When I lived in San Francisco, pour-over coffee took over a few years ago. I really like this coffee, inasmuch as I think it tastes better than auto-drip coffee. But, I also find making pour-over coffee to be an intriguing ritual. I'm not especially good at it, but I know a few folks who swear by it every morning. The thing I admire about pour-over coffee is that it seems to be a very human product, and one that promotes a specific set of movements and knowledge practices that are learned over time and through trial and error. It's the kind of learning I wish I could encourage my students to do more: hands-on making and re-making.
Poursteady has essentially automated this process, and although I don't think there's anything necessarily wrong with automating human processes--after all most technology, in one way or another, does this--but what is interesting about the rhetoric that surrounds Poursteady is this notion that it "frees up baristas to focus on more important things." This certainly isn't a new notion. It's one that appears time and time again, especially in the context of domestic technologies. But as many people, feminist scholars in particular, have pointed out, much kitchen technology doesn't free people from the burden of cooking; it simply makes more work for humans (usually women) who work in the kitchen. And yet, this is a persistent theme in product development: let's make life easier and faster. Let's free ourselves from having to "do" anything so that we can "do" all those other more important things that need to be done.
What I always wonder about technology like this: what about the folks that enjoy the ritual? What about people who actually like spending ten minutes making coffee? Making the coffee itself could be considered part of the act of drinking coffee. Sure, there are times when I just want to pop into my local coffee shop and get my coffee to go. But there are other times when I want to make my own coffee, and sit and quietly enjoy it for some time. The folks behind Poursteady suggest that this device will free up baristas to tell stories and talk to their customers, but don't they already do that? Every time I've ever ordered a pour-over I've had a nice conversation with the barista. Are talking and making coffee mutually exclusive?
Poursteady is a beautiful object, there's no doubt. The design is captivating and in a commercial setting it certainly seems more aesthetically interesting than most commercial coffee brewers. But, there is something so fundamentally simple about the process of pour-over. It's not really a complex problem that needs to be simplified. But it does require a certain set of learned skills that take some time. Maybe there will be a set of new things to be learned through the use of Poursteady, but I get the feeling that it's taking away all the ritual, and leaving us with nothing more than a good cup of coffee.