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Thursday, June 4, 2009

Ode to the coffee machine

This year, with the arrival of Helen to our lab, we acquired, for the first time ever, a coffee machine. It’s nothing amazing. It has the simple functions (i.e. on…off…on again…etc.) including the timer to set for the machine to automatically start producing coffee at a set time. It just produces filter coffee, no espresso, no cappuccino or macchiato, just plain old coffee. Behold!

On the plus side, it looks like the ones you see in police stations that detectives get their coffee from in movies. (It kinda makes you want to adopt a New Yorker accent and try solving crimes and whatnot…) It was this very trait that lead to the start of my favourite lab tradition: Doughnut Friday!

But I digress...

The machine has brought great joy into our collective lives, great knowledge and also great stress. Take Helen’s departing for field work this year as an example…

Megan and I were left to our own devices in the lab once Helen left for her field work this year. Normally Helen would be in charge of the coffee production in the lab, seeing as I refuse to drink the stuff (unless the most optimistic alternative is suicide…) and Megan is one of those I’ll-drink-it-if-it-falls-into-my-outstreched-mug-but-if-not-my-life-will-go-on kinds of people. It also helps that Helen appears to be the only one out of all of us that can successfully make coffee at the concentration that our supervisor likes (I think it has scored her great brownie points with him too). Of course, the fact that she is an avid coffee addict has nothing to do with this.

So there we were. Two ignoramuses and a coffee machine.

Sounds like a book title…or a rock band from the ‘80s!

We were surviving quite well until Doughnut Friday! rolled around. It was then that the pair of us realised that we had probably better learn how to use the thing before the rest of the Doughnut Friday! crowd showed up and attacked us for not having a steaming pot of Java waiting for them. So the two of us set to work trying to decipher the workings of the innocuous black contraption with the jug underneath.

We’d both seen Helen do it in the past. We figured, it can’t be all that tough to figure out! How complicated could it get? All you do it make sure the plastic filter is clean, place a paper filter into that, fill up the filter with grinds and ensure there was sufficient water in the tank at the back…right?

We carried out this procedure, hit the little red button marked ‘ON’ and returned to our work. While we worked the machine began to make the odd and slightly off-putting digesting sounds that could probably make the most repugnant thirteen year old boy blush, as it does. While we listened to the machine suffer through its own case of IBS, we assumed all was well. Little did we know...

At some stage, I thought to check up on our humble beverage-in-preparation. To my horror and amazement, I was greeted by the coffee machine, spewing coffee everywhere but into the pot. In all honesty, the machine looked like one of the fountains that you would expect to see in the lobby of a Las Vegas hotel with a circular jet of hot coffee radiated out from the nozzle, not going into the coffee pot.

I performed the standard reaction in a situation such as this in our lab. I panicked. Not in the life threatening, hyperventilating way, but more in the this-is-a-great-opportunity-to-throw-my-hands-into-the-air-and-run-around-shrieking-because-it’s-fun way. Megan came hurtling over to see what was happening and too was awestruck at the terrible beauty of the sight before her. Together we switched off the machine and with painstaking precision, dissected the machine to start cleaning up what had just happened. It was at this point that we decided that we definitely needed new sponges in our lab as the only one we had was about as effective as using a piece of steel.

So two important bits of knowledge were gleaned from this experience: the paper filter goes on the outside of the plastic one. Secondly, sponges, unlike diamonds, are not forever…

In the interim following our little coffee machine adventure, I have learned how to make coffee. My supervisor likes his coffee really strong and so, I’ve had to learn how to up his doses to levels that would kill the average elephant. However, I think I’ve managed to find his cut-off after the last pot I made with about 10 scoops of coffee kept him up all night. Another important bit of information that I’ve learned from our coffee machine is that coffee and I, do not go well together. Once the uncontrollable shaking and heart palpitations subside, the perspiration starts, none of which I am particularly fond of. So I think I shall have to stick to my no-coffee-or-else rule from now on…


  1. The coffee machine is awesome... And the fact that there's always coffee when I arrive in the morning now!

    And for the record, you make good coffee!

  2. random coffee factoid.

    Coffee is EEvil!
    It has a soul and if you look carefully, beady little eyes.

    (okay so not quite a factoid... but i used to be an addict back in school. 2 litres a day. i used to carry a massive flask around with me.)

  3. i love all kinds of coffee machines - big, small, complicated, simple as long as it spew out good black coffee!!!