Stress Binge

Worldwise: Decent Espresso Founder John Buckman’s Favorite Things


Ten years ago, John
hated coffee.

“Sometimes I’d drink it to wake up, but I just thought it was terrible,” he says. Today, he’s the founder and CEO of Decent Espresso, where he created the Decent, a home espresso machine that’s changing the espresso world with technology.

It was a chance visit to a tiny café in Berlin where Buckman discovered a love for good coffee—so much to quickly get sick from drinking too much. A prosumer home espresso machine soon followed, but the espresso wasn’t any good. A second, more expensive machine failed to produce better results. “I’m sure there’re a lot of people blowing a lot of money on this, feeling like idiots,” Buckman says. “You blame the gear, or you blame yourself.”

That wasn’t an easy thing to admit for this modern-day Renaissance entrepreneur, who owns Magnatune, BookMooch, and other companies focused on music and books, plays the lute and makes artisanal liqueur. After training with a professional barista, much like an apprentice learns alongside a craftsman, Buckman was finally making good espresso, but with a machine that cost about the same as a Rolex Submariner.

Buckman embarked on a new enterprise: an affordable prosumer espresso machine that incorporated the mentoring experience. “Instead of the craftsman sitting there watching you, could I have a machine that shows you what’s going on? And could we add sensors in there?” Papers were written, experts were consulted, and a “very eccentric genius” physicist joined the team. 

The result, The Decent espresso machine, uses tech to tell the barista, through a tablet located on the machine, what the pressure, flow rate, and temperature are in real time—three variables that aren’t normally measured in a home espresso machine, but are essential for the home barista to consistently achieve excellent results. 

Decent machines, which have achieved cult status worldwide, are just the beginning. “The next step is to make an espresso machine that’s running software where the espresso profile mutates, as it’s learning about what’s going on right now,” Buckman says. “It doesn’t matter what your grinder is, what your bean is, the recipe will just adjust and make the best possible cup.”

The thing that gets me up in the morning is… a lack of deadlines. I can handle a lot of stress in my life, but for some reason, deadlines just cripple me with stress, I can’t sleep well, and I don’t want to get out of bed. So… I had to become my own boss.

The coffee beans I use at home are from… Hong Kong’s Fineprint. 

My favorite lever machine is… The Strietman. It’s so minimal. There’s almost nothing to it. I mean, look at it, and it’s just like a little heating coil and a plunger. Seriously, it’s this expensive? But of course, it’s like
The sculpture is finished when you can’t take anything off. And that’s what this machine is.

The best book I’ve read in the past year is… What I Know About Running Coffee Shops by
Colin Harmon.
While ostensibly about running a coffee shop, it’s more generally about running a retail business, with quite a bit about being an entrepreneur in a business that has hired staff.

One piece of art that has changed the way I view the world is… The “new fakes” at the Museum of Art Fakes in Vienna. If a contemporary artist can create a new artwork that looks like it was painted hundreds of years ago by an acknowledged old master, why is this new work not also a masterpiece? If the contemporary experts of the old master cannot tell, why isn’t the new work held to the same esteem? Does not the new artist have the same level of skill?

If I could have a drink anywhere, with anyone, it would be with… Alexandre
-Lapostolle, the inventor of the Grand Marnier liquor. I’ve spent many years trying to recreate it, to understand the reasons why it is so amazing. It’s not so much to copy it, but to understand “how do you make a brand-new thing, that stands on its own merits, from other ingredients.” There’s a whole lifetime of savoir-faire in that drink. 

The one thing in the kitchen that I can’t live without is… my Vacmaster VP210 vacuum chamber sealer. Vacuum packing food has allowed me to make much larger quantities of really good meals, and preserve great ingredients. 

If I were to buy a work of art, it would be… 
Paul Klee’s
Head of Man was a poster in my office while I worked, for decades. It’s so simple, yet always bears fruit upon further close viewing.

My favorite neighborhood in the world is… Downtime Stockholm, at 2 a.m., during the summer. It’s still light, warm, people are bicycling everywhere, and happy. Cocktail bars open on the island waterfronts, with chill DJs playing music as cloth barriers blow in the wind.

A passion of mine few people know about is… I’ll pick one dish that I want to try to master, and make it every day, for three months. First it was apple crumble, then poached egg, ice cream, poached beef cheeks, and hollandaise sauce. Unfortunately, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve also gotten lazier at recording what I learned, so that several years later, it’s all fallen out of my brain!

My favorite pandemic-era binge watch is… Free to Choose, a 1980s 10-episode “brain dump” of everything that Nobel-prize-winning economist
Milton Friedman
believed about economics and civilization. 

The person who inspired me to do what I do is… inventor
Buckminster Fuller,
more than anyone, guides me. He was an inventor that tried to change the world. While most of his inventions eventually failed to make a big impact, his thought, manner, and the followers he inspires, really did change the world. South Africa dismantled Apartheid, because of Fuller, as Scenario Planning was created by his followers, and convinced the South African government that all futures down the path they were on, led to ruin. They were convinced, and changed.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


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