leave the cover open above the page.
As I’ve mentioned above, the front of the notepad contains a stiffened sheet providing a blotting paper between the actual cover and first written page.
The Yuga Letter Pad contains the same Masuya paper as the Monokaki notebooks — the lightweight, cream-coloured lined pages, this time have a spacing of 12mm (the notebook being 9mm) in the familiar soft grey tone. The manufacturer’s basis for the cream coloured paper via Bookbinders:
It was developed in a cream colour to reduce eye strain when writing at night as the light does not reflect as brightly
I can attest to the nature of the paper under light, given most of my writing is done very early in the morning under a small LED white lamp, and with many other paper types there is occasionally some readjusting of position due to glare — not so the Yuga Letter Pad. It indeed provides a very soft return to any light source.
My concerns over the line spacing mentioned earlier in the post were ill-founded, with the 12mm distance looking a lot broader on a blank page than a written one. I recall having similar thoughts before laying ink down in the Monokaki Notebook as well.
Despite my best intentions, at times, a few pages into a letter my handwriting can become a little — shall we say — unwieldy, and I believe this measure of spacing facilitates a certain amount of readability for the recipient. As with many paper types, the lines themselves fade into the background once the page is filled with words.
A little more on this in Writing Performance below.
I’ve estimated previously the Masuya paper is around the 60 gsm mark, and have yet to find anything confirming this. Based on the known weights of other paper and Tomoe River at 52 gsm, as a ballpark figure that is certainly what it feels like, hopefully providing you with some idea of the lightweight nature of Masuya paper.
A little background on the origins of this paper, including how it was ”made for writers” can be found in the product details on the Bookbinders website.
After uncapping a fountain pen and writing those first few strokes, any concerns I had about whether the paper would be Monokaki notebook-like melted away immediately. It’s as good as it should be. As good as I expected. Why I had doubts in the first place I’m not sure – its Masuya paper after all.
In the end, my biggest challenge (if you could call it that) came in determining whether to overwrite each end of the pre-printed soft grey lines, given there is an invisible margin around the border where the line ruling stops more than 20mm from each end (okay, so I did measure it — 23mm if you must know). Each to their own here, however to close out this thought, I decided on about a 10mm left margin and will essentially write completely to the right hand end of the page.
Look, really, the paper is exactly as I found it in the notebook — much to my overwhelming joy! I’ve written about it before, it remains my favourite, so I will keep things brief.
There is a moderate amount of show-through with certain pens and inks; there is the perfect amount (that is, just enough) tooth for my liking, and remember – just about all of the descriptors you’d use for Tomoe River paper also apply here — as described after my first encounter with the paper in the Monokaki notebook:
Light weight paper, smooth without the slip, handles pretty much every ink and nib, a little show through yet no bleed or feathering.
Of course the difference here being the show through may or may not be an issue depending on whether you prefer to write on both sides of the paper. Although seen through the page, there are no printed lines on the reverse of each sheet, so it appears the manufacturer has a certain view on their preferred approach here.
My personal approach has always been to write on both sides of notebook pages regardless of show through, however with correspondence I generally do not. On the subject of the Yuga Letter Pad, this approach takes care of any show-through aversion you may have — just not perhaps the cost per sheet. Exactly how relevant that might be is a decision for you to make (further on this below).
A quick word on the concerns about line spacing I mentioned above. At 12mm spacing and 18 lines per page, the calculation to compare it with the 6mm, 34 lines per page Daiso Report Pad is fairly simple. Particularly when I tell you with the smaller spacing I only use every second line — rendering things near identical on this point.
Now is also a good time to take this comparison a little further.
Use case and a small comparison
Versus the cheap Daiso Report Pad
So how does it compare with the $2.80 Daiso B5 Complete Report Pad I have previously been using for correspondence for some time now? Based on price, the difference here is a significant order of magnitude to say the least.
With Daiso’s Report Pad containing 100 sheets at a $2.80 price point ($0.028 per sheet), something like the Yuga is never going to come close at $19.90 for 50 sheets ($0.40 per sheet). Now having done exactly that, I will say comparing them in such a way probably misses the point a little.
On that score, for a far better explanation on the concept of value, may I refer you to Dr Jonathon Deans on the Pen Economics Blog, (though on quite a different scale, insert notepad for pen here):
It’s also not possible to talk about actual vs perceived value, as all value is perceived: there is no innate, objective, actual value for us to measure. In more technical terms, value can be understood as how much you would be willing to pay for a pen, and there’s no objective way of saying a certain number is how much you should be willing to pay for a pen
So, in relation to the subject notepad in this post, I know what I’m willing to pay, however would certainly never assume to know what you, or anyone else should be willing to pay.
So by comparison, is the Yuga Letter Pad a significantly better experience?
For me personally? Absolutely yes. I’d even go further to say I would not have been surprised had it arrived at a $24.90 price point as opposed to the $19.90 it sits at currently. In the same breath, I would of course not necessarily enjoy paying more, however simply make this observation (at the same time imagining in my mind the good folk at Bookbinders saying: oh Peter, we’d never do that…)
Can that be quantified and applied to another user’s perspective? Perhaps, however quite a number of personal preferences and other factors would require accounting for with such an endeavour.
Then of course there is the far simpler: just go ahead and treat yourself approach. Certainly one I’ve been known to follow quite successfully. Far easier to do with a $20.00 notepad than a $200.00 pen of course (though admittedly — even easier with a $2.80 notepad…).
Having written about the more than capable and far cheaper Daiso Report Pad in a previous post, I still admire its ability for letter writing with a fountain pen at such a low price point. Of course in a blind side by side “what’s best” comparison, you’d pick the more expensive Yuga Letter Pad in an instant, however as I’ve alluded to above, that’s not the entire story.
Yes, the Yuga Letter Pad is definitely worth the money in my humble opinion, however at the end of the day, future letter-writing me will probably use both… or something else.
After all, there will be plenty of correspondence written in the years to come, and no doubt I’ll test out plenty of other paper during that time as well. So to conclude things here and perhaps confound this entire section just a little: Masuya paper is my favourite paper — simple as that.
As for the overall use case of note paper like this — you can probably take its title in the most literal sense. This will sit on my desk, be intermittently filled with words and sent to those good friends who receive letters from me from time to time. I don’t think I’m really going to provide any novel suggestions here — nor do you need any. It’s a letter writing pad, and is perfectly suited to precisely that task.
Whereas something like a Rhodia No. 16 notepad may suit equally well for general note taking, testing your new inks or more formal written correspondence, the Yuga Letter Pad appears to have a somewhat more defined role. Of course you could use it for anything you like. I mean let’s face it — pages torn from a spiral notebook will just as easily carry your words across the globe in an envelope.
My intention here is to simply point out (again considering price point), you would not likely pick up the Yuga for scribbling down some random notes and a phone number. It will, however be more than capable for whatever you do throw at it.
Having now arrived at this point of the post, I must invariably give you some final thoughts. Interestingly, the further I progressed through the post, I became increasingly unsure of what those might be.
Uncertainty not through any reservation about the paper or letter pad itself — nor the price for that matter. Which in the end I think is precisely the point. With so many options at just about every price point available these days, there really is no single answer. A post such as this will only ever end with the same recommendation: I love this paper, go buy it! So many choices, yet seemingly no choice all at the same time — that is, you simply have to go and buy some yourself, otherwise you’ll be missing out.
That, of course, is not really the case at all is it?
The other little voice in my ear? The cost benefit analysis when compared with cheaper paper as I’ve discussed above. If you are a Tomoe River paper buyer, you won’t bat an eyelid. If Rhodia is a stretch — then the price may give you momentary pause.
Any further assumptions on my part here would be a fool’s errand.
If you do choose to buy some, wield a fountain pen with any great regularity, and correspond with others who do the same, send a few blank sheets with your next letter. I’m sure the recipient will thank you.
In closing, I will say the Yuga Letter Pad is a high quality, well designed and constructed correspondence notepad with wonderful paper (did I mention it’s my favourite?) for the fountain pen user. Although not a budget option, in my opinion belies its price point ever so slightly — and for me at least — that’s value.