Strange Harvest
Architecture / Design / Art
StrangeHarvest is written and collated by Sam Jacob.


Hollow Inside: Starbucks Foam and the Rise of Ambiguous Materials



Art2DFoam_Antje.jpg

Ten years ago, if you'd ordered a coffee anywhere in Britain, you would have found yourself looking down at a circle of watery brown liquid with a smattering of bubbles scattered over the surface. It looked as though someone had added a dash of detergent to dish water and then blown into it absent-mindedly through a straw. The advent of coffee chains, domestic and international, has entirely transformed the coffee drinking experience into a saturated, multilayered event. And the spiritual home of this luxurious super-foam is Starbucks, where the voluminous, airy froth tops your coffee plump and proud as a teddyboys quiff.

In fact it's hard to believe this stuff was ever as simple as milk. Only the faintly sour smell reassures you that it probably came out of a cow at some point in its history. Starbucks baristas have nicknamed the process that transforms it "Rock and Roll", derived from the action of knocking the stainless steel jug against the counter to dislodge air bubbles as the hot steam is pumped through the milk. Today the over-engineered machinery of coffee making is a contemporary fetish, the baroque complexities of the stainless-steel pipework and pressure gauges suggesting the mechanical thrust of a classic car plumbed into the artistry of a church organ.

The science of foaming involves, among other things, the speed, temperature and humidity of the steam; the nature of the nozzle; the shape of the jug; the fat content of the milk, and how the steam is introduced to it. Complex fluid dynamics combined with the physical properties of milk result in a precise quality of foam. This foam is milk that has been mechanically worked over, battered into assuming an entirely different quality. Generic natural milk becomes identifiable with a particular place, experience and brand--a product rather than ingredient--and also serves to justify the mark-up.
With a limited product range involved, intense competition magnifies the importance of each element: bean, roast, grind, and blend become significant points of difference between brands. This is the force that has driven steamed milk into such elaborate form. The significance of Starbucks foam is the embedding of brand identity into a natural phenomenon: lactate becomes logo.

Starbucks have dismantled, examined, and then reconstructed the coffee drinking experience. It's been reversed engineered to replicate flavour mug after mug, franchise after franchise, in amounts that could multiply until a river of coffee flowed into a caffeine sea.

BulkFoam_Antje.jpg

Along with the thick, warm, smooth milky coffee that I'm slurping through my oversized beaker, I'm sucking up something else. Amongst all those soothing sensations there is a vaguely unsettling feeling. It's a feeling located intangibly between taste and the texture. I'm tasting things that aren't quite present, as though my Grande Latte is haunted by other materials. The milk is hallucinating un-milky attributes: a springy spawn with an easy, oily slickness, with a sweetness on the verge of vanishing within a numb plasticized volume. How did it get like this? What is it that has made it so ubiquitous, so quickly?

foam2tmp-1.gif

Steaming alters milk on a molecular level, breaking the chemical bonds within it and sweetening the taste by releasing lactose. It also increases the surface area of the liquid, increasing the sensation of taste. Water and milk fat form an emulsion that strengthens the bubbles skin. Foaming is now a staple technique in the avant guard kitchens of molecular gastronomy, a culinary movement that sees cooking recast as thermo-chemistry, where kitchen becomes laboratory and chef turns scientist. Michelin triple star chef Heston Blumenthal uses the effect at his restaurant, The Fat Duck, in Bray, Berkshire, UK, to heighten taste. His green tea sour mousse is sprayed as foam from a canister into a spoon, then dropped into a bowl of liquid nitrogen to instantly freeze the foam into a glob of high tech palate cleanser.

He is not the only chef to come up new ways of presenting flavors and texture. Ferran Adrià--head chef of the El Bulli Restaurant on the Costa Brava in Spain--has pioneered the concept of vegetable foams. Adrià extrudes a mixture consisting of natural flavors mixed with a gelling agent such as agar--derived from the cell walls of some species of red algae or seaweed--through a whipped cream maker equipped with Nitrous Oxide cartridges. Out of this come delicacies such as foamed espresso, foamed mushroom, even foamed beetroot.

mat_foam.jpg

Foaming in these haute cuisine scenarios is a way of capturing taste like a purfumier captures scent. Both disciplines trap an essence then suspend it within a delivery mechanism that frames and articulates a precise experience. The chef and perfumier take elements of nature then filter it through culture. They refine primal, animal responses of taste and scent into highly crafted artifices. In these intricately foamed dishes, flavor takes precedence over the substance it is suspended in. Taste becomes divorced from its biological origin and amplified--a process that threatens to wring every drop of pleasure from nature.

Foaming is substance made less physical. The act introduces emptiness into the heart of a solid. There are gaps where there shouldn't be--like nights you can't remember because of binge blackouts, or holes in the fabric of life: bereavement, or heartbreak. A solid that is, in the words of the Buzzcocks Pete Shelly, "Hollow inside, we're all hollow inside/But I couldn't find out what the reason was/Why I was / Hollow inside". This is the existential echo that pervades my Starbucks latte.

foam.jpg

Foaming is used to alter a wide variety of materials: rubber, polystyrene, concrete, aluminium, glass can all be foamed or aerated to extend the original material's qualities, delivering lighter, stronger, and more flexible substances, with greater insulating properties. From cosmetics to construction, edifice or edibles, you'll find them all around you, even if you might not see them. They're present in the spongy feeling when you walk in your high tech running shoes, the building envelope that insulates your home or office, the designed collapse of your car's bumper in mid-crash.

During the making of these substances, foam is created by inducing materials into a state of excitement. Once the foam has solidified the material's architecture has changed from solid to cellular structure. It is a frozen ephemeral state, where matter is held just on the right side of instability and collapse. The foaming process adds complexity to materials. They become more ambiguous in their structure and behaviour. And this ambiguity has a deeper undertone, suggesting that certainties can become unbound, that categories leak and bleed. Materials once gave grounding to the physical boundaries of human experience, but these boundaries are becoming blurred, hazy, untrustworthy.

NickelFoam.jpg

"Particular foods were once considered as a single entity: an apple was an apple, a cabbage a cabbage and a pork chop a pork chop," writes Blumenthal. "Now, though, we know that an apple is, in fact, a recipe in itself, consisting of tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of molecules, each contributing something to the texture, flavor or taste."

Unravelling nature is one thing. Repackaging it is quite another. When you put it back together, it turns into something very different.

foam-1.jpg

Blumenthal's point echoes through modern design: traditionally, designers regarded materials as a kind of "found" truth that we inherited from nature--and thus both fundamental and essential. Stone, for example, was characterised as immovable foundation or tablet of moral truth. This attachment of meaning to physical stuff is fundamental to design culture. Maybe the old Modernists were right--maybe there is a morality to materials. Modernism found its medium in concrete, glass and steel. These materials reflected the circumstances of newly industrialized societies. They were used to express the idea that industrial production could create an idealized society. At the same time, they were a brutal snub to the stone used in bourgeois Beaux-Arts architecture, which attempted to connect to a set of classical ideals. Of course we now regard both classical and modernist ideals with distrust. We don't believe in the autocratic or aristocratic structuring of society and carry a growing ambivalence towards industrialization's social and environmental consequences. Perhaps the rise of foamed, ambiguous materials expresses our gnawing ambivilence.

foamNi.jpg

The patron saint of aeration is Margaret Thatcher. In the 1950s, way before she entered politics, Thatcher was part of a team of chemists working for Lyons investigating methods for preserving the foamy quality of ice-cream. They experimented with injecting air into ice-cream until the point of collapse and found that substituting vegetable oil for the animal fat naturally occurring within the dairy cream improved the emulsifying quality of the mix. The improved ice-cream could hold more air, and long enough for it to freeze. This swirled up, foamy, frozen mixture of fat and sugar squirted out of machines as a premium product made with less material - an ingenious sleight of hand.

It is sorely tempting to draw parallels between Thatchers chemical and political legacies. And if one were to, perhaps one would be making comparisons with the atomisation of society, or perhaps one might speculate that Mr Whippy ice cream represented a proto- privatisation where air is transformed into commodity. One might even speculate that Thatchers chemical cue came from the Communist manifesto, where Marx argued that capitalisms transubstantive effect: 'all that is sold melts into air'. Perhaps Marx was staring at an ice cream as he struggled for the kind of linguistic imagery that would enthuse the proletariat.

Poet Wallace Stevens wrote "The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.' Perhaps he meant that grand political narratives could be played out through physical substance as much as through language.

nifoam.jpg

Foam is a strangely liberated state: ephemeral, light-headed, almost intoxicated. It's stuff that has been agitated into an unnatural state that has escaped the confines of ordinary substance. In the spongy, stretchy, warm, super-strong foam we feel the sickening, trembling thrill of our time. This is the hyped-up sensation that both comforts and disgusts in equal measure as I slurp down my Grande Latte.

foam-party-a9l2.jpg



Posted by anothersam at April 28, 2007 10:10 PM.

1 Comments

Margherita said:

i've never thought about coffee and foam from this point of view.

Leave a comment





Contents:

More Scenes In Cartoon Deserta

Eiffel X-Rays

Beyond: Values and Symptoms

Sub Plan

Shenzhen: Window of the World

White Power

Generic Powerpoint Template: Delivering Bad News

Duplicate Array

The Best New Building In London

Book Review: The Infrastructural City

A Balloon in the Pantheon

Letters From The Pantheon

Henry Moore in Motion

On My Steel Horse I Ride

The Michael Jackson Monument Design Competition

Now Showing: John Baldessari Sings Sol LeWitt

Obscure Design Typologies: Life Guard Chairs

Osama bin Laden Cigarette Lighter: Novelty Products as Congealed Culture

Absurd Car Crashes: A Eulogy for J.G. Ballard

Candy Pistol

Now Showing: Dan Grahams 'Rock My Religion'

This Concrete 'O': On Serotonin, the M25, and the Motorik Picturesque

Church of the Literal Narrative

Philadelphias Floating Architecture

Now Viewing: Married To The Eiffel Tower

Le Corbusiers Image Hoard: Poeme Electronique

Giant American Signs: Original Learning from Las Vegas Footage

Giant Soviet Signs Cut Into Forests

Bricks Melted Into Icicles: Napalm Decorative

C-Labs 'Unfriendly Skies' & 'Bootleg' Volume

2 The Lighthouse: Self Storage & Architectural Hallucinations

Ceci N'Est Pas Une Pipe: Infrastructure as Architectural Subconcious.

Viva Sectional Cinematography!

Now Showing: The Installation of an Irreversible Axis on a Dynamic Timeline

Plug: Junk Jet

Sim Seasons Greetings! The Rise of Neo-Winter

Geography in Bad, Festive Drag.

The Ruins of the Future

High Tech As Steampunk ...

On The Retro Infrastructural

Simulations of Industry: High Tech Architecture and Thatcherism

David Greene: The Big Nothing

From The Factory to the Allotment: Tony Wilson, Urbanist

Koolhaas HouseLife / Gan Eden: The Revenge of Architectural Media

Ruburb-ric: The Ecologies of the Farnsworth House

The Architecture of Divorce

Flagrant Delit: The Movie

Landscape as Clothing

Telly Savalas Looks At Birmingham Redux

Acts of Un-Building: Timelapse Demolitions

Yard Filth: Next Years Hot Look

Stonehenge: A Black Hole At The Heart Of British Architecture

The Popemobile: Mechanised Robes & Motorised Architecture

Tarmac Adam, Tarmac Eden

The Secret Language of Surface

Some Housekeeping

Information Fields: Agriculture as Media

My Bloody Valentine: Sound as Substance

A Cubist Copse: Gehrys Serpentine Pavilion

Olympic Model Protest

Spouting Off: Some Thoughts On The Fountainhead

Form Follows Dysfunction: Bad Construction & The Morality of Detail

Floating Homes

Vintage Tradeshow Surrealism: International Grune Woche

Moving Houses: Buildings In Motion

Desktop Study: The Strange World of Sports Studio Design

Married to the Eiffel Tower: More Objectum Sexuals

60 Years of The Crazy Horse Memorial

Married to the Berlin Wall: "The Best and Sexiest Wall Ever Existed!"

Inflatable Icebergs: Sublimated Guilt Has Never Been So Fun

The Cinderella Effect: Phantom Architectures of Illumination

Two Deaths and a Retirement: The Strange Shape of British Architecture

If London Were Like New York: Antique Schizo-Manhattanism

If London Were Like Venice: Antique Geo-Poetic Speculations and Hydro-Fantasy

41 Hours in an Elevator: The Movie

NASA: Mapping the Moon with Sport

Lemon Squeezy: Design Tendencies after the Juicy Salif

Stadium Seat Mosaics

The Nihilistic Beauty of Weapons Arranged in Patterns

Light Vessel Automata

Dogs: Britains Greatest Design Obsession

Madison Avenue Modern

Detroit Sucks: The Motor Shows Last Gasp

Mies' Grave: Cut Out Model

All You Can Eat

Valentine Machine

The Tools of Re-Geography

Floating in a New Town Sky

Authentic Replicas: Football and the Franchising of Place

Folk Football: Landscape, Space and Abstraction

Haystack House

A Wishing Well with a Fat Up Pipe

The Camoufluers and the Day-Glo Battleship

Pseudoccino: Instant Coffee Foam

Yesterdays Technology, Today

Blown Up: More Inflatable Military Stuff

On Christmas Trees, Folk Forests and Staples Office Supplies

Hampton Courts Shrouded Sculptures

Named Fabric: 20 Sponsored Pieces of Architecture at the New Museum

Form Follows Felony: The Secret Home of the Un-Dead Canoeist.

Architectural Magazines: Paranoid Beliefs, Public Autotheraphy - More on Clip/Stamp/Fold

Little Magazines Seen Today

James Bond Lives Next Door: Suburban Imagery as Industry

The Ghost of Christmas Futurism

Petrified War Machine

Military Deceptions

Chapters for an Imaginary Book About Architecture

Shrouded Plinth - Urban Striptease

In the Night Garden - Surreal Landscape of Nostalgia

Kim Jong II, The Great Architect

Pill Box Picturesque

Un Clear Monument

Place Faking: Instant Heritage for the Thames Gateway

The Marc Bolan Memorial Crash Barrier.

Warped Domesticity

The Nuclear Heritage Coast

Enjoy The Silence: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones

The Story of O (2)

Telly Savalas Looks At Birmingham

X100: A Design Exercise

How to Plan A New Town

Carpet Bomber

In Search of Britains Vehicular History

Scenes in Cartoon Deserta

Scary Suburbanism: Why Horror is at Home in the Suburbs

Re-Make Re-Model

I Like Your Manifesto, Lets Put it to the Test-o

How to Become a Famous Architect

Northampton - Sci-fi Pop Planning Promotion

Advertising Central Milton Keynes

Baltic Exchanged

Festival of Nostalgia

The Clapham Trainwash

Airports as Music

Test Card Dummies

The Velvet Underground at the Glass House

Duplikate: Kate Moss on the Production Line of Individuality

The Museum that Ate Itself

Hollow Inside: Starbucks Foam and the Rise of Ambiguous Materials

Revisions to the Architecture of Hell

Crufts: Dogs, Design and Aesthetic Genetics

Eos Airlines: Executive Bubbles over the Atlantic

London's Ugliest Buildings

1.51 Miles Of String

Google Earths Vertiginous Mapping

Church of the Ascension and Descension

Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles

Replica Bombs

The Invisible Bungalow

House / Boat

Reading Lines: Skateboarding and Public Space

Mountain Sculpting

Sint Lucas in BD

Bat House Competition

Old Walton Bridge

Kiruna: The Town That Moved

Spray On Magnetic Defense

Chris Cornish: Prototyping History

The Jubilee Gestalt Vase

The Most Visited Location in the UK

Anything to Feel Weightless Again: The Cargo Lifter and the Tropical Island Resort

'Its beauty will know no season'

2000 Years of Non Stop Nostalgia. Or How Half Timbering Made Me Whole Again.

Inside-out Aldwych

Backpeddling into the Future: The Historical-Futurism of British Architecture

Miss Selfridges' Feeling for Fake Snow. The Oxford St. Lights and Why We Need Artificial Winter

Nelsons Cavern

Foam Gargoyle

New Tory Logo: A Hazy Shade of Politics

Jeff Koons, Rem Koolhaas, Hans Ulrich Obrist at the Serpentine

Souvenir Empire

Celebrity Scents: The Bittersweet Smell of Success

Imperfect Pitch - Football, Space and Landscape

Product Placement: Making the Impossible Possible

Suburban Growth: Matthew Moores Field of Dreams

Perfect Sound Forever: The Secret Function of High End Stereos

Picture of the Week 1

A Little Light Product Placement

Some Advice To A Young Designer

London and on and on

In the Gallery of Ice Creams

Useless Proclamations for a Beautiful City

Mini Mies Chair

Topsy Turvy VSBA: Inverted Heros of an Upside Down Avant Guard

Harvest III: Buried Things

The Harvest II

The Harvest I

Estuary Urbanism

The Royal Families Trees

Everything Flows: ideological cartography

How Geostationary Was My Valley?

The Psychotic Utopia of the Suburbs and the Suburbanisation of War.

LegoLand London Cluster

In a Lonely Place - Under Construction

Design Will Eat Itself

Mach 3 Nitro Gel - Design that's foaming at the mouth.

Marchitecture. Architectural things to do in London this March

Metallic Jet Powered Cloud

"When we got married I had no idea he would do something like this, he just said he was going to do some decorating."

The Electric Cenotaph

Russian Rok

Commitment ...

Dinner in the Iguanadon

Trace

What happens when you cross a pen with a car?

Leg Table Leg

Florentine Building Sites

Good Morning Britain

Football Pitch: Best of British

The Sad Photographer

The First Cut is the Cheapest - Blenheim Palace: pop architecture that goes for the jugular

Book Now For Christmas

Requiem for a Toilet Seat

Architecture that Destroys

TomTom Mobile 5 / GO 700

Winning Design

Another Croydon

Holiday Snap II : Giant Glowing French Balls

Holiday Snap: Canadian War Memorial, Vimy, France

Pecha Kucha London

Anatomy of an Architectural News Story

Big Bens

First Cut - Case Closed

The Texas Tower

Its All About the Big Benjamins

G8 Security Tower

White Cubed Blues

Poundbury, unexpectedly, in the rain

The Exploding Concrete Inevitable. Lou Reed and the Casa da Musica

Swingball

Untitled (Plastic Sack and Timber)

Berlin 1945 - The Obscene Picturesque

Pizza Planet

Goal Sculptures

Interview: Jeremy Deller & Alan Kane

Previewing Cedric Price

The Mardas Touch

Building a Lionel Richie Head

Ornament is Grime 2

An Incredible Smell of Roasting Coffee

Flatpack Frenzy at New IKEA

Langlands & Bell - The House of Osama Bin Laden

Labour is kind of working

Happy Death Men

Build to Let

Architectural Criticism gets Sharp

Niagara Falls

Ornament is Grime

FA(ke) Cup

Q&A: Wouter Vanstiphout

X-treme urinals

Unigate Cowscape

Spray-on Snow

From the Baffler ...

One in a Taxi

The Queen Machine

The Knork

Venturi, Scott Brown and my love that dare not speak its name.

Polictical Placards

The Ketchup Conumdrum

Douglas Coupland: Design and Fiction

It's a Small World

Images de Parfums

Soft Carcass

Christopher Dresser at the V&A

Blow up Pub

Municipal Mummification

The Matt and Ron Show

Semi - detached

Half Timbered Van

Feltham Future

Favorite Things

Fugitives and Refugees' - Chuck Palahniuk

The Pop Vernacular

Design by Chefs

Just What is it That Makes Yesterdays Homes So Different, So Appealing?

Archigrams Pastoral Futurism

Sorry Mies

The Flaming Lips - Live.

Everything Counts - The Sound of Geography Collapsing.

Carlton Terrace Extension

Other:

www.fat.co.uk

www.samjacob.com

twitter.com/anothersam

Flickr:


Links:

IconEye
Archinect
Flip Flop Flyin'
Arts & Letters
Bldg Blog
City of Sound
Design Observer
Limited Language
Mcsweeneys
Things
Dezeen
Kieran Long
Arts Monitor
Loud Paper
Dwell Blog
David Barrie
Super Colossal
sit down man, you're a bloody tragedy
The Sesquipedalist
Londonist
Architecture & Hygiene
Pruned
Infosthetics
Aggregat456
A456Tumblr
Kazys Varnelis
Infranet Lab
Life Without Buildings
Landscape & Urbanism
HTC Experiments
Deputy Dog
Subtopia
The Dirt
Mockitecutre
Art Fag City
Triple Canopy
Where
Actar
Mechanophilia
Shrapnel
NL Blog