Thursday, December 27, 2012

Get a real coffee maker

It's Christmas time and as I have small children, talk of gifts received (from Mom and Dad) and gifts to come (which will be opened once the aunt and uncle join us late tonight) falls steadily through the air, like the snow outside.

Well, that's an exaggeration. My children are excited, but it's to be expected. They generally only get new toys at Christmas and on their birthdays, so it would be odd if they weren't happy about the excuse for presents.

But for us adults, the matter of presents is more complicated. Most of us don't wait for birthdays and holidays to treat ourselves to the things we covet. And this makes the act of giving gifts an almost absurd exercise. We either need to guess what our loved ones want but don't know they want or purchase an something deemed too extravagant to buy for one's self.

This modern day dilemma is so pressing that I think there are entire products lines that exist just to fill this need. How else can we explain the sudden ubiquity of single-serving coffee makers.

Or as someone I follow on Twitter calls them, #landfill.

My husband owns a food store that grew out of a coffee stall and he has sold a great deal of coffee beans over the last ten years, and so, by osmosis alone, I do know a little bit about coffee brewing.  I know enough to know that the notion of better brewing by barcode is a pile of hooey.

This 3 minute video from America's Test Kitchen demonstrates why: the feature that contributes most to good coffee is a good heating element, and all the bells and whistles of most coffee makers feature are distractions from the fact that they all use the same tepid heating element.

So if you want to make good coffee at home, you can - like we did - invest in a Technivorm Moccamaster or - if you have more time than money, watch and learn how to make amazing coffee without a coffee maker at all.

But a caveat: we imagine our future selves blissed out of our minds each morning from Irish Cream barcode blended coffee (or the robost and complex Technivorm brewed coffee), but this is because we always forget (and this forgetting seems to take a year suspiciously enough) that material pleasure is something that we quickly acclimatize to.  I love my morning coffee but I will never love it as much as the first week with our new coffee maker.

I am coming round to a line of thinking that I was first introduced to by either Kevin Kelly or Bruce Sterling.  The problem at hand is not we care too much about material things - the problem in this disposable age is that we don't care enough about the things we buy.

There is no doubt in my mind that once those fragile single server coffee makers break, that those who were gifted them will not spend a dime to repair their machine - no matter how much love accompanied it - and, instead, they will bury it underground and wait for next Christmas to come around.  And that's an opportunity lost because something interesting and good happens when you start a long-term relationship with your everyday tools.

When our coffee maker suddenly started misbehaving, we took it to Windsor's Appliance Medic (whom I would recommend doing business with) and he marvelled at how easy it was to take apart, and how simple it was to diagnose and correct our problem (a sticky internal switch that came about because we had neglected to descale our coffee maker). It gave me the confidence to consider trying to fix the machine myself if we run into trouble again.

Christmas (for most of us) is over and thoughts of the New Year have begun. So let's end this post with a resolution as suggested by Bruce Sterling:

Now, you can argue that you should economize and just buy cheap things, or try and de-materialize. Not be materialistic, and content yourself with things that are very cheap or very organic. 
That’s not the way forward. Economizing is not social. When you economize, you’re starving somebody else. Really. If you don’t give them money, they don’t have any money. And if they don’t offer you any money, you don’t get any money. That’s not a social flow, or even a sociable relationship. 
What you need to do is re-assess the objects in your space and time. And I’m going to explain to you how to do this.  
The king of objects, the monarch among objects are not fancy objects. They’re not high-tech objects, they’re not organic objects, they’re not biological objects, they’re everyday objects. Things that you’re with every day. 
Whatever is in your time most, what’s taking up most of your time, or in your space most. The stuff that’s closest to your skin, on your skin, inside your skin, in intimate areas. Space and time. That’s what’s going on, that’s where it’s at. That’s where it’s happening. 
Common everyday objects. You need to have the best possible common everyday objects. 
Number one, a bed. You’re spending a third of your life in the thing. You never take it seriously. Rich people have great beds. You should go out and get the best bed you can get. Money is no object. On a per hour rental basis, beds, super important. The sheets, the pillows, pretty high up there too. 
Every morning when you wake up you will thank me for this. 
I know you’re resisting it. It’s like: “Why? Why am I buying a fancy bed? It’s bad for me, I’m being taken outside of my comfort zone.” 
You live in the thing! Get rid of the wedding china! Get rid of the tuxedos! The exercise equipment you never use! The things you never touch! The heaps of things, the heaps of material objects in your closet and, God help you, your storage locker. Sell them all, buy a bed. Get a real bed. 
Get a chair.  
I shouldn’t have to tell people who work with computers to get a chair. No, they’d rather whine about their wrists blowing out, their spines blowing out. They wouldn’t come up with a chair that would cost them maybe fifteen cents an hour over the first amortizable period. The world is full of beautifully designed ergonomic chairs. Get a real damn chair! 
Sell the other chairs, the fancy chairs, the couch, the over-stuffed thing, your grandmother’s chair. Get rid of your grandmother’s chair, it was never properly built to begin with. 
Get rid of it. Get rid of it, if you don’t use it! If you haven’t touched it in a year, get rid of it immediately. Sell it, buy real things you really use. 

I agree. Get rid of the presents you don't use and get a real coffee maker.


al said...

We got a burr grinder (the Baratza Encore model) a few weeks ago and it was the most dramatic improvement in my coffee making setup I've made so far. Between it and my French press I never touch our coffee maker anymore.

Alison said...

Good post! I spend a lot of time seriously thinking about what to put on my Christmas list because I know my mother in law prefers to buy "real gifts" rather than gift cards or money. I think about things that I would really like to have that I haven't gotten around to and that I know I would enjoy so that we don't have to have silly disposable gifts. I love trying to find something for someone that they would really enjoy but might not have -- it is definitely harder for some than others! I've been trying to cut down on "all the things!" and only keep things in the house that I enjoy.