This really goes without saying right? I mean, it just makes sense that a better quality espresso machine is going to produce better espresso, but what does quality mean and what makes an espresso machine a “quality” machine?
By definition, quality can be used to describe any attribute of an object - both good and bad.
So the real question is; what espresso machine qualities make a huge difference to your espresso?
One of the most important overlooked manual lever-press coffee maker qualities that will hugely impact how you experience your espresso is the quality of ease of use.
Most people we talk to about manual lever-press coffee actually value the experience of making espresso just as much as they value great espresso.
This means most people (up to a certain point) would substitute “really great espresso” for “really good espresso” if it meant they could improve their overall coffee making experience. (Luckily with the BRUA you can have both great espresso and a great espresso making experience!)
This also means that it doesn’t matter how great the coffee might be, people might not be prepared to go through pain or frustration to achieve it.
Here are three factors I think make a manual espresso maker really usable and enjoyable:
- Intuitive usability
- Honest materials
- Human centred design
Let’s look at these in more depth.
An intuitive design is one that can be understood without requiring an instruction manual.
Another term for this could be “obvious” design, and obvious design usually leans on common understandings the user will already have.
For example, using a red push button to make something start is NOT obvious. It’s confusing. This is because there’s a common understanding among people (at least in most countries) that green means start/go and red means stop. An intuitive design will utilise this knowledge and use a green button to make something start.
With reference to lever-press espresso, an intuitive design highlights through refined design cues where the coffee grinds go, where the water is poured, and how the machine is operated. Although, even an intuitive manual coffee machine requires common knowledge about how espresso is made, however.
If you don’t understand that making espresso requires hot water to be forced through finely ground coffee beans before using a lever coffee machine, that’s not the machine’s fault. It’s not the machine's task to teach you how to use it, but rather to easily allow you to ‘follow your nose’ throughout the process.
As mentioned in the previous article, we’ve used aesthetics very carefully to guide the user easily through the process of making espresso using our manual lever-press espresso maker.
From the way we use texture and colour, to the material choices, any user wanting to make espresso with the BRUA should find the process simple, intuitive and obvious.
It always seems a bit strange to me to describe an object as being honest or dishonest - as if it’s keeping a secret or telling us a whopping big lie. But in some ways, a lot of products do! These lies lead to unmet expectations and result in disappointment and a poor user experience.
One of the most common ways a product lies to us is through the materials it’s made from.
I notice this constantly with office and cafe furniture. More often than not a wooden table is actually only wood looking - instead having been constructed from composite materials with a vinyl veneer made to fool the user.
One of the worst offences that comes to mind for me is when plastic is made to look like metal. These two materials couldn't be more polar opposite! I experienced this recently in my car when the (supposedly) chrome trim around the interior started to wear and reveal the true material - cheap plastic. This minor detail significantly impacted how I now perceive the quality of the entire car. It’s lost my trust.
The enjoyability of using a manual coffee maker relies on the product's honesty, trustworthiness and living up to the user’s expectations.
A user needs to trust that when they operate the espresso maker it’s not going to break, buckle or injure them. They expect that it won’t.
If the product looks sturdy, then it must actually be sturdy. If it looks heavy, then it needs to be heavy. At no point should the espresso maker disappoint the user by setting false expectations.
I guarantee that an espresso maker that meets (or better yet, exceeds) your expectations will create the best tasting espresso you’ve ever tasted!
But what about surface treatments like painting, I hear you ask? Well, the BRUA uses various kinds of surface treatments to transfer the appearance of the raw material to something much more attractive. So, does this count as being dishonest?
Well, if the material was treated to make it appear as though it was a completely different material, then yes, this would be dishonest. But it’s not.
When the metal stand of the BRUA, for example, is powder coated (a common treatment for metal) then it’s not suggesting it’s anything other than metal. And when the aluminium cylinder is anodised from the natural grey colour to a bright orange, we are not hiding the fact it is food grade aluminium.
None of these cosmetic treatments change your expectations, lowers your trust or impacts the usability of the product. There’s nothing there that might cause you to stop trusting the product.
In fact, some would argue that the surface treatments IMPROVE the BRUA by extending the life of the product. We’d tend to agree!
Human centred design
Human centred design (HCD) has become increasingly popular over the last 10-15 years thanks to design companies like IDEO. They have created fantastic resources for designers to utilise, so there really is no excuse for designing products that are difficult and awkward to use.
So what is HCD? HCD is basically designing by using research to gain information that will help the final design work best for the end user. Simply put, it is putting the user at the centre of the design process.
When applying HCD to a manual espresso maker, this might include watching volunteers use a prototype, asking them what worked well, what was difficult, etc. and then modifying the design based on their feedback.
HCD is critical when designing the workflow of a manual espresso maker. The easier the workflow, the more enjoyable the product is to use, making a huge difference to your espresso.
At Newton Espresso, the simple act of filling the coffee basket has been designed in a way that the basket holder fits perfectly over the top of the coffee basket and stops coffee grind spilling everywhere.
That’s just one example, but by using human centred design practices, we’ve designed a manual espresso maker that is incredibly easy and enjoyable to use. And as we know, the more enjoyable the experience and the better the quality of the espresso maker, the better the espresso!