Two curious, seemingly unrelated posts appeared simultaneously in the news yesterday. One on La Marzocco‘s new Strada machine and all its variable-pressure-control glory: Ristretto | Strada – T Magazine Blog – The other, Esquire installment #3 from Todd Carmichael, about the ridiculous MSRP/retail prices for professional espresso machines and what most people in the industry actually pay for them: Espresso Machine Advice – Do I Need an Espresso Machine? – Esquire. What both articles speak to is the gadgetization of coffee. In fact, the Times‘ series, “Ristretto,” is dedicated to the gadgetization of coffee.

The new La Marzocco Strada: just why should laymen really care?Sure, has been around for ages, and there’s plenty of shop talk in there about this or that device. The difference now is that the New York Times is writing about pressure profiling in professional espresso machines, and Esquire is talking about the logistics and financials of installing a Synesso for home use.

What happened? Why does a layman consumer reading the Times or Esquire need to know about the pre-infusion of a Slayer machine? Particularly given that these details seem to be of far greater interest to bored baristas and their armchair brethren than to consumers who cannot discern any noticeable improvement in the resulting retail cup.

Gadgetization — a fetish for devices and technology within a hobby — has infiltrated everything from golf to home cooking. But its more than consumer markets being created for suspect products such as electric garlic peelers. (Think the unwashed product-hawker SCAA conference floorshow bearing down directly on consumers.) It’s the blogosphere committed to paradoxes like “high-tech [sic] Chemex brewers” — things my in-laws have been using since before 99% of America’s baristas had even been born.

Earlier this year, when some writers bandied about the hyperbole that “fourth wave coffee has arrived” with the release of the Slayer machine, we wrote about the true origins of the term “Third Wave coffee.” In hindsight, our ridicule of this “fourth wave coffee” claim may have been premature. Because if coffee’s Third Wave is about appreciating coffee for its own sake, perhaps any Fourth Wave is about appreciating the devices and technology behind making coffee for their own sake. That is: no coffee required.

In other words, coffee’s waves seem to have evolved enough to render any actual coffee irrelevant to its enjoyment.

UPDATE: June 22, 2010
How do you know that the espresso machine arms race is irrelevant to consumers seeking a better cup of espresso? When the Strada gets a 14-photo spread in La Marzocco Strada Is Your Barista’s New Wet Dream Machine.