For us, one of the great joys about great coffee is that it’s an opportunity to interact, to be social. That might be with a colleague as you press a few buttons on the office coffee machine, or a brief chat with a barista in your favourite independent coffee shop as you place your order for a macchiato on your way into work. It’s good to talk, as a certain ad used to point out. It’s good to take a break, stretch your legs and get away from the monitor. It’s good to laugh, to bond, to feel human. Since even faked smiles (we’ve all done those) are proven to trigger the release of dopamine and serotonin – the happiness hormones. Smiling can fool your brain into believing you’re happy, even when you’re not, and that actually makes you happier. Powerful stuff – and all the more likely when you regularly grab a coffee. Experience shows that we humans are social creatures; we’re a little lost without those little interactions. Two recent coffee-related news stories had us itching to talk.
No, not a boring barista drilling into the nitty gritty of grind size, but the revelation that IBM has just filed a patent for a drone which delivers coffee based on mood. A clever idea, undoubtedly, but a bit of a dampener for fans of conversation over convenience. The concept lends itself, in theory, to almost any environment, but IBM’s paperwork specifically mentions “a large office complex”. The drones would be fitted with cameras which analyse workers’ pupil dilation and other facial expressions. Detecting tiredness might trigger a coffee delivery for that much-needed caffeine boost. We’ve talked about the benefits of an office coffee machine before, but we don’t believe they should come at the expense of the human interaction that’s half the pleasure of your coffee fix.
Smartech is Selfridge’s dedicated technology store in London. There’s a lot of impressive stuff to be seen, and YuMi is the latest. YuMi is a coffee-making robot. Not a lot more to it than that, really. You can see exactly what the future might hold for the big chain coffee shops. Ironically, this could ultimately be a win for independent coffee brands, who’d be far less likely to spend big money on robots, because most people value a little human interaction. Our fear is that most people aren’t really aware that they actually benefit from those shared moments with near-strangers, and might choose the robot-served route.
The vast majority of us couldn’t imagine life without our tech. From the smartphone stuck in our hands to the engine in our cars to the timer on the central heating. And that’s without thinking about all the mechanical engineering genius that has enabled mass production and more efficient manufacturing and processing. Technology is an enabler and an enhancer. But that streamlining sometimes comes at a human cost: jobs, livelihoods, opportunity. Are the latest technological developments in coffee a threat? And if what makes us human is really our interactions, our little moments of contact even with strangers, is the coffee experience of the future a threat to our ability to relate to people outside our usual spheres, to our humanity?
Maybe not, but we’re heading out to order our flat whites from a lovely real person.