A Tale of Two Coffee Grinders

The first coffee grinder I ever owned was a squat little number, the size and shape of a lunchpail thermos. To grind beans, you took the hockey-puck-shaped lid off the top, poured the beans in and ground them, took the lid off and poured the coffee into a filter. Simple.

It was a stalwart little appliance, a gift from my good friend Rob that lasted about 20 years, until the accumulated hoop stress wore out the exterior. It’s remarkable how you can take all those quiet mornings for granted, just you and your grinder. I think of all the mornings in college and grad school, up early, walking the grinder to the far end of the office or hooding it in an oven mitt so I could grind without waking the rest of the family. I swear, it’s enough to make you sentimental about a blade, electric motor, and a few other parts.

black-n-decker When it gave out, I was once again in the market for a new coffee grinder, and I bought a Black & Decker. There’s an undeniable counter appeal to it. It’s black and stainless steel, and it even reflects the flash in a sort of Crate & Barrel way. It also fits nicely into my lattice of delusion about my kitchen (i.e., “Yeah, it’ll go well with the SubZero fridge we’re going to put in one day”).

b-d assembly It’s works differently than Old Faithful. First, there’s a hinged lid on top, and then the grinds go into a plastic cup. When you’re done, you pull out the cup, take the lid off the cup, and pour out the grinds. If you’re curious, clicking on the images will show you a larger picture. Just say, “I’m a gearhead” while doing so.

Attention Black & Decker: Your product stinks.

  • First, the grinder sounds like a garbage disposal full of Legos.
  • Second, it doesn’t make coffee grinds, it makes coffee dust.
  • Third, this grinder makes a mess. A big mess. As I pull out the plastic cup, take off the lid, put the lid down, flip over the cup, tap the grounds into the filter (and clean off the side of the cup where they stick), the grinds start to go places: on the counter. On the side of the coffee maker. On my hand. On the outside of the cup and lid. And when I’m particularly unlucky, these little motes of chaos make it all the way onto the coffee maker.

bd3.jpg bd4.jpg

Bear in mind all this occurs at my point of maximum vulnerability, when the birds are chirping in the new dawn of a day, when I’m still in my pajamas, sleepy, half-competent, grieving over my beloved old grinder. To subject a soul to such mess and frustration at such moments is cruel incarnate. To coat my grinder, counter, hands and coffee maker with schmutz is just lame.

There’s a Stephen King story, where a John Doe touches some mossy stuff, which over the course of a few days starts to cover him. At the end of the story, while suffering from terminal moss (or perhaps algae), and nearly covered, he knows the gig is up and shoots himself. As the grinds creep up my hand and infiltrate the kitchen, this story keeps coming to mind.

But it works, and I could spend a half-minute every morning for the next 20 years cleaning up after the damned thing. My friend has one, and says she spreads out a paper towel to catch the fallout. This is exasperating. After all, this is company has been around for a while, and it invented the portable electric drill, so a working coffee grinder should be child’s play for them.

Alas, no. The engineering axiom is KISS: “keep it simple, stupid.” Somehow they overlooked the glaringly obvious: Taking out the plastic parts, separating them, dumping the grinds, cleaning the plastic assembly, reassembling it and putting it back in is way too many steps. It’s almost enough to send one into perorations about the decline and fall of American know-how, so on, so forth.

But I just want a cup of coffee … without it, all incisive critiques of global capitalism are more or less impossible.

Think of a marriage, and your mate’s personality quirk that you never noticed when you were dating, but years later drives you insane. When I looked at my future relationship with the B&D (funny, it’s also an acronym for bondage & domination), I envision years of hatred for this appliance, how every unpleasant experience with it will leave a bitter residue in my morning cup, how the accumulation of motes and frustration will lead me to complain about it incessantly, my otherwise partly sunny disposition reduced to tiresome Andy Rooney ranting. Or worse, this insidious accretion of wasted bean detritus will drive me slowly insane, until I do something violent and unpredictable, and you’ll experience the shock of seeing me hiding my face in a perp walk on the 6-o’clock news.

bd5.jpg For my birthday, my wife bought me a new grinder. And guess what? After I grind my beans, all I have to do is take the lid off and flip it over. It sounds better, works better, doesn’t make a mess, and allows me to enjoy a steaming morning cup of joe. I stare at the dull, menacing steel exterior of the Black and Decker and it stares balefully back. I’m sure it knows it’s days are numbered.

The only question I have now is ethical: whether giving it away is like exposing someone else to a Stephen King horror story every time they grind their beans.

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3 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Coffee Grinders

  1. I am extremely for you loss of your original coffee grinder. Losing something like that is tough. I’m going to have to disagree with Shaggy however, because buying preground coffee is most definitely not the answer. Nothing beats a hot cup of joe from fresh ground beans. Just wondering what brand/model your new grinder is. I’m in the market for a new one.

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