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"Craft" and Coffee: What's in a Name?

KitchenAid Pour Over Coffee Brewer
Like a lot of people, I admit to being enthusiastic about KitchenAid's coffee products. Generally speaking, the company's products, from their iconic stand mixers to simpler stuff like immersion blenders are triumphs of industrial design. They combine reliable function with lovely late-modern form. They're sleek, streamlined, and a joy to use. What's not to love? After all, the four new products in the KitchenAid Craft Coffee line are nothing if not impressive. There's the Precision Press, a French press that's fitted with a timer and weigh scale. The Pour Over Coffee Brewer mechanizes the pour-over process by mimicking the pour-pause-pour-brew steps of a traditional pour over. There's even a simplified siphon brewer, and an espresso machine that's got all the bells and whistles. The design, as you'd expect, is practically flawless, and any of the machines would surely class up your kitchen. But there's something that gives me pause. Sure, as Digital Trends remarks, KitchenAid’s Craft Coffee Machines Perk Up Your Countertop. But as Daily Coffee News's Nick Brown notes, KitchenAid's newfound emphasis on "Craft," trendy though it may be, is at best a bit misleading... and at worst, could be read as downright cynical. Take the blurb for the Pour Over Coffee Brewer as an example: Our new Pour Over Coffee Brewer celebrates the art of manual craftsmanship through automated technology that extracts bright, full flavored coffee. It was designed to mimic the handcrafted manual process baristas mastered, so you don't have to.
KitchenAid Siphon Brewer
As Brown notes, "That’s where the record scratches. Taking the manual aspects out a craft is to undo it. It is the very manual-ness that defines a craft." Granted, there's a reason that everyone from McDonald's to Starbucks automates their processes as much as possible: most people want their latte to taste the same whether they're getting it in Seattle, Brooklyn, or Piscataway. But the variations that come with time, experience, and experimentation are part of what makes coffee so unique. Different roasters, different baristas, or even people like you or me can all get different flavors even out of the same beans. Taking that variety out of the process might be reassuring to a lot of people, but to some of us, that's taking half the fun out of it; after all, you eliminate errors and guesswork, but you also eliminate the quiet elation that's the payoff when all that learning and experimenting finally pays off.
KitchenAid Proline Espresso Machine
What's in a name, or a word, makes a difference. KitchenAid's gadgets are a lot of things: they're attractive, reliable, often innovative, and (let's be honest) generally expensive. But to slap the "Craft" moniker on them cheapens the term and the intent behind it in the same way that a programmable machine that die-cuts paper isn't the same as making hand-cut paper flowers, even if the tools for both can be found in a craft store. Nick Brown asks, "Should we not try to protect one of the only remaining reasonably definable terms in the coffee industry?" I tend to agree. If we're going to use the word, we should honor the process, and all that goes with it -- especially the human element that's all too often lost with the touch of a button. CNet checks out the KitchenAid Siphon Brewer: KitchenAid's video for its Pour Over Coffee Brewer: