If you look in my basement (you’d think I’m a pig)
As a sort of an archaeological dig
You’d uncover a history, of husband and wife
And the coffee we had in our life.
Automatic drip brewers? We’ve got them galore
And espresso machines—there are two on the floor
There’s the time we decided to try a French Press
Now an artifact, there in the mess.
There’s a pot for unfiltered—that’s Turkish or Greek
In a pile of old pans, playing hide and go seek;
And a ghastly device that’s a microwave cup
Whose inventor was truly messed up.
Through the decades of methods we’ve tested and tried
There are some that we modified, some that just died—
It’s not like a problem we tackled and solved,
But rather, our method evolved.
There’s an art to it—no, what I mean is, a science—
Not simply a hunt for the perfect appliance,
But a test of each variable, to see what you find
That persists when you test double-blind
Now the people who’ve taken the trouble to test
Have agreed that my method is really the best—
A little more effort, one cup at a time,
But really, the coffee’s sublime.
Via Scicurious and others (via twitter), a delightful little essay at the Scientific American guest blog on “science in the neighborhood: how to make a really good coffee”, in which the co-owner of a coffee shop applies experimental methodology (controlling some variables, manipulating others, double-blind taste testing) to really understand the process of brewing coffee. The resulting method, I note with pride, is exactly how I’ve been brewing my morning cup for years now.
I tell my students that there is precious little in their lives that cannot be systematically examined through science–and that the more important something is to you, the more reason there is to use this incredibly powerful set of tools. The morning cup of coffee is an extremely important thing.
Is it possible to just stumble upon the same solution that scientific investigation will give you? Of course! Orgel’s Second Law (“Evolution is smarter than you are”) tells us that with replication, variation, and differential success, and a whole lot of time, evolution (in this case, coffee is a parasite, depending on us for its reproduction) will find solutions. The fossil record in my basement reflects this.
But science is powerful. The barista in the article “spent well over fifty hours perfecting his technique”. Took me over 20 years to stumble upon it. But the good news is, we stumbled upon it quite some time back, so we have had many years of excellent coffee, using a method that the experts are now “discovering”. If I could wrestle with this metaphor a bit, it’s odd to have a cup of coffee remind us of the importance of preserving ecosystems. Evolution has been solving problems since long before we were here; in our rush to clear land and tame wilderness, we are most assuredly obliterating treasures. If only for selfish reasons, it is imperative that we look where we are stepping.