S1E22. Making Coffee Isn’t Hard…Is It?

One of the first lessons I learned when we opened our B&B on the 4th of July weekend in 1986 was that the coffee had to be good. It was a guest’s first culinary impression of the quality of our food and set expectations for the breakfast to follow.

I spent a good deal of time researching how to make good coffee, experimenting with various beans and brewing methods. I settled on dark French Roast beans that I grind fresh every morning. I learned that the strength of the coffee is determined by the amount of beans used, how long you grind them (grind them long enough and you get espresso!), and the volume of water you brew.

I buy my beans in a 5 pound bag, fill an air-tight glass container for use over the course of the next week or two, then put the rest in the freezer to preserve their flavor.

For 35 years now, my routine has been pretty much the same. I fill my coffee grinder with beans and then grind them for 15 seconds. Then I place a paper filter in the brewing basket and pour the ground beans into the basket, being oh so careful not to spill a speck. Next, from the tap, I fill the coffee maker’s carafe to the 8 cup line (which is really only 6 ½ cups), pour the water into the reservoir, set the empty carafe on the hot plate, press the ‘brew’ switch and wait.

It’s neither rocket science nor brain surgery nor difficult, yet this week, I found a way to screw it up.

Here in our new apartment, we noticed more chlorine in the water than we are used to, so we bought a Brita water filter to restore the taste. That introduced a very minor wrinkle into my coffee-making routine. Instead of filling the carafe from the tap, I take the Brita out of the refrigerator and use it to fill the carafe, returning it to the refrigerator before I continue making the coffee.

I went through my routine this past Monday morning, but to my disbelieving eyes, when I went to pour our coffee, the water was clear…not coffee at all!

I was baffled. How did the water pass through the ground beans and still remain clear? The ‘brew’ light was on, so I know I started the process. I lifted the lid to confirm the beans were there, and they were. I touched them and they were bone dry. I looked inside the reservoir to see if there was any possible alternative route for the water to travel. There was none.

Then I noticed that the water in the carafe was not hot. And I recalled that I had not heard the coffee maker percolating while it brewed, nor the gurgling, sputtering and steaming exhaust when it completed its cycle. Most importantly of all, I hadn’t smelled the glorious aroma of freshly brewing coffee.

And then it hit me:

“DOH! I never poured the water into the reservoir!” 

I had filled the carafe from the Brita and put it down on the counter while I returned the Brita to the refrigerator. That one distraction was enough to sabotage my routine. When I returned to the counter, I picked up the carafe and just set it on the hot plate, forgetting to first pour its contents into the reservoir.

Mystery solved. Explaining what happened to Sally and feeling incredibly foolish wasn’t the worst of it, though. I’m really bothered, not so much by my forgetting to pour the water into the reservoir, but by my thought process when I discovered the water was clear.

The second I saw that the coffee hadn’t brewed, my immediate reaction should have been, “Shit! I forgot to pour the water into the reservoir.” But it wasn’t. I had ignored clues (no aroma and no percolating sounds) that should have made things instantly obvious. Instead, I wrongly assumed that the fault rested with the coffee maker. That’s the bigger error here: assuming I am right and the world is wrong. It didn’t get me into trouble this time, but this kind of thinking is an accident waiting to happen.

On the brighter side, my sleuthing to discover what caused the failure was pretty well-organized and I did accept responsibility once the evidence identified me as the culprit.

Post script: Once the coffee was finally made, Sally and I thoroughly enjoyed it!


  1. Zella Felzenberg says:

    Lesson learned: You are an “old dog” and you still “learn” new things. Not bad for 70ish.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. tencat9511771 says:

    Should I feel bad that I laugh reading your blogs? And I’m not laughing at you but at our humanness.
    But on a more serious matter – I have always been told to never place roasted beans in the freezer, that freezing ruins the flavor because of the inescapable introduction of moisture no matter how air tight you think you have it stored. And even more important than not freezing the beans is the grinder that is used. It’s all about the burr. I wonder whatever kind of grinder they use at Philter?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It does my heart good to hear your laughter!


  3. Martin says:

    Enjoyed you story, Actually you are very fortunate. Like you I am a coffee perfectionist, and I know sometimes small things make a big difference. Every night I grind the coffee (scientifically calibrated Burr grinder, water temp to 205 F), fill the Carafe, and then the reservoir. It works so that coffee is there when you wake up (sometimes you need coffee to make coffee and this conundrum is thus circumvented by making it the night before when I am semi- lucid). I did fill the reservoir and did set the timer correctly and I did put exactly the right amount of coffee in the basket. I did smell the coffee on the way into the kitchen in the morning – however it was exceptionally strong. That was because I had failed to reposition the carafe precisely under the basket and the coffee was all over the counter, the floor, and in the drawers – but not in the carafe. The coffee maker design makes this scenario near-impossible, you have to work at it to replicate the event. Moral of the story – Given enough time all things happen. Mercifully we don’t live forever.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for sharing. Evidently we aging humans are good at going boldly where none have gone before in order to explore the limits of our technology!


  4. Reuben Schonebaum says:

    You should leave the coffee-making to Sally. 😏

    Liked by 1 person

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