Confession time: I irrationally avoid espresso machines like the plague.
There are many mysteries that pique my interest, but the daunting black box known as the espresso machine has never been part of that list. I’ll be the first to admit that espresso machines aren’t terribly difficult to work out from a experience design perspective. But I have irrationally feared them for my entire life on some vague account of them being too difficult for me to use. I also don’t care much for coffee in general, another contributing factor I’m sure.
Ever since I moved to Italy in 2012, an inevitable showdown between the espresso machine and me was looming on the horizon. I’m definitely sure that most of my Italian co-workers found me off-kilter when I told them that I had never used (let alone touch) an espresso machine before. I mean, the entire morning (warning: generalization) of an Italian workday is spent congregated around the espresso machine like some kind of holy relic. While I would spend my mornings browsing on Reddit, my colleagues sipped espresso delicately from their tiny cups between energetic bouts of conversation.
Self-imposed social ostracization because of some irrational fear of a simple machine be damned! I’m going to be integrated into Italian culture, so that I can return to America and pretend to be a refined Milanese.
Just kidding. Despite my resolution to learn how to use an espresso machine, I hadn’t even entered the same room as the espresso machine more then three times during the following six month period.
“But L, why didn’t you just ask a coworker to teach you how to use the espresso machine?” is what you’re probably wondering.
When an Italian is born (again, generalization), they come out knowing exactly how to use an espresso machine. It comes so naturally to them that asking an Italian how to use an espresso machine is akin to asking someone how to breathe. It’s just not something you can just ask an Italian (note: irrational self-justification).
Now living in London, where the greatest culture-related challenge I face is trying not to fall asleep during afternoon tea, I decided once and all to confront my second greatest fear (the first being a global bacon shortage) – the espresso machine. It’s not the climactic death match I deserved, but it’s the one that I needed.
There are only around six buttons on the espresso machine in our office, and since there isn’t a self-destruct button on it, I assumed it would be safe to button mash random permutations of the buttons in order to get it to whip me up a nice, hot cup of espresso. Being especially clever, I decided to start the sequence with the red power button. God, I’m brilliant.
After 5 or so minutes of furiously pressing buttons in a haphazard manner, I decided it wasn’t working. I had to hurry too because I’m sure everyone in the office would soon wonder where I was and search off to find me, only to see my great shortcoming in using the espresso machine (nobody would notice if I were gone for a couple hours).
Time to use the ace up my sleeve. I had no choice but to resort to my secret weapon, a finely honed skill gained from years of paying for an outrageously high tuition fee at a private university. I grabbed my laptop and searched for the machine’s user manual on Google. I was Katie Couric and the espresso machine was Sarah Palin: “I gotcha.“
Ok, so now I had the order of buttons I had to press to get the machine to work. Turns out, you just need to press two buttons (one of which is the power button), but the secret is waiting for the machine to warm up before pressing the second button. I had pressed so many buttons within a 10 second period that the machine freaked out and stopped working.
Once the machine was ready, I reached forward to confirm my victory.
Click. Nothing. Click. Nothing again. Click click click click click. Nothing still.
I stood there for another 5 minutes trying to understand how I could possible be outsmarted by the espresso machine this time. I had the entire might of the internet behind me in the form of user manuals and countless YouTube videos of Italians showing how to use the machine. (So apparently Italians do teach other people how to use an espresso machine after all.)
I repeated the steps over a couple of times. I restarted the entire device. I unplugged it and replugged it. I was tempted to even take a screwdriver and take apart the damn contraption in a fit of Rambo style fury.
Then it hit me. I forgot to insert the espresso capsules. You know, those things that contain the actual coffee beans? I fail at life sometimes.
Behold! My first ever cup of espresso, made by yours truly.