Article — (Wo)Man or Machine: in Search of the Perfect Coffee

A café in Friedrichshain, Berlin. Somber walls brought to life here and there by rustic wooden shelves and a long timber counter. There’s the whiff of roasting coffee and an arty air. I realize I’m looking somewhat arty, black blazer and jeans, the only flash of color coming from a pink oxford. I take off the jacket as the waitress brings my coffee over. She’s attractive, likely Turkish, with an air of mystery in her dark eyes. I mutter “danke,” in limited German, always wondering if I’m phrasing even the most basic words correctly.

Turning back to my work, I tap a little absently at the keyboard before trying the coffee. It’s good. It’s very good actually. It’s very expensive too, and I’ve been noticing my coffee bill adding up lately. I’ve been considering a coffee machine for my apartment. But what to choose? I don’t want a press or a percolator. I’d had a manual coffee machine back in native New Zealand, but the problem in the mornings was I needed to make an instant coffee in order to wake up enough to deal with the manual coffee machine and make the real coffee. I want to avoid instant coffee at home. What I want is something that I can press a button (two at the most) that will then present me, magically, with really great tasting real coffee.

I temporarily abandon the ad writing and use the free Wi-Fi (hey something here’s free), to do some quick research and come up with this: it comes down to powered milk versus fresh milk, and capsule “pods” versus real coffee.

Automatic Powdered Milk Coffee Machines

Basically small office vending machines. I had something like while running a creative agency home office some years back. They use real freshly ground beans and produce something precisely like the paper-cup coffee you find in train station vending machines. Which is often pretty okay and convenient. You’ll get a damn fine black coffee. Coupled with a good coffee machine, and good milk powder and you can achieve a coffee that’ll easily pick you up first thing in the morning with minimal fuss. You really do just press one button! But is it real enough, that’s the question? Hmmm…

Automatic Fresh Milk Coffee Machines

An automatic fresh milk coffee machine takes care of the complete coffee-making process, from grinding the beans, to brewing, to frothing the milk — if you’re lucky it also puts the previously frothed milk into your cup. These either have a milk container or a hose to take the milk direct from a milk bottle or package. Price-wise they fall somewhat in the middle of my three options — a good one might sell for anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a thousand. I wonder how serious about coffee I am?

Capsule Coffee Machines

I can’t say I’ve ever tasted coffee from a capsule. It sounds scary. You pop it in the machine and it makes coffee. Apparently. A quick ask of google produces the quote: “They’re the ready-meal of coffee – hugely processed and overpriced compared to the raw ingredient,” and: “I tried a Nespresso from the machine in a hotel room. It was revolting – very thin and with an ashy body.”

Should I try one before I’m totally unsold? Perhaps, but that quote seems compellingly damning, to me.

I’m left pondering powdered milk and fresh milk machines, when I notice my coffee cup is empty. Turkish girl passes and I ask her politely for another cup in broken German.

“It’s fine, you can ask me in English next time,” she smiles coquettishly. Thoughts of coffee machines, and drinking okay coffee alone in an apartment are banished in an instant from my mind.

The coffee here, really is that good. It’s all worth it, I tell myself.