A cup of coffee can be made easily enough. The most basic methods involve grinding some beans, immersing grounds in hot water, and then pouring the brew through a filter into a cup. But as consumer tastes have become more sophisticated, there has also been a trend towards convenience.
And that often happens at the press of a button, whether with an electric drip coffee maker set to turn on at a specific time so that a carafe of hot coffee is waiting when you wake up in the morning or with a capsule system that produces filter coffee or espresso at the touch of a button.
Pushing that button activates a circuit board embedded with microchips that are programmed with an algorithm telling the machine exactly what to do. Although it appears simple when the button is pushed and a few minutes later a hot cup of coffee is made, these complex algorithms control when the machine is turned on and off, how hot to heat the water, how long to saturate the grounds and dispense the water, and then when and at what temperature to shut themselves off.
They also control variables allowing a consistent cup of coffee to be brewed everywhere. Heating water for a cup of coffee at sea level takes longer than the same water boiled in the mountains, and the algorithms in the coffee makers incorporate these differences. We expect a perfect cup of coffee every time, and none of this can be done without microchips, powering the hundreds of millions of coffee makers in the world.
Microchips are one of the unseen elements in our world that control everything, yet we take them for granted. Like clean water and instantly available electricity when taps are opened and switches are thrown, microchips power our world and allow us to do extraordinary things every day.
The pandemic caused a surge in purchases of electronic items and appliances as more people stayed home and worked remotely. Manufacturers have scrambled to meet increased demand, leading to a severe microchip shortage and production lines being slowed or shut down entirely. 85% of the world’s microchip supply comes from Taiwan, and currently, there is a global shortage.
Some analysts predict that supplies will not return to normal until 2022. And thus the problem for coffee drinkers, since coffee makers are one of those appliances that require microchips.
Coffee always seems to be besieged by external threats. We often hear about challenges created by climate change, diseases like La Roya that affect the plants, and the low crop prices that imperil the livelihoods of farmers.
With microchips, the bad news is that it might take a while for the global chip shortage to ease, and it might take longer to get an automated machine to make your drink. The good news is that we can still make and enjoy our daily coffee with some patience, hot water, and ground beans.
Michael Szyliowicz is a Paris trained chocolatier. For 35 years he has created chocolate and speciality coffee beverages for companies around the globe. He is the founder of SolaBev, a single-serve beverage company and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.