On the Proper Way to Grind Coffee

By Amethyst

No, this isn’t an article harkening back to the my bygone barista days. This is real. The quest for the best way to grind coffee led, albeit indirectly, to deeper awakening and increased inner peace. Really.

As a former barista, I owned a high-quality electric home grinder for years. According to homegrounds.co, it was the best: “In terms of Burr coffee grinders, the Baratza Virtuosa [sic] is our number one favorite […sic?] and we give it 4.7 stars out of 5,” the website raves. Check it out:

40 settings. Amazing. I bought in to it all. Surely the home barista’s joy, the Virtuoso enabled optimized grinding-whirrs and efficient, effective gurgles when flavor-masking carbon dioxide was released upon the bloom phase of brewing. It is essential, essential, that each grain of ground coffee be as similar in size as possible.

And of course, the Virtuoso was consistent day after day, cup after cup. It delivers speed and efficiency. Again I quote from the #1 Google result homegrounds.co (with disbelief that this is a real statistic), “[t]he 40mm conical burr ‘s [again, sic] on this grinder results in grind [sic] at speeds of about 1.5 to 2.4 g/second depending on your settings.”

1.5-2.4 grams per second! Can you believe it? (Depending on your settings?) I could wake up, measure out 24 grams of coffee, and have it ready for brewing in 36 to 57.6 seconds. Add an electric kettle into the mix, time it right, and from start to finish, fully optimized hand-brewed coffee could be had for the low low price of three and a half minutes. Fully optimized perfection.

And one day, it broke. One of the grinding-whirrers, probably.

Repair attempts failed; the company, upon being consulted, was not optimistic on the economics of sending it in for their technicians’ attention.

So I faced a choice. I could try, again, to repair it myself. I could buy a new one. Maybe it was even time for an upgrade? You can spend just about as much money as you desire on a coffee grinder.

And then there’s this little guy:

This guy.

The typographically-challenged but respected Homegrounds.co still likes the Hario Skerton grinder. But it takes a while. 35-57.6 seconds turns into 4-5 minutes. And there’s no double duty: if you’re grinding, you’re grinding. Add in brew time, and now we are talking about eight to ten minutes.

Since I was at this point solidly on the road to renouncing my funds-providing day job, I decided I couldn’t justify the cost of an electric grinder. The Skerton is was. Plus, what’s five minutes in the morning, right? Surely it wouldn’t be that bad.

It was, dear reader, it was.

It’s not difficult, spinning the well-designed handle on the Skerton. But is it ever repetitive. “Crrch-crrch-crrch-crrch-crrch,” the Skerton softly acknowledges the steady but slightly maddening pace of its work.

I wake up, stumble into the kitchen. Gotta make some coffee. Bluh, what time is it? Have to go to this job still. Coffee’s gotta be good, for a little bit of something nice before the rat race. Weigh out 53 grams (a little strong, and for two cups). Dump it into the hopper of the grinder. Fill up the kettle, get it boiling. Here we go. Crrch-crrch-crrch-crrch-crrch. After two minutes, my arm’s a little tired. Keep going. Crrch-crrch-crrch-crrch-crrch. The water boils, but I’m still not done. After what seems like forever, I pull out a filter, put it into the Chemex, rinse, dump in the ground coffee, and we are ready to brew. Finally.

I didn’t like it, but I could endure it. It’s not worth dropping $225+ on a grinder, I always need to remind myself.

Elsewhere in my life, I continued my personal journey. I meditated, I let go. I reprioritized, I made change. I sought to find peace in every step, as Thich Naht Hanh reminds us we can do. And somehow the connection failed to register in my mind, though I am sure it has already registered in yours.

One day I decided that, yes. Yes, I can enjoy grinding this coffee. Coffee is already something I enjoy. Let me re-paint you this picture.

I wake up. My fiancée is beside me, always snoozing a bit longer that I do. I know I can wake her up with that delicious Arabica aroma. I come into our kitchen, pink with open shelving, and still dark, since I’m up before the sun. I turn on the Edison-bulbed overhead lamp, giving everything a soft orange glow. When I unscrew the Ball jar that holds our coffee beans, I am instantly hit by that wonderful smell. I close my eyes and inhale. That smell is the product of the skill of our friend who works at MOM’s Organic Market, who roasts it every week. Thank you, Garrett.

My water kettle, whose metal construction means a distinctive, pleasant ring every time I remove the cap. Fifty-three grams of coffee. Just right. My grinder fits easily into my hand. I feel the cold glass. Crrch-crrch-crrch-crrch-crrch. You know, it’s actually rather pleasant. As the beans grind, they begin to release their flavors directly into the air. What a morning to be alive this is. What an amazing journey this is, and what a privilege to make this coffee every morning, ground by hand, to lure my partner into the kitchen. She will, as she does every morning, greet me with a sleepy “good morning!” With arms overhead, she feigns the morning pep that I have and which she lacks.

With this painting in my mind, rather than the other, I enjoy my morning ritual. And not only that, but the daily coffee meditation serves as a reminder and a personal training session to better enable me to find joy in everything.

 

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Fear (Part I)

By Ruby

When people ask us how we are making this project work – how we managed to buy Parnassus, quit our jobs, and completely revolutionize our lives – we have a lot of answers, all of which play a part: Hard work. Privilege. Imagination. Drive. Passion. Creativity. Luck. Planning. But most critically is that we overcame the fear that kept us in place. It was terrifying to make the decision to quit my (VERY well-paying, upwardly-mobile, and engaging) job to follow my dreams and passions. But, ultimately, it became more terrifying not to do it. It became horrific to me to imagine myself staying where I was, at a law firm in Baltimore, as my dreams shriveled on the vine. I overcame my fear, and I quit.

But! I made a mistake! Fear does not grow like a tree – you don’t cut it down once and for all. Fear is like a vine. It is constantly creeping around the edges, growing back, reaching its tendrils inside of us over and over again. I, naively, believed I had conquered fear.

I was wrong.

I want to be honest with you, dear reader, about this experience I am creating for myself. It has been hard. After an initial two weeks of inspired bliss, I suddenly came face-to-face with fear once more. And, for a time, it held on to me.

Anxiety, am I right?

I have always been struck by a scene that Thoreau describes in Walden. He describes walking from his cabin to the pond for the first time. He makes his own way through the untamed brush. But he discovers, in just a week or so, that he has worn down a little path and now has something to follow. He went out into the woods to live a wild life, and immediately fell into a routine. Ultimately, he leaves the woods to create new paths in other places – never satisfied with simply maintaining the status quo.

When we get up and go to work each day, we follow a pre-made track. Our paths, of course, are not identical, but they all kind of have the same rhythm. We don’t get to decide a lot of what we do. We have to wake up at a certain time. We have to conform to a certain dress code. We have to be available (and that usually means we have to go somewhere). Our time is spent doing things that, largely, are decided by others. Even the bosses are reacting to the clients, the deadlines, the outside forces that dictate working life. We largely aren’t in control of the course of our days.

This was the path I was on. It was wide, flat, and paved long ago. I was surrounded by others, all of us walking together on this well-trodden, familiar, comfortable path.

I took myself off of that path. The thing is, I hadn’t realized how accustomed I was to it – how normal is was for my time to be planned by others instead of me. And uncharted territory is hard to tame. I suddenly found myself in the wild, and I didn’t know which way to go. I was paralyzed for a time – Left? Right? Neither or both?

I’ve been quiet here for about a month. It’s been a month of breaking down and building up. The last week or so has been the first time I have felt a sustained sense of calm, stable inspiration. But – finally, I’m feeling it again: The desire – and the strength – to forge my own path.  

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The author, finding new strength. Photo By Sean “Noodles” Comber of tresor space!

I am quite sure that, as this project of ours progresses, Amethyst and I will have a lot to say about fear. We both believe deeply that much of what damages people and holds them back is fear. So many of the harsh ways in which we treat ourselves and each other (on both a micro and macro level) are rooted in fear – Fear of loss, fear of pain, fear of isolation, fear of failure…

There are many practical updates to give you. We have been hard at work, and are making real, visible progress in building our dream! But there have been tears as well. I want you to know that. I want you to know the reality of being brave. The fear doesn’t go away. You just learn to face it, over and over again.

Everybody says money can’t buy happiness. And no one believes it.

By Amethyst

My college internship in finance turned into a full time job when I graduated. I was extra lucky: this was during the financial crisis, in January 2009. “The pay will be $3,000 a month,” my boss told me when I was hired. That sure seemed like a lot of money to me, right out of college. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t. It wasn’t mostly because I wanted to live in the city. There went half my monthly take-home, right off the bat. But I got along fine.

After a few years and a couple of inflation-level raises, it was about time for a real bump in pay. I had been putting in extra time, turning in more reports, the whole nine yards of being a good little analyst. In finance, we get quarterly bonuses, which are basically just part of your salary that can be adjusted if management does or doesn’t like how you’re performing. I was pretty hopeful that my next one was going to be significantly more than it had been over the previous years.

I squirmed a little- I didn’t know how to express to them that I thought I deserved a raise. I talked to a partner or two because I didn’t know how to talk to the big boss, even though his office was right next to mine. Frankly, I didn’t do a very good job advocating for myself. Somehow, I thought to myself, they’re just gonna know. Come bonus day, I checked my bank account first thing in the morning. My bonus had doubled from $4,000 to $8,000. My indicated annual salary was now about 30% higher.

I was over the moon! I couldn’t believe it- this was everything I had dreamed. I went out that night and celebrated. I bought a bottle of wine. I bought a new suit. I responsibly put the rest in savings, with the knowledge that there was more to come.

I felt good for a month. Two months. Then I realized- I wasn’t any happier. I was making 30% more, and nothing had really changed.

You might be thinking to yourself, “That isn’t really that much more money- if he were making $100k+, then things would be different!” That’s the same way I had thought for years. But somewhere between graduation, my motorcycle accident (that’s another post (or three)), and my raise, I had gained the audacity to ask, “Wait, would yet more money really help?” That question, asked thoughtfully, earnestly, and on the back of a big raise, was the turning point.

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The author, dreaming responsibly

How did you feel when I implied just there that you, dear reader, would react by saying, “Oh, he just needs a little more!” You probably said, “Oh no, not me. I know things wouldn’t really be different with $100,000 a year.” Ok, I guess you know that, but do you believe it? What are you working towards right now in your life? What are your current medium-term goals? A raise? A promotion? A degree? A car?

How do those goals line up with your ultimate, best-life, pie-in-the-sky dreams? If you can’t draw a straight, bright line between your medium-term goals and your best life, I think that you don’t really believe that money won’t buy you happiness.

“Crazy! I have to make a little more, so I can buy a house, so I can create a nest egg, so I can buy this and that and have things just right, and then maybe I can think about some travel. A couple of nice vacations a year to Europe will be so exotic! I’ll have earned it! Paris! Buenos Aires! Ooh la la!”

Stop it. That isn’t your dream. You know that isn’t your dream. Dare to dream.

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The author, dreaming bigger

Let’s be clear. Big dreams take a lot of doing. Ruby and I have worked really hard for a very long time to get to where we are, both independently and together. And for a long time, we didn’t even know what we were working towards- we just got lucky. Had I known four years ago that financial success doesn’t guarantee my dreams, I wouldn’t have sunk a lot of money into a not-so-passive investment (which went south – that’s another post too) that would have cemented me in Baltimore if it had succeeded. I’d be way ahead financially- but I wouldn’t have learned.

I hope this piece, and ones like it, plant a seed. I hope that when you get that raise, you will remember this and say to yourself, “hang on.” I hope you keep saving. I hope you are simultaneously responsible and honest with yourself. I hope you are open to new experiences and ideas, so that you can learn all this first hand.

But most of all, I hope you have the bravery to have a dream that fills your entire life with the urgency you need to make it a reality.

Traveling with Open Eyes

By Ruby

The Gemstones recently returned from a week in Cuba! We had an amazing time in a fascinating country. My experience there was so different from (and better than) the trips I have taken in the past. Our time in Cuba may be the best travel experience I have ever had – and that is a big statement, considering that I have been incredibly fortunate to have traveled to many, many places around the world. There are several reasons for this trip being so special, including its marking an enormous moment of empowered transition in my life and the fact that Cuba is an inherently unique and fascinating place to visit. But I have been thinking about the biggest reason: my mindset.

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A classic Havana vignette.  Check out more photos of our trip HERE!

I have always, always, always wanted to be a traveler. I can recall, as a little girl in school, learning in social studies and history classes about far-off places and thinking, with complete, unblinking conviction, “I can’t wait until I see that one day.” There was no question in my young mind that I would get there when I grew up.

When I finally did get the opportunity to start traveling in earnest, I was not yet a whole person. I spent many years of my adult life projecting confidence and “perfection,” while feeling lost inside. Because it was too hard to confront that lost feeling, I built up walls and defenses to ignore it. I fooled myself into believing that “this was it” and I should try to live what appeared to be “the very best life” as it was modeled in popular culture – nice house, pretty clothes, et cetera. Among other things, this affected how I travelled and what travel meant to me.

In the past, travel was a way for me to attempt to find meaning in my life. I had not yet found it inside of me (or even realized it was inside I should be looking), so instead I combed the planet looking for external experiences to give me internal validation. “I have been the Louvre, the Vatican, the Great Wall, and Stonehenge. I must be an interesting person, I must be worth liking…” And, if I am being honest, I also considered the countries I checked off my list as symbols of status. “I know I am better than most, because I have been to so many places and seen so many things… right?”

This “problem,” shall we call it, also impacted the way I approached traveling. Because I was unconsciously desperate to squeeze out as much internal meaning and gratification from each experience, I would maniacally plan for trips in order to ensure that I had seen every important sight, tasted every “classic” dish, checked each of the “must do” boxes for each city I visited. I would spreadsheet my trips – down to the hour – and even block in “X hours of wandering Y neighborhood” to attempt to infuse some of the magic of spontaneous discovery into the experience. Restaurants were examined on TripAdvisor, reservations were made, everything was planned “just so” to maximize surface pleasures. I was confident that, with planning, I could ensure the “perfect” trip (which was a critical component to my larger plan of building the “perfect” life).

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The magic of spontaneous discovery – a “bookstore” we stumbled across in central Havana

This wasn’t a healthy way to think or operate. And it wasn’t working – it wasn’t giving me lasting internal peace and joy.  Don’t get me wrong, I have certainly felt moments of exhilaration when face-to-face with the wonder and beauty of the world – feelings I mistook for completeness. But the feelings faded, and my core was no stronger. I would come home feeling hungry rather than fulfilled.

In the last several years, I have done a lot of hard work on myself. I’ve stripped away the illusions of fake happiness, bared my core, and found the strength that was always hiding inside of me. I know who I am now, and why I am here.

As a result, I approach travel completely differently now. We arrived in Havana with a few places we wanted to see, a list of questions, and a desire for adventure. We talked to people with open hearts, and walked the streets with open eyes. I wasn’t looking for perfection, I was looking at Cuba for what it really is. And Cuba is fascinating.

Cuba is a country defined by the revolution, and shackled by its aftermath. The government is actively engaged in a propaganda campaign that continues to this day, and the people are as conflicted about their government as we are about ours. Because Amethyst speaks Spanish, we were able to have in-depth conversations with many Cubans about their thoughts on life in Cuba and their political system. We even interviewed a few folks for a big project we are working on (more about that in the future…).

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Amethyst in a crumbling building in old Havana

We spoke with Cubans who derided Castro as a thief and Communism as the sole cause of Cuba’s misery, and we spoke with others who touted Cuba’s excellent education and healthcare programs, as well as their efforts at providing a social safety net to every citizen. Many Cubans were quick to explain that, while our governments may fight, we as people should have no qualms with each other and should treat each other as friends. I think one man summed it up for us as best as it can be described: There isn’t one truth in the story of Cuba, or in its relationship with the US – and even if there were a truth, it is so obscured we likely can never discover it.

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Ruby at the Museum of the Revolution, symbolically located in the old Royal Palace

Despite the significant struggles and immense poverty in Cuba, the people are vibrant, curious, and engaging. It is also a country full of art. Everywhere we went, we saw art – people using any medium they could get their hands on to express themselves. There was juxtaposition everywhere. Our minds could never be at rest in Cuba, there was too much to see, ponder, consider, remember.

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The Callejon de Hamel, a street-turned-arts project made from salvaged items

Had I still been a plastic person, my trip would have been marked by mojitos, salsa music in the street (which really was excellent!), and a ride in a shiny old convertible car. But because I didn’t need this trip to give me meaning, I could enjoy Cuba for all it is in reality. It turns out, reality is so much better than a postcard.

Check out pics from our trip HERE!

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Ruby enjoying morning coffee from our porch in the Viñales valley

The Tim-Thich Dichotomy

By Amethyst

Like many men currently between the ages of 18 and 45, I’ve read some Tim Ferris books in the last decade. The Four-Hour Workweek was a big inspiration for me early on the crystalline path to the realization of Camp Gemstone life. I gave a lot of thought to optimizing my day-to-day: Was my workout optimal? What protein-rich foods were most efficient, in terms of cents per gram of protein, in maximizing muscle gain? Did I need to outsource parts of my day to a digital personal assistant in India to minimize repetitive tasks and maximize time spent building my goals? (These are real things I thought about).

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Tim-Amethyst

Also in my early 20s, I dated Sarah. Sarah is at least as intelligent as I am, but cared a lot less about making sure everything was exactly, perfectly, mathematically correct. After graduating from Hopkins, she trained for and took a job as a yoga teacher. She still teaches yoga to this day, as far as I know. She’d say things like “maybe in another life” — but didn’t believe in literal reincarnation any more than I did. Sarah is where my journey inward started. Sarah and I separated long before my journey really bore fruit, but maybe she’ll read this.  

Along that path that leads into myself, I’ve come upon many more ideas about personal development that are just as, if not more, important than Tim Ferris’ “Fast Tips For Quick Success.” One of my favorite thinkers in this realm is Thich Nhat Hanh, a Zen Buddhist Monk who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King Jr. and whose books have review quotes on the back cover from the Dalai Lama. So, a pretty qualified guy.

We don’t want Camp Gemstone to be a “lifestyle brand” in the Instagram-celebrity “hashtag” sense. We aren’t really that interested in getting that perfect shot of Ruby in her hippie festie-dress as the sun rises over the ocean (we do hope you think we’re cool, though).

What we want instead is to help people make their best selves a reality. Tim Ferris says you need to spreadsheet it out, eat all your calories in one meal a day, optimize everything. Thich Nhat Hanh says peace is not just inside you, but in every step. “With every step, you arrive.”

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Thich-Amethyst

I’ll call this the Tim-Thich Dichotomy. We think that an “optimized” life is rigid and robs life of its vibrancy, flavor, and joy. However, a purely philosophical approach has as its end a Stoic’s stone floor, a meditation cushion, and begging for alms. Maybe, like in all things, the answer involves an understanding of each one, separately and together.

Our preparation to embark on this journey involved not just some, but many of both Tim and Thich’s ideas. When we have advice or thoughts about forging your own path to freedom, it will take the form of either “How We Do It” (a Tim post) or “How We Think About It” (a Thich post).

Don’t worry, there we be plenty of pictures of Ruby on our Instagram, too. And we have a couple of other projects in the works.

It’s been a lot of work. It did not come easy — even only coming this far, getting to the beginning. But just because it’s hard, doesn’t mean you can’t do it too. We want to show you how.

By the way, what does someone like Tim Ferris mean when they espouse a technique for “success”? Money. He means money. But that’s for another blog post that I haven’t written yet.

The Last, The First

By Ruby

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Today is the last day of my career.

After years of building my profession as a lawyer, first through law school, and then through working as a litigator at a big law firm, today I say goodbye and walk away.

Although I am walking away from something that many may see as prestigious and rewarding – a brass ring of sorts – I am more excited and inspired to think about what I am pivoting towards, and the lessons I learned from this experience about who I am, and what I value.

The life of a lawyer, particularly at large firms, is stressful and demanding. Lawyers are required to work long hours, to be always-accessible, and to churn out high-quality legal product.  We are paid well for this work, and I happened to be very good at what I did. I was touted as a “superstar” rising lawyer, on the fast track to partnership and all of the prestige and money that comes with it.

I was also losing myself.

There is so much about this story that I can’t wait to tell you. And I know that there is a lot that Amethyst wants to share with you as well.

We are starting a new adventure together. One away from desks, and salaries, and billable hours, and clients. An adventure of ideas, and art, and community. And this place is where we will be sharing that adventure with you.

Welcome to Camp Gemstone. We hope to bring you sparkle.