One on One: The Clever Machine
November 11, 2020
Author: Josie Sivigny
One on One is a series of cross-functional conversations between two Tuft & Needle team members centered around a shared experience, topic, or idea.
It’s 2 PM on a Tuesday afternoon.
Steam floats upward from behind the Tuft & Needle coffee bar as Matthew Heinzel, a member of the marketing team, pours hot water (It should be exactly 187 degrees if you ask him.) over two bags of PG Tips in a paper cup with a splash of vanilla syrup. There’s a perfected method here that involves getting the ice level just high enough over the lip of the cup so that as he swirls the tea over the ice in a clockwise motion, the ice melts evenly, thinning the tea out so everything ends up settled right under the lip of the cup. Nothing ever spills.
Brea drinks an Americano—she hates drip coffee. Dee is rumored to make the strongest drip coffee in the office, Colin pulls himself an espresso shot every morning at 8:30AM. Tori drinks her coffee with extra cream and two pumps of vanilla syrup unless Steve is working, he makes her vanilla latte exactly right. And Steve himself? He takes some inspiration from a cafe in his hometown of San Diego—an iced latte with honey and cinnamon.
At any given moment after 7AM, you can find T&N team members weaving around each other, their conversations punctuated by the shhhh of milk steaming and the grind of espresso beans. The brightly-lit coffee bar is the first thing you see when you walk into the office, and serves as the central hub of our busy company.
And right in the middle of everything, there’s Wei-Ming—the one who taught us all how to do it. Before starting at T&N, Wei-Ming knew next-to-nothing about coffee, but that didn’t stop us from hiring him to be the sacred guardian of our favorite spot in the office.
“It’s our version of the water cooler,” JT Marino, our co-founder, tells Wei-Ming as they sit next to each other in a conference room, conveniently located within ear shot of the espresso machine and chatter of teammates. Wei-Ming is a member of Team Experience, a unique group that curates an amazing workplace and champions the culture and values that JT and Daehee had in mind when starting T&N.
“But our coffee bar isn’t right for everyone. I wouldn’t tell my friend to do something just like me, I’d want them to do something that works for them, so I wouldn’t suggest this kind of coffee setup for just any company.” Wei-Ming nods, his passion for what the coffee bar brings to our office, and what he brings to our coffee bar, is palpable. He may be one of the few who rival the energy JT infuses into discussing the inner workings of Tuft & Needle. JT dives into a few of the reasons for including such a unique setup—they range from deeply philosophical to pure practicality.
“There isn’t any good coffee around here, for starters.” We all laugh, it is definitely true. When we moved into this space in the end of 2016, we were one of the only functioning spaces within walking distance. One of the drawbacks of moving into an up-and-coming neighborhood is the lack of nearby options for coffee, and walking any further than the corner in the Phoenix heat isn’t ideal for anyone.
“But it’s a perk, not a trap,” Wei-Ming is quick to add.
“No, it’s not like when offices buy a ping pong table that then sits unused because people are afraid to take a break,” JT replies. If we were to step outside of this room and stroll to the back of the building, at this very moment, there’s a good chance a ping pong ball is bouncing back and forth between two teammates. But the coffee bar is more than something to play with, and more than just convenient.
“It represents a culture of makers, it’s a clever machine,” JT says.
Coffee is an art form, no matter how you drink it, and every day starts with the chance to practice your milk steaming, perfect your espresso pull, or try something new entirely. It’s iterative by nature, even the handful of former baristas on the team can tweak and change their processes, and most importantly they can teach someone else. It’s an active symbol of everything we value—community, doing good for others, and learning constantly.
When Wei-Ming started, we brought in two local coffee houses to lay the foundation of his espresso knowledge and since then he’s taught classes to half our team. If he’s unavailable, there’s no shortage of team members willing to help make drinks for guests or teammates that aren’t as confident in their espresso skills. JT cites another classic office trope, “We could have hung banners that say ‘creativity’, ‘passion’, and ‘win as a team’ all along the walls, but instead we created an office hot spot that actually encourages living out those values on a daily basis.”
The most important thing our coffee bar reinforces, the one that was proved to us over and over again as we collected favorite drink recipes for this article, is servant leadership. So many team members lovingly described their coffee drinks and then offered to slip out of whatever they were doing to make it for us so we could taste their specific masterpieces. Others cited who makes the best versions of drinks or pro tips they’d learned from someone else. Our team interacts with each other over coffee more than we realize.
“Some of my favorite memories are watching Nick and Piet give each other shit for their techniques on the espresso machine,” Wei-Ming tells JT. “It reinforces how accessible our leadership is, and that they’re learning, too.”
Using coffee—a substance basically designed to make up for lost sleep—as such an integral aspect of a sleep company’s culture might seem counterintuitive on the surface, but with only a slightly deeper look, it actually makes perfect sense. “I enjoy coffee the most after a great night’s sleep,” JT says, leaning forward in excitement, “I’m not patching a hole, it’s not damage control, now it takes me to the next level. The flavor can be enjoyed instead of just forcing it down. How can you enjoy it when you need it?”
It turns out, coffee is as much a part of waking up well as it is waking up poorly, and it represents a lot of what we hope we’re bringing to the world of sleep.