Sipping to the Good Life
Art: Jessica Keiko Mitsumasu ©
In my early twenties, I owned a simple espresso maker. Each morning I would fill the portafilter with fine coffee grounds, tamp it meticulously, then lock it into the machine. Moments later I’d hear the familiar rumble anticipating a rich aroma and trickle of black gold. Every few days this ritual was accompanied by the high-pitched squeal of the steam wand frothing milk for a latte. Those were fine mornings. They did not last.
Before long, the inconvenience turned me off. Wiping down the machine, cleaning out the filter, and most of all washing the steam wand head—hence the "every few days" for frothed milk. As a young twenty-something, I envisioned life in more convenient terms. While I enjoyed my morning espresso, the desire for efficiency overcame the desire for delight. When I moved across the country, I didn't bring my DeLonghi with me. It found a home with my brother.
When I moved back to Toronto, the maker had long been forgotten. A couple children later and several months into the pandemic, I bought a Nespresso machine. Partly it was the sale that caught my eye—and I know they try to get you with the low price so you keep buying their pods—but I liked the idea of having espressos again.
The experience is different. Pop in the pod, press a button, out comes the good stuff. I save time in both the production and cleanup process. Why then, when my brother returned my old espresso maker, did I feel the need to clean it out and give it another shot?
One Espresso, Two Worlds
Let's set aside taste quality for the moment—and this is no small aside since the case for one or the other could be made on taste alone—and consider the experience.
I mentioned my additional children because if anything, the demand for time-saving devices is at an all-time high. Parents of young children know the chaos that is the morning routine. In my home, one parent manages the bedroom/washroom space while the other the kitchen. We’ve developed a rhythm out of necessity.
But being a parent has also shaped the way I engage the world. Children are not convenient. They demand time and energy, sometimes in the most frustrating ways possible—why do I need to mediate a dispute over who has the yellow or orange cup? But this long haul that is parenting changes you. Life, which once centered around me and my priorities, grows outward. Again, love takes time. Me getting my tasks done is no longer the only concern.
This translates into the espresso making process. My impatience has been tempered. Where I once convinced myself that the few minutes I saved using a Nespresso machine would go to productive activity—although in reality it might go to mindlessly scrolling a newsfeed—I now enjoy the process itself. Rather than passively receive, I actively create. The maker reminds me that I also make. I appreciate not only what it means to produce culture but to be an aesthetic creature.
Tell my twenty-year old self that and I would have laughed. I would’ve streamlined any process to make time for things that really mattered. But of course, what we see as mattering evolves. Age is an insightful instructor.
There has also been an unexpected blessing with the espresso maker. My eldest daughter is also involved in the brewing process. Where she might have helped me insert a pod with the Nespresso, she now helps me tamp the coffee, identify when the maker's green light tells me it's ready to go, and even watches with me as the espresso begins to flow. We create and appreciate together. Shared pleasures of the mundane are part of what make our lives textured. Somehow it makes the espresso taste a little better.
A Hierarchy of Goods
Of course, efficiency is still a good thing. Anyone that has stood in line at any ministry of transportation office knows exactly what I mean. Zootopia’s Flash the Sloth brings the point home. This is no less true of the kitchen. There are few times I'd advocate handwashing dishes over a dishwasher, not least because these machines are so good now that they can save not only time but water.
But efficiency is not the only thing that matters. Indeed, when efficiency becomes all-encompassing, it changes the very experience of the coffee from pleasure to caffeine hit. Efficiency, like any other value, must be rightly ordered in a hierarchy of goods. Even the emphasis on aesthetics must similarly be tempered by the importance of being punctual—and awake—for work.
So now I have both machines. I don't doubt that on occasion, the quick espresso is what I need, or at least want. There are also other matters to consider. I haven't sorted out the implications of simplifying my possessions while also living in tighter Toronto quarters. I imagine over time one will win out. But a part of me hopes it will be the DeLonghi.