Crafts of the Hand

Several months ago, my wife and I went to dinner at one of our favorite Mexican restaurants – a place we frequent every few weeks.  As we pondered margarita options, we asked the waiter for an order of table-side guacamole, a delicious specialty and a great way to kick off the meal.  Much to our disappointment, our waiter informed us we could no longer get guac table-side; rather, it would come already prepared and straight from the kitchen.  Sigh.  Add another item to the demise of handmade food and beverages.  Rekindle the pour-over argument.

What’s the “pour-over argument”?  It’s perhaps the most contemporary example of the struggle between handicraft and automation.  At your local coffee bar, most drinks are poured-over, meaning individually-prepared using a single paper filter, adding the coffee grounds and finishing with a slow pour of the water.  If your coffee arrives with foam-art, consider it a pour-over.  The argument asks whether it’s worth the wait for an individually-prepared coffee, when a large-batch machine can produce the same result in a fraction of the time.  One estimate claims large-batch can produce 100 coffees in an hour, while a barista creates less than ten.

I’m not here to defend the pour-over, but simply to discuss it.  In fact, my first thought when I heard “pour-over” is what you see in the photo above.  Admittedly, I love the speed and consistency of Keurig’s K-Cup’s, and I’m an unashamed frequent-flier at Starbucks.  But that’s not to say there’s not a chair at the table of life for pour-over’s.  Even if the quality of handmade can’t be distinguished from large-batch (taste test, anyone?), what about the calm of watching “drink-art” creation, and the opportunity to socialize with the barista?  Perhaps it’s the fringe-benefits making pour-over’s the healthier option.

Table-side guac is just one example of “pour-over’s” threatened by today’s demand for speed and efficiency.  If I ask you to think of a product previously handmade but now produced by automation, I’m sure you can name several.  Milkshakes. Beer. Even pizza, which can now be prepared start-to-finish by a robotic chef.  But the flip-side of robots is advertisement focused on food-prep the old-fashioned way.  “Handmade” milkshakes.  “Craft” beers.  “Fresh-squeezed” lemonade.  And pour-over coffee.

Business’s bottom line loves the idea of automation.  Labor is typically your most expensive line-item, so who would argue with removing it?  Well, maybe those willing to pay for the experience.  At your finer restaurants, you can still find table-side salads (Caesar), entrees (Chateaubriand or Steak Tartare), and flaming desserts (Baked Alaska, Bananas Foster, Cherries Jubilee).  At Sunday brunches you can still enjoy made-to-order omelettes and waffles.  With those examples, I’d argue you’re not just paying for the food.  You’re also paying for a slow-down moment: a chance to enjoy a chef-artisan do his/her thing while engaging in a little conversation. As a recent Wall Street Journal article puts it, “[pour-over]… is more about delivering peace in a fast-paced time”.

Here’s my plea.  The next time you’re having something prepared in front of you – whether a simple burrito at Chipotle or an elegant Steak Diane adjacent to your white-clothed table, put away the phone, take a deep breath, and just enjoy the moment.  Have a chat with whomever is preparing your meal.  It’s an experience worth poring over.

About Dave

Clearly I have something to say. This blog was born of a desire to elevate our speech, using the more eloquent words of past generations. The stories I share are life itself, and each comes with a bonus: a sometimes-forgotten word I hope you’ll go on to use more often. Read "Flying in the Face of Reason" to unearth a few mysteries linked to Denver International Airport. Read "Color of Courage" to better appreciate recipients of the Purple Heart. On the lighter side, read "Sugar Cured" to discover a creative fix for headaches. As Walt Whitman said, “That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.” Here then, my verse. Welcome to "Life In A Word".
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2 Responses to Crafts of the Hand

  1. Great post! We have all forgotten to slow down. 🙂

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