The appliance that wouldn’t die
I don’t make coffee at home on days that I go into the office. I’m the only person in the house who drinks coffee, so it doesn’t make much sense to make a pot just so I can have one cup in the morning before I go to work. And making a single cup takes as much prep work as making a whole pot, so I just don’t make coffee at home on those days.
Some weeks ago the “Clean” light on my coffee maker started flashing insistently…
The coffee maker is an automatic drip model, a brand name, was midrange price-wise when we bought it, and generally has done what I wanted. Which isn’t to say it is perfect. The lid that you open to pour in either coffee grounds or water never quite felt like it was sitting right. The coffee grounds and the water reservoir aren’t separated in any way, so it’s easy to spill grounds into the place you don’t want them, and the “pause and pour” function has never quite worked right (it drips coffee onto the warming plate the whole time you’re pouring).
Before this, the coffee had started tasting wrong. I did a regular cleaning (running vinegar through the cycle to clean out mineral deposits). I continued taking extra pains to clean the pot, the filter basket, and every other part of the machine I could think of to clean, trying to get the coffee tasting right. So when the clean light started blinking, I was a bit surprised on the one hand, as I had de-scaled it so recently; but not so surprised on the other because I hadn’t been happy with the coffee quality. So I rinsed everything out, filled the reservoir with the recommended mix of vinegar and water, ran it through the pot, and then (as per the instruction booklet) ran a pot of plain water.
The Clean light came back on, which the instructions say means to run a second pot of vinegar through.
After the fourth pot of vinegar, with no change in the light, I was getting a bit irritated. I did something I probably should have done earlier: I pulled the water filter out. Now, one reason I didn’t pull the filter out sooner was because I didn’t have any spares on hand, so I didn’t have a clean one to replace it with. Unfortunately, what came out with the filter was a whole bunch of coffee grounds. And the filter, itself, was stained the color of over-cooked coffee.
So grounds had gotten into the reservoir.
I rinsed, ran plain water through, rinsed some more, and it seemed that I had gotten all the coffee out of the reservoir. I finally got a pot of water to go through without the Clean light flashing, and I had new water filters ordered and on their way, so I figured we were good.
I did all of this over the course of a Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday.
Friday is my usual work-from-home day, and I’ve had a routine for a long time of starting a pot going as soon as I get out of bed, checking work email, then throwing on enough clothes to drive my husband in to work. By that point I can fill a travel mug with fresh coffee, which I sip during the drive. Then I have coffee for the rest of the day.
So, the Friday after all this extra cleaning, I ground the beans, poured in water and so on, and turned the machine on. Usually I hear the coffee maker gurgling away while I’m checking email in the next room. There’s a particular sequence of noises it makes, first just a hissing and low gurgle, then a more rhythmic growl-gurgle-hiss-trickle for a while, giving way to a series of coughing-like gurgles before the machine beeps to indicate it has finished.
I heard a hissing and one or two hiccup-ish sounds, but no gurgles or growls. When I came back into the kitchen, when it should have had most of a pot of coffee made, there was maybe a quarter teaspoon of liquid in the pot, and lots of steam coming out of the back. It wasn’t perking. The Clean light was flashing, again. I concluded that the only liquid that was in the pot was from steam condensing on the lid and dripping down. No water was actually perking through.
My husband suggested that he might be able to fix the pot that evening, if I could get by on Starbucks or something similar during the day. I indicated that I was contemplating taking a hammer to the machine and smashing it to a million pieces during my lunch break. He sighed, the way he does when I’m being unreasonable, but didn’t argue further.
I drove him to work, stopped to get a big coffee on the way back, and returned home. I didn’t smash the machine into a million pieces. When I dumped the water out of the reservoir (after carefully removing and setting aside the unused coffee grounds), more old grounds came out of the reservoir. So, clearly, grounds had gotten jammed in the water path.
I know that vinegar isn’t a strong solvent, but I went ahead and filled the reservoir with vinegar. I figured I’d let is soak all day in hopes it might loosen the grounds up. I went back to work. I heated up water in the tea kettle and poured a cup at a time through the unused grounds to make more coffee throughout the morning while I worked.
When lunch time came around, I hopped in the car and ran to a nearby department store, where I found a KitchenAid coffee maker to replace the dying one. Among the reasons I picked the KitchenAid was that not only was there a good separation between the water reservoir and the coffee basket, the reservoir detached, so I can rinse it out each time before I use it. It also uses the same water filters as the old machine. I had ordered a set of replacement filters during the long cleaning weekend, and didn’t want them to go to waste.
I made a fresh pot of coffee.
Michael, of course, couldn’t let the old machine die.He tried cleaning it some more, noticed that the hinge of the lid was broken, and pointed out a few other problems. Eventually he took it all apart, then partially reassembled it. He finally got it perking, which is when I took this picture. To me, this picture is sort of like looking into the chest of a person who has been opened up on the operating table exposing their heart and lungs for everyone to see.
Michael’s stated reasoning is that if he could fix the coffee maker, then we can take it to Goodwill or give it to someone who we know who needs it, and they will have a working machine. That’s true, but only part of this issue.
Michael is a packrat, too. We aren’t quite the same sorts of packrat. I have a tendency to hang onto old appliances and other pieces of equipment after we have upgraded them to use as a back up. If the new machine breaks, I can use the old one until I can get the new one repaired or replaced. But I also hang onto things for sentimental value. Sometimes ridiculously small amounts of sentimental value, I admit. I usually remember who gave me various books, toys, plush animals, et cetera. So each and every one of them has the potential to be a memento of a friendship or other relationship.
Michael tends more to the useful devices. Not just as potential backups for us, but for other people. If a friend’s iPod dies, for instance, he’ll pull out this stash he has of old iPods that he has refurbished to see if one of them will work for the friend. Similarly with computers, and all manner of other gadgets and devices.
So, of course, he can’t let me just throw away the coffee maker. At least not until he figures out whether it can be fixed.
And he seems to have gotten it working, though there still is the problem with the hinge on the lid (he did at least get it to lay flat, again, but it’s just a removable lid, no longer attached), and of course the original design flaw that means if anyone does use it, they will probably eventually get coffee grounds in the reservoir again and gum up the whole thing again.
But it’s working, again. What the heck am I supposed to do with it now?