too easy to be fun

Posted on Aug 30, 2010

Last week my husband and I bought our first Nespresso machine. I think I have drunk more espresso drinks this week than I ever have, simply because it is so easy. But, for all the ease and perfection of a Nespresso coffee, there is something missing in it too. For me, that something is the creative process.

A Nespresso coffee is a perfect coffee: a perfectly pressed 19-bar espresso every time, with 16 different flavors and intensities to choose from. Cappuccinos have perfect froth (more or less at the flick of a button). And Lattes are a meditation in the making (see this week’s 2MM on YouTube). But honestly, after a week with our new coffee pet at home, it is just too easy to be fun.

A couple of years ago, we bought a coffee machine for our flat in France. It is a combination coffeemaker: filter coffee on one side and espresso coffee on the other. In either case this machine requires a bit of time and effort. Both our coffeemakers are by the Italian firm DeLonghi; the machine in England is made in partnership with Nespresso. One makes a perfect coffee automatically; the other makes an imperfect coffee by hand.

Comparing cappuccinos

The Nespresso Automatic:

  1. Insert the coffee capsule
  2. Snap the cold milk container in place
  3. Press the button

The DeLonghi Handmade:

  1. Fill the espresso filter with ground espresso coffee
  2. Tamp it down
  3. Insert the coffee filter and twist it tight in place
  4. Turn the knob to the coffee position
  5. Turn the knob back to stop the flow of coffee
  6. Allow the machine to reheat
  7. Turn the knob to the steam position and allow it to heat again
  8. Add cold milk to the chilled metal pitcher
  9. Position the frothing tube in the milk pitcher
  10. Turn another knob to release the steam
  11. Circulate the pitcher around the tube to froth the milk
  12. Add the steamed milk and froth to the espress

What has surprised me in all this is that, even though the Nespresso coffee is more consistently delicious, I am more fulfilled making my coffees by hand. It is not because the coffee is better per se, because my handmade coffee cannot compete with Nespresso perfection. The handmade coffee is more interesting because I am more involved in its creation.

Progress, as we define it today, makes our lives easier; but it also costs us something. It is costing us our involvement in life. It’s a bit like the difference between reading the book and seeing the film. One requires our energy and imagination while the other does the work for us. “Use it or lose it,” as they say.

One of the most popular myths about the creative process is that it should come easily. There are powerful moments of insight and flow, where ideas develop without effort. But there are also hours and hours of sheer work, showing up, asking questions, solving problems. And there are hours more of routine, repetitive actions, the rituals of the creative proces

An original creative product – whether a painting, a machine or a coffee – reveals these hours in the subtle flavors between the lines. It is the je ne sais quoi that makes one product outshine another. This is the spirit, the energy, the time, the life force of the person(s) who created it. A copy will never have this. The Nespresso coffee machine is such a product; the coffee it makes is not.

A handmade cappuccino is an original every time, while an automatically ‘perfect’ one is always a copy. The handmade coffee I drink in France, even in its imperfection, has my spirit in it; the automatic, perfect Nespresso coffee in England does not. Do I end up drinking more coffee in England because it is easier or because it is less fulfilling?

The pleasure of coffee is not just about the product – a perfect blend of ingredients and flavors and froth alone. It also has something to do with the process. It is not just about drinking the coffee; it is about making it too. Likewise, the pleasure of life lies not in what we have, but in what we do with it. Some things are just too easy to be fun.

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