It was a few weeks ago now that I dropped into Coffee Affair on a Saturday afternoon and met Michael (who runs Coffee Affair along with ‘Mags’). What can I say? This place is worth visiting for so many reasons. Firstly of course there is the coffee, so much care and attention to detail was taken when I ordered a pour over Burundi coffee from Round Hill Roastery. I was warned that my coffee would take some time to prepare before the filter was carefully rinsed and the coffee weighed and ground. The final coffee having been made with such attention that I started to understand why they had chosen the name ‘coffee affair’. It is clear that coffee is a passion.
Then there is the knowledge that Michael brings to the coffee and is happy to share. Thoughts about the best temperature to drink the coffee for example, or details about different brew methods (there is a lovely array of coffee brewing equipment on the wall of the cafe). One thing that really appealed to me though was the place. There are only a couple of tables and a bar but this emphasises the space that Coffee Affair inhabits: A preserved old ticket office. There are windows looking into the station with bars on them through which the tickets used to be sold. There is the oak table that has had years of ticket sellers leaning on it, presumably with a lamp next to their counter as it would have been a lot darker when it was used as a ticket office. Then there is the flooring, original parquet flooring that dates from the time that the station was built.
If you take a seat towards the back of Coffee Affair and look at the floor you can see where the floor has worn down just that little bit as ticket sellers from years ago shuffled at their counters while selling tickets. Like the toe of St Peter, the floor has been worn away by the number of people in contact with it over the years. Between the counters you can see where someone has tried to polish the parquet to minimise this ‘dip’ but has instead managed to produce lines in a slightly more polished floor. Thinking about the wear of the floor reminded me of Charles Darwin’s musings about the erosion of the Weald in the South East of England.
In the first edition of Darwin’s book “On the Origin of Species” (1859), Darwin included an estimate for the age of the Weald of Kent, the area between the chalk hills of the North and South Downs. Based on his observations of coastal erosion, Darwin calculated that the Weald must have been at least 300 million years old. This was perfectly long enough for the gradual evolutionary steps of natural selection to have occurred. As Darwin said “What an infinite number of generations, which the mind cannot grasp, must have succeeded each other in the long roll of years!”* Looking at the floor at the Coffee Affair, you can get a similar idea as to the number of generations that have stood at the ticket windows.
Darwin’s estimate of the age of the Weald led him into an argument with William Thomson (Lord Kelvin) about the age of the Earth (which you can read more about here). It was Kelvin’s argument about the age of the Earth that Darwin considered “the single most intractable point levelled against his theory during his lifetime”†. The argument was eventually settled in Darwin’s favour, once new physics had been discovered, but only after both Kelvin and Darwin had died. So I’ll leave Darwin the last words for today’s Daily Grind, relevant too for those who have the opportunity to study the floor at Coffee Affair: “He who most closely studies the action of the sea on our shores, will, I believe, be most deeply impressed with the slowness with which rocky coasts are worn away”.*
Coffee Affair is in the old ticket office at Queenstown Road Station, Battersea,
* Quotes from “On the origin of species”, Charles Darwin (Oxford World Classic’s edition, 2008)
†Quote taken from “Charles Darwin, The Power of Place”, Janet Browne, Princeton University Press, 2002