Michiana Chronicles: Mr. Coffee

Sep 1, 2017

Mr. Coffee
Credit Andrew Kreider

I am on a trip to the big city with two of the kids.  Our room has two beds, a lamp, a table.  And on the table, a small black coffee maker.  That’s the ticket right there – big city prices for coffee are terrible.  Starbucks can wait – we’re going to brew our own coffee on this trip.  At least that’s the plan. 

Sunrise on the first day.  Turns out the hotel only provides a small amount of coffee for each room.  We have run out of our allotted baggies by 9am.   An entire day without coffee yawns before us.  The coffee maker sits smugly on the table.  It thinks it’s done for the day.  But not so fast - we have designs on you, my little plastic friend.

I head out to the Duane Reade drugstore on the corner.  Twenty minutes later, I am back with a 12 oz bag of ground coffee, and a package of paper filters.  Now admittedly, the filters look big enough serve as hairnets at the Rise n Roll bakery.  But they should do the trick.  

Sliding open the tray at the top of the coffee maker, I place a filter paper in the small receptacle.  Onto the paper, I pour a modest amount of coffee, then fold over the remaining paper.  Twice.  Finally, I shove the drawer closed again, mashing the overhanging paper out of sight.

I press the large switch marked “BREW” and watch with eager anticipation.  After a minute of rising pressure, Mr. Coffee – as we refer to him –  sputters into life.  I watch with fascination as hot water dribbles off the top of my improvised coffee bag, spilling out every side of the tray, but putting only a couple of teaspoons of liquid actually through the coffee.  I have, it seems, prepared a small glass of muddy espresso, while simultaneously steam-cleaning a generous section of carpet.

The kids shake their heads at me.  I give up and go to Starbucks.  We’ll try again tomorrow.

Day Two.  I’m back for another try.  Maybe the problem yesterday was the folded-over paper.  I take out a paper filter and tear away a ring on the outer two-thirds of the circle.  I am left with a disc the size and shape of a split avocado.  I lay it gently in the coffee tray and pour coffee grounds on top.  The grounds shift uncomfortably in their paper nest as I close the door.  

Another push of the button and Mr. Coffee is roused from slumber.  This time, no soft start.  Just a jet of steam, followed by an overflowing cascade of soggy coffee grounds from every side of the tray.  I am reminded of the time I stood on an ant hill and was greeted by the entire neighborhood in protest.  The steam-cleaned carpet is now swimming in dark brown dots.  The kids look at me and shake their heads.  I give up and go back to Starbucks.  In the distance, I hear a self-satisfied gurgle.

Day Three.  I refuse to be beaten by a ten-dollar appliance.  At this point, it has become a matter of principle.  I take a paper disc and tear a curved piece off both sides.  I place it in the tray, pour coffee in the middle, then fold the two rounded ends over the middle to make a tent.  The tray slides home with ease.  I have a good feeling about this one.

Mr. Coffee stares at me warily with his single red eye.  I press the brew button and wait.  Oh, for crying out loud, wouldn’t you know it, I have now succeeded in making the equivalent of a slip and slide - the water hits the top of my paper tent and flows straight out the front of the coffee maker.  At least I have put a tray under the machine this time.  It rapidly fills with water, covering the mirth in the room.  The kids look at me and shake their heads.  I give up and go to Starbucks.  I hate Mr. Coffee.

Day Four, our last chance.  My son has had enough.  He suggests that I stop making coffee and let him do it.  After some vigorous coffee filter origami, he produces a perfectly porous coffee sachet, packed to the gills with grounds.  Within seconds, Mr. Coffee realizes he has met his match.  Hot water descends perfectly through the improvised bag, making a exquisite mug of Pike Place for the enraptured room.

I knew it could be done.  I don’t care if it wasn’t me that did it.  It only took four days, but we finally got a decent cup of coffee in our hotel room.  Just like I said.  The kids look at me and shake their heads.  But I’m off to Starbucks – apparently, I qualify for a free drink.