The Coffee Machine

My wife likes a cup of coffee in the morning. Just the one at breakfast time. For years she used a one cup cafetiere and this served her very well. It’s just a small glass flask mounted in a metal holder. The lid has a filter mechanism on the end of a plunger, that separates the coffee grounds from the brewed liquid by pushing them down to the bottom of the flask. A simple device that served its purpose. However, she had always coveted one of those coffee making machines on the supermarket shelves. In particular the type that grinds the beans for you and produces a perfect, fresh cup of coffee. The problem was that she never felt she could justify spending what was a large amount of money just to make one cup every morning, her dear husband not being a coffee drinker.

The burden of this dilemma was relieved for her one Xmas, by her daughter buying a machine for her. Needless to say my wife was delighted, and the cafetiere was washed for the last time and pushed to the back of a shelf, where it didn’t take up much space. Which is more than could be said of the coffee machine, whose footprint was about ten times that of the cafetiere. Indeed, it was not much smaller than the average microwave oven. We got it unpacked and set up near a socket in the utility room, as this was the only room that had enough worktop space.

There then followed nearly two hours where my wife and I attempted to decode the instruction book, which appeared to be written in ancient Egyptian pictogrammes. The Rosetta Stone probably would have been very handy. Anyway, we worked out that we had to put the beans in a little compartment on the top. On the side of the machine there was a clear plastic container that had to be filled with water. On the front there was a spout with a drip tray below it that you placed your cup under and on. To one side of this there was a larger spout that swiveled out to the side, which was supposed to dispense a steam jet for heating milk. There was also an instrument panel with buttons and dials and flashing lights that could have come out of an airline cockpit.

We plugged it in and filled everything we needed to and pushed the start button to make the first cup of coffee. Everything went very smoothly but also very noisily, as quiet this thing wasn’t. There was a chorus of grinding, clicking, clunking and gurgling sounds that preceded the production of every cup of coffee. Then, around twenty minutes later, another series of clicking and gurgling sounds as the machine proceeded to flush its pipework through the delivery spout and down into the drip tray. Presumably this action was needed to prevent the pipework from clogging up. However, so much liquid was ejected that my wife decided to leave an empty glass under the spout, in order to avoid the drip tray being overwhelmed.

For a few days everything went well. Until one morning it refused to work, and a flashing light suggested that something might be wrong. Half an hour spent deciphering hieroglyphics in the manual, revealed that the container that held the little pucks of waste grounds ejected after the production of each cup was full, and required emptying before it would make another cup. This necessitated the front being opened up and the drip tray removed before the container could be lifted out. Only to discover that it had collected just three pucks of waste coffee grounds. Now this was puzzling, because there was still plenty of space in the container. We consulted the hieroglyphics again. How did this thing gauge when it needed emptying? Did it know the weight of the little pucks? Was there a light beam that did the counting or some other form of sensor? Try as we might, we couldn’t figure it out. So for the next few weeks, every couple of days or so, the usual mechanical noises were accompanied by a chorus of mutterings and curses as the machine shut down again, and demanded emptying. As it was only making one cup a day, it was decided that it must be faulty and was then duly packed up and sent back for repair or refund. It came back.

Apparently they could find no fault with the machine, but suggested that we might pay more attention to the cleaning routine. A suggestion that really irritated my wife, as she took it personally. So it seemed that there was nothing for it but to persevere with it. And every morning for over two years our breakfast peace was interrupted with a chorus of, grind, click, clunk, gurgle. Followed twenty minutes later with the gurgle, gurgle of the machine flushing its pipes. Also, every few days there was an extra accompanying chorus of muffled hissing, growling and muttered expletives as the machine clicked and clunked but totally refused to gurgle, until the ritual of the emptying of the used grounds container had been performed to its satisfaction. Oh, I’m nearly forgetting, another ritual that had to be performed was the removal of the gubbins, contraption thingy that actually brewed the coffee. It had to be unclipped, pulled out of its housing and then flushed under a running tap before reversing the process to refit it. Honestly I was beginning to think we had the prima Donna of coffee makers. Maria Callas was never so temperamental.

One day fairly recently my wife performed the usual ritual of opening the door, removing the drip tray, emptying the grounds caddy and flushing out the gubbins, contraption thingy and putting everything back again before attempting to make the single cup of precious liquid. Sadly this time she must have done something to seriously piss off the great god Arabica, because, with a resounding click and clunk, the machine refused to function. I checked it over and discovered that it seemed to have jammed up, as the gubbins, contraption thingy was immovable. The machine was out of warranty, so I removed the back and side panels. Only to be confronted by an array of pulleys, cogs, levers and cables that would have been quite at home on the International Space Station. I put the panels back on and pronounced it deceased.

The one cup cafetière was lifted from the back of the cupboard and placed in the sink to be washed prior to being brought back into use. There seemed to be a little smear of kitchen grease on the side of it, and I did a double take, as the smear looked for all the world like a smiley face. With an expression that appeared to be, ever so slightly, smug.


My wife has now given up drinking coffee in the morning.

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