Gotta Getta GoToob

We recently added GoToob to our New Products list, and people really seem to like it – what’s not to like? They look good, they work well, and they go a long way to significantly reducing stress at one of the most harried places around: the airport.

Picture it. You’re running late for a flight, and the line through security is monstrous. You have no time to lose as you place your bag conveyor belt, kick off your shoes, and wait to be waved through the metal detector. You pass through without incident, and now the only things keeping you from boarding are your bag and a few quick paces.

What is taking so long? The guard manning the x-ray machine sits with his nose to the screen, his eyes scanning the image of your bag. After what feels like an eternity, he passes the bag through… just not to you. A second guard opens up the bag and reveals the problem – an 8 oz bottle of lotion.

When you’re crunched for time at the airport, the last thing you need to be worrying about is whether the shampoo and conditioner you have in your bag are regulation size. GoToobs keeps it simple (and look good doing it). These 1.25 oz silicon containers are PC and BPA free, meaning GoToob travel bottles are just as safe as they are convenient.

The GoToobs come in different colors to easily distinguish one substance for another (so you don’t get your toothpaste mixed up with your hand sanitizer). The window in the collar near the cap of the Go Toob also rotates to mark the bottle as lotion, soap, shampoo and more. The cap has a ‘lock’ setting so your shampoo doesn’t leak in your purse or luggage, but Human Gear Go Toob website has a list of substances that you shouldn’t store in your Go Toob because they have a tendency to leak. The list includes single malt whiskey, but don’t worry. We also sell flasks.

Are you a GoToobs fan? Let us know in the comments.

Make Great Coffee Under Pressure With The Aeropress

Useful Things is based in Portland, OR – a city known for keepin’ it weird, microbreweries, and dark delicious coffee. Our obsession (don’t call it an addiction!) with the stuff led us to the AeroPress coffee press, the only tool you need to brew cafe perfect cups of coffee & espresso in under 30 seconds.

The Aero Press was created by inventor Alan Adler who, until releasing the coffee press in 2005, was famous for inventing toys such as the Aerobie Flying Disc and Rocket Football. His choice to expand into coffee was motivated – as most great inventions – by his discontent with the existing options of coffee making. Thus, Aeropress coffee came into creation.

As he states in this New York Times blog post: “I was aware that lower temperature reduced acidity and bitterness and made a sweeter cup. I had an espresso machine, and I went looking for a way to adjust the temperature. So I began brewing coffee in a Melitta cone at a lower temperature, but I was troubled by the long wet time, typically four to five minutes. I was troubled that a lot of rich liquid was trapped in the cone.”

The Aeropress is traditionally used by placing ground coffee (fine ground works best!) into the bottom of the larger cylinder on top of one of the 365 microfilters provided with the coffee press. After pouring hot water over the coffee and allowing it to sit for ~ 10 seconds, the mixture is forced through the microfilter by pushing down slowly second smaller cylinder.

The following video by renowned Norwegian coffee-maker Tim Wendelboe demonstrates the process very… sexily. Is it NSFW? Maybe not. But any coffee illiterate co-workers may think you’re a little crazy.

What’s cool about the Aero Press coffee maker is that it leaves a lot of wiggle room for those who love to experiment with different grinds, temperatures, timing, and even techniques. Some baristas began using the ‘inverted method’, which allows the water to sit in the Aeropress and not immediately trickle through the filter, to extract more of the flavorful coffee oils.

But don’t take our word for it. Check out Russia’s very own Alexey Kurbatov as he makes Aeropress coffee using the inverted method in this beautifully shot video.

Do you have any techniques for making the perfect cup of Aeropress coffee? Let us know in the comments!

Keep the Party Rolling With These Japanese Ice Ball Molds

While bartenders across the globe are fattening trade books with new cocktails, in Japan they work with determination to perfect the classics. From the actual spirits, to the size and shape of the serving glasses, Japanese bartenders tweak each detail in an attempt to continuously improve upon what is already considered near perfection.

One such innovation is Japanese ice balls. These balls are traditionally hand cut (check out the video below) as part of the 20+ year training process for new bartenders.

The large ice balls have less surface area than chunks of regular ice cubes from the tray. This, in addition to the compactness of the ice ball, causes it to stay cooler longer. The size and shape of the ice ball slow the melt time and allow you to enjoy your drink cold and undiluted…

… Or it would if you have the cash for a traditional, gravity-powered ice ball maker (shown at work in the video below). As nifty as these things are, 55 – 80 mm ice ball makers range in price from a steep $1,085 to a perilously steep $1,649. Not cheap!

But before you hang your head and resign yourself to a life of watered-down cocktails (or take out a second mortgage to purchase a traditional ice ball maker), listen to this. You can get your hands on this amazing Japanese ice-magic here at Useful Things!

Our BP-free plastic ice ball mold delivers the Japanese ice ball experience without any of the labor or cash expenses of a machine or visit to a high end Japanese bar. These cleverly constructed ice ball molds open in two places. The tab on the top opens to allow you to fill the mold with water, and the mold itself opens in half allowing the frozen ice ball to slide out.  Simply fill with water, freeze, and – かんぱい! That’s kanpai, or ‘cheers’ in Japanese.

Whiskey Stones Will Rock Your Drink

Regardless of what poor habits you acquired in your younger years, whiskey is meant to be enjoyed, not guzzled down.

But for those of us who like our whiskey chilled, the current option leaves something to be desired. Throwing an ice cube into your favorite spirit risks slowly turning your drink into a watered down imitation of the original, not to mention the condescending glances from whiskey-snobs.

Next time you reach for the Johnny Walker on a warm day, pop a few whiskey stones into your tumbler (you are drinking from a tumbler, right?) and enjoy the strength and robust flavor of your undiluted beverage.

An invention of Teroforma co-founder Andrew Hellman, the cocktail stones are handcrafted from a type of soapstone unique to Vermont. After being chilled in the freezer for about 4 hours, simply let them sit for another 5 minutes before tossing 2 or 3 in a tumbler dousing them with your favorite whiskey. The whiskey stones are tasteless and odorless, meaning they’ll only enhance your drinking experience, not distract you from it, creating a literal way to enjoy your drink on the rocks.

The Best On-the-Go Instant Coffees

Need a quick java fix? These instant coffees designed for on-the-go lifestyles will save you money and time. So, forget the expense of going through a coffee shop drive-through, and the time it takes to brew your own at home. With these instant single serve coffees, you’ll be ready and amped up in no time.

The Taste Test’s tasting panel tested three readily available instant on-the-go single serve coffees. The single-serve packages are small enough to put into lunch boxes, purses, briefcases, glove boxes, desk drawers, and even pockets, so you can take them literally anywhere.

The three coffee samples were purchased at a small-town Safeway, and are likely to be carried by most grocery stores. The samples tasted included:

1. Starbucks Via, Colombia
2. Nescafé Clasicó, Original
3. Taster’s Choice, Original

The tastings were conducted blindly—the participants did not know which coffee sample they were tasting, and were not allowed to look at the contents in the cup to analyze the coffee for color. The samples were all prepared by emptying the contents of the packet into a cup and adding hot water.

The results were consistent. The three tasters all selected sample #2, Nescafé Clasicó, as their favorite and Taster’s Choice original as their least favorite. The tasters consistently commented that sample #1, Starbucks Via Colombia, was good, but too acidic. The Nescafé Clasicó, on the other hand, was well-balanced.

For the purposes of the blind tasting, the samples were all prepared in 6 oz. mugs, so as not to tip off anyone as to which coffee they were tasting. The Starbucks Via sample, however, is intended for an 8 oz. mug. Making a cup per the intended proportions resulted in one taster changing their mind and selecting Starbucks Via as their favorite. It was still a tad harsh for the other two tasters. One commented that it tasted like a true Americano.

The tasters found sample #3, the Taster’s Choice Original, to be bland and chalky in texture. Comparing the coffee from this sample to the other two offers clues as to why. The Taster’s Choice coffee is much lighter in color, and the granules are larger in size.

(It is also worthy to note that samples #2 and #3 are both Nestlé products.)

Which instant coffee offers the most bang for your buck? UsefulThings purchased the coffees for the following prices:

Starbucks Via $7.99 for 8 packets
Nescafé Clasicó $ 1.09 ON SALE for 8 packets
Taster’s Choice $2.99 for 22 packets

Clearly, the Taster’s Choice is the least expensive, at only .135 cents per packet. The Nescafé Clasicó on sale is only one tenth of a penny more. However, average retail price on this item is a dollar more, or around $2.09, which puts each packet at .26 cents. Starbucks Via is clearly the most expensive, costing close to a dollar per packet.

Other Choices
In addition to the three samples tested, the supermarket where they were purchased also carried varieties of the same brands.

Starbucks Via offers Italian Roast, Decaf Italian Roast, and Iced, in addition to the Colombia flavor.

Nescafé Clasicó comes in Decaf as well as regular.

Taster’s Choice has Columbian, Decaf, Vanilla, and Hazelnut, as well as their Original version.

Other brands exist as well, but were not found in the small town market. Research online shows that this type of instant, on-the-go, single-serve packages are also made by:

Mount Hagan Organic
Folgers (offers a teabag style only)

Otherwise, instant coffee can be purchased in non single-serve containers from many brands in all sorts of flavors.