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Up your coffee game!

Are you tired of drinking miserable instant coffee and want to move to the next level of actually brewing your coffee? The way it was supposed to be made?

Excellent! Welcome to the better side.

I have been brewing my own coffee since 2007 and since the last 6-7 years, have been grinding my own beans as well.

Recently, a friend asked me for recommendations on a coffee machine which motivated me to put this post. All devices reviewed here will be under Rs. 5K – 6K – good for beginners.

There are multiple options to brew your own coffee in India. Sharing my experiences here.

1. The Aeropress

If you are looking for a no-nonsense coffee machine which cleans itself and produces a great cup of coffee 99.95% of the times, look no further. Buy an Aeropress machine. You’ll thank me later.

Buy on Amazon – https://amzn.to/2YH2Y3G

The Aeropress is quite a new machine. Invented recently by Alan Adler (bless him) who got tired of the overtly complicated or extremely poor choices to make a cup of coffee.

The machine is simple, works on hand power (no electricity), is very forgiving with the grind sizes, super portable and also cleans itself. You can google tutorials on making aeropress coffee. There are hundreds.

I have been using an Aeropress to brew coffee after discarding my steam machine about 8 years ago and haven’t looked back.

Pros:

  • Affordable, portable, self cleaning, super-durable – will outlast you.
  • Makes good cups of coffee for 1 – 4 cups at a time.
  • Makes a coffee concentrate – letting you make an Espresso type shot, americano, cappuccino, latte and what have you.
  • Very forgiving on bean grind sizes. Works on fine to coarse beans producing a decent cup.
  • Difficult to screw up a cup of coffee. Very scientific. Follow instructions, get good coffee.

Cons:

  • Very unsexy way of making coffee.
  • Your kitchen / house won’t smell like a cafe.

2. A Steam Machine

Morphy Richards and some other companies sell these extremely inexpensive steam machines (they retail for Rs. 3 – 4K) and they call them espresso / cappuccino machines.

Buy a Morphy Richards Steam Machine: https://amzn.to/2KIC5mh

I got my start with these machines and they make a pretty good cuppa. Again, between 1 – 4 cups. The added bonus over the Aeropress is that they make your entire place smell nice and warm – like walking into a coffee shop.

However, I call them steam and not espresso machines because they are not able to generate enough pressure to make a true espresso shot. Espresso requires 9 bars of pressure and uses a pump to build pressure. These guys instead, do between 2 – 3 bars and use steam to force the water down.

However, they have a number of cons which caused me to finally ditch my steam machine and move to an Aeropress.

Pros:

  • Makes a decent cup of coffee.
  • Your house or office will start smelling like a coffee shop.
  • Looks like a coffee machine.
  • Makes espresso level concentrate shots which allows you to make cappuccinos and lattes, etc.

Cons:

  • Gets a bit painful to clean as you need to wait until the machine is cooled down to clean it which is a pain.
  • If not handled properly, some of these machines are known to blow up. (literally)
  • You need espresso level coffee grinds which gets expensive to grind yourself. (Burr grinders capable of grinding fine consistent grids are upwards of Rs. 20K). Hence, you end up buying pre-ground coffee which is not the freshest option.

    More on grinders later.

3. Mocha Pot / Stove Top

A Mocha Pot (also known as Stove Tops) is by far the most fun I have had while making coffee. They are quite a manual process and you need a stove to make coffee with this.

Again, it produces a good cup of coffee. You get mocha pots which make coffee from 1 cup to 4 cups – some even more.

As much fun as it is, it tends to be a time consuming process. Making the coffee and then cleaning it. So unless you are a big fan of the way coffee tastes in a mocha pot, you may get fed up having to make it in the morning everyday.

And then cleaning and maintaining the mocha pot is a different beast altogether. Needs to be washed and wiped dry else can get mouldy spoiling the future cups of coffees that you can make.

Buy a Mocha Pot on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2MWkVV0

They start relatively cheaper as well – around Rs. 500 odd but if you are into this, I would recommend spending a bit more for a solid apparatus.

Pros:

  • Makes a decent cup of coffee. Relatively fool proof.
  • Makes coffee concentrate. Allowing you to do cappuccinos and lattes.
  • No electricity required. Sturdy and will last you a life time.
  • Relatively inexpensive start to your coffee journey.
  • Can make your house smell like a coffee shop 🙂
  • Lots of fun to use.

Cons:

  • A pain to clean.
  • Requires fine grind of coffee (espresso level) which leaves you buying pre-ground coffees.

4. Filter Coffee

If you like Filter Coffee, you cannot go wrong with getting a filter coffee apparatus. It is another fool proof way of making many good cups of coffees and if you do it correctly (frothing of the milk by exchanging it between utensils), you can have a great cup of true south indan coffee.

Buy Filter coffee maker on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2YX562s

These are extremely inexpensive and start at Rs. 300 odd on Amazon. The only downside is that to make really good decoction (or the coffee concentrate), you need about 30mins to steep it correctly. Hence, requires some planning.

Pros:

  • Great, unique tasting coffee.
  • Very inexpensive and a quick way to start.
  • Device occupies very little space.
  • Decoction can be kept in the refrigerator for a couple of days.

Cons:

  • Takes 30m to steep correctly.
  • You will need a proper filter coffee mix containing chicory.
  • Quite bitter generally. So copious amounts of milk and sugar are mostly required.

5. Pour Over Coffee

This is a relatively simple and inexpensive way to get started with brewed coffee. If you practice and get your technique correct, you can also enjoy really good cups of coffee.

Using a large filter paper everytime might seem wasteful to some. Also, the coffee you get out of this is mostly ready to drink (not concentrated). So if you like to have your coffee with loads of milk or prefer a cappuccino or latte, this won’t work for you.

Buy on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2Z0z9KJ

Pros:

  • Relatively inexpensive.
  • Ability to make really good coffee once you get your technique correct.
  • Easy to clean.

Cons:

  • Produces a non-concentrated drink. So not very good if you prefer cappuccino or latte based drinks.
  • Takes 4 – 6 minutes to brew. So not the quickest way.

6. French Press

The french press is another option to make a good, fool-proof cup of coffee. The only machine in this list that I haven’t tried making coffee with – so can’t write much about it’s operation and cleaning.

However, it seems quite easy to make coffee with this. Also, the coffee is in non-concentrate form and is best enjoyed with a dash of milk – so not for the cappuccino / latte drinking crowds.

French press options on Amazon: https://amzn.to/31De0Ee

7. Drip Machines

Drip machines generally look like this. They can be identified easily with the large carafe jutting out. Bulk coffee is what these machines aim for.

I am yet to have a decent cup of coffee that has come out of a drip coffee maker. And hence, I would not recommend this. Please do not buy this unless you know exactly why you are choosing this type of machine over the others.

These are completely automatic – but coffee ends up sitting on the heater and is often burnt and stale. (Life is too short for bad coffee).

Other Apparatus

1. Milk Frother

If you would like your milk to be a little textured (frothy / foamy) — this is probably the best option if you don’t own a steam machine or an espresso machine.

Get one from a good company. These will be around Rs. 800 – Rs. 1,000

I have burnt my hand with cheap Chinese versions which go bad in a few weeks. The one I use (by Severin) has lasted me 7+ years. They don’t have that on Amazon anymore.

The Instacuppa one is used by my brother for a few years now and is still going strong.

Buy on Amazon here: https://amzn.to/2KxEAbS

2. Frothing Jug

This is not very essential but does help a lot with the consistency of the milk when you froth it. You will get a better outcome as compared to frothing milk in a cup or some other non-pitcher utensil.

If you mostly make 1 – 2 cups of coffee, go for the 300 – 350ml jugs. The 600ml jugs become too big for 1-2 cups of coffee.

Some options on amazon are here: https://amzn.to/2yUs0wU

3. Coffee Grinder

The next step in your coffee journey – once you start making a decent cup from pre-ground coffee, is to grind the beans yourself — the fresher the better. Typically, just before you brew — but even if you grind it a few days earlier, it will still come out fresh enough. I generally grind a batch of 100 gms which is good for a few days worth of coffee at a time.

Coffee stays much better in bean form (can be even good for a month) as compared to pre-ground coffee which starts losing it’s freshness as soon as you open the packaging.

There are 2 types of grinders.

The more affordable blade grinders – which range from Rs. 800 – Rs. 2,500. These typically look like dry spice grinders. The grinds they give you should be good for the coarser ground coffees. I have used them with Aeropress, mocha pots and pour over and they have worked fine. Will be even good for the French press. But these will not be able to give you a fine grind for the espresso machine, steam based machine or the filter coffee machine. For that you would need a burr grinder.

Good electric Burr grinders are quite expensive (around Rs. 25K) and hence I am not covering them here. There are a few that start under 10K but not all reviews are great.

I use a Black & Decker 150 watt coffee mill since 2014 which works really well and goes well with my Aeropress. However, it has been out of stock for a while.

You can buy a similar grinder – I would have probably bough the Russel Hobbs one today. Seems compact and easy to clean – important criteria for me.

Only grind coffee in it. If you start using it for spices as well, you run the risk of ruining your future batches of coffee ground in the grinder.

Where to buy coffee from?

I have tried a lot of places over the years. I generally end up getting coffee from 3 places:

  1. Blue Tokai

    https://bluetokaicoffee.com



    My all time favourite is the MS Estate Organic coffee.

    They (Blue Tokai) have exceptional customer service and you can ping them for all your coffee queries and they generally reply back within a few hours (during business hours).



    Coffee is always freshly ground and received within a 2 days of placing an order. Can’t recommend them highly enough!



    Rs. 400 – Rs. 450 for 250 gms of coffee.

    One pack generally lasts me ~ 10 – 14 days and will make around 25 – 28 cups of Aeropress coffee. (Yield may differ based on different machines)

  2. Starbucks

    I generally go and get coffee from Starbucks (very rarely) when I have forgotten to order my Blue Tokai coffee and can’t wait a couple of days.



    They have a few blends and are also quite expensive. Double the cost of Blue Tokai coffee.



    Rs. 850 for 250 gms of coffee.

  3. Kumardhara Stores

    If you are in Pune, search for Kumardhara stores on Google Maps. Not sure if they are available in other cities. Also known as Kerala Stores.



    They also have quite good coffee and freshly roasted. They mention they roast daily. Mysore nuggets and Peaberry Premium are the ones I generally get.



    They are Rs. 200 – Rs. 250 for 250 gms of coffee (half the cost of Blue Tokai).



    However, I have switched to Blue Tokai for about 90% of my coffee needs as their price to quality and value (and convenience – home delivery) ratio is exceptionally high.

That is all folks! Please post any queries below and I’ll be happy to answer them! Hope you found this interesting and useful.

CFLs vs LEDs vs Incandescent Bulbs

If you have noticed, LED bulbs are all the rage suddenly. They are all over the place – the Philip bulb ads on TV, the Syska LED ads on radio and everywhere else. They have been around for quite sometime – but suddenly have burst into the scene.

So, with incandescent bulbs blowing up around my house, I decided to do a full review and bought a bunch of lights to see which ones stack up.

Here are the contestants:

All types of lights tested

My Setup

So, in my house, we have all yellow lights – which are mostly bulbs and few CFLS. Hence, my test involves LED bulbs and CFLs in the “Warm White” colour – which gives off a nice yellowish, intimate light. But before we go ahead, I present to you a little information researched on various types of bulbs.

This will help you understand why CFLs are more efficient than bulbs and why LEDs are more efficient than CFLs.

It all starts with Lumen

Lumen is a unit to measure the amount of light. If you are interested in the textbook definition, please see here.

In India, we tend to estimate the amount of light given by the wattage of a particular bulb. Hence, most of us probably have a fair bit of an idea on the light given out by 40W bulbs (incandescent) – useful for lamps, etc., 60W bulbs for regular, home lighting and 100W bulbs for outdoor / brighter lighting.

“Watts” or (W) is the unit of electricity consumed.

Incandescent bulbs give us light by passing electricity through a filament which heats up and emits light. In fact, 95% of the energy in these bulbs is lost to heat and only 5% is what produces light (ref). Hence, incandescent bulbs produce only 16 lumens / watt.

CFLs in the way they are built are more efficient and can give us between 50-70 lumens / watt (atleast 3 times more than incandescent bulbs)

LED bulbs on the other hand, can output upto 100 lumens / watt – which make them one of the most efficient sources of lighting. I drew up some numbers to compare these which are in the table below.

How do these compare?

[table id=1 /]

Quality of Light

Artificial lighting sources like bulbs, tubes, etc. are also rated on their ability to reproduce colour. The standard light against which these sources are compared is sunlight and companies like Phillips claim 90 – 95% colour reproduction for even their base models. Because most of us (especially yours truly) cannot make out this difference, I have decided to skip this and instead focus on how the light “looks” to me.

As I have already mentioned, all light fixtures in my house are lamps or wall mounts of some sort. We do not have naked tube lights or bulbs anywhere.

As such, I found the LED bulbs to be quite directional. They are known to not offer the omni-directional light that incandescent bulbs offer – but it was quite apparent to me without making much effort. The light was quite ‘harsh’ for our needs and we decided to not use the bulbs for our lamps.

As a matter of fact, I found the Tornado CFLs to give the best light distribution.

40W Incandescent bulb vs 8W CFL vs 5 LED

40W Incandescent bulb vs 8W CFL vs 5 LED (click for larger image)

As you can see, the incandescent bulb gives the best light distribution – but if you had to compare the CFL vs LED, the CFL (Tornado in this case), creates a much more distributed environment and is not as harsh as the LED.

Which LED bulb should I buy?

There are a couple of bulbs available in the market. I bought and tried the Phillips LED ones and the Alva LED which is an Indian company – and it costs half of what Phillips cost. In my opinion, LED bulbs are quite overpriced at the moment.

However, if you MUST get LEDs, I would recommend Phillips over Alva as I was quite disappointed with the Alva offering.

I bought candle lights from them and this is the light that I got from them:

Comparison of the Alva 4W LED to 40W Incandescent Bulb

The light that the Alva bulbs were casting was quite disappointing – even for use as spotlights (which I did not intend to use them as) – they look quite dirty.

In Conclusion

For me, I have decided to replace all the incandescent lights in my house with CFLs at the moment. There are some fixtures which the CFL form factors do not support (especially the small fixtures with the E14 sockets) – which I am going to continue using bulbs on.

LED bulbs – though exciting – don’t offer the kind of light that I am looking for. Plus the super expensive price point puts me off.

What do you guys think? Would love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

Further Reading / Links

  1. Different types of sockets. Don’t get the wrong type of bulb for your fixture.
  2. Phillips LED bulbs on Amazon
  3. Cheaper LED Bulbs on Snapdeal
  4. Myths vs Facts on LED and CFL lighting (especially about mercury content in CFL bulbs)

How to disable 3G on your Samsung Omnia W

This is another tip which I dug around for hours to get.
Posting it here so that it saves some people time.
So in my Samsung Omnia W Windows phone, it defaults to 3G out of the box and there is no visible setting to change it.
If you like me, don’t really want to switch to 3G and would rather prolong the life of your battery, here is what you need to do:

  1. Go into the phone dial mode.
  2. Type: ##3282#
  3. If the screen does not change to “field test”, tap the dial button.
  4. On the next screen which opens up, pop up the settings options from the bottom of the screen via the … button.
  5. Tap settings
  6. In the Network type, select 2G only
  7. Hit the back arrow and go to your home screen.
  8. Your phone will now work on the 2G network and consume lesser battery.

Hope this helps someone.

Importing Contacts to a Windows 7 Phone from your Nokia phone

I recently bought a Windows 7.5 phone which is pretty cool – but this being a Samsung Omnia W and my previous phone being a Nokia E72, I had a tough time importing contacts from one phone to another.
If both phones were Nokia (like the Lumia), Nokia has a very easy app which does this over bluetooth (I think) – but no luck here.
So this is what I ended up doing finally, which worked.
Putting it up so that it could save you some time mucking around with stuff.
You will need:

  1. Your old phone Nokia (Series 60)
  2. A Gmail account
  3. Internet access on your new Windows 7 phone
  4. A Windows computer

Step 1: Export all your Nokia contacts to .vcf files.
Your mileage may vary – but what I did was as follows.

  1. Go to your Contacts screen.
  2. Click on Options > Mark All
  3. Click on Options > Create Backup > Phone to memory card

Wait for a few seconds depending on how many contacts you have.
This will copy all your contacts to your memory card on your Nokia device.
For me, the contacts ended up being in:
Memory Card > Others > Contacts
Plug in your SD card to your computer (or plug in your phone) and copy this contacts folder to a location on your computer. (say C:\Contacts)
Then, concatenate all the .vcf files into one file using the following method:

  1. On your windows machine, click on Start > Run > cmd
  2. Browse to the Contacts folder
  3. Type: copy *.vcf all.vcf

This will put all your vcf files into one.
Step 2: Import your contacts to GMail

  1. Login to your GMail account (or create a new one if you don’t want to mess up your existing one)
  2. Go to the Contacts screen by clicking on the big MAIL text on the left hand side of the screen and selecting Contacts.
  3. On the screen that opens up, click on the More button > Import
  4. Select the all.vcf file and import.
    All your files should now be imported into GMail.
  5. Once this is done, click on the More button > Find & Merge Duplicates
    to let GMail quickly merge any duplicate accounts that you may have.

Step 3: Add this GMail account to your People App to sync all your contacts on your phone

  1. On your phone, click on the People tile.
  2. Pull up the settings from the bottom.
  3. Click on “add an account”
  4. Select Google
  5. Type in your credential
  6. Tap on “Sign in”
  7. Magically watch your contacts migrating into the Windows phone

Make sure that from the Settings section in the People tile (step 3.2 above), you have the Google account selected when you click on  the “Filter my contact list” button service to find contacts.
Thats all there is to it! Hope this is helpful to you!

Microsoft XBOX

Yay ! I wanted to be the first one to write a review on the Xbox on Mouthshut … and I’m so happy that I am !
The fact that no one has written a review yet, is because it is not launched in India as yet … I got mine from the UK. Anyways, enough with the chest thumping … and lets move on …
A 733 Mhz processor, an NVidia Geforce 3 graphics card, 256 Channel Sound output with Dolby Surround Sound, the ability to play Audio CDs and DVDs … if this hasn’t got you excited yet, there is more … read on …
The Xbox is a piece of Engineering Marvel … something in gaming consoles like the Mclaren F1 is in cars and the Suzuki Hayabusa and the Yamaha R1 in bikes …
And when I say it is mind blowing, I mean it IS MIND BLOWING !
The graphics are stunning ! The quality you could never have got on your 15 inch monitor … maybe only with the latest card ! And this one runs your 21 inch + size TV in your drawing room.
The quality of the visuals that the game developers have come up with can make anyone … and I mean anyone stop in their tracks …
In James Bond Nightfire, you will not be able to make out whether the Austin Martin ( Car ) is computer generated or video shooted … Pierce Brosnan’s features … down to the eyebrow lift are totally noticeable …
The cars, planes and other vehicles look ultra – realistic … but the people rendered don’t look that real – yet. You get these animated movie type effects … like that of Shrek … but mind you … Rendering movies like Shrek itself takes tens of high powered PCs … and this black beauty does that in real time …
In the sound front, the Dolby Surround system is terrific. I hooked up the sound cables to my deck and can feel my drawing room rumble everytime a plane crashes or you release your finger of that Bazooka launcher !
You can alternatively connect the sound system to the TV audio / video out jack …
The controls are just P-E-R-F-E-C-T
I read at many places that they are quite big … but they are very comfortable … for teenagers and above.
For kids below the age of 10 … maybe … but the Xbox isn’t designed for kids.
Most of the games in the Xbox are 13+ or 15+ so it is basically for teenagers.
The controllers are very cleverly designed … they have 3 directional axis controls, 8 buttons and 2 triggers that can be easily controlled …
As compared to the PS2’s ( Play Station 2 ) 300 Mhz processor, Xbox has 733 Mhz and also an NVidia Graphics card .
In addition, you don’t have to buy Extra memory cards like you do in the PS as it comes with its own 8 GB hard-disk in which you can save games and create your own song lists from your music CD’s and play them as alternate back ground music while playing the games.
As on the games front, the Xbox has a lot fewer games than the PS … it has … on last count 250 and increasing … but how many do you need to play ? Games like Morrowind have 500 + hours of game play … enough to last a year atleast.
On the games front, I got the best titles available … Halo which is available only for the Xbox, James Bond Nightfire, Morrowind and Silent Hill : Inner Fears .
I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the graphics for the first time … My folks couldn’t make out whether we were playing a game or watching a movie … and my friends have turned green since the last time I talked to them … and as for me, I haven’t slept for … how many nights … I have lost count …
So, this is the time to remember your long forgotten friends in the UK and the US.
Xbox will not be coming to India for another year atleast. So your best bet is to get one from the UK.
US Xboxes, will have trouble running in India because of the power system rating here of 230 V, 50 Hz as compared to 110V, 60 Hz there and also because US Xboxes support only the NTSC TV systems while the UK ones support PAL which is used in India.
The Entire System with one extra controller ( Xbox Ships with only one controller for 130 pounds ), 4 games, and the DVD playback kit cost me 230 pounds … which is approx 17,000 bucks in INR. But the money is worth the experience … believe me … I can vouch for that !!!
BTW, did I mention that the controllers are vibrating ones … and the Xbox can support upto 4 controllers …
The Xbox also comes built in with an Ethernet Port for Online Multiplayer Gaming … if you have broadband …
Go get one ! As for me … who needs sleep anyways ?

Philips 3300 Watt (FW-V720) Stereo System

If you love music and are planning to buy a new stereo system … then you can’t do better than the Philips 3300 Watt System ( FW-V720 )
It is one of the newest kids on the block and it sure knows how to bring the house down …
Calling this music system just another stereo system is like going to the Indian Ocean and saying that its wet …
First let me tell you about the features it comes with …
It comes with a 3 CD changer, dual tape decks, a radio tuner and ability to connect to its AUX system.
This system is one heck of a looker … one of the prettiest and funkiest systems on the block. It also comes with 2 surround satellite speakers and 4 main speakers and also 2 small tiny ones ( 2+4+2 = 8 ) … It has the ability to play MP3 CD’s and it can display the song list on the TV screen if you want it to …
It has a very thoughtfully planned interface and is very very easy to operate.
Also the remote control … unlike the ones I saw of other companies is very well laid out and a lot of thought has been put into designing the system.
I bought it for a price of Rs. 23,500/- It may sound a little steep to some people but believe me … its worth every paisa for the music it plays out.
It has this new amazing technology called WOOX which makes up 2 speakers of 1100 watts of the system … They amplify the Bass to such a terrific level, that if you play the right song, it may shatter all the windows in your place.
Just turn on the system and you are in heaven … its just so ecstatic … Oh yes … It also plays VCDs, Audio CDs and Mp3s. I have been using this product for about a year now and so far I haven’t had any problems …
When I saw it in the showroom, I just knew that I had to have it and that was one of the smartest decisions that I might have made so far. It doesn’t have too many flaws … just that the CD playback lacks a random feature to play the songs. It DOES have a programmable memory of about 50 + songs I think … but I am not so sure. Also, the auto – switch feature is missing in the tape department and the fast dub feature …
I think that the architecture of this device prevents the company from putting these features in the tape dept. Other than this … there is no other flaws … Also, the sound quality of this system compensates for any flaw…
Even when played at the max volume of 40, there is hardly any loss in sound quality. For such terrific sound quality and such stunning looks and also for the plethora of features … I give it two thumbs up 😉
And for the people at Philips … keep up the good work guys …
PS : In case I forgot to mention … you can also copy songs from one tape to another and from CD to tape … the usual features …
Also has a digitally set – multi channel radio. 12 presets for your listening pleasure There are 3 level controls for the WOOX speakers ( excluding OFF )
Also there is an option for INCREDIBLE SURROUND … which affects the surround speakers so the next time you watch Jurassic park, feel the footsteps or when you see Gone in Sixty Seconds, you can really feel the revs of the Shelby Mustang …
Also has a Karaoke system in which you can connect the mic and there is a volume control for the mic also and also some special effects like echo and stuff … And if you still don’t believe me … check it out for yourself and while you are at it, also check out the other features that I may have missed … Cheers and signing off … –
Saurabh Warning : The system can be a real pain once you get it … for your neighbours !!!