First Things First is a series chronicling the morning beverage routines of some of our favorite people.
Stephen Satterfield may have just come onto your radar: He’s the host of Netflix’s docu-series High on the Hog, which unearths the roots of America’s foodways in Africa, and which debuted last month. But Satterfield has been using food as means of organizing and educating for over a decade, first as a sommelier who put a speakerphone to the work of Black winemakers in South Africa and then as the founder of Whetstone, a magazine (and podcast, and media company) dedicated to sharing the origin stories of our culinary worlds. Another thing that hasn’t changed, no matter what continent on which he wakes? Satterfield’s morning routine. Find it below, in his own words.
What time do you normally wake up?
I wake up between 5:00 and 6:00 a.m.
What's the one thing you do the same way every morning?
Depends on my anxiety! If I've been anxious, I wake up like the stove is on. Not anxious? I roll over. The latter is rare and pretty much only possible on weekends, maybe. Then, I always check my email.
What’s the first thing you drink in the morning?
I wake up and I start thinking about coffee. Right? But before I can get to the coffee, I gotta earn the coffee by drinking some hot water. It needs to be the very first thing that you do!
I used to drink hot water as a digestif after a huge meal, like between the dessert or cheese course and before whatever I was going to drink to end the meal, usually calvados, armagnac, or even espresso if I want a clean, bitter finish. But I could never enjoy the espresso without stabilizing my belly with hot water. And so I started talking to my homie Angelique—she’s from Beijing—and she said, ‘No, you gotta do it in the morning because it will give you that same quality of belly cleanliness, but you actually set the tone for the day as opposed to trying to detox after the fact.’ So then I started rocking it in the morning. Once it was worked into the coffee routine? Game over! It feels like it's creating space for whatever I want to follow, and the acidic coffees I drink tend to settle best after I've cleared the playing field with hot water.
First of all, you gotta fill the kettle up to the very very very very top. I get the water boiling and pour it into my beautiful 16-ounce ceramic mug from Mexico, which simultaneously heats up the mug in preparation for the coffee. (I heat up two cups because I'm good like that.) As you're grinding your beans—I hand-crank mine, so it takes some time—and waiting for the coffee to filter, you have a good four to five minutes to enjoy your hot water.
It can't be too hot, because my palate is quite sensitive. I'm thinking I ought to take out an insurance policy on it, that's how sensitive it is. So, it's gotta be a couple notches below scalding, but I do boil the water because by the time I have it hits the mug, which is room temperature, the temperature of the water will be offset by that—and I like my coffee hot. Sometimes, with the hipster coffee, you've got it in a Chemex and by the time it’s in your cup, it's lukewarm. I don't subscribe to that. I'm using really excellent beans from excellent roasters, and if I'm losing some of the nuance, I'll swap that for a caliente coffee.
I didn't always, but I do like to add lemons to my hot water ritual in the morning because I need to step up my acidification. I actually got a blood test, for no reason other than to be an adult and check on things, and it turns out I'm alkaline-heavy. So, I was like, “Oh, good, I'll keep up with the lemons.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.