Each month the Google UK&I technical sales team have a Campfire session 🏕️ 🔥 to share events, technical things of interest or just something fun. I had the honor of hosting the February get together and I also ended up taking on the “fun” aspect and picked to ramble about coffee ☕ but importantly how it helps with my mental health.
I got some great feedback so thought I would share here.
Over the years I have developed a couple of methods to help keep my mind healthy
- Generally Lifting heavy things (either in the gym or people on a rugby pitch)
- or just beasting myself so much I can’t think about anything other putting one foot in front of the other and completely emptying my mind
Although I’ve not done much of that in the last 12+ months!
The other is coffee, or more specifically the process of making it as well as enjoying it.
My morning ritual involves making a coffee which gives me 5/10 mins to focus my brain for the day and also kicks it off in a positive way.
- The ritual can bring back fond memories relating to the smell of coffee or the process I’m following (Iceland, Norway, US, Asia etc.)
- It acts like a switch to calmly think about the upcoming day
- Same with weekends although the focus is relaxation
In the past I had a variation when on the road (I would average 3 days away from home each week)
- Frequent a speciality shop that could make the coffee how I like
- A walk to a coffee shop very much focused the mind for the day (or even getting a bus)
- Or my travel grinder, filter cup thing - like the Swiss army knife of the coffee world. I would usually only take this if I was not confident about getting a good speciality coffee in.
I have found this latest lockdown very difficult and exhausting. The ritual of making a coffee has helped to clear my head and focus on priorities and things I can influence.
Science and history of coffee is amazing and some really awesome books exists detailing these things. I won’t do any of it justice here so won’t start.
On a work day, once I have made my coffee in the kitchen I go to the office and spend the first 90 minutes (well try) on focused work (I’ve been experimenting on how to hack flow). I find that focussing my mind while making coffee and then the flavour and aroma helps me concentrate on what’s in front of me rather than all the distractions that exist.
Lets wind back time though (I need to dust off my flux capacitor) ….. I have not always enjoyed or had a passion for coffee.
I used to drink instant with sugar as a really worst case when working back in my student days, that was rare and would always hunt out tea - Yorkshire Gold of course.
I then visited Rome in 2008 and discovered a little espresso bar near the spanish steps
- In fact from memory it was in the right of the road right in front on the picture above
UPDATE: I decided to hunt it down, it turns out its the oldest Cafe in Rome - Caffe Greco
I also discovered chocolate coated Espresso beans on that trip and learnt a valuable lesson.
- Don’t sit at your desk eating them like chocolate raisins washing them down with a cappuccino
Bouncing of the walls, pounding headache and shaking does not do it justice ….
I then started to drink a lot of milk based coffee from chains ….. quite a few in fact, it was like a habit. When the smokers went out for a smoke I popped to the coffee shop. It didn’t help a Costa existed in the office I spend a lot of time, quite close to my desk as well.
Discovering speciality coffee was a revelation. But what is speciality coffee?
- Defined by quality and how good the taste is
- The origin is important
- The time of year for harvesting or processing is important
- Complexity in taste - someone once told me that coffee can have more complex taste profiles than coffee.
The opposite is commodity coffee that isn’t traded on by quality but simple that its “coffee”.
I think when you move to speciality coffee you embrace the differences in taste, try the different origins, processing styles and more then likely have less, or no milk in your drinks. You also expand your coffee drinking experience beyond espresso based drinks and discover a new vocabulary, its a topic that some can really nerd out on.
I discovered that 120 other species have been identified but other than two we don’t really use at any scale.
Many good books and websites go into a huge amount of detail.
It’s a great time for coffee
- Producers know more than ever before about growing coffee
- and have access to more varieties and specialist growing techniques
- The roasting process continues to improve and lots of independent speciality roasters have spun up (including a mate of mine who is behind Red Kite Roasters).
Lots can impact the taste;
- Freshness of beans
- Way they are roasted
- When they are harvested
- Quality of water used to make brew
- …. Etc. etc.
You can start to see some wild prices for the really specialist stuff
Over the years I have flip flopped between drinking way too much to stopping for a few weeks (that was a wild ride) and now having one or maybe two cups a day (albeit big ones). Flat whites and drip filters are my preferred options, if I know the barista and coffee is good I will sometimes go the espresso route.
I mentioned that certain processes, aromas or taste bring back some great memories.
What are some of the more memorable coffee I have had?
When I travel try to taste the local variations.
I spent a few weeks working in Istanbul and got to experience the ritual of turkish coffee.
- When it was coffee time it was coffee time! Tools down and go
- Longer ritual than mine but a great time to chat with colleagues
- A couple of friend would have a coffee, cigarette and chat
- I can’t say I enjoyed the coffee initially, and as a small tip don’t down the last sip, but the ritual was really refreshing and the taste did grow on me.
While holidaying in Vietnam I managed to try two local delicacies while travelling from the North down to the South of the country.
The first was an egg coffee which is make with an egg yolk, sugar, condensed milk and coffee. It felt more like a desert, a very delicious drinkable desert.
The second, involved condense milk as well (I think the usage of this stems from milk shortages during war time) and was a sweet, rich, strong coffee that was sometimes hot or served over ice. This was an easy version to find while traveling between places, it wasn’t always easy to understand what each variation was due to language barriers - I have some amazing memories of coffee from places that I would run a mile from if in the UK or western cultures.
Fun fact, Vietnam is the 2nd biggest coffee producer behind Brazil, it is almost all Robustica (commodity coffee) that is exported. They tend to keep the good stuff for themselves, although I understand they are trying to diversify away from commodity coffee.
Final Puerto Rico brought me a coffee I have never tasted since, it was a very strong, syrupy, heavy coffee. Hard to explain but I remember it due to a hurricane passing by.
And then coffee in a cone has to be on the list for unusual things to drink coffee from, it is a specially made cone that originates from South Africa. It was from a speciality coffee shop in Harrogate …. this leads me to the next chapter in my coffee adventures - No35
In 2017 I was involved in setting up a coffee shop (plan was to do roasting as well) with two friends. We called it N35, mainly due to the original tilied number in the front door (you can see in the picture if you focus hard). We did the vast majority of the work together (you can see a before and after in the top right).
This really opened the world to obsessive coffee types and snobs. Harrogate has a few speciality shops and has a similar feel to the London coffee culture
I ended up selling my shares after around 18 months however it was certainly a whirlwind of fun and quite profitable 🤑
What the coffee shop taught me was that a never ending way of drinking coffee exists ..
Learnt all the different methods and types of coffee. Taking the espresso based drinks out of the equations as these are well understood I think the right side of the above picture shows some of the more speciality ways of making coffee. Some of the methods I use regularly and are worth a highlight are;
- Designed by a German chemist
- Pretty Iconic for both aesthetics and brewing ability
- Inspired by two lab apparatus
- Lab glass funnel
- Reason I was drawn to it was it reminded me of school chemistry
- Glass and Wood design
- Pour over method
- Water passes through a bed of coffee and a filter
- Gives a very clean cup of coffee
- To do with the type of filters used
- Brings together chemistry, glass and coffee - what’s not to like
- Has its origins back in 1980
- Just like some awesome films
- However it remained a prototype until 2004
- Im sure they rebooted some of those great 80’s films around then??
- While Hario has won many design awards for its products the v60 is its most famous
- Japanese company
- Named form vector 60 - the 60 degree angle of the cone
- Allows the water to flow to the centre extending contact time with the coffee grounds
- Single hole in the bottom allows for water flow speed variations
- Spiral ribs allow the air to escape maximising the expansion of the coffee grounds
- Constant water flow + small grind size = medium bodied coffee
- Slow water flow + small grind size = full bodied coffee
- Constant water flow + medium grind size = light bodied coffee
- Slow water flow + medium grind size = light bodied coffee
- Standard or inverted (if you are fancy)
- A little unusual
- Invented in 2005 (Alan Adler)
- He also invented the aerobie throwing ring
- Initially the water and coffee is together
- Then you push a piston that pushed the water through the coffee
- A little like a espresso machine dones, just with less pressure
- You can tweak the ratios really easily to alter the type of cup you get
Things to consider while trying to make a good coffee?
- Different grinds sizes
- Coarse to fine (each brew method was a recommendation)
- Weight of coffee
- Weight of water
- Extraction time all make a huge difference
- Although these days I do a lot by eye and not weight/time
It surprises most people when I say that I don’t have an espresso machine at home! The cost for a good quality one is pretty high and I have a preference for no milk and pour overs. Although you could say that my espresso machine is 15 min walk from my house.
Many of the smaller independent roasters I know not only focus in the quality of the product but also pursue ethical coffee (visit the independent farms or coops regularly).
As mentioned the roasting process continues to improve and is a mixture of science, data, experience, and using ears to listen to the cracks/popping noises. The key is listening for the second crack when the oils are driven to the surface of the bean and much of the acidity will have been lost and the flavour is developing
How do they work out the flavours, it’s a science though 😁
Which is the made up flavour combo?
- Nectarine, Pistachio & Almond Butter
- Dried Mango, Garibaldi Biscuits & Candied Almonds - Dr StrangeLove
- Black Forest gateau and fudge (I made this one up, but sounds good)
Still never worked it out and maybe my taste buds are not good enough, its all based around the coffee wheel.
So what is my morning ritual, you promised to share that ages ago?
The majority of the time my morning coffee is a v60 based brew. I also have a coffee subscription for a couple of roasters (mix it up), they send me coffee designed to be drunk as filter coffee. Firm favourites are often Ethiopian or Columbian My steps are;
- Grind coffee beans - medium
- Heat water up to between 90 to 96 degrees - I have a kettle that helps with that, if not boil and leave to cool for a few minutes
- Pop a filter paper in the v60
- Rise the filter thoroughly. Gets rid of that paper taste and also helps heats the cup up the right temp
- Pop the coffee grounds in
- Best to use a gooseneck kettle, although I don’t have one anymore. Makes it easier to pour in circles to control the water flow.
- Start by pouring double the amount of water to coffee
- Let it “bloom” for 30 sec. You will seen the grounds absorb the water and grow and rise, this is the rapid release of CO2. It also helps see how fresh the coffee is - if it does “grow” it means CO2 has already been released and flavour will have deteriorated
- While it has a scientific reason to do it the reality is it puts a smile on my face
- Then Pour on the water more water to make your coffee. Officially I would do all this based on weight recommended by the brew tips by the roaster the reality I do this based on eye these days
- No milk or sugar!
The process starts my brain thinking about what I have for the day. This helps me start my day and focuses the mind somewhat on what I have to do and reduce the chance of distractions.
If its a challenging day I may go a make a coffee to get 5 min of contemplation time (although not usually too much in the afternoon)I started my talk last week asking the team if I was coffee obsessed, the general conclusion was that I am certainly a fan of coffee. I try and build demos around the theme of coffee (including coffee related domains). The other day I started to build a mobile app using Flutter;
Let me know what you think about my “excitement” about coffee?