I am not fond of automation. At least, not to the extent that it dominates cafes today -- mine in particular. I've written about it before, not so much on this blog, but as a guest post for Daily Shot of Coffee. If you don't count my sportswriter days at the UDK, that's almost certainly the most read thing I've written. Which is cool. Thus I assume, if you're reading this, that you read that as well. If not, you can check it out here. I feel downright silly promoting a blog that dwarfs my own, but here I am. If, for some reason, you are reading this coffee blog, but not Mike's, here's your chance to fix that.
In any case, the gist of the post is this: There is a quality, both tangible and not, lent to the cafe experience, that requires a human touch. The more that is removed, the more the drink suffers -- as does everything else. The reception was positive, and generally speaking, people seemed to agree with me.
I had a customer today who, if he had read the post, would likely have agreed too. He ordered a large americano, watched as I filled the cup with hot water, set it in place, and pressed the double button twice. I walked away. It was busy, so I had other things to do. I came back when the shots had been spit out, handed him the drink, and started making the small latte he had also ordered.
"That machine must take all the fun out of the job," he said. And though those were his words, what he meant was this: Don't you feel less satisfied, working with a machine that does so much for you?
What he meant, I agreed with then, and do now. I would rather grind and tamp my own espresso. I think I can do a better job than the machine can; I think I can produce a better drink. It will not be as fast. But quality takes a few more seconds, sometimes.
But as for what he said... that's another story. The machine, automated though it is, does not take all the fun out of my job. In fact, though there are days where work is work, there are also times where I could scarcely have more fun. It is the cafe culture, the coworkers, the customers, the friends, that makes the job as fun as it is. The human element that makes cafes great goes far beyond drink preparation, extends in to personal interactions, both trivial and serious, superficial and deep.
So, would I rather make "better" drinks? Would I prefer having more control, more of a chance for artistic flair? Sure. But I would never let so small a matter as that take any amount of fun from me.