I own several tools for brewing coffee (three grinders, two French presses, an
Chemex, a V60, a Flair espresso
maker…) and I’ve been hunting for the best cup of
coffee. For most of 2020, I thought I had
it: I was making a
using an AeroPress, my microwave, and a frothing wand, and I was happy. The
drink tasted great, was easy to make, and had minimal cleanup.
But lately, I’ve been glancing at pump espresso machines, better
grinders, and yet more coffee gadgets. I have claimed a decent amount of
kitchen counterspace, to the chagrin of my husband, who is in the
basement building us a kitchen island out of 80/20 and S4S lumber.
So, why am I not happy with coffee that tastes great and is easy for me
to make? The easy answer is FOMO.
I often struggle with the Fear of Missing Out. I’m the type of person
who can spend considerable time choosing what book to read, rather than
actually reading, because I want to have the “most” enjoyment for my
time. There are only so many hours in the day, so shouldn’t we optimize
our enjoyment? (Of course, I say this while conveniently ignoring the
hours I wasted choosing a book instead of reading).
I wasn’t always this way about coffee. I’ve long sought out techniques
that give me 95% perfect coffee with the lowest possible effort. I
didn’t used to fuss over pour over techniques; I wasn’t religious about
pre-wetting filters or warming my brewing vessel. But somehow, one
little tweak to make things better became several, which became learning
about how to optimize pouring and how to tune grind, and down the path I
In all honesty, getting a Flair (my first proper espresso machine) was
supposed to be a stopping point for me. The (flawed) idea was, if I
could not tell the difference between a latte made with the Flair (which
makes real espresso with 9 bars of pressure) and a latte made with the
AeroPress (which does not), then I would have reached the point where
adding gear and tools didn’t improve what I already liked.
The idea broke down when I ran this experiment. The Flair and AeroPress
lattes tasted different, but not necessarily better or worse than each
other. And then I thought, well maybe I’m not giving the Flair a fair
trial. After all, I’m not grinding with a grinder for espresso (even
burr grinder can grind quite fine). And this type of thinking can lead
you into the abyss.
FOMO at its core prevents you from ever being content – you constantly
worry if the experience you’re having now is “good enough.” With coffee,
“good” is subjective – if you enjoy the coffee, then it’s good. Sure,
there are things like acidity, dissolved solids, and other chemical
properties of the drink that impact the experience (and you can measure
those), but what you like is what you like!
This is the same problem that plagues audiophiles, and it’s why they
sound ridiculous to other people – you can get very good headphones (the
kind that are used by professional broadcasters) for around $100, and
can get excellent headphones for $500, and for most people that’s the
end of it. But an audiophile will spend their time upgrading and
tweaking their setup, in constant search of “perfect” audio. No one
knows what perfect is, but there is no limit to how much time or money
can be burned by going down this road. (Sennheiser’s Orpheus
designed to be the best you can buy, are $55,000).
At some point, the quest for perfect coffee also shifts from being about
the thing it’s nominally about (listening to music, drinking coffee)
into a hobby in its own right. And that’s fine – by the time I got a
Flair to make espresso at home, I knew I was approaching that line. But
it also runs the risk of taking away from why you started down this
path. It’s easy to become so focused on the pursuit of perfection, about
“the best cup,” that you ignore why you started: To make something that
makes you happy.
To not lose sight of that, I’m pausing my coffee journey here. I’ve put
the Flair away. I’m not going to buy myself any more gear for a few
months, not going to upgrade my grinder that has served me faithfully
all these years. I’m going to force myself to go back to just using my
AeroPress and my V60, both of which make excellent coffee (though I have
switched up my recipe a
bit). And perhaps most
importantly, I’ll focus on reminding myself to enjoy it.
The coffee image used in this article is by Will Keightley
and is used under a Creative Commons License