coffeepercolatorI’ve had a love affair with coffee for 35 years.

It wasn’t until I went away to college that I realized there was a mighty difference between instant coffee and fresh ground from whole beans.  The Kroger store’s coffee section included a large machine that loudly ground beans into a paper bag.  But I remember most that my dad had a cup of instant Maxwell House every morning before work.  My mother’s preference was for tea.

coffeepartyperkTheir percolator came out for Aunt Mary, who could polish off ten cups with half a pack of Pall Malls after breakfast.  And they broke out the party version that held 25 cups over the holidays for their annual open house.

Remember this tune?  Those of you in a reader will have to click in:

When I was suddenly thrust into a world where all night parties study sessions were the norm, caffeine intake took on new meaning.  I fell in love with freshly brewed, aromatic, life-restoring coffee.

On road trips during college, we’d make bleary-eyed appearances at truck stops, and grasp the hot elixir both-handed when it was served in thick white ceramic diner mugs.  Most times it would be delivered with a spoon handle sticking up that you could poke in your eye if you weren’t careful.  I always have taken my coffee black – no cream, no sugar. Adding a little liqueur, like amaretto or Bailey’s, on a winter night opens the eyes and warms the gullet in cold climates. coffeemrcoffee

My first electric coffee maker was a brand new concept for my basement apartment in 1975:  the Mr. Coffee. This miracle started my days.  My preferred mug was from a set, hand-thrown and glazed in shades of blue, from Bennington Potters in Vermont.  I regularly forgot to switch the Mr. Coffee off before leaving for work and came home to foul-smelling coffee pancakes baked in the bottom of the glass carafe after work.  This tendency drove my brother, John, crazy when we lived together for a couple of years later on.

coffeeespressomakerI went through a series of Mr. Coffees and Black and Decker spacemakers over the next 15 years, until I graduated to Krups in the 1980’s.  I figured German engineering was superior in cars so it had to be in coffeemakers.  I sought out beans from exotic locales, and freshly ground them each morning in a handy Krups electric grinder.  This was living! I added a gold filter to my brewing methodology – and felt smug about it.  We had a little Krups espresso-maker like this one in our wet bar, too.  I loved fiddling with the tiny cups, and serving up a jolt to guests after dinner.

coffeebuiltinespressomakerFriends remodeled their kitchens into gastronomic playgrounds in the 80’s and 90’s, and lots of them installed fancy systems that could do everything.  You could hang out at the kitchen island and demand a cappuccino, a frothy latte, a double espresso with a flavor shot, and all sorts of exciting combinations.  For over $500 installed, that thing should watch your kids, too!

When I moved into my wonderful little house in Deephaven after my divorce, I bought a beautiful white Krups coffeemaker to go with the white cabinets in my freshly-painted galley kitchen. I felt so Martha!  The carafe leaked from Day 1, no matter how careful you’d be.  I hated that thing!  A drip or two is one thing, but all over when you try to pour?  Then it started leaking all over during the brewing process.  Something had happened to the Germans in the space of a decade! It was most disappointing, but since it never completely went kaput, I dealt with its frustrations, sponge permanently at hand.

When I was dating Pete, he served coffee made in a European press. I thought it was a charming novelty, and since he was so into gourmet cooking, I figured he must be quite discerning to go through all that trouble for only a couple of cups.

cuisinartgrindthermalWhen we went to the cabin everything was Cuisinart, including the coffeemaking equipment.  First they had a Cuisinart coffeemaker with a glass carafe, then they got one with a thermal carafe and built-in grinder.  We could never figure out how to use that thing.  There was no way to see whether there was water already in it until it started to overflow during a brew cycle.  If you didn’t push the right button, it freaked out because there were no beans to grind up before brewing.  The thermal carafe was really heavy, and had to be handwashed instead of thrown in the dishwasher.  Great ideas in theory that got dashed within a few uses.  I hate it when an appliance doesn’t behave logically.

coffeeondemandcuisinartNow they have Cuisinart “Coffee on Demand” at their house and up at the cabin.  It serves one cup at a time.  No carafe.  You just put your mug on the little platform and press a lever to fill it.  This works great!  Except…when you have lots of people over.  Instead, you have to fill the cups one at a time, and then carry them out two by two to serve.  Or guests have to get up from the table and get their own refills in the kitchen.  And…because Grandpa and Grandma drink decaffeinated now, we’ve had to enlist the coffeepress or other thermos to keep theirs separate from ours.  Kind of tedious.

colemancoffeecampingPete and I have tried different ways of making sure we have our morning brew when we’re camping. One summer, we hunted in vain for the old fashioned coffee pot that you could put on the campstove or over the fire.  We’d keep buying cheap Sunbeam coffeemakers from Target because we’d forget to pack the last one we had bought.  We’d have to poach electricity from unoccupied campsites.  Sometimes, Pete would drive into town and bring coffee back from a gas station before I’d wake up.  That kind of messes with the concept of getting back to nature.

Finally, we found a Coleman coffee pot.  Do you know those things cost over 20 bucks?  I feel like Gabby Hayes at the chuckwagon when I use it. It’s kind of a pain to wash out that little silver basket on the stick, though.  It was nice to take all the Sunbeam coffeemakers to Goodwill.

mrcoffeeprogrammableRecently, we purchased this programmable Mr. Coffee with a 12-cup capacity.  You can pad around in your bathrobe and slippers and take your mug wherever you go, with enough left over for your traveler on your commute!  It looked kind of sharp in our kitchen, too – all black and stainless steel.  Its beeper would tell you it was automatically shutting off.  I liked that.  But wouldn’t you know it, all of a sudden the stupid thing started spewing water all over when you wanted it to brew, even after we tried to clean it out with white vinegar and the clean cycle.

Now we had a dilemma. We thought a thermal carafe would be nice so we could bring it into the office and refill at our desks.  But we remembered it would have to be handwashed.  We wanted a programmable coffeemaker, so that when we came downstairs we could have a cup immediately.  We couldn’t decide if we should get a spiffy, stylish stainless steel finish, or black, or white.  We liked the on demand press the lever one, but Cuisinart is pretty pricey, and we’d have to get up frequently and go out to the kitchen for our refills.

coffeepressWhile we were deciding back and forth, we spent several days making coffee in the coffeepress. I hate that thing!  If I only wanted two cups of coffee in the morning, I’d switch to instant and be done with it.  If I wanted grounds in my coffee, I’d use the Swedish eggshell method.  That coffee press has got to be the most maddening method known to man. I hate cold coffee with grounds floating in it.

We were still undecided when we went to Target the other night. We wandered the small electrics aisle, debating, and finally settled on a pretty basic Mr. Coffee – around $40.  It seemed like we were catching up with an old friend.

Until…at the end of an aisle, we spotted a clearance.  There it was.  A little white Sunbeam with a glass carafe and a timer. Twelve bucks.

We ditched old Mr. Coffee faster than a prom dress in the back of a pickup truck.  It’s taken a lot of money over the years to get this cheap.

How do you like your coffee?

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  1. says

    I like my coffee black – and strong! I buy whole bean and grind myself. Interestingly, our youngest child developed a taste for the stuff as well – at around the age of 5 years old. I only give him a sip now and then – but he’d drink a whole cup if we let him!!

    Lance´s last blog post..Sunday Thought For The Day

  2. says

    Hi Betsy – my first foray into real coffee was coffee plunger coffee, in about 1980, and I still use that at Mum’s (it depends on the grounds you use). Now, I have stove-top espresso (I don’t see one above) – and we take one of those camping too, with a small gas stove.

    These days we usually go to a coffee shop for espresso coffee – luckily Melbourne has a great tradition of real espresso, from all the Italian migrants that came here in the 1950s.

    Cheers – Robin

    Robin´s last blog post..Making The Most Of Life

  3. Dot says

    I like black coffee, and strong. However, I’m not a gourmet about it For me, the fastest and easiest is Melitta filtering, which I’ve done for many years now. I only make one cup in the morning, and it’s so simple to use the one-cup filter holder over the cup, throw out the filter with the grounds and rinse out the filter holder. I have a small Mr. Coffee-type brewer for those rare occasions when I have more than one visitor. I love to drink coffee from my deep sunflower yellow latte-style cups.

    I recently overpaid for a one-cup French press on eBay, after reading Vered rave about hers. It made really great coffee, much stronger than the filter, and with no grounds. However, it was a nightmare to clean. I can’t put grounds down my sink drain, so I had to let it dry out and then shake off the grounds, then wash it. No thanks. I’ll save it for days when I crave a really excellent cup of coffee.

    I also own an expensive programmable grinder/brewer, which I got for $15 at a thrift store. I had to spend 1/2 hour on a long-distance call to get the instructions. 😀 If you program it and load it up at night, it will “wake up” in the morning and start grinding the beans, and then brew the coffee. I stopped using it because (a) the sound of grinding was so loud it scared me off the bed, and (b) I have a different schedule every day, and I kept forgetting to change the programming.

    Dot´s last blog post..Fun with Mad Libs

  4. says

    Mmmm! I got so sick of making a whole pot of coffee for myself so I switched to tea. But RIGHT NOW I am off to Caribou to get a big cup of coffee, thanks to your article. I have an old percolator from the 60s that has lights in the bottom! The carafe is clear glass, and the lights come on when the coffee is done. Have a fantastic week! xox

  5. says

    I love French Press! We use medium ground Illy coffee (we keep it in the freezer and while it’s obviously not as fresh as freshly ground, it’s still excellent). I’ve been using French Press for years and have perfected the technique so much that the cappuccino my husband makes in his expensive espresso machine is only slightly better.

    Vered – MomGrind´s last blog post..The Psychology of Advertising

  6. Mary Hoffman says

    It would not be a good day if I could not have a cup of coffee in the morning. Your post made me reminisce about the coffee pots/makers of my past. I can’t say that I have a favorite, and am not afraid of trying something new. There is nothing like a good cup of black coffee, though. Funny how we have all become so attached to something that can arguably be considered icky tasting. Thanks, Betsy….this post will start many fun coffee conversations in my office today.

  7. Betsy Wuebker says

    Hi Robin – What is a coffee plunger?? Is it like a press? You know, I did have one of those stove-top espresso-makers and forgot to include it! Thanks.

    Hi Lance – I’m with you, although I can’t drink real acidic blends any more. Back in the day, my parents told us it would stunt our growth! Thanks.

    Hi Judy – I love that Caribou in your neighborhood – very homey. Robin and I would get strawberry smoothies there! Thanks.

    Hi Vered – It must take lots of practice to do the French press right. I just don’t have the patience. I want my coffee and I want it now! Thanks.

    Hi Dot – Wouldn’t it be nice if the programmables would just pick up on our thoughts. Some of them are too complicated – who designed those? Thanks.

    Hi Mary – I think it’s not about the taste, but it’s about the aroma and it makes us think it tastes good. I can’t live without it, either! Thanks.

  8. says

    This was a great post both for the words and the visuals. I remember a lot of those coffee makers. Unfortunately for me, while I love coffee, it doesn’t love me back. I felt the pain of rejection, but finally settled with my regular cup of tea…although, to be honest, I sometimes cheat and have 1/2 milk and 1/2 coffee, which my stomach seems to allow. Still, there’s nothing quite like the smell of coffee brewing…yum! Thanks for reminder :~)

    Sara´s last blog post..More than just 5 words in a journal

  9. says

    Crisp! Or is that just a Canadian thing?

    Wow, all you black coffee drinkers amaze me. I take mine light and a little sweet.

    I didn’t start drinking it until I was 24 — 20 years ago and never looked back.

    Like Dot, I do the one-cup filter, I’m the only coffee drinker in this house. I usually only have one a day. But sometimes go crazy at Starbucks around 4:00 p.m. and slug back a short decaf. And of course, you’ve got me craving it a 8:18 p.m. But at least you’ve got me off my yen for champagne tonight.

    I love coffee while camping. Boil some water in a pot on the little propane stove, pour it through my filter. Whip up some pancakes from a can – yes you can get them from a can like a whipped cream can now. And sit back and let the fireants bite – heaven!

    Jannie Funster´s last blog post..The “Seriously Weird” Winners

  10. Betsy Wuebker says

    Hi Sara – Welcome! Sitting here with my first cup of the day. My system has become a little picky as well. I find the espresso and French roasts aren’t my thing any more, so I feel your pain. Tea is different – but you can tell yourself it’s better for you! Thanks for coming by!

    Hi Jannie – What! Pancakes in a can! Who knew? Everything seems to taste better next to a campfire, doesn’t it? Even the gas station coffee Pete brought me! Thank you.

  11. says

    I am debating about putting this comment on this post…but I think I will as it is not secret.

    I can not even abide the smell of coffee – any kind at all, let alone the taste.

    I am not much for tea unless I am ill, but some of the herbal teas smell very lovely.

    I just drink water ( am going to have champagne on my birthday too)
    Most tap water tastes to me like rose fertilizer smells so I drink filtered water at that…a treat is a sparkling water!

    Patricia´s last blog post..Announcing a Writing Contest – With a Financial Incentive!

  12. Ben says

    ‘Their percolator came out for Aunt Mary, who could polish off ten cups with half a pack of Pall Malls after breakfast. ‘

    that line made me laugh.
    no coffee for me. i’m a water person.

  13. Betsy Wuebker says

    Hi Patricia – I totally understand. My mother couldn’t stand it, either, and never understood why it appealed to almost everyone else. Thanks.

    Hi Ben – You’d love my Aunt Mary; your dad got to meet her last summer at the family reunion. There are plenty of other, shall we say, more colorful stories about her and my Uncle Charlie that your dad learned, as well. 🙂

  14. says

    What a delicious post! I can smell freshly roasted European coffees as I read. Though it’s late in the afternoon — so the aroma is in my head.

    My kids call me a coffee snob. I like the dark-roast European coffees because they are not as acidic as beans from other soils. They just taste better to me. And I like to brew them in a Bunn coffee maker. It’s quick, and the water is hot.

    French press makes great coffee, but after 4 minutes brewing, the water has cooled down, and tepid anything is not for me. I like it hot.

    Patricia, I think your filtered sparking water is a lot healthier for you than my caffeine. I drink both. 🙂

    Thanks for an enjoyable read…

    Barb Hartsook´s last blog post..Simple Promise of Spring Renews Our Worlds, Our Purpose

  15. Betsy Wuebker says

    Hi Barb – Welcome! I will have to try other Euro-dark roasts than French. The French roasts do a number on my stomach. So far, my best luck has been with Kona (which can get a little pricey), and a couple of other non-Euros whose names escape me at the moment. 🙂 While this post was about coffeemakers, perhaps a good followup might be coffee in general. Thanks for stopping by.

  16. says

    Yes, pancakes in a can – I was amazed too. I know not good for the environment to have a whole can when I could mix it from a paper bag, but once in a while I’m allowed a little slip-up eh? For camping. Plus the can gets recycled.

    The brand I found, organic too, is here in this link. A squeeze can like whipped cream. And they’re soooo good! But, the can only made about 8 big cakes, alas. http://www.batterblaster.com/

    Jannie Funster´s last blog post..Ukulele Video

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    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Aloha, Kristine! A quick Google would probably give you far better information on specifically what you’re looking for than any I could provide. 🙂