This morning may not have been déjà vu exactly, rather a replay of a bad experience with coffee machines. Having discovered that my consumption of strong black coffee is not good for me, I decided to confine myself to one or perhaps two cups a day and put away my cafetière. No not a café owner that’s a cafetier as in cafeteria and not to be confused with cafetière (to the French, the Islington set and me, L’accent grave et l’accent aigu are important). This reminds me of one of my favourite German anecdotes about a colleague who confused Taube, the German for pigeon, with Traube which is German for grape, and asked a neighbour if he had lost a grape as an injured one had just flown into his garden.
“Eine Traube, die Fliegen?” the neighbour queried.
Now; where was I, oh yes, coffee machines, I brought out my old coffee machine that filters coffee and delivers one Americano. I had put this particular coffee machine away because it never made strong enough coffee in sufficient quantity for me in the morning. Incidentally there’s no connection between my coffee machine, George Clooney and the environmental disaster used plastic coffee capsules cause. Despite its drawbacks compared to the cafetière, my commitment to a coffee austerity programme made it look like my best option (at least until I can repair my Italian stove top coffee maker).
It’s not quite like the kind you seen in the cafe but the principle’s the same. In a cafe they grind the coffee into a container, press it down and then attach it to a hot water geyser, which then filters the coffee into a receptacle. The sort of cafe where you always find yourself queuing behind someone who orders a cappuccino, caffè mocha, caffè latte or skinny latte — usually more than one — and then wants some silly pattern sprinkled on the froth. And what the hell is a skinny latte? Meanwhile you wait an interminably long time to order a café noir Americano without sugar. Not only that: Why doesn’t the cup rest in the middle of the saucer? Benighted baristas!
Now: where was I, oh yes — you would think that as an engineer I would understand how these machines worked, but in my desire for a strong cup of coffee first thing in the morning I put too much coffee in the coffee container. Consequently the coffee machine erupted, akin to an exploding Vesuvius, with a hot liquid magma of coffee spilling uncontrollably out of the machine and all over the kitchen top. OK — a little melodramatic perhaps, an overflowing coffee machine isn’t Mount Vesuvius, my kitchen top isn’t Pompeii or Herculaneum and maybe the incident wasn’t as dramatic as that portrayed by Robert Harris in Pompeii.
Then at my age such events, especially those of my own doing, are always traumatic and had I the presence of mind to consider my actions I would have realised the consequences. Regarding my presence of mind, it would seem that it can be improved. I’m comforted by researchers reporting that the training of different cognitive functions enables older adults to perform better at attention and working memory tests. If I could raise my short term memory retention to something greater than 1 ± 1, it seems my cognition would be dramatically improved.
Now; where was I, oh yes, Robert Harris — Pompeii. The novel was recalled when the coffee machine overflowed and I suffered the consequences of the cataclysmic event. No prayers springing from my lips in supplication, begging forgiveness for my unspoken expletive, rather my thoughts turned to Pliny the elder’s rescue attempt at Stabiae when he saw the pyroclastic surge rushing down the mountain. As it was clearly going to engulf him, I bet at that moment he thought something like, Quid in irrumabo!
My previous experience with coffee machines and catastrophes of my own creation goes back a long way. I had previously thought to influence the speed of a coffee percolator by adding boiling water. It didn’t work. Having reasoned why not, I then thought of using boiling water in a large filter coffee machine to speed up the process. Wrong again but for a different reason, the water certainly came through the machine faster but too fast for it to filter through the coffee. Guess what? It overflowed!
I’m going to repair my Italian stove top coffee maker.
Cue Manhattan Transfer and ‘Java Jive’!
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