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Mastering the Moccamaster
The best coffee maker ever? Or my forever nemesis...
One of the hardest things about traveling isn’t braving the lines at the airport, passing through security with an iPad, iPhone, an iComputer, keys, chapstick, a hoodie with a zipper, and miscellaneous bottles of hand sanitizer. Nor is it sitting on a plane for 6 to 12-plus hours in an economy seat that no one who designed one ever had to sit in. Although on my last trip, I used five years of credit card miles to upgrade, which was amazing. I’ve spent 64 years hoping that one day I’d check in at the airport and they’d say that because I was such a wonderful passenger who’s friendly and polite to flight attendants, would I like to move up to business?
Since that ship has sailed, or that flight has flown, I have to find hundreds of thousands of dollars* of things to buy so I can do it again. Maybe a set of Rimowa luggage, or I could add a few bottles of rare, vintage Chartreuse to my collection from a French collector who just put them up for auction and then they skyrocketed in price. I could finally treat myself to a monthlong stay in a Japanese ryokan where I would do nothing but drink tea and eat omakase meals wearing a robe while a gentle stream flows by with little fish lazily floating downstream. Or I could splurge on a snazzy new coffee maker.
I don’t know what I have to do to get back there, but check back with me in 2028 and see how high I’m flying then. Or not.
Getting passed over for upgrades is nothing, though, compared to being introduced to the Moccamaster. My first encounter with a Moccamaster was several years ago, at 2:11am, in San Francisco. I discovered it when I woke up the morning following a journey that began around 6am in Paris time, ending up almost 22 hours later when I finally got to bed.
Having worked nights as a baker most of my life, my brain isn’t wired for normal sleep patterns, and while I’ve heard about “sleeping in,” so far that’s a foreign concept to me. I’m no stranger to waking up at 3am, and especially if it happens when I’m traveling, I just go with the flow and get up and have coffee. It’s no biggie. And when I’m traveling and staying in someone else’s home, I try to be a good guest and tiptoe around the kitchen, making as little noise as possible.
That fateful night at 2:11am marked a turning point in my life. I came face-to-face with the Moccamaster. In the unfamiliar kitchen with the lights dimmed to their lowest setting, I peered at the boxy machine, trying to figure out how to take it apart so I could make a cup of coffee. As I disassembled the six or seven pieces of the machine, I wasn’t sure how I’d ever be able to put it back together properly. I also wondered how could a coffee machine have so many parts.
I also noticed it had a lot of switches. There are two on the bottom—one seemed to be on/off and the other was who-knows-what. Then also there’s a 3-way switch on the side of the cone where you put the coffee and the filter. I learned what that was one day the hard way since if it’s not in the right position, nothing comes out. I don’t know who wakes up and makes coffee…but doesn’t actually want any coffee at the moment.
As someone who uses a straightforward 3-piece Bialetti moka pot, where I pour water in the bottom, put coffee in the middle, and twist on the top, it seems like a lot of pieces and buttons you need to make just a cup of coffee, so at least they got the name right. (My Italian espresso machine is even simpler and has just two parts, the machine and the filter handle, which as the literal name in French notes, is an express way to make an expresso.)
Guests should always be gracious and grateful when hosts offer to share their homes. But if you’re a host, realize that your guests may wake up at 2:11am and do not want to:
1) Grind their own coffee.
2) Wake you up.
If you have houseguests, before you—or they—go to sleep, carefully and slowly explain to them how to make coffee in the morning, so they don’t have to wait four-and-a-half hours until you wake up. Place all the coffee ingredients directly in front of the machine. Do not put the filters in the back of the pantry behind the flour and cans of tomato sauce, because even if you explain to me where they are, I guarantee you that I won’t remember where they are the following morning.
And unless you want to wake up with me (at 2:11am) make sure the already ground coffee is placed within sight of the coffee machine. If you are a fan of grinding your own coffee beans fresh each morning, that’s fine and I applaud you. But bring yourself down to earth for the sake of your guest and grind some coffee for them. Unless you don’t mind being woken up at 2:11am. I’ve been known to take the coffee grinder as far away from my host’s bedroom as possible, with as many doors between us as possible, and wrap the grinder in a towel and pray it doesn’t wake them up.
Better yet, just put the coffee and water in whatever machine you have and tell your guest, “When you wake up, simply press this button here and the coffee will be made for you.” If you have a Moccamaster, explain which of the three buttons they’ll need to press. If your coffee machine has more buttons than that, well…get a moka pot, or better yet, an espresso machine. You, and your guests, will thank me later.
I was a little surprised to learn that the Moccamaster comes from the Netherlands, and after I learned that, I have to say, the original Moccamaster was a pretty cool-looking machine. (I also noticed that it has some look-alike imposters.) The Moccamaster pre-dated the all-American Mr. Coffee, with its very simple two parts: a filter holder and a coffee pot. (What a concept!) To demo its simplicity, the company tapped Marilyn Monroe’s husband** to push it. The machine briskly took off and eventually was selling at the rate of 40,000 a day.
They cost around $25 back then, but according to the article above that I linked to, the cost of Monsieur Café then is the equivalent of $230 today.
The machine above doesn’t look like something anyone would pay $230 for, but 40,000 units a day (which is a million dollars per day) made Mr. DiMaggio another major league hero, which, according to the previous calculation, would be $9,200,000 a day in sales today. If I sold that many books, I wouldn’t have to grovel for an upgrade. In fact, I’d buy out the business class section of the airplane and take all of you with me on my next trip. And all the drinks would be on the house.
The Moccamaster KB of today costs $329 with a silver finish. Truthfully, if I wasn’t so confused about how to make coffee in one, I might opt for the snazzy model in the orange or “yellow pepper” color, even though I’ve only seen black or white pepper. I’ve never seen pepper in this color:
But I love that color so much, I might give them a pass and put a yellow pepper Moccamaster in my kitchen. (The orange is pretty great, too.)
While I was on their website, changing my mind about the Moccamaster, a questionnaire popped up, asking me to take a quiz to discern Which Moccamaster is right for you? None of the questions asked which coffee maker you want to be confronted with in an unfamiliar kitchen at 2:11am.
While I was nearing the end of the questions, a web page popped up that asked me if I wanted to “Join their community,” which maybe I should do—if someone in “their community” could explain what the button on the bottom right does, since no one who owns one seems to know.
Tapping through the questions, when I got to number 3, I assuredly checked “Make it easy!” but was a little exasperated that I had to give them my email address to get an answer as to which Moccamaster was right for me. “Easy” seems to mean different things to them than it does to me.
A week after I’d arrived in California, I had the television on in the background and The Price Is Right came on. It got my attention when I saw a Moccamaster come up as a prize. It was in a color called “beet,” which isn’t surprising since the Dutch are known to love beets, but that may have been lost on the screaming audience, cheering on the contestants who came on down*** to guess the price of the machine, so they could move on to the next round.
To be honest, I would have won it handily since I know much more about the Moccamaster than I ever thought I’d know about a coffee machine, including the price of every model down to the exact dollar. Figuring out how to make coffee in it, though, is still a bit of a challenge, and I’m sticking with my moka pot. However, I could use those 329 toward the two to three hundred thousand miles I need to get back to the U.S. in style, and comfort.
And now that I’ve almost figured out the coffee machine favored by my friends and family, I don’t have to pack my moka pot, although I may bring it as back-up; 2:11am is no time to be figuring out how to make coffee, a situation I know all too well.
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*Lest you think I buy several hundred thousands of dollars of things a year, a lot of those miles were a signing bonus when I got my credit card. That was a one-time thing, and it’s going to be a long slog to get my status back.
**Yes, Joe DiMaggio was a baseball legend, who retired in 1951, before I was born. So to me, his most famous role was the pitchman for Mr. Coffee, and he did a damn good job of pushing those machines. I hope he was on commission.
***The theme song “Come on Down” is just as iconic in America as the decades-old Final Jeopardy round music—which in addition to learning the price of Moccamasters, I learned is called “Think!,” which I’ve spent the last 20 years trying to explain to Romain when I’m humming the song while waiting for him to reply to a question I asked him…and concluded that it’s just as impossible to explain as it is to explain the concept of a game show where contestants are given the answers, and they come up with the questions.
[Come on Down even made it to the dance floor.]