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How to make coffee (and save the world) at a coworking space

Coffee at Groundwork

It’s hard to summarize what coworking is all about because it encompasses so many things: flexiblity, empowerment, relationships, community, culture… the list goes on. But if you want to get a good sense of the coworking phenomenon, look to the humble coffee station.

Bottomless coffee is a thing at most coworking spaces. We get ours roasted locally at Coastal Roasters, a like-minded business that we love to support. But I’m not really talking about the coffee itself, or the perk of staying well-caffeinated throughout the day. I’m talking about the act of making coffee in a group environment, which as it turns out is a very interesting social experiment.

Here’s the thing: our coffee maker is VERY finicky. It is a Braun pour-over machine. It works by keeping a tank of hot, coffee temperature water ready to go. When we want to brew, we pour a pitcher of cold water into the hot water tank, and the displacement will cause hot water to flow through a spout into the filter basket. Voila: fresh, hot coffee!

There’s a catch:

Sometimes the water flows too fast, causing the filter basket to overflow and making a huge mess of water and coffee grinds everywhere. It really, really sucks when this happens. So, like a mother protects her loved ones, we avoided teaching our members how to make coffee for quite a while.

Of course, we got busy, and eventually we had to give up control. Our members started making coffee, and they experienced the overflow disasters. And then, being smart and talented folks, they started to come up with ideas. Kevin, a data scientist, developed a technique of wetting the edges of the filter first and pouring the water pitcher in parts: pour half, wait, pour the second half.

Jim, a carpenter who now works in urban development, stepped in with a hypothesis: when the water heater turns on it creates an increase in pressure and thus faster water flow, so the trick is to avoid the heater turning on during the brewing process. It seemed that Kevin’s two part pour method worked well with this hypothesis. Then Ray, a coding ninja, came in and suggested starting with a 3/4 pour, which created a little extra pressure, still avoided the overflow, and brewed a stronger cup of coffee.

Here’s the thing. For months this coffee issue was a staff problem: a major annoyance for two harried coworking space operators. When we let go of ownership, it became a small focal point for community members. Suddenly we were united around the coffee machine, determined to make this small (but important) aspect of our space better.

At a coworking space, the mundane annoyances of office life are the sparks of meaningful engagement.

And that, my friends, is coworking. We work here because we choose to work together. Sometimes this can be something big, like debating a political issue with both sides present or forming a startup together. Most of the time, it’s the small things: fixing the coffee machine. Sharing home-baked cookies. Helping to debug a website issue. Remembering to take a break and say hello to someone.

We are here because we have this innate sense that we can make things better when we’re together.

So… who wants to make the next pot of coffee?

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