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Your crew is coming over to help at 8am on a Saturday.
After a bit of BS and planning, hammers start to swing. By 10am everyone is a little tired and needs a rest.
It’s too early for lunch and too late for breakfast.
Enter the union-demanded, customer-tested, kid-approved, almighty, benevolent, life-giving…
How Coffee Break Started
Oh yes. Coffee break. It’s a big deal here at our two family. I can’t recall exactly how it may have evolved. It might be because my father, whose contribution to the success of our home renovations has been unparalleled and overtly generous, is a lifelong carpenter. He’s worked many a day and night in buildings across NYC. As a union member, he enjoyed things like breaks – specifically, coffee break.
In NYC, coffee break means the least experienced apprentice approaches everyone on the job, takes down their order, runs down to the closest deli with the money, and returns with a milk crate full of delicious, caffeinated nourishment. Each worker receives their “Caution contents may be hot” or “have a nice day” blue paper cup with plastic lid, powdered jelly donut or bacon-egg-and-cheese-no-ketchup-on-a-roll, and proceeds to not actually sit down to consume any of it. Yes, there are companies in NYC whose carpenters are not permitted to sit down until lunch.
Coffee break also exists for a practical reason – if you’re not familiar or have not enjoyed a neighbor with a jackhammer while you’re trying to sleep in on a weekend… construction jobs usually begin at dawn in NYC, with lunch at 11 or 11:30. I like to believe it’s so that they can work when it’s cool out, especially in the summer, but I have to ask myself why, then, would they continue to start working at dawn in the wintertime? I have no answer.
Anyway, as a result, my dad is internally programmed to start swinging a hammer no later than 7:30am. If he begins at 8am, he declares that “daylight’s burning!” and “we’d better get going!” All this to say… we start our workdays here around a reasonable 8am – not only to keep neighbors at bay, but also allow ourselves to “sleep in” on the weekends we are working. Four hours is a long time to go before lunch, so coffee break lives between start time and lunch time, to get off our feet and refuel for another couple hours of work.
As renovation days evolved here at our two fam, my dad began repeating over and over that “Coffee break at Noreen’s house is the best.” I have had to reflect and ask myself… why? How did I come up with these miniature feasts about which he sings such frequent praises?
I’ll tell you. My old job. Like any other actor/model pounding the pavement in NYC, I enjoy really neat gigs coupled with painful dry spells. To keep a steady stream of income and my bills paid, for many years I regularly took jobs with a staffing agency. For whatever reason, I became a regular at a little finance/media company called “Bloomberg L.P.” And for whatever reason, I ended up on the breakfast shift more often than not.
Yes, I was the sorry soul who made the coffee at 6am for the people before they arrived at conferences and meetings. It’s a special calling. I also witnessed many impressively disgusting manners (MBA holders, more often than not) and impressively impeccable manners (US Marine Corps, bless you, infinitely), but that’s a conversation for another blog.
Just know that I learned how to craft a culinary morning break spread from literal professionals and cannot retreat to a mere paper-cup-coffee and stale donut ever again.
Why You Need It
Whatever its origin in our lives, coffee break has become somewhat of an institution here at our two family. It adds joy and nourishment to the workday. Providing a pause from mental workouts like layout (employing algebra and geometry, GROSS!) or physical workouts like hanging sheetrock (which combines hard labor with algebra and geometry, DOUBLE GROSS!), it gives your crew a chance to refuel their brains and bodies. Much like cell phones, people work better when their batteries are charged.
Coffee break is also the right thing to do. If you’ve got friends or family coming over to help you with your latest hare-brained renovation adventure, the least you can do is feed them.
Heck, if you’ve got the same contractors coming to your place over and over again, you might offer them a cup o’ joe – they might return more willingly in the future. Indeed, our plumber has become our friend thanks to a simple cup of coffee and a couple of muffins. Relationships are built on conversation, and coffee assists in instigating such.
What Makes a Good Coffee Break?
Alright, let’s talk nitty gritty. How does one create this at home, specifically when you may have ripped out your kitchen? If you’ve got a makeshift kitchen, you’re ready to make a perfect breaktime. (If not, there’s always takeout or the local deli if you’re really stuck.).
The coffee: Sometimes, I prep the coffee grounds and water in the coffee pot before we start working, and brew right before coffee time. Other times, I brew 12 cups right when I wake up and use a handy-dandy carafe to keep it piping hot until break. ($8 thrift store purchase, new in box, heaven-sent! You can find one like it here).
What constitutes the perfect java jam, other than coffee? Here’s what I include to keep our crew fueled and smiling:
- Milk & sugar — if that’s how people drink their coffee
- Water — whether they want to or not, workers need to hydrate! Always have water available for your crew!!
- Pastry or sweet – usually a banana bread, muffin, little donuts, etc. Before we start a big project, I’ll freeze some in advance. Or, I’ll use a pre-made mix that only requires a few added ingredients to make my life easier. Or, I’ll buy from the local bakeries of which New Jersey is so proud.
- Protein – sounds tough but isn’t too bad. Think boiled eggs, smoked salmon, microwave sausages, or—if you plan wayyyy in advance and want a gold star – egg casserole (no I never did this, but if you froze it and then threw it in your toaster oven, boom!). Some people swear by the breakfast burrito for this category, and I must concede, they are a handy portable brekky often found on commercial production sets. I only tried making them recently when prepping freezer meals for post-baby and found them to be most convenient.
- Fruit – like grapes, berries, apple slices, clementines
In addition, I always have a bowl with whole fruits (think bananas and apples) hanging around, in case anyone wants something else to eat. Occasionally, if all the other foods are light, I’ll include a bowl of nuts/dried fruit or trail mix.
Final items necessary– it’s good to toss some hand sanitizer & napkins on the table or bench. And, of course, mugs and plates.
This may sound complicated. I promise, it’s not. The biggest key is to brew your coffee 15 minutes before your crew will want to break. You will eventually develop the ability to read the future once you observe or participate in enough renovation days. After that, if you’ve prepared in advance, it should only take 5-10 minutes to produce a simple and effective morning snack.
So that’s it! A quick & easy spread of goodies can sustain union tradition, build friendships, and keep your crew full and caffeinated until lunchtime.
If you want more live-in renovation advice, head to our Ultimate Home Renovation Guide.
What about you? Do you pause for a coffee break during your project building days?