The Case for Slowness, in Coffee and Creative

May 2, 2022

By Whitney Hill                                                                                                  [Header image credit: Canva]


My parents recently stayed with us for a week. Each morning, my dad made coffee using our Chemex coffee maker—because it’s the only coffee maker we have. By day three, he turned to me mid-boil and asked, “Do you really do this every morning?”

It does take a while.

First, boil water in a kettle. While the water is heating, grind your beans and pour the ground coffee into a butterflied filter on top of the glass carafe. Once the water boils, let it briefly cool, then slowly pour the hot water in an even, steady stream over the ground coffee, covering it all and letting it bubble up and rise to the top of the carafe. Slowly pour the rest of the water, taking care to stop pouring and wait a bit when the level of coffee grounds gets too high in the filter. Wait until all the water has dripped down through the filter. Boom.

Sure, the process is a bit slow. You stand and watch. Watch the kettle. Watch the level of water in the filter. Watch the coffee dripping through and into the carafe. There’s no convenience there. It’s just you and the coffee for a few minutes.

But here’s the thing. Sometimes slow is good.

That cup. Ohhhhh that cup, y’all. It’s just so good. Every morning, without fail.

The very best cup of coffee I’ve ever had was this magnificent little cup of simple, black coffee from this place in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It was maybe eight years ago. It tasted like a forest in the early morning dotted with ripe, sweet blueberries; sunlight streaming in just so—the sort of rays of light that make all the little bits of stuff in the air sparkle. I’m not even kidding. The daily coffee that I make? It’s not as good as that cup, but—but!—it’s my daily stab at that memory.

Slow can be so good. Slow can remind you of a time or place or thing. Partaking in the ritual of an intentionally slow thing can focus you and stop the tapping of your foot for juuuuust a second.

Account Supervisor Maria Mejia told me she has an intentionally slow thing and described it as “…just pure joy.” Her thing is her mise en place; that French concept of gathering and preparing all ingredients prior to cooking. Anthony Bourdain once said that “Mise en place is the religion of all good line cooks.” The way she expressed her process to me? Downright holy. “It takes the stress out of cooking,” she said, “and gives me focus…” She cleans her protein and seasons it. Chops each vegetable—one at a time, then cleans her knife and moves on—each spice into a container, each ingredient into its place. And somehow—this careful, slow preparation creates a sacred moment where everything just smoothly cascades onto her plate. Nothing burns, she said. (How divine.) No excessive cleaning afterwards, she said. (Now I’m just jealous.) “Just pure joy.” Mise en place is a noun; apparently it’s also a verb, and not very surprisingly, it’s a state of mind. I just want to sit around the island in her kitchen and make it my state of mind, too.

Group Creative Director Rob Neatherlin said his is simply feeling the sun on his face first thing every morning. He literally lays in the grass in his yard each morning and meditates. The sun on his face “warms me up and also allows me to calm my mind and prepare for the day.” That glow of sunshine at the beginning of each day also helps his mind better recognize the start of the day, and in turn, better recognize the end of it too when the sun has gone. He usually lays in the grass about 15 minutes and honestly, now I have a new slow thing. Yeah, I’m copying this one immediately.

Strategist Rileigh Boyd practices yoga most days of the week because it “reminds me that some days will be wobbly, but I have the strength to pick myself up if I fall.” Her in-the-wee-hours-of-the-morning flow wakes her up and sets her mind on the right path for the day ahead. Now, literally all of my interactions with this lovely human make sense. In my observation, she glides through any wobbles with grace and is genuinely enthused by each and every day. And she radiates that enthusiasm endlessly. Perhaps it’s the Sun Salutations.

All I’m saying is this: Don’t just find a hobby, find your time. (HAH, I know. But listen.) Find that time and that place and that thing that helps you slow down almost to a stop—whether it’s digging your bare feet into the dirt each afternoon (check out grounding), or sipping tea in your robe for a littttttle too long, or trying a blind contour drawing each morning, or slowly making some pour over coffee, or wielding a pair of tweezers to create a miniature greenhouse (you can get the kit on Amazon) or to assemble some Garden Toast (check out @sustainable_holly on Instagram or Pinterest)—just do a thing that connects you to something else for a moment. Something else that slows you down and makes you inhale real big and exhale real long and affords you the space to wander, if only for a minute, somewhere else.

Time allows you to meditate on words. To choose another word or maybe another path. Time allows you to wonder about which generational cycles need to be broken or decide your brand shouldn’t have an opinion on West Elm Caleb or The Slap. That brief pause allows you to ponder the fact that the brief could honestly use a really simple visual solve instead of the language exploration you thought it needed. It allows you to figure out that one just-right-question to ask, or how to approach that apology. Time allows you to think through what the perspective might be of that wonderful, beautiful, eccentric person you didn’t even know existed until you encountered them on TikTok and your eyes were opened to an entire community.

Find something that slows you down each day. Some days you’ll gain a little perspective. And some days, you’ll just get a good cup of coffee.

Whitney Hill is VP Group Director, Creative and works remotely.