by Mike Vuono
April 16th, 2019
My workplace is very modern; exposed ceilings, big open floor plans, agile workstations, digital conference room booking, heating and lighting of areas based on current occupancy, and a bunch of touchscreen coffee machines that at the drop of a hat can create any javaesque drink you would want: latte, macchiato, americano, espresso, etc.
The problem with this being that the coffee itself, the backbone of the modern american office, tastes like absolute garbage. Hot hot garbage.
I’m not a coffee snob, let’s get that out of the way first. I recently watched a video that the new yorker put out about people drinking really fancy coffee. I get it, but it’s not for me. I’m sure I’d actually really like some of these fancy boy brews, but I’m just not that picky about my coffee.
All kinds of coffee exists and holds value. Artisan roasted fresh stuff made as a market priced pour over, great. Dunkin' Donuts, ordered, poured, and in my hand in under 30 seconds, great. Diner coffee that’s been sitting in the pot for hours at 7,000 degrees, great.
To put it simply, I’ve never come across a cup of coffee that I didn’t like. Until these coffee machines. Until these fucking on-demand, Oz-behind-the-curtain, black bile spewer machines were installed. To try to describe this coffee in normal terms would not adequately express how bad it really is. This coffee wears down part of my soul every time I drink it. If this coffee was made from old cigarette butts it wouldn’t surprise me. I’ve never left so much coffee in the bottom of my cup on a consistent basis before. I’ve never questioned if I should become a tea drinker until these machines ruined my coffee-work existence.
I’ve asked this to coworkers before, but they don’t care. So i’m going to ask it to no one, right now: fresh coffee is not brewed instantaneously. Yet when you order just a straight coffee from this machine, the little hopper full of beans at the top shuffles a bit, then you can hear the grinder activate, and then you hear hot water being injected through, I don’t know, some sort of thing, and then literally seconds later, coffee comes out of the machine into your awaiting shit-cup. The entire process from hitting “Coffee 1” to leaving with 8 oz of hot liquid shit takes less than one minute. It takes 49 seconds, on average. I’ve timed it.
So I ask you, no one reading this, have you ever brewed coffee from fresh grounds in one minute or less? I’m not talking about instant coffee. Instant coffee is fine. It’s cheap, it’s what your parents have in their cupboard for when you go over, and all you need to make it is hot water. It doesn’t really taste good, but arguably more importantly, it does not taste so bad that it makes you question if your life is real or if you’re living in a simulation designed to slowly and banally torture you. Hell, even the Flintstones drank instant coffee.
So I ask again: HOW IS THIS FRESH COFFEE BREWED IN 49 SECONDS AND WHY DOES IT TASTE SO BAD? It keeps me awake at night.
The situation was not always this dire. We used to have some monolithic Bunn machine that used little coffee pod type things. That was fine, nothing to really complain about. Tasted about the same as a K-Cup. Then, we actually just got Keurigs. K-Cup coffee is also, fine. Ecologically however, K-Cups have a pretty “nah man” vibe so after a year or two, enough employees complained and we switched to whatever these machines are called. They don’t even have branding on them; I don’t even know who to hate over the creation of these things.
This change in coffee is indicative of larger cultural changes that have happened over the past few years. We want every option and we want it available instantly. You’ve read better articles about all this kind of stuff before so I won’t try to wax philosophy on what I think about Amazon or Uber or Instagram. But this new culture of “flash service” is so pervasive that even my god damn office coffee machine now has to offer 50 different drink options and create them on demand in one minute, regardless of the quality.
If we think of our coffee in this way, we think of everything in this way. Something that we should be okay waiting a few minutes for now has the bare minimum of wait time allowed. This effect has splash damage. We write a quick email to our coworker, and can’t believe two minutes later they haven’t responded. We start flagging emails urgent. We start IMing people directly, asking them to answer complicated logistical situations within this instant timespan. Even mundane things are done in this instant economy. Did you get lunch today for the lunch and learn session? Nah, I’ll just Ubereats it. It’s fine.
Everything we do now, regardless of how big or small is now expected to exist perpetually; we need to recall or create anything and everything we do instantly, without question. The result of this of course is that you create something that resembles the desired output but is actually total fucking trash. Your presentation on quarterly results is garbage, dude. Thank you for putting it together with two hours notice but it fucking sucks.
My uninteresting and uninspired hot take is that I think we should slow down. I know what this means to me but have not yet been able to succinctly write down the exact parameters around it. I think this is a topic for another day, rather than fart it out immediately right now.