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November 2001 - A Load of Drips

Now, I'm sorry to start this time round on a note of confusion, but I need to explain before I start, that the timing of the writing of this particular edition is just a little abnormal.

After the last edition of this piece of old nonsense, where the research had been carried out over a period of thirty years, this time I'm writing before doing the research.

"Nothing unusual in that" I hear you cry, "when did not being aware of the facts ever stop dear old Nick Harvey rambling on?"

No, due to the Half Term holidays being upon us, I've decided to get away for a few days and this has caused a minor scheduling problem in the Comment writing department. So I'm writing this one before I go, but you'll be reading it after I return.

"No great problem there" you're saying to yourselves; but the reason I wanted to explain all this is that I'll probably carry out some of the research while I'm away, and by the time I get back, all the opinions will have changed.

So if you take the trouble to write in about this particular edition, please don't expect anything like coherent answers to your letters.

Indeed, you'll probably have the chance to get me to argue with myself if you can manage to pick me up on any point which is likely to have been disproved as I thoroughly inspect the beverage making equipment of various Cornish hotels and restaurants.

It was many editions ago now that we somehow got ourselves onto the subject of coffee.

I really must thank all of you who wrote in at the time with wonderful suggestions for alternative types of coffee; and alternative methods of preparing the stuff for drinking.

The thing I intend to research at some length whilst I'm away is that strange beast, the filter coffee machine. You know, the thing with the Pyrex jug on it, where the coffee dribbles through from above.

My initial investigations reveal that you bung this sheet of what looks very similar to toilet paper in the top of the contraption and then throw a load of ground coffee beans in on top of it.

Then you fill up the tank thing with cold water and switch on. After a while, and long after you've gone off the idea of a cuppa, the water boils and starts to transfer itself from top to bottom.

Regular devotees of this piece of nonsense should note that at the point when the water boils, the little yellow light either goes off or comes on, dependant on the model of machine being used. You mean you didn't read the July edition? Tut tut! Go back and read it NOW!

The water slowly but surely gurgles its way out of the tank and onto the ground beans. On its merry way it picks up some of the taste from the beans and continues its path down through the toilet paper, out of a little hole and, hopefully, downwards to be caught by the jug.

This is where we come to the first of the problem areas for these types of machine.

How many times have you walked into a restaurant and immediately thought what a lovely aroma of coffee there is in the place? Let me let you into a little secret.

The usual reason for the wonderful aroma is the fact that the dimwit of a waitress has omitted one important operation, essential with this type of coffee machine, placing the jug in position under the dribble.

The wonderful aroma is caused by the fact that under the jug is a hotplate to keep the coffee at what most waitresses think is the correct tepid temperature for drinking.

Without the jug in position, the liquid drips out of the top half of the machine, straight onto the hotplate, and it is the conversion of the liquid to steam on the hotplate which creates the aroma.

Indeed, it is this conversion to steam which is the basic design fault of all these machines, whether correctly operated or not.

There is a strange phenomena about coffee descending from the upper half of these machines which occurs on every occasion, but cannot be explained by the laws of science, logic or anything else. I shall call it the Nick Principle.

The Nick Principle states that when the operator of such a coffee machine watches the dribbling, to see when the last of the brown liquid has left the top half of the machine and descended into the jug; it is 1.03462 seconds after the removal of the jug from the hotplate that the last drip descends.

This happens without fail, for every jug of coffee processed.

Even if you wait an extra 1.03462 seconds before jug removal, there will always be one further drip to come, 1.03462 seconds afterwards.

Now, there IS one way to avoid any problems with the Nick Principle, but it is somewhat unpopular with the Amalgamated Union of Hotel, Cafe and Restaurant Washer Uppers. This avoidance involves the specialist art of instant jug swopping.

However, the art involves the use of both hands, something which your average modern waitress finds almost impossible, so it is not carried out except in the best of restaurants and hotels.

Holding an empty jug in your left hand, you position it adjacent to the full jug on the machine. You grasp the handle of the full jug with your right hand and get ready.

Bearing in mind the fact that you only have 1.03462 seconds in which to strike, you await the next drip from the top of the contraption.

Immediately after that next drip descends, you move both hands in a rightward horizontal direction, substituting the empty jug for the full one on the hotplate. The next drip then descends into the empty jug and lies there, all alone.

It is this solitary drip, sitting lonely in the bottom of the new jug which, under modern hygiene regulations, has to be washed out before the jug is reused.

The constant washing up of jugs with only one drip of coffee in is what serves to cause the upset and unhappiness to the Washer Uppers Union. That's why this instant jug swopping system is rarely used.

It is much more normal in most establishments to simply allow the last drip to descend onto the hotplate and merrily sizzle as most of it turns to steam.

This eventually produces the second problem of these coffee makers, a build-up of a sort of brown powdery material on the hotplate, which stops the heat transfer into the next jug placed upon it.

This is the reason why the coffee which the waitress is convinced you like to drink in a tepid condition is more often than not served cold, rather than tepid.

There is, of course, an easy way of ensuring the build-up of crud on the hotplate doesn't happen. However, this involves wiping the hotplate with a damp cloth, something beyond the scope of most operators.

Whether they think that wiping a cloth over the hotplate comes under the heading of "maintenance" or some such, and must only be done by qualified service personnel I don't know; but what I DO know is that it never gets done.

So you see, that by the time I get back from my break to let you read this, I'll be absolutely gasping for a really HOT cup of coffee.

I'm even tempted to rig the kettle up to the timer on the video recorder before I go away, so as I walk in the door on my return, the kettle's just about coming to the boil and I can get an instant hot cuppa.

Although, perhaps I'd better serve humanity if I didn't go away at all, but stay at home and design a better coffee maker.

Yes, I reckon that's it. I'll work out a way of fitting a combined drip catcher and hotplate wiper to all the existing filter coffee makers out there in circulation.

All that will remain then will be to re-educate every waitress in the country into the fact that your average coffee drinker likes the stuff a darn site warmer than they currently serve it.

The trouble is though, that I just don't seem to have any confidence at all that I'll be able to achieve that second objective. The first one's easy, but the second involves changing a whole way of life for waitresses; and that won't be easy.

Perhaps I should just give up and go away as planned. Yes, on reflection, I think that'll be the best idea.

Providing the text of this edition doesn't leak out before I get back and some dear, darling waitress in Cornwall doesn't poison me while I'm away, there'll be more of these ramblings at the beginning of December, after I've been perked up by my break.

Right, I'm off, where's me suitcase?

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