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Coffee So Strong It Needs A Safety Valve

Posted by Tom Benedict on 12/04/2011

People say there are two best days a boat owner spends with their boat: the day they buy it, and the day they sell it.  It’s the same with housemates.  In college we shared an apartment with two of our friends.  The day we moved in was a party, and so was the day we moved out.  But the significance of going from four inhabitants to two, and splitting up all the stuff we’d shared for the past year didn’t hit me until I woke up the next morning in our new place and realized we had no way to make coffee.

I stumbled out of the apartment with one thought on my mind: I had to come back with coffee before my wife woke up.  Better still, come back with a way to make coffee the next day, too.  I didn’t really have a plan except that I knew a local roaster who had good beans.  I figured I’d start there.  I probably looked a little frantic when I came in the door with a bad case of bed-head and a wild look in my eye, but they sold coffee for crying out loud; it comes with the territory.  By the time I got back in the car I had a pound of beans and some of those cool espresso cups you find poets sipping from in cafes that don’t use words like “venti”.  Oh, and a cappuccino maker.

It was more than we could afford, but there was something about the idea of waking up every morning and drinking finely crafted coffee that appealed.  As I pulled the thing off the shelf I thought, “This is a sane and rational thing to do.”  I figured I had one shot at this.  If my wife didn’t like the coffee, she was gonna kill me.

Once home, I somehow managed to unpack everything, dig out our coffee grinder, and set it all up without waking her.  Years ago I’d learned the trick of wrapping the coffee grinder with pillows to silence its turbojet whine.  The cappuccino maker was a model I’d used before so I knew how it worked.  Minutes later, with two cups of cappuccino in hand, I sat on the edge of the bed and woke her up.

Little did I know I was starting a tradition that has lasted to this day:  I get up early, make the coffee, and we share our morning cup in bed.  Since that day we’ve both changed jobs several times, we had three kids, and we moved to Hawaii.  The tradition has never wavered and that machine always delivered.  But from time to time my wife would squint at the cappuccino maker and say, “It’s getting kind of old.  Don’t you think we should replace it?”

“Well… No!  I mean, it still makes good coffee,” I would reply at times like this.  “And it works, so it’s not like we need to replace it!”  The real problem is that it had taken me years to learn the machine’s quirks well enough to convince it to make two good cups of coffee without fail every morning.  I didn’t want to go through another learning curve like that.

My wife was right, of course.  The safety valve on the cap started to blow off at strange times, sometimes even before coffee started to trickle out of the spout.  The lid got harder and harder to screw on and off.  It leaked.  I think the machine was trying to communicate to me that it wanted to retire, but I wasn’t listening.

Eventually the coffee maker solved the issue for us.  I got up early as usual, filled the tank, did my best to screw on the lid, and hit the switch.  The coffee was a little sluggish coming out and it sounded like the safety valve had indigestion.  Whatever…I poured milk into my wife’s cup, got ready to interrupt it at just the right moment to steam the milk, and…

To say it blew up is an understatement.  I doubt it held more than a pint of water, and the pressures really weren’t that high compared to the industrial boilers of old.  But when the tank ruptured and the water inside flashed to steam, the whole thing went up like a bomb.  Ground coffee, milk, cup, and bits of coffee maker went everywhere.

In the deafening silence that followed, I unplugged the poor thing and drove to Starbucks.  No poets, no cool espresso cups, and I said “venti” twice to get our coffee.  I also got pastries for the whole family so we could mourn the cappuccino maker properly.  Then I headed home.  As it turns out my wife had slept through the explosion, and was grateful for the coffee.  She didn’t even say, “I told you so.”

Later that day I drove into town and picked up a new machine.  When this one starts making those “help me!” noises, it will be seen, heard, and be allowed to retire with full honors.  Not with so much fanfare, though, I hope.

– Tom

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