A while back I was traveling on business and spent a few days with a company that takes its coffee breaks very seriously.
As you can see in the photo above, they have a couple of pretty fancy brewers in the kitchen area.
Coffee, espresso, cappuccino, latte…take your pick.
However, being there for a few days allowed me to discern a pattern. That being, if you wanted any kind of coffee, you had better grab your brew well before mid-day.
Why? Because by then one or both brewers had stopped working. This happened all three days I was there.
The part that made me smile was when I approached someone who was working on the bigger of the two machines, trying to fix it.
“I guess you’re from IT,” I said, joking.
“How did you guess?” He replied.
Yep, fixing the coffee machine had become the responsibility of the geeks in IT, because nobody else could figure out how the darned things worked.
There is an irony here, of course.
If you were to walk down the street to a high-end, third wave-coffee shop, you wouldn’t find any of these fancy brewers. You’d find an earnest young employee hand-pouring each individual coffee through a filter cone, or a Chemex. Or perhaps they would be using a French press.
No electricity required. No moving parts, other than human parts.
Given that making great coffee is incredibly easy, requiring only the simplest of tools, why are we so obsessed with high-tech coffee makers?
I think there are a few reasons.
First, we live at a time when tech tools are cool. Whether it’s our smartphone or coffee makers, we like devices that can do amazing things at the touch of a button. We are suckers for the high-tech wow factor.
Second, making espresso-based drinks is more complicated that making a simple cup of coffee, because making espresso requires high water pressure. That means you have to move away from the simplicity of a filter cone, where water is simply poured, and gravity does the rest.
Third, we are addicted to convenience and the “easy button”. We like things to be easy. We want our favorite coffee beverage at the press of a single button. The water, coffee grinds and milk are all hidden behind the shiny plastic face of the machine. All we see are the flashing lights, false-chrome, and those tempting buttons.
And this is where things go wrong.
When we pack the working guts of the machine behind a shiny façade, we easily forget that coffee grinds, water and milk are messy. And it’s that mess that gums up the moving parts and brings your high end coffee machine to its knees.
And based on my experience in that company’s break room, high tech will never do well when exposed to water, milk and wet coffee grinds.
The answer? My vote goes for simplifying things a little, and exposing people to the enjoyable experience of actually MAKING their favorite coffee beverage by hand.
It’s not as fast. Not as convenient. And short on the wow factor.
But I know I enjoy my own espresso-base drinks more because I have had a hand in tamping the coffee grinds, steaming the milk and actually being a part of the process.
I enjoy my coffee more when I have had a hand in making it.
As for those IT guys, maybe one day coffee machine repair will become part of their professional training syllabus.
In these posts I share my thoughts and opinions on various aspects of gourmet coffee – sometimes thoughtful, and sometimes more lighthearted. Find my posts here...
About the author: Nick Usborne, aka Coffee Detective, is a writer and long-time coffee enthusiast. Read more…
You can find more of my opinion pieces and commentary on coffee and the coffee business here...