To perform or protect? Which is better?

January 31, 2020  ●  2-minute read

Most mornings, I make pour-over coffee. I weigh and hand-grind 20 grams of whole beans. I pre-rinse a filtered V60 cone. Then I put the grounds in the cone on a mug on a digital scale. When the water reaches ~93 degrees Celsius, I start to pour.

First, I saturate the grounds with 40g of hot water and then let them bloom for 30 seconds.

Next, I start the full pour. The ideal ratio of water to grounds is 16:1 11:1. So 320g 220g of water is the target for 20g of coffee.

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Do your amps (and your coffee) go to 11?

Now, as I pour more water through the cone, when should I stop?

“Stop at 220g” is trickier than it sounds. If I wait until the scale says 220g, the total amount of water will be greater. I can’t stop the flow fast enough. If I stop pouring too soon, the amount of water will be less.

So if exactly 220g is unlikely, which outcome is more favorable, less water or more? Which state should I optimize for? Is the goal to perform a perfect pour? Or to protect the flavor of the coffee?

To perform or protect in sport

Training and racing demand both protection and performance. But which should we use when?

In training, the priority is to protect. Undertraining won’t maximize our short-term ramp rate. But overtraining can lead to injury, illness, and burn out. All three reduce our rate of improvement by more than we gain by training to our limits.

By avoiding those long, unplanned breaks, our eventual fitness will be greater. Undertraining is much better than getting sick, injured, or overtrained. Being continuous and gradual will always trump being irregular and aggressive.

But during a goal event, the goal is to perform, not to protect. If the event is important enough, even injury might be acceptable. Giving all we have is mandatory. Crossing the finish line with a margin of safety would be foolish.

Years of conservative training will better prepare us for those special moments. Training less than we’re capable of will protect our fitness. Then when it’s time to go all-out, we’ll have as much capacity as possible to perform.

Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.
~ Warren Buffett, the 2004 Berkshire Hathaway annual letter

And what about coffee?

Too much water means weaker coffee. That’s certain to be bad. Not enough water means stronger coffee. That’s more likely to be good.

So pour-over coffee is about protecting the taste of the drink. It’s not about perfecting the pour. With 20g of coffee, 220g of water is the upper limit. Less is acceptable, while more is not.

With anything that has an upper limit, it’s best to play defence. We need to have a margin of safety built into our process.

Posted in: Principles