Zeke’s BirdSong

  • Beans: “Bird Song” from Zeke’s Coffee (Baltimore, MD)
    • Roast level: Medium/Dark (6/8)
    • Origin: Central and South America
    • Roast date: 4/15/24
    • Purchase date: 4/22/24 at Green Valley Marketplace in Elkridge, MD
  • AeroPress:
    • 21-22g coffee / 250g water (1:11 to 1:12)
    • JX: 19 (57 clicks)
    • Water at 85°C
    • Prismo with metal and paper filters
    • Pour all 250g and stir 5-6x; cover and steep until 3:00; stir 5-6x; press slowly

I brewed the first few cups at 95°C. For a couple of them, I included a 45-second bloom step and steeped until 3:00; for a couple others, I skipped the bloom and steeped until 2:30. I didn’t notice much of a difference. The cups were a tiny bit on the bitter side, but not enough to be unpleasant. There was no acidity and not much in the way of complexity — more or less what you would expect from a darker roast, and not bad, but nothing to write home about, either. This afternoon, I dropped the temperature to 85°, and it made a big difference. The bitterness was gone, and the cup was rich and full-bodied. I’ll keep brewing it like this for the time being. I bet that this would also make really good French press coffee.

5/2: The past couple days’ cups were starting to taste a little bitter (right around 2 weeks past roast date), so I backed the grind off to 20 this morning. It would probably be good at anywhere from 18-20. The only issue I have with coffee brewed at 85°C is that sometimes it cools off more than I would like. Cooler cups can be good in the summertime, but a few options for a warmer cup would be:

  • Preheat the mug using water from the insta-hot or leftover hot water in the kettle. The former bothers me because it seems like it wastes water and energy. The latter seems inconvenient with the AeroPress, because once the water is heated, the brewer sits on top of the mug, unless I brew with it inverted.
  • Use an insulated mug instead of ceramic
  • Brew a stronger ratio and then dilute with hot water

5/5: I used the last of these up today. I settled on setting 19 for my last several cups, and they were pretty good.

First paddle of the season

Last year, I didn’t take my first paddle until early June, effectively missing out on a couple of months of nice paddling weather. One of my resolutions for 2024 was to get out paddling earlier in the spring, and I was able to make it happen yesterday morning. Spring paddling can be tricky, because while the air temperatures are warming up, the water temperatures tend to lag behind, which is often the reverse of what happens in the fall. When I’m looking to get out, I usually check the BLTM2 buoy to get a general sense for area water conditions. It’s located at the mouth of the Patapsco just north of Fort McHenry, and I’ve found it to be a fairly good gauge of whether the water will be warm enough for paddling in the various estuaries around Baltimore City and Anne Arundel County. Yesterday morning, the water temperature was just under 60ºF, and air temperature was in the low 40s, which was ideal, because it allowed me to dress appropriately for the water temperature without getting all hot and sweaty. I wore my wet suit with paddling jacket, paddling boots, paddling socks, and pogies attached to my paddle. It was my first time wearing the jacket and the boots. The boots (NRS brand) worked out well. They come up past my ankles, and I liked that the extra height kept water from washing inside while I was wading around the launch during put-in and take-out. They also have some fleecy insulation which kept my feet warm, and should work out nicely over a dry suit as well. I think I’ll probably save them for colder weather, and stick with my NRS Kickers or Vibram FiveFingers during the warm part of the season.

As for the paddle itself, I put in at Solley’s Cove Park and went into Tanyard Cove and back, for a total distance of about 3.5 miles. It was just far enough to get me warmed up for the season. I saw a bunch of deer swim across the water at one point, as well as a rather ill-tempered snapping turtle, and the highlight of the day was a bald eagle that had me wishing I had brought binoculars. I won’t forget them next time!

New Pool Pump

Earlier this month, I started work on replacing our pool pump, and as I write this, it’s mostly finished. I’d file this project under things I’m happy I did once, but wouldn’t want to do again. A hot swap of the old pump, with no plumbing or electrical changes, would have been quick and straightforward, but I completely redid the intake plumbing as well as the pressure-side plumbing between the pump and the filter, so that I could add unions (plus, the old pump had 1.5″ connections and the new pump has 2″ connections). Everything needed to be rewired as well, as the old pump was single-speed, and the new pump is variable speed (VS). The old pump used to be scheduled and switched on and off via the Autopilot SWG controller, but with a VS pump, it’s the other way around: VS motors have on-board electronics that control the pump schedule, run speeds, etc., as well as an auxiliary load circuit that will switch the SWG controller on and off as needed. The project was rather all-consuming for a week or so, as I really wanted to get the pool water circulating sooner than later so that it didn’t turn into a giant swamp (the longer you wait to Chlorinate in the spring, the more of a pain it is to get the water cleaned up for opening). I also wanted to make sure the pump, which cost upwards of $1200, actually worked.

The plumbing part of the project was the most challenging, but it went rather well, thanks to very careful planning and measuring. I built a platform for the pump out of scraps of Trex, and the biggest challenge was getting it level. While the pump doesn’t need to be level to work properly, it makes it a lot easier to get the pipes to align cleanly. I used the platform and some plastic shims to get the intake union lined up. I think a better solution might be to add adjustable feet to the platform, so I might do that for next season.

In my earlier entry, I mentioned that the suction pipes from the pool came out of the ground at different distances from the house foundation, meaning that if I wanted the pump exactly perpendicular to the wall, I’d have to either add extra 90° elbows, or use a specialty adjustable elbow on the intake. It turned out that in practice, it wasn’t really worth bothering with this — yes, the pump is not perfectly square to the wall, but the angle is so slight that it’s hardly noticeable. So, I got to save my adjustable elbow for a future project.

The other challenge was dealing with the water in the pool. A very rainy March/April had left the pool full to the brim, and since the pump intake is slightly below the waterline, water was constantly trying to overflow out of the main drain suction line once I cut the old valve out. I didn’t want to drain water out of the pool, because it’s convenient to have the water high for vacuuming to waste during opening. So, I had to figure out a way to keep the water at bay while I glued new valves to the suction line. I ended up taking a #8 winterizing plug and flipping the bolt around so that the wing nut was on the narrow end of the plug. Then, I jammed the plug down the pipe, tightened the nut, and glued the valve on. Once dry, I was able to pull the plug out through the valve body. Flipping the nut and bolt made this possible (in the regular orientation, the wide end of the plug would have gotten stuck).

Compared to the intake, the pressure side piping was a piece of cake — just some careful measuring. Unions made things easier, but it’s still a challenge making sure everything lines up, and I had to be careful not to drip PVC cement on the union threads or mating surfaces, which can be easier said than done.

I was rather nervous about starting the pump for the first time, but it worked just fine, and there were no leaks (I was fairly confident about the intake side, as it held water for a couple of days while I was working on the pressure side). The only real issue I had was unrelated to the pump — the handle shaft o-rings on the filter multiport valve were leaking. I ended up taking the valve apart, flipping and re-lubing the o-rings, and adding some teflon tape around the notch in the shaft where the o-rings sit. It seems to have stopped the leak.

I’ve been running the pump for the past few days to add chemicals and also break the pump in and observe how it works. I still need to wire the auxiliary load side to get power to the SWG and the pool cleaner booster pump. Then, I’ll need to figure out the minimum pump speed that I can use to get effective chlorination, as well as the minimum speed needed to effectively run the pool cleaner. But the end is definitely in sight for this project.

Rise Up Guatemala Single Origin

  • Beans: “Guatemala (Single Origin)” from Rise Up Coffee Roasters (Easton, MD)
    • Roast level: Medium
    • Origin: Guatemala (Asociación Chajulense, Quiché)
    • Roast date: 3/26/24
    • Purchase date: 4/9/24 at Green Valley Marketplace in Elkridge, MD
  • V60:
    • 21g coffee / 300g water (1:14.3)
    • JX: 17 to 20 (51 to 60 clicks)
    • Water at 95°C
    • Recipe: Single Cup V60 Pourover with slow pour
  • AeroPress:
    • 14g coffee / 200g water (1:14.3)
    • JX: 15 (45 clicks)
    • Water at 95°C
    • Prismo with metal and paper filters
    • Pour 30g and stir to wet grounds; bloom until 0:45; pour to 200g and stir 4-5x; cover and steep until 3:00; stir 4-5x; press slowly

I brewed my first cup of these on Sunday afternoon (4/14), using grind setting 20, and it was really good. The flavor was great with no bitterness and low acidity. Just as an experiment, I nudged the grind one “click” finer on Monday morning, and another “click” finer this morning (Tuesday), but those cups did not taste as good — not bitter, but just lacking the flavor of the first cup. I returned to setting 20 this afternoon, and it was much better. I have a hard time believing that such a tiny adjustment to the grind made such a big difference in taste, but I guess anything is possible. It will be interesting to see how subsequent cups turn out.

4/20: I seem to be alternating between good cups and mediocre cups, and I think it has more to do with technique than grind setting. Over the past few days, I tried grind setting 15 as well as 16, but both tasted a little bit bitter — not bad, but not as smooth as I would like. Today, setting 17 was really good. Earlier (see above), I was getting good cups at 20 and not-as-good cups at 19 and 18. I suspect that with more consistent technique, I’d be getting uniformly good cups at any grind setting from 17 to 20. I’m fairly confident that I’m keeping water temperature, proportion of coffee to water, and pour interval timing consistent from cup to cup. That leaves pour rate and height of pour, neither of which I have a way to measure, but neither of which I’ve varied much recently either. Today, I paid a little bit more attention to the bloom phase — I made a very deep well in the grounds, and poured quickly starting from the center, in an effort to get 100% of the grounds wet as quickly as possible. Initial results were promising, but we’ll see if it makes a difference going forward.

4/22: Deep well in grounds doesn’t seem to be the difference-maker, as my last two pourovers were subpar. I wish I could figure out the magic formula for making consistent pourovers. Obviously, something is changing from day-to-day. Maybe it’s my scale? Whatever the case, I brewed the last of the beans today in the AeroPress (see above) with my usual go-to AP recipe, and it turned out fantastic — maybe not quite as good as my best pourovers, but much better than the last two days’ pourovers.

This and that

Yesterday, I participated in my first organized run in almost 22 years: the inaugural Open Gate Gallop. I ran the 8-mile route from the Guinness Brewery, into PVSP, out to the swinging bridge via the Grist Mill Trail, and back via River Road. It was a great time. As a long-time solo runner, it was interesting to run with so many other people. Even though it wasn’t a timed race, it was hard to resist trying to run fast. As a result, I clocked in at 9:25/mile, which I’m pretty sure is the fastest I’ve ever run any distance 10K or over. I’m not particularly competitive, but I like the fact that most of these runs support good causes, so I might try to do more of them. Last 4th of July, I was tossing around the idea of running in the Arbutus Firecracker 10K, but decided to find a geocache at the top of a pillar instead. If I don’t do something similar this year, the 10K might be fun.

Today, I took my first Sunday morning bike ride in 3 weeks, a 30-miler to Odenton and back. Due to travel and bad weather, it was only my second or third bike ride in the past month or so. I do expect to pick up the weekend rides as we get into the warmer months. The wet weather this year has made for horrible mountain biking conditions, and there’s more bad weather on tap for the second half of this week, but I think I’m going to try to sneak in a mountain bike ride on Tuesday morning.

Lastly, I didn’t have much time today to work on my pool pump replacement project, but I did get home in time to glue up the T-junction for the new suction piping. After due consideration, I decided to run each of the two vertical 1.5″ suction pipes directly into a 2-way Pentair valve, then into a 2″ elbow, and then into a single 2″ T fitting. The challenge was gluing everything together so that the T fitting ended up level, in spite of the suction pipes not being perfectly vertical. I think I managed to pull it off.

PVC Joinery

It’s finally time to replace the pool pump. The old pump, a Leslie’s-branded Hayward Super Pump II, came with our house in 2001, which makes it at least 23 years old. It had only a couple of minor issues in all that time, but the motor is finally starting to give up the ghost. The replacement pump has a variable speed (VS) motor, the pros and cons of which I tossed around for a good while before ultimately taking the plunge. I’m hoping it works well, lasts a while, and saves us some electricity. But before I can see how it works, I have to install it. As part of that, I’m redoing all of the plumbing from the intake to the filter, with the main goal being to add unions so I can take the pump inside over the winter, and also eliminate a couple of 90° elbows. This might seem easy on paper, but, of course, there have been some “gotchas”:

  1. The intake lines from the skimmers and main drain come out of the ground at different distances from the house foundation. One of them is about an inch closer than the other. The old pump was plumbed with two extra 90° elbows joined with slightly different lengths of horizontal PVC. If I left it like that, I wouldn’t have room for a union on the intake. To plumb it the way I want would require installing the pump at a non-perpendicular angle to the foundation. While not the end of the world, I don’t think it would look good. I bought a rather unique adjustable PVC elbow online which I’m going to try to use to get the pump at a better angle to the wall. Once I get the initial intake plumbing in place, I’ll see how everything fits together in practice, and decide whether I need to use the adjustable fitting.
  2. There is a lot of water at the main drain intake pipe, probably because the pool level is so high after all the rain we have had recently. I’d prefer not to drain water out of the pool, so I’m going to need to plug the line somehow to keep the pipes dry while I glue them up. I’m thinking about just stuffing a rag or something down there, but I need to make sure I can retrieve it after gluing everything together.
  3. The pool equipment pad is not level. It slopes away from the house to the tune of about an inch drop from the foundation to the edge of the concrete. As a result, the old pump was not level either. That didn’t bother it for all those years, but I think it will be easier to do the piping if the new pump is level. I have some scraps of Trex lying around that I plan to use for a pump platform, and I’m thinking I can just rip a strip of Trex to the appropriate width, and screw it to the front edge of the platform to level it. Then, the only challenge is getting the height of the pump to match the height of the intake plumbing.

I think I’ll start by fitting the intake piping together, starting with the tee that joins the skimmer and drain lines. I have less flexibility with the vertical positioning of the intake pipe than I do with the pump itself, and once the piping is glued in, it’s impossible to adjust. The pump, on the other hand, can be raised or lowered by adjusting the height of its platform.

Once the intake plumbing is finished, then I have to run the outflow line to the filter, and then the electricity. But, first things first.

Black Acres Lexington Market Blend

  • Beans: “Lexington Market Blend” from Black Acres Roastery (Baltimore, MD)
    • Roast level: looks like lighter end of medium*
    • Origins: Mexico Mico de Noche, Organic Colombia Sierra Nevada
    • Tasting Notes: Cherry Cordials, Praline, Rich Chocolate
    • Purchase date: 3/22/24
  • V60:
    • 21g coffee / 300g water (1:14.3)
    • JX: 19 (57 clicks)
    • Water at 95°C
    • Recipe: Single Cup V60 Pourover with slow pour; draw-down finished around 2:50

Cathy picked this bag up at Lexington Market (surprise, surprise). The web site says it is a dark roast, but I think that may be a mistake — the beans have a tan to light brown coloring, with no oils visible on the surface. To my (admittedly amateur) eye, they look like a light to medium roast. In any case, I’ve been brewing them like a medium roast, with good results so far. I made my first cup 2 or 3 days ago at setting 25, but it tasted weak. 20 was an improvement yesterday, and 19 was a little bit better still today. It had pretty good body with a definite hint of cherries and a mild bit of acidity.

4/8: For the moment, 18 appears to be the best grind setting. It seems to bring out most of the chocolate flavor, which complements the fruitiness nicely and results in a nice, well-balanced cup. I tried it at 17 (slightly finer) but did not like it as much — it seemed to have a bit less sweetness and a bit more acidity. It will be interesting to see if I need to tweak things as the beans age, but I may go through them quickly, as I don’t have any others at the moment.

4/9: I decided to brew a cup with my ceramic size 1 V60, which I had not used in a while. I kept everything else the same, and I used my old tried-and-true preheating method of sticking a Fernco cap on the bottom of the dripper and filling it with water from the kettle. I pre-moistened the filter at the same time. Later in the day, for comparison, I brewed a second cup with the plastic size 2 V60. The first big thing I noticed was that with the ceramic V60, the water drained down a lot faster. It was finished by around 2:30, vs. 2:50-3:00 for the plastic V60. I’m not sure if this is because of the different geometry of the dripper, different filters (size 1 vs size 2, but both Hario brand unbleached paper filters), or something else. The cup brewed in plastic was better than the cup brewed in ceramic: the former had more flavor and body, and while the latter wasn’t bad, it was a little bit thinner, likely because the faster drain-down led to less extraction of the grounds. I’m curious to see if this is more related to the size of the V60, or the material, but to determine that, I’d need to buy a plastic size 1 V60. In any case, with the ceramic, it might make sense to use a finer grind to try to slow down the brew a little bit. I’m fine just sticking with the plastic, but I have a lot of size 1 filters to use up.

4/14: I used the rest of these up this morning. Like the beans I bought in Morton a month or so ago, I had to start grinding these finer to keep the cups from getting weak. I finished up at grind setting 15, and at that setting, the draw-down finished at around 3:00. The last few cups were still pretty good, if not quite as good as the first few cups.