Written for Canadian Community News by Mike Sterling
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Vintage Coffee Pot. Note the clear, glass finial on the top
Is it my age catching up with me or are coffee makers getting too complicated?
As a child I remember a coffee pot that was simple. It was composed of a plain pot as shown above. You did not plug it in at all. You put it on the stove after you had loaded some ground coffee in a basket that was suspended on a tube through the middle. It took a few seconds to load old Maxwell House out of the can and some water. Now we like to grind our own beans. Progress, I guess.
After putting the lid on, you put it on the stove, either gas, electric or wood and you waited for it to brew. The sound was the key. After a few minutes or so, you heard it gurgling like a increasing heart beat. Heat brought up the hot water to spill into the basked and produce the dark liquid that would emerge from the holes in the basket.
It had a heavy glass removable dome or finial on top so that you could see what was going on and judge the colour. By sound and a glance you could tell whether it was done. Once done, you poured a cup and left the rest to simmer.
No training manuals were required or snarky glances from others, when things went wrong. You know that sinking feeling when grounds and liquid start to leak from some orifice?
Later, they electrified the old pots Was this progress? I don't think so. It gave you the option of simmering forever until they put a timer on what forever meant.
The new ones were such that you could not just wash them. After all, they had an electric element tucked inside. They became defective quickly too. Some of the manufacturers opted for a red light to tell you they were done brewing and then later a beeper for the distracted types.
More complications followed with things like more sophisticated timers and time of day indicators that were never right. Complicated ways to set them emerged just to go about their business of brewing at 6:15 am tomorrow. These were new selling features. More options must have meant more sales, but higher prices came along right with the 'features'.
Who, but the most deliberate of people ever had the persistence to do that brew next morning thing consistently? I never trusted it at all. I did try it, however, but did not continue the ritual of 11 pm lock and load of a coffee pot. Planning that far ahead for coffee seems out of place.
Today, if I visit somebody's house and get up early, I'm helpless in front of their coffee makers. Some require an intensive training program. I've lost my completion certificates for those that I have been checked out on by exasperated hosts. Fear of ridicule from a mess on the counter makes me wait until my friends wake up.
When they do, I watch carefully as the coffee ritual plays out with presses and devices to master and remember. Some sort of steam is required by some careful brewers. Don't mention the cost of beans that somebody picked in some lush valley.
Then there is the deafening noise of the sometimes built in grinders. There is now something called the coffee pot user interface. Sometimes it's icon based. They hope to ease it into other cultures and languages. Is it friendly you ask your host? Invariably, they say: "Yes, but, just remember to make sure you do ....." There is always that just remember part.
There are cup sizes to consider and brewing strength. Is the special 'what's it' in place and engaged? If it is not, then you are apt to create a spreading mess that requires deft and quick action. Coffee grounds are hard to clean up and your host will be alarmed to find you scrubbing the floor with the lace armchair covers purloined from the familyroom.
Come to think of it, I've never felt comfortable pouring water into a device that plugs into an electrical outlet. I guess dishwashers are different, but they pour their own and leave me out of it.
So is all this technology better and cheaper? It certainly is not cheaper. There are a lot of parts made of plastic involved. Break one and you are finished. Just toss it out. Two or three hundred bucks down the drain. Those Internet searches for spare parts are tedious.
Some models require filters that are hard to find, if you are a first timer in the kitchen. Don't break the carafee, it may be hard to replace.
There are many makes and models. Some new ones require you to take a creamer sized capsule and inject it into an orifice and then move a handle down to clamp it tight and pierce the cover. Then you look at a number of icons on a LCD display and press this and that after seeing a message ready to brew or something akin to that. Newer models will probably have a permanent hookup to a water and a robot device that you can activate from the phone you clutch in your hand while sleeping or the one you take to the shower.
One of these modern models requires turning off and on the power, before it will brew. Sounds like a software glitch in the microprocessor hidden away somewhere in the plastic guts of the pot that does not look like its ancestors.
Glancing down to the wastebasket nearby, you can see it full of these spent capsules. Doing a quick calculation determines that the trash is full of dollar bills. If trash day was a week ago, then you might see 50 of them there spent and useless. Maybe you can harvest a few cups by reuse, but do it on the sly.
Worse still, you have to repeat the dangerous and awkward process to get another cup. It's like asking your host to lend you a dollar.
On one 'pot' I saw some magic marker arrows to indicate what to do. It was a graphic user interface with magic marker assist in the field. It's not covered in the CD that comes in the package..
When I can think of it, I hide away a bottle of instant coffee to use before my hosts wake up. I have to search for a pot to heat the water. It will be buried in some cupboard. You have to check your bags if you fly. The security people don't like instant coffee as a carry on item.
Some of the Modern Pot's Features
Made in China
Suggested Retail Price $380.00
Our Prince 249.95
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Monday, April 08, 2013