First Click: Nespresso is the iPhone of coffee makers

January 21st, 2016


I wouldn’t describe myself as an advanced coffee drinker, not by any means. I at least used an Aeropress until a few months ago, but it evidently wasn’t that important to me else I’d have remembered to bring it to my new apartment. Coffee nerdery is a rabbit hole as deep as any area of technology, and I’ve never really wanted to fall down it. I do know enough to know what I like, though, and that’s enough for me to be upset by bad coffee.

I had always assumed that Nespresso would be obviously bad coffee. How could tiny little hermetically sealed espresso capsules compete with expertly sourced, roasted, and ground beans? But I found myself back in Tokyo last week, sleep-deprived and jet-lagged after CES and in need of the most convenient caffeine delivery solution possible to replace my mislaid Aeropress. Before I knew it, a shiny red Nespresso Inissia machine was on my doorstep and I was about $70 poorer. Consider this a character-building exercise, I told myself. Open your mind.

Here’s the thing, though — the Nespresso has been a total revelation. From a certain point of view, it is the ultimate gadget. The machine is tiny, clean, and foolproof. I have absolutely no idea how it works; I don’t even understand how the water from the little tank gets heated so quickly. And while the espresso capsules vary in quality, all have been more than drinkable and some have even been great. The espresso is a clear step up from Starbucks or Doutor or any of the other Japanese coffee chains dotted around my neighborhood. Nespresso coffee is said to be served in over 700 Michelin-starred restaurants, somewhat unbelievably, and yet it’s ready on my desk in ten seconds flat with the push of a button.

Now, a lot of people into tech are really into their coffee, too, and a lot of those people would recoil at the thought of Nespresso in their homes. But a lot of those same people really appreciate Apple’s style and philosophy, and all I’ve been thinking about while using the Nespresso this week is how it’s reminiscent of Apple products — for better and for worse. The design is sleek and minimalist, with only two buttons. It’s incredibly easy to use. It gives consistent performance that’s a step above most people’s experience. The system is proprietary and kind of expensive. So if Nespresso is a MacBook, the convoluted artisanal methods many tech nerds use to brew their coffee are self-built gaming PCs. (I do have a gaming PC myself, but I bought it from Alienware, which I guess is the equivalent of Starbucks.)

I’m not saying that if you like Apple products you should buy a Nespresso machine. I’m saying if you like Apple products, Nespresso machines have enough in common that you should only rule them out if you really love the process of making coffee as a hobby in its own right. And if that's you, that’s great. Technology has matured to the extent where we have the luxury to pick and choose which areas to go deep into, often perhaps a little past the point of rationality and in the direction of personal indulgence. I’ve just decided that coffee and computing are two areas in which I value convenience, reliability, and efficiency; if you feel the same way, you might agree that Nespresso is the iPhone of coffee makers.

There’ll always be space for people to be into technology for its own sake; I’m that way with camera gear, owning far more than I really need to take photos just because I enjoy the different experiences. But Nespresso might have killed that side of coffee for me, even as the most entry-level coffee nerd ever. I used to use an Aeropress and got great results, sure, but I don’t think I’ll be going back. I used to spend time customizing my Android home screen, too, before I bought an iPhone for the express purpose of making my life easier. And really, that’s what technology is meant to do — whether you’re communicating with the world or just trying to stay awake.

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