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Wake Up and Smell the Coffee

Are speed, ease and convenience worth sacrificing enjoyable human experiences for? When it comes to my morning dose of caffeine, I'm not convinced...

As alluded to in previous blogs, I’m a steadfast fan of automation when it can enrich or improve lives through increased convenience, efficiency or value. There are instances of products already on the market — read 'smart toasters' — where I don’t feel these fundamentals have been met. There’s an art to “smart” and not everything has it... yet.

An illustration of a barista wearing a pink shirt, blue apron, and hat, holding a cup of coffee. Next to the figure is a coffee machine on a yellow counter and a pink cafe table, set in a room with a cream wall and blue floor.

What interests me immensely though is the distinction between those smart devices that provide important solutions and those which detract from the authentic — moreover enjoyable — human experience.


This is where coffee presents a conundrum. 


Is the joy of at-home coffee in the making or the drinking? 

Picture this. You own a beautifully designed, top of the range bean-to-cup coffee machine that sits proudly on your kitchen worktop, enticing you with promises of aroma-filled sensory experiences that far surpass anything your jar of instant granules could offer.


In this instance, it’s fair to say that the joy of utilising a coffee machine lies equally with the making AND the drinking. There’s little pleasure to be had from making instant coffee, let alone drinking it. The process of grinding down fresh coffee beans to produce the perfect extraction, on the other hand, is a different beast entirely. 


What then, would be your preference if the same machine could automatically prepare your coffee for you with no manual intervention required whatsoever? From the right grind size to optimal drinking temperature; it knows all your coffee preferences to a T and produces them effortlessly at specified times throughout the day.


In this example, the result would be the same in the form of a thirst-quenching cup of coffee brewed to your specification, but with no input required in the production. 


But where’s the fun in that?!

A cartoon image depicting a computer monitor flanked by a house plant and a streaming mug emblazoned with the words "World's Best Boss".

Yes, it may be quicker and easier to have the coffee machine prepare the perfect cup for me on a morning (thus meeting my “convenience” credential) — and I do often rely on this functionality — but at the expense of the rewarding experience of undertaking the process myself. And whilst I don’t always have the time to savour such moments on busy working days, the sounds, sights and smell of grinding coffee is enough to convince me that there is still immense value in the visceral. 


You could argue the same about vinyl. 


As a self-confessed Sonos addict (21 devices and counting!), my allegiance clearly lies with wireless connectivity and ease of use. But that is not to say that I cannot acknowledge the appeal of analogue. 


Vinyl offers a tactile and mindful experience that is hard to come by in our increasingly digitally driven world. Records are fragile; great care is required when removing them from their sleeve and placing them on the turntable. It might be necessary to check for dust and scratches. There is no guarantee that it won’t stutter or jump. After lifting the delicate arm mechanism, precision is required to drop the needle on a specific groove for the music to play.


Only then can you sit down to enjoy the audio offerings of your favourite band. Until you need to flip it over to Side 2, of course…

I expect if aliens landed on Earth, they’d be utterly perplexed as to why anyone would ever go to such painstaking lengths just to listen to a song when a simple two-word prefix (“Alexa play…”) can achieve the same result. But the answer is it’s an authentic human experience that cannot be replicated by a machine. You can’t teach a machine to feel the intrinsic pleasures resultant of human behaviour; to appreciate sensory experiences “just because”. 


Like feeling the grass beneath your feet, or the air in your lungs, certain elements of everyday living need to be experienced first-hand to be fully enjoyed.


That is why I unashamedly own TWO coffee machines. One for when I just want a drink, and the other for when I want the full experience. My machine of choice is the Rancilio Silvia V3 Espresso Machine paired with a Mazzer Coffee Grinder. Divine Espresso introduce Miss Silvia (as the former is affectionately known) in their review:


"If you are looking for an espresso machine that’s exceptionally made for the money and enables you to enjoy the process as well as the outcome of making espresso, Rancilio Silvia 3 would fit the bill."

It's reassuring to know I'm not alone in my quest for sensory satisfaction. My other half may think I'm nuts for shelling out on two types of machine (I have Nespresso ones in my office and caravan), but I feel like I would be nuts not to. The fact that Nespresso coffee is the same every time is a big negative for me. I like variation and I relish a challenge. Producing your optimal cup of coffee takes practice, and I'm more than happy to drink the test runs in pursuit of perfection!

And so, whilst automation and smart technology have the potential to add unprecedented value to the populace, they cannot — nor should not — replace the human experience; they should seek instead only to enhance it. Unless you’re talking toasters — in which case, leave well alone!


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