Life is hectic, especially with the whirl of activity generated by our rambunctious boys. While the morning commute is stressful for some, for me it's generally relaxing. In the past I used the half hour from cubicle-to-home for catching up on world events or listening to the mindless banter of disk jockeys. More recently it's become an escape of solitude, a moment of relative quiet with my own thoughts. My mind wanders in odd places after a long day of information technology-induced left brain thinking.
One particular day before heading to the parking lot, I stopped by the restroom, as is my habit. Without getting into details, one never knows if a traffic jam awaits and it's wise to plan ahead. Our employer hires a good cleaning staff, but common courtesy among my fellow collegues is often wanting (again, without getting into details).
In my car and stuck in traffic, I wondered why (a) some men are so sloven, and (b) if automatic hand-soap and fancy motion-sensitive water faucets are common, why not something to tidy up the seat of the porcelain throne after each use? Then I remembered my years in Europe, where in fact I saw not one but several instances of such modern convenience. I recall several designs that I won't bother describing, yet they were effective. Later that evening some inexplicable curiosity compelled me to look on the web for these products. Turns out that it's not a niche item, it's an industry! Did you know there is an American Restroom Association? And they have a "world summit" each year?
(americanrestroom.org, please forgive me for not linking back to your site)
If you've managed to read this far, you may be wondering what the heck this has to do with espresso. After dwelling on the possibilities of enhancing the restroom experience, I mentally switched to a more pleasant subject, namely the ongoing discussions on HB. The prior evening Michael Teahan was offering his opinion of super-automatics:
mteahan wrote:I can setup an automated machine that (aside from latte art) would produce a drink whose flavor profile and presentation would be indistinguishable from a hand made drink by a seasoned barista. After a week on site in the hands of people who could care less about quality--or simply don't know--it would begin producing the same vending machine quality drinks it takes 6 quarters to buy.
My experience with super-automatics is minimal. Our office had one of the Saeco models and it prepared a passable cafe crema. Initially considering Michael's assertion that an automatic-anything could match a practiced barista, I scoffed silently before the keyboard. "Sheeyah, right" are the words that came to mind at the time. Still, keeping my derision to myself seemed prudent given my lack of exposure to this genre of equipment.
(No opportunities have presented themselves to prove or disprove Michael's claim. I half-jokingly suggested to one of HB's sponsors that I would like to check out one of their super-autos. Sort of a "learn how the convenience-loving crowd lives" thing. Still waiting on their answer.)
With the melange of super-automatic toilets and super-automatic espresso machines in my head (please, no jokes), I figured Michael is probably right. If engineers can design a reliable device to handle one of the least glamorous concerns everyone faces each day, why not allow that equally creative minds are working towards simplifying a far more pleasant experience, namely preparing and drinking espresso? I'm keeping an open mind.
On the other hand, Steve mentioned in his Bench commentary one of his guest's comparison of the $2000 super-automatic he recently purchased and the espresso served from the Elektra A3:
Coffee from the Jura is like kissing your sister. It classifies as espresso, but it is not what you are pulling out of that Elektra.
I wish the super-automatic engineers good luck; now that Starbucks is converting to them, super-automatics are defining the espresso standard for many Americans. Even so, don't expect any reviews of them on HB anytime soon.