Bad news if you were the proud recipient of a Chemex or some other sort of fancy pour-over coffee device this holiday season. You’re apparently too late: The fad is already flagging. This according to none other than the Wall Street Journal, which earlier this week suggested that time-consuming artisanal single-cup coffee brewing methods are being pushed back aside to make way for the return of—dear lord—coffee machines.
“Is the ‘Pour-Our’ Over?” the financial paper’s headline inquired, before proclaiming, “Handcrafted coffee, an artisanal icon, is losing ground to automation.” Citing the start of the trend as “around 2008,” the WSJ suggests that its decade in the sun may be waning. (All this while yours truly still uses a French press…. Oh heavens!)
But wait! Don’t go digging your dusty Mr. Coffee out of the attic quite yet. Like any trend worth its salt, the changing attitudes on pour-over coffee aren’t all one-sided. And though machines are getting renewed acceptance, single-cup diehards still exist.
As Exhibit A, the WSJ cites Intelligentsia, obviously a groundbreaking, trendsetting brand that helped ignite coffee’s “third wave," but also a company that’s recently been tugged towards the mainstream, including a 2015 corporate buyout. Intelligentsia has recently re-introduced large-batch coffee machines at its cafes after ditching them years ago for single-cup methods (though you can still get pour-overs by request). “We realized that a lot of customers loved getting a cup brewed for them, but in today’s day and age they’re not willing to wait five to seven minutes to get it,” Intelligentsia Chief Executive James McLaughlin was quoted as saying.
Kyle Glanville, who co-owns a couple of LA coffee shops, spoke to the WSJ about another problem with pour-overs, one almost any pour-over junkie can admit to: The method can lack consistency. “There’s this notion that something that’s handmade is automatically better and more romantic,” Glanville stated. But after noticing too much variation in how baristas prepared their pour-overs, he switched his coffee shops back to machines. “Robots that are precision-built to do just one task are better than distracted humans,” he said.
However, in the hunt for dissent, the Wall Street Journal didn’t have to look very far. James Freeman, founder of another big name in the formerly independent coffee scene, Blue Bottle Coffee (which recently sold a majority stake to Nestle), said he wouldn’t even consider serving large-batch, machine-brewed coffee until “hell freezes over and there is a skating party.” Good news if it does: There’s always cold brew.
So overall, the real story here is that the jury is still out. Or an even more boring takeaway would be the old adage “different strokes for different folks”—because both methods have always had their pros and their cons. At the very least, let’s just all be thankful we’re no longer drinking Sanka like my grandfather. Rest in peace… to my grandfather, that is. I think Sanka is still around somehow.