another coffee experience: Cona Siphon

There are many interesting coffee-making methods being employed in cafés around Wellington these days. In theory this is all in pursuit of different shades of coffee flavour and feel… but I’m shallow: my favourites always seem to be ones involving elaborate glassware.

So today, on my weekly visit to Customs Brew Bar to pick up some more of their fresh Harrar beans, I was very happy when Ralph invited me to stick around for a little bit, as he was going to crank up the Cona Siphon.

Yes: yet another siphon brewing device, but this one is surely the coolest looking coffee making device (outside of, arguably, a balance brewer) available today.

Here’s a video of the action1 taken with (and lashed together on) the iPhone:

Cona Siphon @CustomsBrewBar from dubh on Vimeo.

Oh, and the coffee tasted great too. Thanks Ralph!

  1. Because what the world needs, of course, is more videos of people making coffee. [return]


This weekend I’ve been back down on the farm for A Significant Birthday (not one of mine). Which was very nice.

Another really nice thing was being there in autumn. It’s probably been 20 years since the last time I was in Central Otago in the autumn, and I’ve really missed those colours.

The other thing I miss are bellbirds, of which there are few in Wellington, though possibly increasing in number. My Mum has several (fairly sleek and well-fed) individuals she feeds in a tree outside the kitchen window, and every half an hour their regular beat takes them by. On their way past they stop to sing, and so their song is always nearby.

korimako / bellbird

Of course, I had to try and get some photos…

I stood under the beech tree by the old rough-cast concrete water tank, and as one of the males swung by for a feed by I repeated its song back at it. He flittered about in the tree a bit, working his way closer, pausing every so often to cast his fairly spooky red eye at me.

I kept whistling my response back. Closer and closer he came, until he bounced out of the tree and on to the old tank, just a couple of metres away.

korimako / bellbird

Still, I whistled his song back at him. Off the tank he came and [into the shrubs even closer to me.

And then… he dropped down almost to the ground, about a metre or so from my feet. Not since that nearly disastrous time in the apple orchard have I been this close to a bellbird:

korimako / bellbird

Not finding much to impress him, he flew back up into the beech tree, then along to the bird feeder for a drink, then away to the top of a leafless silver birch tree to announce his presence.

Nothing much for him to see. Moving right along to the next item in the day’s business.

black-spined stick insect

Knowing how happy I am to find stick insects, B₂ called me outside this morning to have a look at this one, whose exact like we had not seen before:

large spiky stick insect

We have lots of the smooth green ones, and plenty of the brown variants of those, and occasionally some pretty fearsome looking brown and spiky ones.

But there’s so much variation of colour, size and texture that even today’s one probably belongs to one of our previously seen species.

It was probably a member of Genus Acanthoxyla, I thought after I had a good poke about in the Stick Insect pages at Landcare Research.

I particularly like her spines (it’s easily a “she”, because apparently no males have ever been observed for species in this genus, and it would be pretty unlikely for me to be the one finding the exception):

large spiky stick insect

And also I like the rather nice biomechanical look of her segments, and the variegated colour patches which taken in the whole really contribute to the overall camouflage effect:

large spiky stick insect

And then there’s the sheer alienness of her gaze, her incomprehensible mouth, and the rather pretty red patches on her forelimbs:

large spiky stick insect

Yep. Weird. But cool.

I’m so happy we have wee beasties like this around our house.

otago central rail trail


Doing the Otago Central Rail Trail as a family was one of the best holiday experiences we’ve ever had.

We teamed up with my Mum and another family from Wellington and spread the 150km out over five days in late January. This meant that the daily distances were challenging, but doable for our seven and ten year olds. We could also stop lots and take many photos.

R. sorted everything out through Trail Journeys, one of a number of similar operators (their website has heaps of useful information, too). They organised accommodation and baggage transfers between our stops, and could have hired bikes to us had we needed them.

This freed us up to simply enjoy the ride. While we we could have camped, and carried all our own gear, we figured that if we were to subject the kids (and ourselves) to nearly 40km of bike riding in a day the least we could do was give them a nice comfy bed at the end of it.

There were lots of highlights:

  • finding several full fruiting cherry plum trees at Galloway;

cherry plums overhanging the trail

  • stopping at the Chatto Creek pub for a much needed cold beer;
  • staying in the old Omakau Post Office;

the old Omakau post office

  • the Poolburn Gorge and tunnels;

approaching the poolburn gorge

  • the Ida Valley –yes, all of it;

ida valley panorama - click for original

riding towards ranfurly

the Otago Central Hotel, Hyde

  • the passports that my Mum bought for B₂ and R₂, which they had a lot of fun stamping at each station along the way;

trail passport

  • The weather, apart from that first hot day, which was generally temperate and not too windy, and no rain until an hour after we finished at Middlemarch; and
  • The other trail riders, the same groups of which we’d come across every day and chat with on stops.

But most of all, just being outdoors for days on end, away from cars and noise and speed and any external pressures was very very nice. And at the end of it, we felt like we’d really achieved something good. Which we had. B₂ wanted to do it again, immediately, a feeling we all shared (except for the timing - the rest of us needed a rest!).

I’d thoroughly recommend the Rail Trail to anyone.

chocolate, a reptile of our garden

Yesterday we had been watching out the window as the little common skinks came out of the grass to bask in the sun on the retaining wall outside the kitchen window. They’re pretty spooky though, so I’d never managed to take any photos. They’re another one of those animals that seems to be intensely aware of when it’s being observed: the moment your eye flickers away it will disappear. Like magic.

Later I was mowing a very long patch of grass (we had a few left over from our holiday) when I noticed a sinuous movement across the sparsely grassed dirt left behind by the mower. It was another little skink, now trapped in the open.

Rather than trying to dash for cover, it kept freezing and hoping I would fail to notice it. I corralled it easily, and when it climbed on my right hand I quickly cupped it with my left.

I called for R₂ to get her insect viewer, and we were able to place it in and have a good look1.

Captured skink

It was very beautiful; all stripes and scales:

Captured skink

As it customary, the girls awarded it a name (“Chocolate, the brown lizard”), and R₂ even tried to pat it. Unfortunately little wild lizards are not calmed by stroking, and it got a little agitated.

We thought we’d better put it back, so we found a spot on the lawn not far from some good cover, in the hope that we could observe its run across the mown grass to safety. To our surprise it did something else:

Skink dives into the grass

It had dived right under the grass, into the gaps between the shoots, with the interlocking sward above it providing cover. We tried to follow its progress by looking for the vibrations in the grass, which worked for a little while, until a moment’s inattention lost it from view.

It was easy now to re-imagine it as a terrifying beast of the grass-jungle, squeezing and twisting between the “trees” in search of prey: ants, slaters, and grasshoppers; and it is possible my colourful description may yet prove counterproductive to R₂’s sleeping-patterns. We shall see.

And meanwhile, little Chocolate is, I hope, none the worse for its own terrifying experience at our hands.

  1. The last time I tried this, when I was a kid, it all went pretty badly. Not that the lizard–a larger one–tried to bite me, but that it voided its bowels all over my fingers, leaving a stink that took several days of hand-washing to disperse. [return]

lack of spiders this summer

In neglecting this blog I’ve also been neglecting my related hobby of posting arachno-porn.

Time to fix this. A little.

Well, the other week down by the Taieri River we (or more correctly, that nice Scottish-Kiwi family from Auckland who we kept crossing paths with on the Rail Trail) found a pair of lovely and large water spiders (Dolomedes aquaticus, according to Forster & Forster):

Water spiders

Once I changed lenses I was able to get a nice close-up of the smaller, probably male, individual (though, as always, I never quite get enough depth of field):

Water spider

Meanwhile, the other one had disappeared around the side of a rock under the water. It sat there and didn’t move, the trapped air around its body providing a silvery aqualung.

Water spider, hiding

Given that this handsome pair were probably in the middle of some sort of courtship process when they were disturbed, I’m thinking this fully qualifies as arachno-porn.

So enough for now.

three photos

We’re finally back from holiday now. At some point I’ll post a tediously exhaustive account of the central portion, our five days on the Otago Central Rail Trail, but for now here are three photos I quite like that in their own way typify their portion of our time away.

All three were taken with my iPhone 4, which really does have a nice camera. I find myself taking even more photos than before, and as we shall see in a later posting, taking video too. And more photos means that on average there should be more good photos, and so it proves.

At Lake Hawea:

By the lake

Yes, the water really is that clear; with a polarising filter you can make boats appear to float unsupported. It’s also very cold, hence the wetsuit (though I did not use one when I went in for a couple dips).

On the Rail Trail itself, this evening view of the Hawkduns and Mt Ida appeared as I was returning from the Oturehua pub (we had run out of wine, and I had to make a dash on the bike for more):

Evening skies, Oturehua

And lastly, on the long trip home, there was a moment on Cook Strait when we watched the foggy clag besieging Wellington lift off the South Coast hills, momentarily:

South Coast Evening

Of course, it clamped down even closer as the evening wore on, and it hasn’t left yet, 36 hours later (even as other parts of New Zealand enjoy hot and sunny weather).

Definitely an ending, then.

along the hāwea river

We’re on our annual holiday-down-south.

This time, we’re going to spend five days with the kids, their grandmother, and another family doing the Otago Central Rail Trail. And so, ignoring the ironies inherent in carting them half the length of the country on the back of our car, we have our own bikes with us. Which means we can cycle about wherever we go.

Having spent a little time on the farm we’re now back in Hawea for a week before cycling the Rail Trail next week, and I thought it was high time I tried out a couple of the new riverside cycle trails between Wanaka and Hawea. These are fairly new, built by the Upper Clutha Tracks Trust and are eventually intended to link up and enable cycling from Hawea right through to Queenstown, away from the roads.

Anyway, the kids wanted to go to the Maze, so instead I decided I’d ride down the track to Alberttown and then on to Wanaka itself and meet them and R. there, via the Outlet Track, about a (as it turned out) 25km ride.

There was a roaring Northerly at my back, which I figured would be a good thing, and soon I was riding along a beautifully formed track above the Hawea River:

Along the Hawea River

There were no roads nearby; very very few people; the only houses were across the river. The solitude was very nice, and the tailwind and the generally downhill aspect made for an exceedingly pleasant ride.

One of the things I’ve always loved about the Upper Clutha Basin (and I’ve holidayed here for 40 years) is the smell of the place. It’s this kind of dusty, dry admixture of pine, briar rose, and manuka; and there was lots of this scent along the track. I breathed deeply.

Eventually the track ran across a river terrace, cutting off a long meander, and as the terrace ended I was presented with this beautiful vista:

Oxbow Lookout, Hawea River

Not that I suppose it is especially obvious from that stitched-up pano but spread out below the terrace edge is a lovely flat area left from a former oxbow loop of the Hawea River, speckled with manuka and just inviting a picnic.

From here it was a short ride to the new swingbridge over the river to the DoC campground, and from there to the Alberttown Bridge, which I crossed so that I could follow the young Clutha to Lake Wanaka. Which I did; this track, the Outlet Track, was considerably rougher and more testing (though still a beginner track by MTB standards) and I’m glad I rode it myself before insisting the kids follow me along (as one Dad I passed was about to do - hope they came through alright without putting their quite young kids off, as they were about to start the Rail Trail the next day).

Then, still following the Outlet Track along the shoreline of Lake Wanaka I rolled into Wanaka town itself, in time to meet R., score some beers, and pick up the kids from the maze. Hurrah!

Now I just have to figure out the logistics of us all having a ride down the Hawea River track in the next few days. Though if it’s not windy we all should be able to ride down to the Oxbow flat and back.

Time to check the forecasts then.

on the rimutaka rail trail

R. had arranged for us to meet up with four other families, originally from our Playcentre, for a bike ride up the Rimutaka Rail Trail.

This is another cycle trail built on an old Railway formation: in this case, the old line that used to run over the top of the Rimutaka Ranges northwest of Wellington before the tunnel was built in the mid-1950s. We planned to ride up to the top and back again.

We could not have had a more lovely day.

Trail, sky

R₂ is still getting used to her new bike, and took a little coaxing to get up to full speed. So we took a little longer than the others to get to the top (10.3km), where we stopped for lunch.

Summit Station

This was a site of a very isolated little Railway settlement. There’s not much here anymore, although the area is host to a few interesting birds: I saw kererū, and also my first ever pair of cuckoo (until they were chased off by a grey warbler)… and a tomtit:

Tomtit in the pine trees

Unfortunately I had left behind the long lens, thinking that I wouldn’t see any birds in the cutover forest that I’d read was here. So no better photos.

Anyway, a couple hundred metres further on is a long tunnel through to the other side of the hill. Once all the kids had cooled themselves off by riding through the tunnel and back I thought I’d have a go too. It was a little tricky without adequate lighting: although you can focus on the light at the end it’s not always easy to know how far from side to side you are swinging, especially if you are, er, too cowardly to get up enough speed to give yourself a straight line.

The Summit Tunnel, Wairarapa side

But I got there eventually, fellow Dad Charles following me through (whose ghostly image you can see in the stitched up photo above) some distance behind. For some reason, the tunnel exit had a couple of extra arches built. Perhaps they’re to accommodate the waterfalls on either side…

This side, the eastern or Wairarapa side, was a lot steeper and the workers from the Summit were needed to operate the Fell engines that worked here. There was a tempting track leading down eventually to Featherston, but that wasn’t for today.

I followed Charles back through and caught up with R. and R₂ and some of the others. B₂ was in a forward group, and we didn’t catch up with her (again) until we got to the end.

R₂ needed a little coaching on the confident usage of brakes enabling travel downhill: she was wanting to walk her bike downhill instead. With a bit of support (which I was not the best person to provide, sadly) she was on her way.

R₂ and T scoot ahead

Eventually she got her speed on and the trip down was comparatively quick. We met the others in the carpark, about an hour after departing the summit.

We could see why lots of family groups do this trail: it’s got a nice grade (we didn’t feel like we were climbing, though we certainly felt the trip back was a lot easier) and it’s clearly doable, and would make a nice achievement, for probably most confident cyclists over the age of six or so. And it’s great training for the four of us: we’ll be on the Central Otago Rail Trail in late January…


Nekisse vs. Sidamo single origin

As I’ve posted about earlier, these days caffeine-wise I’m off the espresso and on to pour-over filter coffee, like the Chemex.

I’m far from the only one around Wellington following this path and recently Coffee Supreme, sensing a market, have started a new range of super-premium single-origin coffees at around double the price of their regular beans. The first is the Nekisse.

Now I really know very little about this bean, save that it’s from a single farm in the Sidamo region in Ethiopia, and it’s supposed to be amazing. But I was lucky: last week Ralph at Customs Brew Bar slipped me a couple cups worth of an early roast to try.

I got them home and gave them a good look and smell. They were very fragrant; similar to the characteristic Sidamo fruitiness (which, if you haven’t come across it, is itself a revelatory coffee experience) but cleaner and brighter.

Nekisse (left) and Sidamo (right)

The beans were physically slightly smaller (left), and of a more even size than the regular Sidamo (right). This roast was not as dark as the Sidamo either; Ralph tells me that the Nekisse roast they’re selling now is a little darker (unfortunately the lighting in my photo doesn’t make the colour difference very clear - it’s a little more obvious in the flesh).

Anyway, I tried the Nekisse in the Chemex, but it didn’t really set my world on fire. As a breakfast coffee, it was very nice, but I actually preferred the regular Sidamo. Then I thought I’d better give it a proper comparison test.

As I don’t have two Chemex filter glasses, I thought I’d try something I found in Japan City1: a couple of cheap plastic versions of the classic Hario drip cones. I also picked up a pack of the filters on the next aisle over (get the larger size, if you are heading to Japan City yourself).

And so this morning it was time for the test.

Using the Japan City Drip Filter

I used the same amounts of beans (20g in this case, though I usually use 25g) freshly ground at my usual coarse-but-not-as-coarse-as-French-Press grade and placed in the pre-rinsed filter cones.

Nekisse vs. Sidamo

I then poured a cup and a half of recently boiled water over each, taking care to let the grounds bloom before pouring all the water in.

The results were pretty interesting. The Nekisse was light and very very fruity, seemingly more fruity than previously when I had it in the Chemex. It had amazing berry flavours - to me, lighter and less tannic, like the taste of strawberries. Yet surprisingly, the regular Sidamo tasted flat and almost muddy in comparison. I’ll definitely be getting some more of this Nekisse, I thought.

But thinking back to my experiences with the Chemex, where I’d found the regular Sidamo more interesting than the clean but bland Nekisse, it became clear that a lot of the differences between the Chemex brews and the my plastic cone filter brews were in the paper filters used.

Chemex sometimes gets a bit of a bad rap for filtering out too much flavour; so it seemed that not only was it taking out a lot of the less desirable flavours in the regular Sidamo, it may also have been removing some of the good flavours in the Nekisse. On the other hand, the cheap paper filters I was using in the plastic drip cones were allowing more flavours through, good and bad, but to the advantage of the Nekisse.

I’d always thought this sort of effect was a bit overstated, but obviously that’s not so. So it would seem that some brewing methods work better than others with each single origin bean. Yes! A whole new dimension of coffee nerdery to explore!

So, to conclude: if you’re having people over and you want to blow them away with an amazing brewed coffee experience, you should try them on the Nekisse in a Hario drip cone or similar. Because of the quality of the beans, even a flimsy paper filter is enough (and probably desirable). But for everyday usage, I think I’ll be sticking to the Sidamo in my Chemex (much to the relief of my wallet, no doubt).

On the other hand, maybe I should get just the tiniest amount of the Nekisse. Just a little bit more…

  1. A sort of $2 (most things are $3.45) shop up Cuba Street full of Japanese stuff; some of it actually exceedingly nifty, as Robyn’s post on the Wellingtonista explains. [return]