Hidden Coffee is inside Camden Road station. But this is no ordinary station-cafe, because of what lies within, perhaps you could say, ‘hidden’, from the view from the street. A few tables outside barely suggest the fairly large area inside. You can choose from a variety of the usual types of coffee or enjoy a coffee on pour-over while you sit down to ponder your surroundings. We also had a vegan, gluten free, nut free banana bread, which does make you wonder what was in it, but which went very well with the single origin Guatemalan coffee I had on pour over.
The space suggests that it used to be a pub, or that it is open at night, however the signs clearly indicate that Hidden Coffee is closed by 5pm. Because looking inside, it is clear that there is a vault extending into an area screened off from the main cafe, plenty of space that must have been used by the restaurant that existed here before Hidden opened recently. Mosaics on the walls of the vault glint in the reflected light from the cafe and the roof curves intriguingly back into a large, inaccessible, space. There is currently an art exhibition at the cafe featuring pictures of local buildings.
The vault is a consequence of the train line overhead, now part of the overground system. The vaults being a way of providing the strength needed to support the railway line above but also giving space for shops and businesses beneath. This could take you onto a consideration of how architecture assists in distributing load, or the idea and limits of deductive reasoning and its reliance on an idea of shared, knowable truths (we know there are train lines over head partly because of our familiarity with this form of architecture, partly because we walked through a door next to a train station). Or you could notice the glinting mosaics and wonder about the chemistry of the pigmentation in each of the pieces.
Looking out the window while drinking my coffee though I noticed the pine cone decoration on the railings. Several thoughts suggested themselves. How do squirrels remember where they hide their winter stocks? And related to that, how does memory work: why can I never remember the tasting notes of the coffees I enjoyed if I don’t write them down (only that I liked the coffee)? Why were the railings so obviously re-purposed? They are either not original or they have been adapted to incorporate a concrete step beneath them? And how do pine cones work?
The pine cone opens in response to dry weather to expose the pine kernels and closes in response to more humid weather so as to protect the seeds. But it was only back in 1997, that researchers used electron microscopy to see the structure of the cones and to measure the response of different types of cell to controlled humidity. They found that the response of the cells to humidity depended on the winding of cellulose structures around the cell. If the cellulose was wound with a high winding angle, the cell tended to elongate in humid conditions. Conversely, the cells having cellulose aligned more along the cell length (a low winding angle) didn’t elongate so much in response to humidity. The effect of coupling these two cell types together was to create an analogue to a bimetallic strip which bent in response to humidity rather than temperature.
It is reminiscent of a device I once read about, created perhaps by a member of the Lunar Society. The designer had cut a series of discs out of a small log of wood and joined them loosely together (presumably with a type of resin) so that they formed what would have appeared as a wooden caterpillar. On the front disc, he (and if it was a Lunar Society member it would have been a he) put a hook facing backwards on the bottom of the disc. A similar hook was placed on the back disc. When the humidity increased and the wood expanded, the caterpillar extended and hooked forwards. As the humidity decreased and the caterpillar shrank again, the back of the caterpillar would move towards the front forming a ‘self-propelling’ model caterpillar.
Unfortunately I can no longer find the reference to this device so if you know who invented it or where it is referenced please do let me know. In the meanwhile, enjoy the effects as the days turn humid/dry as we change seasons, and perhaps contemplate a hidden coffee while you do so.
Hidden Coffee is in Camden Road (overground) station, 33 Camden Road.