Early Morning Tragedy, the Epitome of Espresso, and Why You Won’t Find a Starbucks in Italy
Early Tuesday morning, I experienced a moment of panic brought on by the thought of starting my day without caffeine. My Keurig coffee maker spat and sputtered with an awful sound I can only liken to a death rattle. My pulse quickened as I franticly began to reassure her everything would be alright. “Stay with me. It’s not your time. Please don’t do this to me.” Nothing. She was silent. I stared at her face for a moment with a flood of terrible thoughts racing through my mind. That’s when I noticed the light had not left her. It seemed she was trying to tell me something. “De-Scale,” was all she could say in those last few seconds. Unsure what to do, or how to do it, I immediately began the equivalent of coffee pot C.P.R.. I knew I was not properly trained to do this, but I could not just stand there and do nothing.
Gently at first, I began to tap my dear Keurig on the head. Still no response. I took a deep breath and shook her several times. I can’t be sure if it was wishful thinking or if it really happened, but I swear I heard a faint gurgle. Encouraged, I intensified my efforts to save her. I lifted her off the counter and slammed her back down several times. But it was useless. Time to call it, I thought. I gently unplugged her and watched the light fade from her eyes. I bowed my head in a moment of silence and shuffled off to the shower.
Later that day, I scoured the internet to find out what had happened. In a way, I almost wish I hadn’t. I did not like what I found. I was the cause of her death. For over a year, I had neglected to clean her properly. Although I had regularly cleaned the water reservoir and K-cup holder, I had not infused her core with distilled, white vinegar as recommended. But, I was assured I could bring her back if I followed through with the recommended procedure. As I cleaned my dear Keurig later that evening, I had a Pet Cemetery moment and wondered if she would be the same. Would she be just a shell of her former self? Would I be able to trust her?
After running well over forty ounces of vinegar through her veins, I realized the instructions also advised to let her sit overnight before flushing to complete the cleansing. I knew I would not be in the mood to spend a half hour running fresh water through her the next morning before drinking my first cup of java. “Wait, my Bialetti!” I suddenly realized I could call upon my old love to keep me company. I eagerly began digging through my vast collection of kitchen gadgets and gizmos to find her. There she was. Next, I found a full, sealed bag of beans in the freezer waiting for the grinder. I carefully began making preparations. I had forgotten my daily ritual of preparing coffee with Bialetti. It was a welcome change to the zombie-like act of staggering to the kitchen each morning, dropping in a K-cup, and pressing a button.
I poured a handful of beans into my grinder and gently held the lid down to start the process. The sound was very soothing. The harsh, loud sound of beans being splintered gradually gave way to a gentle hum as the beans were reduced to a fine powder. Next, I slowly filled the base of my Bialetti with filtered water and inserted the funnel. Carefully, I poured the finely-ground beans into the top of the funnel. After replacing the top of the Bialetti, I hand-tightened it and stood back for a moment, admiring the elegant, yet simplistic aluminum sculpture that would deliver the best coffee I have ever experienced. Ah, the memories. My mind wandered, and I was taken to a different time and place.
It was the summer of 2006, and I had finally made it to a place I had wanted to go ever since I was a child. Rome, Italy. I spent three weeks on a tour of Italy. Spending three days in each city was just enough time to take in the main attractions and mingle with the locals while practicing the Italian I had studied for six months. The best way I found to connect with the locals was either over breakfast or at the bars. No, not that kind of bar. In Italy, a bar is a place of social gathering throughout the day where one can order a coffee, Panini, gelato, wine, or other simple, edible treats. They are not the loud, dimly lit, smoky establishments we have here. Often, they can be found in small markets, shops, and restaurants. Also, there are usually no chairs or stools at the bar. I loved these places. Aggressively-spoken Italian was often punctuated by a short, staccato burst of laughter. This, I thought, was the essence of the Italian people. I found that they were very receptive to my limited Italian vocabulary and were very appreciative that an American had taken the time to learn their language just for the fun of it. In every city, the locals would buy me a cup of coffee to show their appreciation for respecting their culture. Of course, I always repaid the favor and bought them a cup.
At the bars in Italy I came to know of Bialetti. The coffee I was served in Italy was perfecto. It was served warm—on the verge of hot. Italian coffee had a strong, full flavor and a velvety texture. Served with some fresh cream and no sugar, it was a rich, smooth beverage that I could not stop drinking. During breakfast one morning, I struck up a conversation with a waitress and asked what was the secret to their coffee. She smiled but did not say a word.
As she walked away, I discretely thumbed through my Italian dictionary to make sure I had not said something off subject. No, everything was perfect. Now I was really puzzled. But, a few minutes later, all was revealed. She returned with a small, aluminum coffee pot and sat down beside me. “Bialetti,” she cooed in a voice that I’ll never forget. Saying nothing more, she gently slid the device closer and motioned for me to pick it up. Despite its small size, it was heavier than I expected. It was made of cast aluminum and had a small, octagonal base not much larger than a coffee mug. Above the base, was what resembled a miniature pot with a handle and a lid.
I unscrewed the top and discovered a small funnel inserted into the base. From the looks of it, I assumed the water in the in the base percolates through the coffee grounds packed into the funnel. Later that day, I went to a local market and found a Bialetti of my own to take home with me. Inexpensive, compact, easy to use, and great results. It was perfect. In fact, it is so perfect that you will not find a Starbucks in Italy, for their coffee is better and cheaper.
I used my Bialetti every day for the next four years. Then, as is happening to many other people, I fell prey to the allure of the shiny, fancy, Keurig. Monkeys we truly are. The rest is history. My dear Bialetti was banished to the cold, dark corner of the lower cabinets in my kitchen. Silently, patiently, she waited. She knew I would be back. Now, Keurig is the one in exile. Bialetti, I can never quit you.
Check out http://www.bialettishop.com/ to discover the magic.