Saturday, January 22, 2011

I just want coffee!

I am in the throes of a technology-induced caffeine crisis.  (TICC.). Finally,  rapid-fire appliance innovation is too much for me, and I am in Future Shock.  

I'll explain.  For the past several years, we have brewed coffee with a filter machine.  We buy whole coffee beans, usually from Starbucks, fill the machine with water, and it's done after about minutes.

But that all changed when we visited my folks in Florida last month.  My mother wowed my husband with her new "Nespresso" coffee machine. It is a pretty cool coffee-maker, albeit a bit gimmicky:  It makes individual espresso-style cups of coffee with a frothy finish on top.  And all you do is add water to the machine's pitcher, drop a sealed, metallic-colored "capsule" into the top, close the lever. Press a button, and voilà!  About one minute later, one hot espresso.  I enjoy it as a novelty item.  Like an ice-shaving machine in a bar or the scorching tool used to make a creme-brûlée, this device is interesting but not crucial to my daily kitchen appliance needs.  I just want coffee.  But my husband thought otherwise, and so did my mother.

"Do you want one?".  She asked, a generous and ambitious woman who gets her loved ones hooked on material delights that she provides.  Like Santa Claus.  Or a crack dealer.  And my husband, who takes his coffee like tar, replied "cool!" with a gleam in his eyes.  I felt more ambivalent.  As a Taurus, I am a fixed Earth sign who likes stability, especially in the Big Things:  House, Husband, Family, Coffee.  I wasn't so gung-ho on a coffee-making system that would require us to completely revamp our method of buying and making coffee.  I just wanted basic coffee. We were already getting basic coffee.  Why mess with the formula?

But my people-pleasing impulses won out, and three days after we returned home, the Nespresso machine arrived.  If you have never seen one, its pointed arch-front looks vaguely ecclesiastical,  like the an Early Gothic Cathedral.  That's appropriate -- getting my daily, crucial hit of caffeine does feel like an act of worship.  As it was late at night during the week, we lay out all the needed implements for the following morning.  Thus we were ready to put it to work at 7:30am the following morning.  How hard could it be?   On the first try, the machine emitted its characteristic whirring and grinding noises, but nothing came out of the spout.  Second try:  Same thing.   As caffeine withdrawal loomed on the horizon, I settled for an instant coffee (thank goodness I had a supply), while my hubby decided to go to Starbucks before work to get his caffeine fix.  Later on my mother walked me through the coffee-prep process via FaceTime on our iPhones.  Finally it worked!   Excitedly I e-mailed hubby at work to tell him this.  To successfully make my first cup of this coffee I had needed a landline phone, FaceTime on a smartphone, and email.  When did life get so complicated?

The following morning, I proudly made two individual coffees for my husband and myself.  We selected one black and one brown capsule, respectively.  However I was well aware that our starter set of 16 caplets would dwindle fast.  I consulted the voucher and my mom's instructions via e-mail on ordering more caplets with the discount coupon that arrived with our order.  I am not terribly tech- savvy or organized, so this took a lot of mental effort.  Finally I assembled the receipt, barcode tab, and voucher, and took a picture if them all with my iPhone camera in a rare impulse to keep records.  Then I sent them off to Nespresso Club HQ.  Maybe at this point you think I am a passive idiot who should have made her husband do this legwork, since he was the one who wanted the machine in the first place.  You are probably right, but at this point it was easier to just do this stuff than explain it to him.  Wives everywhere can probably relate.

So now, all we could do was wait and drink our daily cups.  Next big hurdle:  Deciphering the flavors of the 16 different capsules.  At first it had been easy enough to pick out the strongest coffee:  Black and brown capsules per my mother's own supply in in her home.  But then what? Our starter-set included capsules in metallic hues of blue, orange, yellow, brown, red and green.  The Nespresso had arrived with a complete, bound notebook of instructions, including a mini-visual encyclopedia of all the available coffee flavors according to their capsule colors.  Each capsule bore an elaborate, Italianized name:  Volluto.  Indrya. Capriccio.  We examined the names and to our horror, discovered 4 sets of decaffeinated coffee!  Why?!  Ugh!  So we picked out those useless caplets, noting that "decaffeinato" was written in light, elegant script across the top. My concern amped up.  I was now a General realizing that her family's battle against caffeine-withdrawal was being threatened with dwindling supplies on the frontline.  My husband looked at me in alarm.  
"What coffees did you re-order?  Did you choose the espresso dark, or did you get the same sample set?"
 I realized with a sinking feeling I did not know.  The voucher had been checked off with "Bundle set", whatever that meant.   And I did not know how soon the coffee would arrive, either.   According to the instructions, I could obtain more Nespresso capsules at William-Sonoma, Crate and Barrel, and Sur La Table, the closest of which was a 30-minute drive from our home.  I know, it is a low- ranking problem compared to most.  All people should be so lucky as to worry about something so trivial.  But all this effort for a cuppa morning Joe?  And what would these ongoing capsule-orders cost us?   Already I longed for the days when we could go to the local grocery store to pick up a package of coffee beans and other supplies.  Meanwhile, I waited with bated breath for the capsule shipment to arrive.

Update:  We have been using our Nespresso machine for 3 weeks now.  A substantial supply of capsules has arrived via UPS to our house.  The average cost per capsule/cup of coffee is roughly $.55, which is still way cheaper than Starbucks.  So all is well for the time being.  But I still keep the old machine stashed in the garage, just like my grandmother always kept a wad of cash in her mattress.  Because, as she used to say, "uno nunca sabe (one never knows)".  

For better or for worse,  I now have coffee.

Nespresso machine:
Pros:  Compact machine, efficient order/shipping, excellent coffee, rapid brewing time.
Cons:  Expensive machine, capsules available through limited channels, wasteful packaging.