Getting away with it?
For a long time manufacturers made coffee machines that purchasing managers liked to buy. Coffee roasters roasted coffee that may as well have been wood. You could make similarities between British Leyland in the automotive industry, and coffee machines, but that is more complicated. Purchasing managers like cheap items that fill spaces and make a return. For many people who started working in coffee in the ’90s, we all had the experience of using terrible equipment. Nothing that was affordable was consistent in temperature or dose.
Why did things improve?
Still today there is a huge amount of belief that buying a coffee machine makes the owner or operative a barista. To keep this to the point, I believe it is the generations of baristas who have made coffee making better. The guys and girls who have made coffee on shabby equipment, been paid less than brilliantly who just demand better. It is this drive for quality by people who get it that has driven our trade over the last decade at least. Those who ask questions and want better are often brilliant for all in the business.
Today we have scales in our drip trays, scales on our grinders (in some cases), and things that are a dream compared to what we started with. There is a list of things that have really improved coffee making and these help those who can make incredible coffee.
Some of these improvements have been scaled down and albeit cleverly adapted for home use, with smaller price points. Interestingly the home market is driven like a purchasing manager in the 1990’s with respect to price. Everything becomes about the amount of money, over function. Although improvements have been rapid, China has been a big part of facilitating this.
For what it’s worth, I believe the best espresso is made (easier and most consistently) on hand-made Italian espresso machines.