Manual Brew Methods Vs. The Button

 
By 18 February 2012
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Gratuitous Push-Button hunk.

James Hoffmann says:

I don’t think we should be beating the drum of anger about Nespresso and K-Cups retail prices, unless we never aspire to them ourselves. We should be learning the lessons they provide us – how to sell coffee effectively, how to make coffee at a higher price point more accessible – and answer some less comfortable questions such as why we’re considered overpriced, and why we might be inaccessible in comparison.

Is he on to something? Are we fooling ourselves with brew classes, scales and $60 kettles for our consumers, when they really would rather just push a button and be done with it?

Daniel of Arabica points out:

Where I think James is correct, is that while frustrating, the success of Nespresso and K-cup is also an opportunity to learn how to hone the message of quality over convenience. It’s tempting but ultimately ridiculous to ridicule these people for purchasing what they purchase based on my motivations. Because they are not the same motivations at all. Convenience is not what I’m buying when I look for my next coffee or, for that matter, when I’m looking for the next anything I plan on opening up my wallet for and putting into my body. But I’ve had difficulty getting that logic across, even at a personal level. I’ve been mocked and ridiculed as being a patsy for preferring quality over convenience. I can’t be the only one. If it’s this difficult at the level of one person to another, it must be that much more difficult at the retail level.

I think convenience is at the root of many of the current food issues of today. At least, maybe, convenience’s far too lofty place in the decision making process of what we produce and what we eat. Convenience is overrated. Convenience is an economically, environmentally, and socially insidious concept. We’ve been trained in it’s importance. It’s going to take some time to unlearn it.

After receiving the most recent Tonx delivery, we think his letter has some answers:

How did making a real cup of coffee become so intimidating to so many people? Everywhere you look there are push button pod machines, chromed plastic cuisinarts [sic] with blue LEDs, a million capsule coffee contraptions with false promises and flavorless cups.

Some of the blame for this perceived, frightened fussiness of real coffee brewing lies with nerds like us. Endless brewing experimentations and geeking with gadgetry can be a more compelling rabbit hole to fall into than the perplexing romance of the bean itself, shrouded in impenetrable exoticism and impossible complex chemistry. It’s often easier to talk about grinder burrs or chemex stirring techniques than the particulars of agronomy in southern Tanzania or the effects of raised beds for sun-drying of coffee. And so technique gets talked about more than taste. Machines get discussed more than the beans we put in them, and many sensible people rightly avoid the whole mess.

We’ve made brewing coffee seem difficult and frightening. Scales, timers, thermocouples… these are useful tools, but they have also perhaps alienated the people we need to reach out to the most. Quality seems like it’s not worth the trouble. Keurig has figured out a way to “uncork” coffee. We need to find our coffee wine-key.

 
  • Drew Moody says:

    Good God, that was a really great commentary. I’ve been thinking about writing a piece like this for A Table in the Corner of the Cafe – I came close with my “Coffee Snobbery” post. I’ve been in the coffee industry for almost ten years now and even I have been the recipient of slander, mockery, and all-around douchebaggery just because I’m not as geeked out as other coffee lovers. I’ve been complaining about this very topic for the past couple weeks now because it’s so frustrating and aggravating and more often than not, my feelings genuinely get hurt by fellow coffee lovers. This morning, I tweeted “The smarminess of specialty coffee is almost enough to make me never drink coffee again,” and I meant it. 

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  • Justin says:

    I agree with Chris here and am happy to see this piece posted on Spudge. I think that those of us who represent the “Third Wave” need to understand that folks who use the Keurig are most likely making a step up from canned Robusta blends in search of a better cup and should be recognized as potential subscribers to the methods and philosophies that we all live by. Why not create an educational experience for every pour over we make?

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  • Christopher Schooley says:

    perhaps handing out trophies for brewing coffee is sending the wrong message. instead of rewarding the skill of brewing a cup of coffee, we should be rewarding the skill of showing someone how easy brewing coffee can be. 

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  • That’s one of the reasons I’m a huge fan of the Clever: it’s baffling simple to use. Its only problem is that it only makes one batch at a time and takes a bit longer to brew than a comparable Keurig. 

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