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Noticing at Artisan, Ealing

coffee Artisan Ealing
A good coffee is a solid foundation for any afternoon’s noticing.

A cafe-physics review with a difference. In that, it’s not so much a review as an invitation. What do you notice in a café?

Last week, I had the opportunity to try Artisan’s Ealing branch. Although I had found a lot to notice on my previous visit to the East Sheen branch, I had a very specific reason for visiting the Ealing location of this small chain of four cafés. The coffee (espresso) was reliably good. Smooth and drinkable in a friendly atmosphere. Just as with the café in East Sheen, there were a good selection of edibles at the counter and plenty to notice. The light shades were immediately outstanding as something to notice while a framed ‘hole in the wall’ provided a conversation point. The café was very busy and while there was plenty of seating with many tables, we were still lucky to have got a table for two near the back. Behind us there was a lesson going on in the coffee school while on the wall was the calendar for the space booking downstairs. And it was this that I had come here for.

A couple of months ago, Artisan announced that this space would be available to rent to provide a friendly space (with coffee) for the meetings of local small businesses or charities. This stayed in the back of my mind for a while as it came about at roughly the same time as an idea for Bean Thinking.

Lampshades at Artisan Ealing
First the obvious. Immediately striking, these lampshades could provide several avenues for thought.

There are a couple of us who are interested in meeting, about once a month, to discuss science. As ‘science’ is quite a big subject, we thought we would limit it to science that is associated with coffee or with the café at which we are meeting. Perhaps readers of this website may realise that this is not such a restriction, it is quite easy to connect coffee to the cosmic microwave background radiation of the Universe or to chromatography and analytical chemistry. If we were to meet in a location such as Artisan, there should be plenty more food for thoughts. The lampshades prompted me to consider what made substances opaque or transparent? Where is the link to coffee and methods for measuring the coffee extraction? The hole in the wall suggested thoughts about the algorithms behind cash machines. I’m sure that there is plenty more to notice if we take the time to see it.

And so this is an invitation. Would you like to join us in exploring what we each notice about the science of our surroundings? The plan would be to meet once a month, probably starting late January 2019 or early February (date and location to be confirmed). An afternoon on the weekend is probably better than an evening and we’d probably stay for an hour or two. You do not have to be a practising scientist to come along indeed, it would be great if we could have people from a variety of walks of life. The idea is not (necessarily) to answer scientific questions that we each may have but instead to explore the science behind the questions, to find the connections that form our ideas of the universe. To really notice our surroundings and our coffees (tea drinkers would also be welcome). As a consequence of this, mobile phones/laptops etc. will be discouraged during the afternoon. We’d like to notice things around us and not be distracted by what a search engine suggests about it; if we think a search engine could help us, we’ll use it after we’ve left and come back the following month to discuss the issues further. So, if you are curious, would like to explore what you notice and can tolerate keeping your phone on silent and in your pocket for an afternoon, please do come along, it would be great to meet some of you.

menus and lampshades in Artisan
You may like to look more closely at this photo. How are the menus supported? What does that tell us about the history of science?

In order to understand whether there would be any interest in this idea and to hear your input about the format, content, location, time etc. I have set up a mailing list for these cafe-science-spaces. Please do sign up to the mailing list to hear the latest announcements concerning these events and also to email me back to contribute your opinion. You can sign up to the mailing list using the sign up form below. Alternatively, if you don’t want to sign up to the mailing list but do want to hear more, I will be advertising the events on Twitter and Facebook so please do feel free to follow me there.


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Water wheels and coffee engines at Artisan, East Sheen

Artisan, East Sheen LaneArtisan, on East Sheen Lane, is one café in a small chain of coffee shops in West London (four cafés at the time of writing). Although there was plenty of seating inside, most tables were already taken when I arrived shortly after lunch suggesting that this is a very popular local café. There are many details to notice in this friendly corner shop coffee house. Firstly, the counter, on the left as you enter, was decorated as if supported by a door fixed on its side, one of many quirky features. When it arrived, my black Americano came with a most fantastic crema on top which cracked to reveal the coffee beneath, appearing as if it were a meandering river. Adjacent to my table was a sliding door, presumably leading to the toilets, that had a counterweight hanging from its side, I’m sure that could have led to a series of thoughts on Greek science and Archimedes.

There was also plenty to notice on the counter itself, a sign for two tip jars suggested you either tipped in one or the other depending on whether you wanted to “see into the future” or to “change the past”. As with previous ‘honesty box’ type experiments, it would be fascinating to know which box gets more coins and whether this correlated with external events in the East Sheen area and around. Still, I digress. Also on the counter was a wheel, a bit like the wheel of the Wheel of Fortune TV show. In this café, the wheel offered different coffees or cakes rather than prizes. As the wheel is spun, it is slowed by friction acting against pins that stick out from the circumference of the wheel. When learning about angular momentum and wheels in physics we always assume the ideal of a frictionless wheel without losses. We assume that it spins forever. The wheel in Artisan was quite far from this ideal, the whole idea being that the friction eventually stops the wheel and the pin points to your ‘prize’. So how do we reconcile these two ideas of the wheel? How efficient can water wheels be? And how efficient can engines be?

counter held up by sideways door
The counter and wheel at Artisan, East Sheen

This was a question that occupied Sadi Carnot (1796-1832) (named after the Persian poet Sa’di of Shiraz). Carnot was interested in how to optimise steam engines. Although steam engines were being engineered to be increasingly efficient, Carnot realised that people still did not understand what the maximum efficiency of a steam engine could be. Carnot worked on the principle that heat was a fluid (caloric) and so steam engines could be understood analogously to water wheels. Even though we no longer have this understanding of heat, Carnot’s ideal engine is still relevant for today. He discovered that, for an ideal engine (that is an engine that works without frictional losses etc.), the maximum amount of work that you could extract from the engine depended only on the temperature difference between the maximum working temperature and ambient temperature of the engine (not on the details of the engine such as whether it used steam as its working fluid). In practise this means that a steam turbine (which operates between approximately 543 °C = 816 Kelvin and 23 ºC = 296 Kelvin) has a maximum efficiency of 64%. Were you able to design a frictionless engine made from a cup of coffee (typical drinking temperature 60 °C = 333 K), it would have a maximum efficiency of around 10%

Coffee at Artisan East Sheen
A meandering coffee river and Physics World (November 2016)

Of course, a real engine made from a cup of coffee would encounter frictional losses etc. which would reduce its efficiency. So while we may think that an efficiency of around 10% is not that bad (particularly if we’re making the coffee anyway), once we’ve allowed reality to enter into our calculations, the actual efficiency is much lower. This is probably best summarised as: The best use of coffee is in drinking it, and where better than Artisan coffee if you find yourself in East Sheen (or Putney, Stamford Brook or Ealing)?

Artisan Coffee is at 139 East Sheen Lane, SW14 8LR