How to crush 2022, make better coffee, and enjoy happy relationships
I hope 2022 has started well for you. I’m easing into it by tackling jobs I had put on hold because I was too busy, so I’m starting the year a little behind where I would like to be.
Reflecting on last year, I achieved less than I hoped. My idea for an online training product didn’t happen because my interest wasn’t strong enough to see me through the research phase. Instead, I started building the foundation for a copywriting and copyediting service but lost momentum after a couple of projects, mainly due to lack of time and an accompanying burnout due to a hectic summer workload.
The downtime over the holidays has given me a chance for some much-needed rest, and I’m experimenting with a new sleep regimen for my son that seems to be helping everyone in the family get a better night’s sleep. So, while I feel like I’m starting the year more under-prepared than I would like, I feel considerably more well-rested and relaxed than I did a few weeks back. Things are moving in the right direction, and I’m looking to pick things up with the writing service again soon.
Hopefully, some of what I share today can help your year move in the right direction too.
How to crush 2022
First up, here’s a wickedly simple way to have an amazing year. All you have to do is one thing:
Make a list of everything you know you should do but are afraid to. Got it? Simple, right?
Now, here’s the killer part: write **To Do** at the top of the page. This is now your task list for the year. Pin it somewhere you will see every day. Start working through it, and watch your life change.
Yeah, I said it was simple, but I didn’t say it was easy. Sorry, not sorry. Seriously though, the main thing that holds most people back is fear. If we prioritise the things we fear the most and find the courage to overcome them, we are guaranteed to have breakthroughs in life.
Consider this a challenge from me. I hope you take me up on it.
Is the bull run over?
Feels like forever since I’ve written anything about personal finance or investing, but a couple of things caught my attention over the holidays, both of which have made me hesitant to invest in anything right now.
First, this video from the excellent New Money (one of my favourite YouTube channels). It highlights a leading indicator that suggests the market is approaching another top and may be due for a correction.
Now, people have been top-calling the current market for the last couple of years, but I will definitely be keeping my powder dry and watching it closely over the coming weeks. As Warren Buffett once said, “The stock market is a device for transferring money from the impatient to the patient.” Right now, I’m being patient.
(*A polite reminder here that I am not an investment advisor and am sharing this for information and entertainment purposes only.)
The secret to happy relationships
This Atlantic article on relationships was one of my favourite holiday reads. It turns out that the secret to love is just kindness—more specifically, small, regular acts of kindness. The piece is a few years old, but its advice is timeless.
How to level up your coffee game
I am a huge coffee lover (‘addict’ is probably a more accurate term at this point). And, ever since I was introduced to real coffee in my teens, I’ve been on a quest for the perfect cup. In that time, I’ve learned a few things. Here’s my advice for making delicious coffee at home.
The biggest bang for your buck is to buy whole beans instead of ground coffee. Years ago, I once had an incredible cup of coffee at a friend’s house. I asked him what brand of coffee it was, and he said it was the cheapest supermarket beans he could find. The trick, it turns out, is to grind the beans just before you make the coffee, so it’s as fresh as possible. And, to prolong their freshness, store your beans in the freezer.
Once you start buying beans like a true coffee connoisseur, your first investment should be a grinder. A basic electric model will suffice (I have this one, which does the job)—but, if you want to get fancy, get a burr grinder, which will give you greater control over the exact fineness of the grounds. Speaking of which, the consistency of your grounds will affect how your coffee turns out. You want it to be like fine sand, not coarse and lumpy, and not like a fine powder. That is the Goldilocks zone.
Now you have fresh, perfectly ground coffee, you need to know what to put it in. My advice—ditch the cafetiere (aka a “french press). I made coffee with a cafetiere all through my rookie years, but I’ll never do so again. After many side-by-side comparisons with other methods, I’ve found cafetieres give the worst results by far; producing bitter and insipid coffee. This is because extracting the maximum flavour from the grounds requires the water to pass through them with pressure, and you don’t get any pressure in a cafetiere. Instead, you need to use one of three devices:
- A traditional stovetop espresso maker
- An electric coffee machine
- An Aeropress
I don’t have much experience with a traditional stovetop device, so I can’t comment on their pros and cons. But I have plenty of experience with the other two, and I’m a fan of both.
For best results, I recommend an electric espresso machine. Don’t mess about with anything that uses filters or a drip method (yuck), and don’t get a trendy Nespresso-style pod machine. For a start, they use pre-ground coffee (yuck), and the packaging from the individual pods is an environmental disaster (yuck).
What you want is a machine that looks like a scaled-down version of the thing your favourite barista uses. It should have one of those metal cups with a basket and handle that looks cool af and tells the world you are serious about your coffee (I believe the technical term is a portafilter). This will provide you with the pressure necessary to make a decent cup of joe.
Prices vary wildly for this type of machine, but if you’re only making a couple of cups a day, you don’t need to break the bank. I have this one. It’s fairly low-end, but it gives consistent results and has impressed me with what it can do with the price, delivering cups with great flavour, body, and crema. If you want to splash out on a top-line Gaggia, by all means, go for it. Just know that it’s not mandatory.
Once you have an espresso machine, you need to learn how to use it. It’s not as simple as just pressing the button and waiting for your cup to fill. First, to get that all-important pressure I previously mentioned, you can’t just have your grounds floating loosely around in the basket. You need to compact them by pressing down on them with a tamping tool (which should be included with the machine).
Second, all that pressure makes for a quick extraction, so the good stuff you want is pushed out of the beans in the first few seconds. After that, all you’re getting is bitter compounds that compromise your cup. So, you need to experiment to find out the optimal duration to run your machine for. It is usually in the 18-25 second range. A good rule of thumb is to watch the runnings going into the cup and stop the machine once they are no longer dark. Your device is designed to make espresso, not long drinks. If you want a long coffee, like an Americano, you then top up your espresso with hot water from the kettle.
(I don’t drink fancy coffee like lattes etc., but if they float your boat, then top up your espresso with foamed milk or whatever it is that the cool kids do.)
Following that process should get you a consistently good cup of coffee with a deep, smooth flavour and beautiful frothy crema. To keep this type of machine running smoothly, you’ll have to flush with cleaning fluid a couple of times a year. It’s a pain but happens infrequently enough that it’s no biggie.
Now, the Aeropress method. I bought one of these weird little plasticky gadgets a couple of years back to make decent coffee when I was away from home. They’re small and don’t require electricity, making them the perfect travel gadget for coffee on the go.
They work like a cafetiere, but they are cleverly designed to create an air seal that provides enough pressure for efficient coffee extraction. All you do is put a heap of grounds in the chamber, add some hot water, give it a quick stir, then press the plunger. It comes with all the accessories you need, including a perfectly sized measuring scoop; you just need to occasionally buy replacement filter discs, which cost pennies.
In all honesty, I didn’t expect too much from the Aeropress, but it makes the best tasting coffee I’ve ever had. It is super-smooth and extracts bags of flavour without a hint of bitterness. The only downside is that you don’t get any crema because the filter disc prevents it from passing through to the cup. But that’s a small price to pay for consistently excellent coffee, and I often use my Aeropress at home when my electric machine needs a clean. This is an essential bit of kit for any coffee lover, and it always goes in my travel bag whenever I’m on the road.
Taking it to the next level
There’s one more thing I’ve found that can elevate your coffee game; roasting your coffee beans at home. This is only for the hardcore (I told you I was an addict), but it’s fairly quick and easy. You just need to buy your beans green instead of pre-roasted and use a popcorn maker like this one to roast them in.
Why roast your own? It’s all about freshness. Remember how I said freshly ground beans make better coffee than pre-ground? Well, the same is true of how freshly your beans are roasted too. And when you buy pre-roasted beans, you have no idea how long ago they were roasted—it could have been months ago, which will compromise their quality.
If you want to go this route, here’s how you do it. First, buy some green beans—they aren’t as widely available as roasted beans, but they’re easy to get online (I buy mine here). With your green beans acquired, put a couple of handfuls in the popcorn machine, leave the lid off, and switch it on. (Pro tip: only fill it two-thirds full, as the beans will expand as they roast. This will give you enough beans to make about eight cups of coffee. I make two batches like this back-to-back each weekend, which takes about 15 minutes total and gives me enough coffee for the week.)
The beans will begin to turn brown and will start to make a cracking sound after a couple of minutes. This is known as the “first crack”, and once it’s over, you will have lightly roasted beans. Many people stop here, but if you want a darker roast, you can continue until you hear that cracking sound again. This is (predictably) known as the second crack.
Roasting your beans to the second crack will give them a deeper flavour. I crave this, so I roast my beans to this point. (This is another cool benefit of roasting your own beans—you can roast them precisely as you like to suit your palette.)
To help the machine cool in between cracks, I decant the hot beans into a bowl lined with kitchen towel for a couple of minutes. Speaking from experience, you don’t want to roast beyond the second crack as your beans will start to char and will produce bitter-tasting coffee. Also speaking from experience, roasting coffee beans is a smelly, smoky business, so you want to do it outside, not in your kitchen.
Once your beans are roasted, set them aside in an uncovered bowl for several hours so they can off-gas, then transfer them to an airtight container (I use a bag from some previously purchased beans) and store them in the freezer.
Now prepare yourself to enjoy the freshest coffee you have ever tasted. you probably need one if you made it through all of that.
My favourite books of 2021
I read two books a month last year, mostly narrative non-fiction. Instead of my typical diet of actionable personal development books, I chose to simply follow my curiosity, which led to me reading more broadly than usual. Here are short summaries of my top three reads of the year. The title of each book links to its GoodReads listing.
A celebration and examination of lateral thinking and creative problem-solving from the perpetually brilliant Ogilvy weirdo, Rory Sutherland. Logic won’t solve stubborn problems, but creative thinking can. This book entertainingly shows how to reframe problems and find novel solutions. Essential reading for marketers and anyone wanting to improve their creative problem-solving.
Michael Lewis’s dissection of how key institutions botched their handling of the COVID pandemic. You know what to expect with Lewis: A data nerd who has it all figured out, bigwigs who won’t listen, and everybody suffering the consequences as a result. Fascinating behind the scenes story, masterfully told. And, of course, as timely as it gets. One of his best.
Imagine if someone predicted the rise of global online communities, social media, and cryptocurrencies back in the nineties. Not only that, they accurately predicted how such innovations would shape the early 21st century. And, after that, offered insights into the long-term implications of these new technologies and advice on how to best prepare for what may be round the corner?
Well, it turns out they did, and they wrote it all down in this book. Though it belabours its points at times, this is an important, prescient, and essential piece of reading.
That section on making good coffee went way deeper than I anticipated, so I’m out of thoughts for today (and in need of coffee). As a parting shot, I’ll leave you with this reminder of the challenge I set up top from 19th century transcendentalist, Ralph Waldo Emerson (not least because it’s something I need to remind myself of):
“Always do what you are afraid to do.”
Until next time,
P.S. I am not paid to endorse any of the products I recommend in this newsletter. I just want to share the things I have found to genuinely improve my quality of life so you can make better buying decisions and avoid inferior products.