Jony Ive’s Secret Coffee Ritual

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Jony Ive and his elite design team at Apple are coffee snobs. And rightfully so.

Coffee is the fuel that drives their brainstorming sessions, which are arguably the most important meetings in the design department. These sessions are where Apple has birthed some of the greatest products of all-time: the iMac, the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad.

In this guest post by Leander Kahney (author of Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple’s Greatest Products), you’ll learn the secret coffee ritual performed by Jony Ive’s design team.

Remember: Apple’s standards are notoriously high.  As is the case with their products, Apple’s coffee is not for those with meager budgets…or without Monk-ish tendencies.

HOWEVER, for almost every uber-expensive ideal, I’ve indicated the Poor Man’s alternative that I personally use.  It’s not hard to cheaply get it about 90% right.

Enjoy the obsessive detail…

Enter Leander

Jony Ive and his team work in a super-secure design studio on Apple’s campus in Cupertino, California. Locked behind a heavy door and lined with frosted glass windows, few are allowed to enter the inner sanctum, including some of Apple’s own executives.

The studio is Apple’s innovation factory — Edison’s lab at the heart of the company. You can tell it’s the brains of the operation from the hundreds of patents they file. Some of the designers are among the top patent holders in the world. The studio is where Steve Jobs hung out most afternoons before he died, working on new products with Jony Ive.

A team of about 20 designers work in the studio. Twice a week, the entire team gathers together for brainstorming sessions. The brainstorms take place around a large table in the studio’s kitchen.

The brainstorms are the key to how the designers work. “We can work with a level of collaboration that seems particularly rare,” Ive has said. “In fact, the memory of how we work will endure beyond the products of our work.”

The brainstorms are usually on Tuesdays and Thursdays, running for three hours — from 9:00 AM to roughly 12:00 PM.

Such marathon thinking periods would be impossible without coffee.

Before each brainstorming session, the team performs their sacred coffee ritual — a critical part of their workflow since the early 1990′s. Like everything Apple’s designers do, their coffee ritual is very precise. They have honed their technique to a science, adjusting the beans, the grind, the grain, and the pour to perfection. The resulting beverage boosts the team’s creativity to the max.

How to Make Coffee like Jony Ive

Step 1: Get a High-End Espresso Machine

Apple’s design studio is equipped with a high-end commercial-style espresso machine. For a long time, the machine was an Italian Grimac. But the $3,000+ machine leaked all the time and had to be constantly serviced by a technician. Yet it made heavenly coffee. Thanks to the studio’s ultra secrecy, it’s unclear if the same machine is in service or has been replaced.


Italian Grimac – Apple’s old machine

Good espresso machines come in all shapes and sizes, but smaller machines good for home use cost between $800 and $1,300.

Machines from European companies like Rancillo, La Pavoni, Pasquina, Bezzera (the company that invented espresso in 1905) and Gaggia are recommended. The 1,300 Bezzera BZ07 ($1,200) is highly rated, but the Kees van der Westen Speedster ($7,200) has been called the best home espresso machine ever.


Kees van der Westen Speedster: The best espresso maker ever?

If $1,000 is too steep, you can get an espresso-like experience using the AeroPress ($25), a cylindrical device that’s part-bicycle pump, part-French Press. As Tim details in The 4-Hour Chef, it’s the machine of choice for top professional baristas.

[NOTE FROM TIM: Here's my 4-minute tutorial on how to make the perfect cup of coffee with an AeroPress:]

Step 2: Get a Good Grinder

The coffee grounds have to be perfectly uniform — each has to be exactly the same size – to allow the water to envelope the grain and extract the coffee. If the grounds are too big, the water will pass through too fast and you won’t get full extraction. If the ground is too small, powdery grains clog up the filter and the water won’t get through. It can also force coffee grains into the cup. Yuck!

The size of the grain is the most important factor in making perfect espresso. Therefore, a good grinder is of utmost importance. 

A burr grinder uses two interlocking burrs to precisely crush beans into granules of exactly the same size. It’s like two stones milling flour, but on a micro level. The best grinders allow the gap between the burrs to be adjusted between 5 to 10 microns, which is about the size of a red blood cell.

A good stepless burr grinder is going to cost between $600 and $1,000. The Mazzer Mini Espresso Grinder ($640) is built like a tank and loved by espresso enthusiasts. However, you can get a hand-cranked burr grinder that works very well for $30 to $90. Tim uses Hario Mini Mill ($30), an easy-to-use conical grinder that’s adjustable (very important).

Every time you have a different type of coffee or different roast, the grind has to be adjusted. Sometimes the grinder has to be calibrated batch-to-batch of the same bean and roast.

Under no circumstances should you use a common household blade grinder, which chops the coffee beans with a whirling blade like a blender. What comes out is a powdery mess with all sizes of grain, both big and small. This is a coffee crime. The length of the pour can’t be controlled and it’s the easiest way to get a mouthful of coffee grains.

Step 3: Use Fresh Beans

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple, one of the first things he did was jazz up Apple’s internal cafeteria, known as Caffè Macs. The chefs installed a coffee roaster that regularly delivers 5 lb. bags of coffee to the studio. The roaster is underneath Building 4 on Apple’s campus, and complaints of the overwhelming coffee smell forced the kitchen staff to roast beans on the weekend. A fresh batch is now roasted every Saturday.

Fresh beans are an essential ingredient for great coffee. Ideally, roasted beans shouldn’t be more than five days old. After five days, the beans start to deteriorate fast.

A good source of fresh beans is Tonx’s coffee subscription service, with plans starting at $12 monthly.

Tim uses mostly Blue Bottle and Intelligentsia beans.

Step 4: Grind the Beans and Load The Puck

The amount of coffee you put into the puck should be carefully measured using an accurate pocket scale, such as the American Weigh SC-2KG ($20).

Maintaining the right density is critical. If the coffee is too dense, the water won’t pass through. If it’s not dense enough, the water will pass through too quickly. Coffee purists argue about the right amount of pressure, but 30-ft/lbs has emerged as a popular standard.

The density of the coffee can be kept constant with the use of Espro’s calibrated tamper ($90), a steel pestle for packing coffee grounds into the espresso puck).

Step 5: The Pour

Here’s the tricky part. After grinding and weighing the grounds, packing it into the puck with 30-ft/lbs of pressure, you’ll need to calibrate the pour time.

The pour time must be constant, and it can’t be messed with. The optimum pour time is 28 seconds. It must not, under any circumstances, exceed 30 seconds.

Hit the start button, then time exactly how long the machine takes to make your first cup of coffee.

If the coffee is made in say, 18 seconds, the water is coming out too fast because the grains are too large.

If it takes longer than 30 seconds, the grains are too small. Go back and adjust the burr on the grinder.

Keep trying until you’ve made a cup that pours in 28 to 30 seconds — not a second shorter, and not a second longer. You can usually hone in on the right grain size in about three pours.

Step 6: Add Milk

Apple’s team was first introduced to high-end coffee by Daniele De Iuliis, a British designer of Italian descent. He taught the other designers about the importance of the grind, the crema, and how to properly froth the milk.

Espresso machines use pressured steam to foam a jug of milk. High-powered machines produce ample steam; the secret is good technique.

Most people don’t foam their milk correctly. Newbies foam it with air bubbles that are too big. Correctly foamed milk is actually “micro-foam” and is great for making patterns. If your barista makes a leaf on your latte, rest assured the milk was foamed correctly. If you see a barista banging the milk container on the counter, you know they screwed up and made the bubbles too big (banging the jug on the counter brings the bubbles up).

The most important factor is a chilled container ($10), preferably made of stainless steel. The pros keep their milk containers in the freezer. Milk foams before it boils, and a chilled container prolongs the foaming process by keeping the milk at the optimum temperature for longer.

Hold the steamer just below the surface of the milk. When the milk gets hot and the foaming stops, its time to take the steamer all the way to the bottom of the container. Keep steaming until the milk reaches 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a small thermometer ($10) hooked over the lip of the jug to measure the temperature. [In a pinch, the milk is ready when the jug gets too hot to hold.]

Some recommend using full-fat milk, but the fat content of the milk doesn’t matter. In fact, low-fat milk foams just as well as creamier milk.

This video from Paul Meikle-Janney, Head Judge for the World Latte Art Championship, has some great tips and technique for getting foam right:

Step 7: Enjoy!

Making coffee like Apple’s design team is a complicated but fascinating experience. 

Once you’ve mastered the process, an intoxicating aroma will envelop your entire kitchen (or office). Your morning beverage will become unbelievably rich and smooth, without a trace of bitterness. That is the right way to start off a productive day.

For Starbuck’s sake, they should hope Jony stays in the computer business.

# # #

BONUS: Do you have a great coffee tip? Tell us in the comments! Leander will be sending an AeroPress, the Hario Mini hand grinder, and a signed copy of his book – Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple’s Greatest Products - to the person who leaves the best comment.

Also, would you like to see more rituals of top performers? Let me know in the comments — anyone’s schedule in particular you’d like to see on this blog?

 

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175 comments on “Jony Ive’s Secret Coffee Ritual

  1. Coffee is a newly developing experience for me. With that being said,
    my tip: Coffee (and life) are about finding joy in the journey.

    Looking forward to learning more about my newly formed passion for coffee! Thanks for the great insight!

  2. Hilarious – the idea that the right kind of coffee makes the brainstorm good.

    Better to spend your time getting good at thinking and working collaboratively (and by the way, most people are not as good at this as they think!)

    My faves:
    De Bono’s Thinking Course (Edward DeBono)
    Group Genius (Keith Sawyer)
    Back of the Napkin (Dan Roam)

  3. Tim,
    This is great knowledge if your coffee aficionado, which I am a novice. The key Here is I Learned 80% of what is necessary to make a great cup of coffee with less than 20% effort.
    Thanks for the knowledge!

  4. A cup of coffee is about 98% water. While some have mention using bottled “mountain” water, the experts at CoffeeFest require water that is about 7 grains hard with a TDS of 110 – 150. Using distilled water (pH of about 6) extracts too much bitterness out of the bean.

    There are formulas available to add to distilled water to give the optimal blend of minerals for the best coffee and tea. I do not endorse any particular one.

  5. Great coffee tip:
    Make sure to use grass-fed, organic milk! I prefer to use milk from Strauss Family Creamery because it is amazing. First of all, the milk is pasteurized at 171 degrees Fahrenheit for 18 seconds to preserve the full-flavor of the milk and the precious cream. Secondly, the cows feed on the lush green grass of Northern California. It’s true, happy cows come from California! And best of all, they package the milk in glass bottles. With the appropriate froth technique, this milk is magic with a proper cup of coffee.

  6. I “grind” high quality coffee in a blender, then I brew it like it was tea. Sieve it and again to the blender, this time with ghee. Tastes delicious. Sue me.

  7. From my dad and his generation who slugged down many cups of thick, black Folgers coffee while maintaining all those devices, tapes, keypunch machines, hardware, and machine languages that now reside in the palm of our hands…and to my generation, popping caffeine pills while enduring the coworkers trails of cigarette smoke all while pondering over the latest compiler designs, operating systems, networking, wireless, satellites, software languages, scripting, dumb terminals, system core dumps, removeable disks, and normalization of data, all for the sake of business, I say hogwash.

    How nice it would have been to sit around sipping espresso in my nice sheltered green environment (all meals included) and pondering the latest and greatest gadget yet to be invented.

    On the other hand, I applaud this group for making my own personal life tremendously better and entertained. As I told AT&T yesterday, don’t bother trying to talk me into another phone. I will always be loyal to my Apple iPhone – cracked or otherwise. Drink up boys!

  8. I enjoyed this post so much, I had to reread it again with a cup of coffee. Sadly, it was a sub-par cup, certainly not worthy of the coffee (or the process) described in this post.

  9. Seems the overall simple idea to me; Use the best equipment and tools you can find/afford along with the freshest and highest quality ingredients and you never go wrong. Then its the nuances, subjective taste and personal preferences that create our own perceptions.

  10. Hi Tim & Leander,

    Great post! Thanks for the tips!

    I love coffee and I’d like to make it the way you showed us.

    I’ll share my own recipe for Irish coffee and already wonder how it would taste when made the Ferriss-way. (with the AeroPress and all)

    Of course the recipe is quite simple, as Irish coffee goes, so the personal touch is limited to some details and the way of preparing the coffee.

    I use a big glass of about 300 ml. I put some cane sugar in it. (depending on your taste, but let’s say 1 tablespoon (if you like it sweet) Then I crush the sugar a bit so it dilutes better and pour in about 40 ml of Irish Whiskey. (not too expensive! Jameson will do fine)
    Stir some to let the sugar dissolve and leave it.

    In the mean time I make the coffee.
    For making the coffee I use the Bialetti Espresso maker. It does not give you a real Espresso, but when my Italian aunt makes her coffee with it, it’s delicious.
    How to make the coffee in a Bialetti is a mix of “official” instructions and experimenting from then on. My aunt showed me exactly how to do it and I still haven’t got it right, so I leave the experimenting to you. (plenty of info on the internet and it would make my comment way too long)
    And if you’d try this recipe yourself, Tim, you’d probably use the AeroPress anyway ;-)

    And while the coffee is brewing I prepare some whipped cream: I myself prefer low fat whipped cream, but that’s personal. Then I add a little bit of icing sugar, cinnamon and cocoa powder. Mix it until not fluid anymore but also not too stiff.

    As soon as the coffee is ready, pour about 200 ml in the glass and stir it a bit until the sugar has dissolved totally.
    Then add the cream. (officially you should pour the cream gently over a spoon into the glass, but I leave that to you and the stiffness of the cream)

    Enjoy!

  11. If you are looking for a good espresso, the temperature of the mug/cup is important. The best espresso in a cold mug is a disaster! You should pre heat the mug!

  12. Great article:) only Tim’s video on prep of the perfect coffee, pleeease! Don’t do such ugly sounds with your nose, this is really disgusting! Thanks!

  13. There are many coffee purists out there nosing out notes: camels, vanilla, earthiness, peppery, fruity, chocolate, ect….

    But coffee grounds be just as much about cooking as brewing. People should experiment more with adding spices or herbals to their brewing liquid—every had chamomile coffee? How about Candy Cane & Mint? Even mixing different edible clays into the grounds to give the roast more minerality.

  14. Adding mineral rich clays to your coffee is a big plus, as coffee causes iron deficiency—that’s why you get dark circles under your eyes.

  15. “30-ft/lbs of pressure”
    What is this?

    Do you mean 30 pounds per square foot?
    That’s about 0.2 pounds per square inch.

    If your basket diameter is 58mm, then the force needed is about 387 gram-force or 0.85 pounds-force.

  16. Thanks for sharing the excellent method of making the coffee. I experimented with Yemeni Coffee beans, and it taste awesome. Now, I love to make coffee every morning which keeps me refreshed all day long.

  17. If anyone is looking for a hands-on lesson for learning how to make better coffee/espresso drinks check with you local coffee shop or coffee roaster. They may have workshops or classes for brewing better coffee at home or barista training. Not only will you learn coffee techniques but you will have the opportunity to use a fancy commercial espresso machine like the ones mentioned in the post.

  18. I’m sorry, but this is bordering on crazy. I read a lot about Apple, and I’ve learned a lot from Jobs, Cook, Ive etc. by watching them work.

    But their “coffee ritual” is about as relevant as their “going to the toilet ritual”. Which, I’m sure, is also extremely precise and expensive.

  19. Awesome tutorial. I have an aeropress, pourover and vacuum pot myself – I like to think of it as the Breaking Bad of home coffee setups. Strange but not so strange coming from Portland.

    You mentioned Intelligentsia – you should also check out their how-to video series on YouTube:

  20. My tips:

    1. Use freshly ground coffee as soon as possible, the gases (carbon dioxide) in there tend to fully ‘escape’ after about 10 minutes (and I think at an exponential rate too). Leaving it for too long will mean your using ‘stale’ coffee.

    2. Volume (amount) of coffee is for flavour profiles ie. 18g vs. 20g of coffee in the basket; while the grind is for flow rate. So find the volume of coffee you want to use, stick with that and only change the grind. Or if you use a different coffee than what you’d normally use and it calls for a smaller volume, then you can change the grind to be a little finer and vice versa.

    3. The article says that its possible to steam lo-fat milk for latte art, and that is true, BUT lo-fat milk tends to ‘split’ very quickly. Meaning that if you don’t pour it straight away or you haven’t steamed it really well then you’ll just get clumpy milk.

    4. When packing the coffee into the basket a very important point was missed which is that the tamp needs to be level. If not, then water will tend to over extract one side of the coffee puck and under extract the other side.

    5. Tamping pressure only plays a minor part in the amount of time it takes for the coffee to first come out of the portafilter, not the overall extraction time (I think this was covered in an international coffee expo a couple of years ago but I can’t seem to find a link to it). The tamp pressure is greatly out-weighed by the pressure of the water on the puck, and all of the pressure from the tamp is released by the water soaking the puck during the initial pre-extraction stage. So don’t worry too much about tamping really hard, especially if your a barista doing it 300 or so times a day.

    5. Make sure you flush the group head (run some water through it) before you attach your portafilter and start the extraction. Water tends to accumulate in the group head and will heat up more than you’d want.

  21. Tip: make sure to take your beans out of the bag and put in an airtight glass or ceramic container. Keep it away from heat, humidity and light. Beans are very sensitive to humidity and temperature (like chocolate!) so keep away from your stove top drawers, and keep it in a dark cool place. The fridge is not a storage option (read:humidity).

  22. The only thing I could add to this awesome post would be the idea of ristretto. Most espresso purists cut off their shot a bit “short”, giving a shot of 1-1.5 oz max. Caffeine and other nasty stuff comes out at the end.

    I take the next step. I don’t put the very first few seconds of espresso into my dematisse. This part doesn’t taste as good. In making both tequila and olive oil, they follow the same process of only taking the middle, best part of the product.

  23. Espresso shots are only good up to ten seconds or else they become bitter. You need to add the milk or hot water immediately after they’ve poured if you want to preserve the shots and enjoy your coffee.

  24. My grandmother’s old-school (stove top) percolator is the Bee’s Knees! The coffee really gets a full-bodied brew, bringing forth all the subtleties of the bean. And it comes out nice and HOT! (Boiling, actually.) Never had a better cup anywhere on the globe than in my kitchen! :-)

  25. I love this post! I’m so happy to see that there are people out there who care about their coffee and that they care about the freshness of the beans. That’s sooooo important.

    Personally I prefer a brew coffee, NO milk please.

    My tip? Don’t drink your coffee too hot. Wait until it went down to 45-50 degrees. That’s when your taste buts will actually really discover that there are 800 different tastes in coffee!!

    For Swedish coffee lovers, check out the new released website beanerdcoffee.com that offers subscriptions on some of Scnadinavia’s best coffees (that’s what they claim)! It looks promising! :)

  26. i love to make coffee without any expensive machinery just a mug n spoon ,
    taking 1-2 tsp of instant coffee in a mug add 1-2 tsp sugar {according to ur taste bud } to it . use spoon and stir continuously till u get a coffee brown semisolid consistency. then add 1 cup cream or hot water plus milk to this.
    u hav ur hot creamy coffee ready