Librarian Martin Lewis describes one of his more bizarre coffee breaks at work – drinking Caffe L’affare Primo ground coffee that travelled where no person has been before, 10,000 metres below the sea.
One of the privileges of working at Te Papa is getting to participate, or experience, the weird and wonderful.
I shared a cup of coffee with fish expert Andrew Stewart. But this coffee had been where no human had ever visited before.
This coffee that had been to the bottom of the deepest places in the ocean and come back unscathed… well sort of.
The Hadal zone
Andrew was on a collecting/filming trip to the Kermadec Trench with University of Aberdeen marine scientist Alan Jamison. They were deploying baited deep-sea landers into the Hadal zone of the trench, where it can reach over 10,000 meters in places.
It would take a lander 6-7 hours to drop to that depth, where it would experience pressures exceeding 1,000 standard atmospheres. Putting that into context, a recreational diver at the depth of 10.3 metres would experience a pressure of about 2 atmospheres and can go a maximum safe depth of 60 meters. You can go deeper with very specialist gear and training but nowhere near 10,000 metres.
Sending stuff down deep-sea trenches
According to Andrew, there is a tradition of putting precious things on deep-sea landers before sending them down.
One member of the team risked his wedding ring (it came back), and most famously scientists have sent styrofoam cups to be crushed, which return crunched to a tiny size.
Andrew sent down something very precious to him – an unopened bag of Caffe L’affare Primo ground coffee.
Unbelievably, the sealed bag survived its trip to the bottom, and back, without imploding and the coffee being contaminated by sea water.
But when Andrew opened the bag he discovered that his 500g bag of ground coffee had been compacted into a rock a little bigger than the size of his fist.
A brew was promptly ordered by the crew and the first deep-sea coffee pot was consumed – all for science, of course!
What does coffee that’s been to 10,000 metres taste like?
Andrew described that the first pot as ‘smooth’ but not quite right.
He later theorised that the aromatics oils had been squeezed out by the intense pressure and ejected out the one-way airlock of the bag.
(‘Theorised’! If anyone with more coffee science that us would like to offer an explanation to what happens to ground coffee at depth please leave a comment below.)
Well it was great to join the most exclusive coffee club the world. As Andrew put it ‘more people have stood on the moon, than have drunk this coffee.’ But it wasn’t smooth and lacked as L’Affare put it ‘the full-bodied, big and complex… notes of rich molasses, plum with a shortbread finish’ flavours one would expect.
The compression, plus being open to the air for a week or two, meant it was a bit bashed up taste wise (that’s me being polite) – not the best, but I still got to join the most exclusive coffee club on the planet.
- Deep-sea snailfish (radio interview with Andrew Stewart)
- Description of a New Hadal Notoliparis from the Kermadec Trench, New Zealand, and Redescription of Notoliparis kermadecensis (Nielsen) (Liparidae, Scorpaeniformes) – one of the snailfish were named after Andrew (Notoliparis stewarti on page 910)
- Scientists catch Kermadec snailfish
- Fishes of the hadal zone including new species, in situ observations and depth records of Liparidae
- Kermadec Trench – 7243m – Snailfish 1 (video)