Tethered to the Coffeemaker

I drank my first coffee — heavily laced with cream and sugar — a very long time ago. We’d spent the night with Uncle Don and Aunt Mary. Uncle Don got up hours before everyone else to make breakfast before he went to work. He kept his radio tuned to a country music station, and as he was more than a little hard of hearing, cranked up the volume loud enough to wake the dead. Hank Williams, Conway Twitty, and Loretta Lynn made going back to sleep impossible, so I’d join him in the kitchen for a morning cup of joe.

I have no idea of my age at the time — somewhere between nine- and twelve-years old. Nor do I recall when caffeine became an essential part of my morning routine (teens or twenties?), or when the afternoon pot came into play (thirties or forties?). These days, if you go by the little markings on the pot, I drink six to eight cups of black coffee in the morning and another four to six in the afternoon. I gave up cafe au lait in the 1980s, refusing to finance the cream and sugar habits of coworkers who never replaced what I brought in.

Drip coffeemakers and canned coffee sustained my caffeine habit for a long time. The coffeemakers — dozens of them — all cost about $19.95 each. Chock Full O’Nuts was my preferred brand, though I’d pick up Folger’s or Maxwell House in a pinch.

Eventually, I stepped up to whole beans and bought a coffee grinder. From that moment forward, I had a hard time enjoying coffee served anywhere but home. I took our grinder and coffee beans on every trip, adding a coffeemaker when hotels switched to those little single cup brewers.

Grinding was a hassle. The grinders — two different models designed for spices —  were too small to hold all the beans for a full pot. The extra grind also doubled the risk of spilling grounds all over the place.

When another $20 coffeemaker died, pointing to the pile of disabled brewing machines in the garage as evidence that the cheapest available model wasn’t necessarily the best buy, my ex convinced me to fork out $100 for a fancy Cuisinart Grind-N-Brew. Pour in the water and the beans, push the delayed start button, and at 5:45 the next morning, get blasted out of bed by the noise of the grinder.

When the Grind-N-Brew died two years later, I ran right out and got another just like it for the same price. The transition to the new model would have been painless were it not for a little glitch. The basket popped open during grinding, sending fresh ground coffee all over the kitchen and a steaming hot waterfall off the counter onto the floor — an absolute delight right out of bed. The kind folks at Cuisinart replaced the faulty machine and life returned to normal.

Even when everything works as designed, the Cuisinart requires a lot of cleaning after each use. The gold foil basket has to be emptied and rinsed. The top and bottom of the thingamajig the basket sits in have to be washed, along with the top and bottom of the grinder. A small price to pay for such an excellent brew.

A few months ago, my Grind-N-Brew started spewing fresh ground coffee all over the inside of the machine. I couldn’t find any cracks or holes, or figure out what was wrong. But a few weeks of cleaning up a HUGE mess of soggy coffee grounds after every use convinced me to pull the plug. Sniff.

A replacement for my Grind-N-Brew was $200. Rather than shopping around for a more reasonably priced model, I opted to return to a standard drip coffeemaker with a standalone grinder. The grinder cost twice as much as the coffeemaker, but holds enough beans for a full pot.

The coffee is as good, the grounds stay in the grinder, and cleanup is a breeze. Instead of spending five minutes after every use cleaning all the parts, I just dump and rinse. No more fishing beans that miss the grinder out of the water, either. All that wasted time…

The new setup makes coffee that’s not as hot as the java spewed by old faithful. My coffee-drinking behavior — to my surprise — revolves around the temperature of my coffee. I’ve trained myself over the years to drink a cup before the coffee goes tepid. After dumping out half-cups of cold coffee (I refuse to reheat), I switched to a smaller mug with more frequent trips to the pot for refills. 

You do what you gotta do.

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