Friday, April 28, 2006

In Search of Java

I purchased an espresso maker back in 1994 that did the job for me for over 11 years.  That included 2 1/2 years in Tokyo, where the machine had to be plugged in to a step-up transformer to work.  It typically took 2 1/2 to 3 minutes to make my favorite caffienated beverage, a wet cappucino. 

Still, it served me well, until that fateful day early last summer when an internal seal blew.

I sadly retired my faithful machine and went searching for a new one.  I drank drip coffee for a few weeks, but it just wasn’t the same.  My work suffered.  The level of caffeine in my system fell to dangerously low levels. 

Finally, I purchased a shiny Italian job for around $230 that promised a great capuccino.  As some of you might guess, I’m a bit of a gadget freak, and am able to follow directions even if they’re badly translated into English.  This machine’s instructions were so badly written that I ended up having to email the seller several times, only to find that they had failed to ship an important part.  Once the part arrived, I struggled with the machine for a few months, cranking out my two daily cappucini.  It would take about 5 minutes to brew each cup, which seemed excessive to me.  The attachment to steam milk was especially cranky. 

Then some internal part made a loud POP, and the machine stopped working.  So there I was, in mid-October, having killed a rather expensive piece of equipment. 

I did some more research, and picked up a cute little French number, which set me back a little less than $200.  Again, its workings were a little complex, and it would take almost 5 minutes to brew up a cappucino.  This one broke just before Christmas. 

Santa came through with another espresso machine for me that cost him/her about $150.  This one was somewhat more efficient, brewing up a cappucino in about 3 minutes.  After extracting the liquid gold through the coffee grounds, I would push a second button that heated the water up for steaming to a higher temperature.  One morning in March, shortly after finishing my annual review of online brokers, the machine made a loud popping noise, and spewed hot water all over the counter.  Fortunately, in spite of the low caffeine level in my bloodstream, my sprinter’s reactions got me out of the way of the geyser.

After several email exchanges with a nearly-illiterate technician, we discovered that the problem with this third machine was a small rubber ball that was supposed to be seated inside a spring.  Following the tech’s instructions, I disassembled the machine and found that the former ball had turned into rubber rubble.  The tech sent me a new one, apparently made of a better material, but the re-assembly process was not a success. 

This left me feeling that I had turned into a very efficient murderer of cappucino machines.  I felt deep despair at the thought of having to shell out big bucks every day so that my young pal Crystal at Peet’s could make me a couple of wet cappucini.  After killing 4 machines in only 8 months, I figured I should probably give up.

While wandering aimlessly, and in a low-caffeine state, around downtown Palo Alto last weekend, I noticed a board outside the Palo Alto Toy Shop advertising ... a coffee maker.  ?!???!  This seemed like an odd thing for a toy shop to push.  It turns out to be an invention of a local firm called Aerobie, which makes fun things to throw around, like the Squidgie Disc

One of their inventors came up with a brilliant device called the Aeropress Coffee and Espresso Maker.  I picked one up, figuring that a $30 experiment was worth my time.  This thing is nothing short of amazing.

First and foremost, it makes a great cup of coffee with very little fuss.  There are no fancy pumps or springs or internal seals to break.  The pressure that creates the flavorful brew is supplied by the user.  The device looks like a huge syringe, but without the needle on the end.  It takes about a minute to actually make the coffee; a total of two minutes if you count in setup time.  To create a nice foamy milk top for my cappucino, I bought a milk frother, so technically I am out about $55 for both pieces.  The frother is very simple—I heat up the milk in the glass container in the microwave, then whip up the heated milk.  I don’t have to generate steam in a machine that I will certainly just break in the very near future. 

I don’t think I can break the Aerobie very easily.  It simply doesn’t have the pieces that turn me into a Fatal Attraction.  It’s made of a hard plastic, so even if I drop it I can’t break it.  It’s very easy to clean, with no risk of scattering wet grounds all over the kitchen ... uh, no, I don’t know ANYone who would EVER do that .  The downside is that it makes one cup of coffee at a time, but most cappucino makers have that same restriction. 

I expect my productivity level to rise significantly now that I can efficiently caffeinate myself.  If you become an Aerobie Aeropress user, please let me know what you think. 

Posted by twcarey on 04/28 at 09:48 AM
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