Coffee Stupidity

I drink coffee. A lot of coffee. While I certainly drink coffee for the caffeine content and will drink Folger’s drip if I have to (shudder), I like good coffee. Fresh roasted. Grind it myself.

In particular, I prefer french press. Leads to an intensely flavored cup of coffee that really highlights the strengths of the roast and bean used.

As a result, I have a french press and bean grinder both at home and at work. I’m not so anal as to have spent hundreds of dollars on the grinder, nor am I so careless as to use one of those whirling choppers of death to pulverize the beans (those are only good for fine grinding spices).

Which has led me to the discovery of two intensely stupid industrial design mistakes.

The first is with the coffee grinder I use at work. A Braun KMM30. Now, I’m not normally known to be the most tidy of people. Yet, my coffee grinding/brewing area — the top of a filing cabinet — is a complete disaster area of grounds.

Why? Click through for the rest of the rant….

Because the bloody coffee grinder imparts a massive static charge on the grounds. You can actually see the grounds floating around inside the receptacle. And, of course, when the grounds receptacle is separated from the grinder, there is a massive change in electrical charge that leads to an exploding cloud of grounds flying through the air to stick to every surface within about a foot of the grinder.

I’m trying to figure out a way to ground the damned thing. But since it is all non-conductive plastic, that will be hard. I would replace it with the grinder I have at home (a Mr. Coffee Burr Mill Coffee Grinder ), but it has developed a switch problem that may end up being another rant. From the Amazon reviews, it appears that I am not alone. And others complain of the static problem with that grinder, too. I’d bet it would be just as bad as my current grinder in the dry office environment.

So, maybe, it really is a case of “you get what you pay for”.

Now, once the coffee is ground, it has to be brewed. In my case, I brew in a french press. The french press I have at work is simple and great. You have to remember to line up the pouring spout with the little filters on the lid, but that is about as complex as it gets.

That particular bit of complexity is what my french press at home (a Bodum like this one, but I’m not sure if it is “unbreakable” and I certainly haven’t had melty problems tries to solve.

The lid is designed with a half-circle notch on the same side as the handle. The little half circle on the handle extends over the top of the brewing beaker and you have to line the two up to get the lid on properly, thus ensuring the pouring area is aligned with the spout on the brewing beaker.

OK. Fine.

Since the press is slightly larger in diameter than the brewing beaker (by correct design, it is a filter), you have to press it in a bit. At an angle to get around the little aligning half circle of the handle.

End result: if you either completely fill the beaker or slip slightly when sticking the filter in, you end up with grounds on top of the filter. Then you have to take the damned thing out, wash off the potentially large quantity of grounds and then re-insert, thus potentially changing the brew considerably.

The whole point of the filter is to keep the grounds below it when you press down. And I can’t modify the handle because the little half circle overhang is the only thing holding the handle to the carafe.

Stupid, stupid, design.

Update: DeanG left a rather cryptic comment stating “…no cholesterol comment in regards to the french press”.

Ok… that doesn’t sound good, nor does it give me any info.

So, a few Google searches later and I uncovered what was up (and triggered a couple of memory cells about the whole thing). Some studies indicate that french press coffee does not filter certain oils that are filtered via the drip method. These oils may be connected to an up to 10% increase in cholesterol in consumers.

Initially, I could find only two limited, short term, studies. Other studies have indicated that drip coffee leads to an increase in other heard disease contributors such as homocysteine. Eventually, I did find a longer term study but, frankly, I find it a bit unparseable. Any doctors out there care to send me a summary?

This warrants a post of its own.

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20 Responses to “Coffee Stupidity”

  1. James Duncan Davidson says:

    Yah. The Brazil is not so good in that respect. I tried one and didn’t like it. The Bodum Chambord, on the other hand, works great. I’ve got 3 of em of various sizes and love ’em.

  2. Chucky says:

    Boo on the French Press.

    Tea should be steeped, not coffee. You want the grounds in contact with the hot water for as short a period of time as possible.

    If you’re not partial to espresso based drinks for some reason, try a simple Melita-style paper drip method for a week. You’ll never go back to French Press.

    I know this isn’t on topic, but I thought I ought to mention it. Good coffee is yummier than bad coffee.

  3. bbum says:

    I have had plenty of drip coffee makers and, frankly, I prefer the french press. But, of course, to each his own. Espresso is great, when properly made, but I’m not going to spend $500 for a passable espresso machine and I have yet to find a coffee ship to get a proper espresso. A friend of mine has occasionally brought his machine in to the office and the espresso he produces is unbelievably tasty.

    French press is much more sensitive to crap beans, bad roasts, incorrect temperatures, bad water, and improper steeping than drip.

    I would like to try cold brewing, too.

  4. Chucky says:

    A cheap, simple moka pot produces passable espresso. Well, to be precise, it’s passable for use in cafe con leche, not for drinking straight – for that you need the expensive gear. But if you enjoy the humble cafe con leche, a moka pot can be a real revelation.

  5. ssp says:

    What’s particularly bad about the Bodum design is that the old french press we have is just perfect symmetrical and thus completely fool-proof to use. It’s not that they don’t know how to do these things properly. An attack of the marketing people on common sense to make the design ‘more exciting’ I suppose.

    A shame about Braun as well… they used to be known for their excellent design. But they earned that reputation some decades ago I suppose. I was still taught at school about their design skills and the example shown was a mixer. The problem was – we had that exact mixer at home. It worked perfectly _but_ it was horribly difficult to clean. I ended up having quite an argument with the arts teacher that good design should include the ‘easy to clean’ feature. I think she never really got the point 🙁

  6. DeanG says:

    A dozen or so paraphs, 5 comments…and no cholesterol comment in regards to the french press.

  7. psu says:

    I bought a Solis Maestro grinder (yes, expensive, sort of) because I got tired of the static and dust from my old cheap burr grinder.

    I tend to bounce between 3 kinds of coffee

    1. French press.

    2. Single cup paper filter, when I get tired of the French Press silt and cleaning.

    3. Electric Bodum “Moka Pot”… this is more of a very strong coffee rather than espresso. But it mixes well with hot milk for faux lattes or hot water for a nice American style coffee.

    Oh yeah. I tried the plastic Bodums for a while, but decided that they were crap. The glass ones have a much nicer filter plunger thingy, so you get less crap in the coffee.

  8. Neil says:

    I don’t like the sludge you get in the bottom of the cup from french press coffee, am I doing something wrong? I reckon would be ok for the top of a filing cabinet, too bad they dont do one in stainless steel, I think this one is alu.

  9. otto says:

    Has anyone tried the AeroPress yet?

  10. Steve Israelson says:

    Having never drunk coffee I find it disturing that people spend so much time on the minutae of coffee making. Going so far as to say that each second in the water, grind size, storage of beans and myriad other things is critical! How odd. Now, something I do know about, in rock climbing, a body position change of just a few millimeters can be the difference to making a move and sticking it and failing.

  11. bbum says:

    Clearly Steve has never been in the throes of trying to fulfill a widespread, socially acceptable, addiction.

    Yes, Neil, you are doing something wrong — you are drinking the whole cup of coffee. A flippant answer and only partially correct. The same holds true for Turkish coffee and some other forms of service. It is the price paid for drinking this form of coffee.

    However, the type of bean and, most importantly, the type of grinder used has a huge impact on how much silt is left behind. One of those whirly-blade grinders will produce a huge amount of silt.

  12. Erik says:

    How ironic. I read your blog all the time, and yet I spend one weekend away from my computer and I miss this post. I happened to purchase a Brazil-style Bodum french press just this Saturday. I noticed the same thing about having to tilt the filter slightly to fit it past the handle-lip, but even moreso the lack of a good tight seal in the plastic lid. I cheaped out on the grinder too and bought the Bodum one – I can always upgrade later if I find myself using this a lot, and bring the cheap stuff to work.

    My main issues aren’t with the above though, since it holds “8 cups” and I only make coffee for myself. Rather, I’m still trying to figure out how best to balance between making enough coffee (2 small cups or 1 good-sized travel mug) and making too much coffee, and getting the flavor/strength exactly where I like it. And dealing with the 2nd cup’s worth of coffee getting cold before I finish the first one. And getting the last bits of tiny grounds out from between the filter screen and the metal plate at the end of the plunger (to which the filter screen is adhered).

  13. Ralph says:

    This is the final solution to the problem. Seriously, seems like a lot of money at first sight, but spend it once and you’ll never regret it.

  14. bbum says:

    Except that I’m not really into espresso or espresso based drinks. I like a good pull when I can get one (a rarity), but it isn’t the way I want to drink coffee normally. Personally, I prefer Turkish or Ethiopian coffee (I think — haven’t figured out entirely what it was that I liked so much, but it was at an eastern african place).

  15. Ralph says:

    bbum: a fully automated machine does not limit you to espresso beans. Basically, you can throw anything you can find in there… So you’d just buy those beans instead of Arabica – it’ll work.

    Personally, I have come to love those machines because they are about as convenient as it gets (put the beans in, put water in, push a button and wait for your cup to fill) and the taste of the coffee that comes out is, IMHO, unmatched.

    For most people I have talked to, it all comes down to the question if one is willing to spend the money for such a machine. But if you go with the Swiss Juras or the Italian brands (Saeco, e.g.), you get a really robust machine that only needs some cleaning now and then.

  16. csven says:

    I’d qualify the first issue as a product engineering issue; most likely the result of material selection which most Industrial Designers don’t make (they usually only suggest materials then hope and pray for someone to listen). Sometimes product engineers don’t make those decisions either. An overstock of a particular, less-than-ideal resin might be used because accounting types say it needs to be used. Sounds crazy, but that’s business. Or, in this case, there might be safety concerns which demand a particularly tough material… which just so happens to be lousy in this regard so it’s a compromise.

    The second issue does sound like an ID issue; however, I suspect the designer was aware and offered solutions but was probably overruled by the development team. Having worked on appliance handles (including coffee makers), I can say from experience that improvements are not always well-received. Quite the contrary. Anything that adds to the cost over the simplest – and often most inadequate – solution comes under severe scrutiny. That’s what happens when margins get as slim as they have in that industry.

    So yes, they’re industrial design problems, but that doesn’t mean the Industrial Designer had anything to do with them. IDers usually work below engineering and marketing. And sometimes even the retail buyer gets to make the decision!

  17. bbum says:

    csven; I totally understand. While I know there are some awful IDers in the industry, there are also absolutely wonderful ID folk whose excellent designs are revealed to the market in shite form because of engineering, manufacturing, or misguided attempts at cost reduction.

    Thank you for the insight and the reminder that designers frequently find their product tainted horribly by process.

  18. Arnaud says:

    As you’re talking about French coffee, I just would like to leave a French comment 🙂
    If you want French coffee, you have to drink it in French quantities! As you probably know, we don’t drink coffee by the litter but prefer instead enjoying

  19. Arnaud says:

    Jee!!! I pressed the Enter key too fast! LOL
    Anyway, we enjoy smaller quantity but with better quality. I don’t know if you can find all Nestle products in the US but you should definitively try the Nespresso system.

  20. Charles says:

    I have that same Braun coffee grinder, oh man is it a pain in the butt. For some stupid reason, it makes an exceptionally uneven grind. I make drip coffee, one cup at a time in a Melitta filter (I only drink 1 cup a day) so I set the Braun to medium grind. But for some reason I’ve never been able to figure out, it grinds about 10% of the coffee to dust, which sticks in a big clump to the side of the receiving cup. But still, it’s a better grind than anything else I’ve used (short of pro grinders costing hundreds of bucks). The other problem with the Braun grinder is that it isn’t very clean, it drops lots of grounds all over, whenever you pull off the cup (which you do EVERY time you use it). Why oh why is it so difficult to design a decent coffee grinder that doesn’t create a big mess? I would think it would be a top design goal to not leak coffee grounds everywhere.

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