My Morning Cup features the coffee rituals that most of us have. People from all walks of life — from US senators to ballplayers, subway drivers to college professors — have submitted entries that will run each day.
Here, we reached Matthew Berk, the co-founder of Bean Box, by phone from Seattle.
Matthew Berk, 44
Co-founder of Bean Box, a coffee subscription service that provides monthly batches from Seattle roasters
Describe your coffee routine. Where do you frequent, what do you like?
In the morning, it’s actually hard. Because having access to so much coffee and such variety it’s difficult for me to determine what to have. My wife and I probably switch off every three days to a different bean and different roast. We love Guatemalans. Sometimes we like something sweeter. In the morning it’s my job to grind the coffee. We have a hand grinder, the Hario, which is a little glass guy. We use a Chemex. We heat the water to about 200 degrees. We pour it in, let it bloom. Pour it more in, let it bloom again. Between the hand grinding and pouring it in, it’s this extended experience. The first kick I get out of the morning after getting out of bed is grinding the beans. It feels like it’s part of my kick.
So aside from the morning cup, how many more do you have?
When we’re working with new partners we do what’s called cupping. There’s a very specified ratio of grounds to water. You give it four minutes to cool. You’re smelling the beans, smelling the grounds, smelling it throughout the process. You put a spoon in, aerate it over your tongue. You suck a little in and spit it out. If you swallow, you’ll get too much of a buzz. On days we’re not cupping we do a Chemex at the office.
The third time I’ll have coffee is occasionally in the evening after dinner, when I’ll do a lighter coffee. Usually a fruity bean. Yirgacheffe is my favorite. That to me is a more tea-like experience.
Sounds like you’re making coffee most of the time. Do you ever buy?
I almost always make my own now. I used to buy it out because there’s a lot of amazing cafes here. For people that I know in general — and myself specifically — we are getting more intentional about what we eat. We have a great coffee shop 20 feet from our office. They have great fresh coffee. But now I like making it myself because I know exactly what’s in it.
When you’re buying, what’s your order?
I like a pourover. I find my tastebuds have a difficult time interpreting espresso because it’s so concentrated. I like a simple pourover.
I think I know the answer to this, but how do you take it?
By itself. If you have a fresh roast it’s going to be sweet enough. I kind of feel like adding sugar or milk takes away from the taste of the coffee.
Iced or hot?
I have done it iced. I prefer it hot. But the one thing I learned with hot coffee is it really can’t be too hot or else your palate shirks away from the heat and you loose the aroma and taste. So I usually wait a few minutes before drinking it. Also, a really great, fresh coffee will taste even better as it cools.
Alone or with company?
Anytime we talk about our product we meet over coffee. Coffee is a socially binding experience, and that’s part of it. If you have a great social connection while you’re drinking the coffee, and it’s great coffee, it’s two for one.
Where do you drink it? Seated or on the go?
I used to drink it on the go. But now I want to sit down and enjoy it. I find it hard to do on the go.
Any simultaneous noncaffeinated stimulation (newspaper, radio, cigarettes, etc.)?
It’s a moment for me and my wife to have a moment before the craziness of the day. At work, I’m working while consuming it.
What time will you drink your last cup?
I won’t drink it after about 7 p.m. It’s a little too late for me.
What’s your stance on decaf?
For a while I tried decaf to kind of limit caffeine. What I now realize is for me personally I get enough flavor sensation from drinking just a little bit. So my cup of coffee is a quarter the size of even an 8 ounce. I try to drink a little less. For me consuming coffee is about the taste of the coffee and you can get that by drinking just a little bit. And you can limit your caffeine intake.
When and why did you start drinking coffee?
Oh my gosh. I think I was probably in my early 20s. I was still in college but I know exactly where. It’s on the Upper East Side, in New York, a place called Sant Ambroeus. My mom took me for a cappuccino. The place has a kind of traditional Italian experience. It’s super dark, super foamy. To this day when I go to New York City, I make it a point to go to Sant Ambroeus and have a cappuccino. It was just such a moment. My mom was saying to me, “I love this experience, I’m sharing it with you.” And when my son is old enough, I’ll take him to Sant Ambroeus to have a cappuccino.
Describe the most memorable cup of coffee you’ve ever had.
Holy cow. Great question. I think for me, it was that first cup. Because without having to think about it, that’s just what comes to mind. That first taste. That’s also a piece of what we’re trying to do with Bean Box. Coffee is a habit and that’s phenomenal. But when we imbue our habits with meaning, it’s all the more special.