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.
Their 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.
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.
I 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.
Friends 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.
When 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.
Now 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.
Pete 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.
Recently, 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.
While 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?
- Drink too much coffee and you could start seeing ghosts (kansasdad.blogspot.com)
- Starbucks Begins Selling Its New Instant Coffee Online (huffingtonpost.com)
- Too Much Coffee Linked to Hallucinations (neatorama.com)