Rise of the machines

We may be going to the moon

In the halcyon days where being a proper northerner was as much as an attitude as a calling, we drank tea. There were no variants. Fruit was never involved. At no point would one enquire of a fellow Yorkshireman if his warmed beverage of choice should contain hints of jasmine*. We believe Earl Gray was the posh (k)nob in the manor house, and tea was only considered ready when the stirring spoon no longer moved and those from over the border were passing out on a tannin overdose.

Yes we had tea and it had a name. Tetley. Some arty types waxed lyrical over other brands available in that London and such like. But for a kid in the 70s, it was a Tetley teabag per person and about 9 for the pot. Unless Grandma hobbled into the kitchen where we’d dig out the stale tea leaves. There’s much to say about a simple life where the choice of drinks was basically Tea, Water, Beer or – if it was summer and you’d been good – watered down orange squash.

The concept of coffee was not one welcomed in the Leigh household. But by degrees, I abandoned my tea drinking birthright first at polytechnic necking gallons of instant supermarket filth during caffeine fuelled attempts on assignment deadline day. Then many months in the US brought forth the joy of the ever-full filter jug and the first hit of ‘proper’ coffee served up by a man calling himself a barista allegedly skilled in the dark italian arts of coffee  perfection. Obviously being American they felt the urge to offer it a) without any actual caffeine and b) topped with chocolate, nuts and squirrel poo**

So bang up to date having abandoned my northern tea drinking credentials through dint of an unbreakable caffeine addiction, I invested in one of those Italian machines somehow magically turning beans into body-jolting java.  It came with a level of niche much mined on those specialist internet forums where the apparently sane argue violently about the exact grinding to milk co-efficient. First time in there, I wasn’t quite sure what I’d stumbled into. There wasn’t a second time.

It’s like bikes, radio control gliders and all sorts of other stuff where I’m a big fan of the product but I couldn’t going a flying fuck about the process to create it. This didn’t stop me being sucked in (the language of proper coffee is amusing, grinding, foaming, pressing, etc. I even find myself sniggering when reading the word pumping) into pointless purchases of paraphernalia guaranteed to improve my ‘coffee drinking experience’. My accessory count ran to both manual and electric grinders (fnar), air-sealed tins, heritage tampers and all manner of cleaning attachments. The horror of ‘back flushing’ became part of my world. All of this expense, research and effort resulted in the creation of mediocre but now even more overpriced coffee.

And the faff. Fire up the machine, wait for the tiny boiler to heat a similarly tiny amount of water or explode – whichever came first. Find coffee beans, grind coffee beans, extract from grinder and tip a shaky handed approximation of your morning medicine into the waiting thingy.  This is the kind of technical vocabulary that’s served me well on those coffee obsessed forums. Tamp the coffee down with just sufficient force to ensure the pressurised flow runs through the whole malarky at at rate somewhere between dirty water and gritty raw coffee. Fuck about a bit longer, press a button, achieve disappointment. Spend hours cleaning up.

Enough. Really. Obsessed as I am over getting a proper hit first thing in the morning, it’s time to find a solution that’s better than me faking it, taking half the time and sod the expense. An expense I was happy to discover could be simply mitigated by pretending it was a company purchase, which put me in the slot a proper machine where beans when in one end and awesome coffee turned up at the other. With absolutely no user interaction. Goodbye tedium, hello nirvana.

I even read the manual although faded out when faced with about five pages detailing the operation of the cappuccino steamer much struck through with ‘danger of burning’. I assumed any use of the ‘milky wand’ would leave me holding said attachment with a blackened claw or the house would be burning down. So instead we turned the monster on whereupon much scary noise was emitted from various lightly armoured parts, liquid was ejected, lights flashed and then a blissful quiet was augmented with a single green button waiting to be pushed.

I pushed it. More noise from the internal constipated plumbing and then rich, gorgeous coffee expelled into the waiting cup. I tried it again with EXACTLY the same result. This never was the case with my ham fisted efforts at a repeatable process. I kept pressing the button and great coffee kept appearing in my mug. And the whole messy buggering cleaning routine is now encased in the machine needing emptying about once a week. Which incidentally is about the period of time I didn’t sleep after my initial experiment of drinking about a 100 cups of eyeball popping coffee.

And yet in the same way our Miele washing machine attempted to annexe the fridge, there’s a nagging doubt this machine is far too complex and clever for the mundane act of serving me up much needed wake up juice. Therefore I  wouldn’t be surprised to see it hover unsteadily above the worktop before blasting through the roof and accelerating into a lunar orbit.

Until then, it’s my most favourite new thing. And it sits on top of the beer fridge. Feng Shui for those of Northern Persuasion.

* Unless you were prepared to deal with a response where a rather firmer enquiry would demand to know if your face needed to contain a knuckle sandwich.

** I may have made this bit up. But I was deeply suspicious of a coffee bean floating unwanted in the top of my drink

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