The “Coffee Achiever” evaluates her options … and priorities

As you may recall, I like my morning cup of coffee. Well, a couple of Saturdays ago, I woke up to make my morning cuppa only to find my standard-issue coffee maker had passed on during the night. (It was a good thing it was a Saturday, too. I had just come off of a particularly busy and stressful week at work and–as “A Coffee Achiever”—if it had died the day before, I’m sure I would have curled up into a little ball and cried.)

I had a brunch date with girlfriends, so I fumbled my way through a shower, pulled on some clothes and navigated my way to the restaurant (a risky maneuver, as I really shouldn’t operate heavy machinery without caffeine in my system). I ordered a cappuccino upon arrival and was then able to think clearly enough to devise a rough game plan:

  • The coffee maker needed to be replaced asap.
  • The death of my coffee maker presented an opportunity to explore new coffee-making options.
  • I could either make a decision quickly or drive to my “cabin” and fetch my coffee maker from there as a temporary substitute until I made a decision.

coffee-32376878468I spent Saturday exploring my options. I wanted something simple, but that would make really good, strong coffee. So I asked for opinions on Facebook about the various one-cup (pod) options. Last fall, while visiting my brother-in-law’s family, I had fallen in love with my sister-in-law’s very expensive “super-automatic” espresso machine. I wasn’t seriously considering spending so much on a replacement, but as I explored other options, I kept coming back to the Saeco espresso machine. As a master of the fine art of rationalization, I could justify it. After all, I drank coffee EVERY DAY. Plus, the super-automatic would make it easy for my husband to make a cup at his convenience throughout the day. But the online reviews pointed to a somewhat temperamental machine and it seemed a bit extravagant for a sensible Midwestern gal like me. So I was more seriously considering a Bonavita coffee maker—very highly rated—but simple to operate.

Sunday morning, after my husband ran out to get our morning coffee, I hit up several stores to consider my options. By afternoon, I was tired of decision-making and headed to the store that carried the Bonavita coffeemaker. But looking at it in the store, I wasn’t 100% convinced and thought about driving up to my cabin-condo to fetch my other coffeemaker until I was ready to make a decision. But walking back to my car, I passed another kitchen store and spontaneously popped in to check out the coffeemaker selection. There it was: The Saeco. In about a minute I decided to buy it. I’m worth it, damn it. And I like my coffee.

Oh, you suave Italian playboy, promising bliss and giving only heartache
Oh, you suave Italian playboy: promising bliss… but giving only heartache

Loading the large box in my car, it looked like the box had been opened and taped shut again. I was a bit concerned that it was a return, but shrugged off my concerns and brought my purchase home. While setting it up I discovered—you guessed it—a piece was broken. Augggh! It was 15 minutes until the store closed so I didn’t have time to exchange it. My darling daughter, taking pity on her mother, offered to run to Starbucks the next morning.

The next day on my lunch hour—fortified by that morning’s latte—I exchanged my Saeco. The only other one they had in the store was the floor model. Again, trepidation, but the floor model was kept on a high shelf and the manager assured me it was neither used nor abused, so I took the exchange.

That night I set up the new machine and… it didn’t work! At this point, I was totally disgusted. Damn Italian design! I spent the rest of the evening Googling various models of coffee makers. While reading reviews from people who laboriously roast their own beans, own $500 coffee grinders, and regard anything other than their personally handcrafted espresso to be undrinkable swill, another realization came upon me: I didn’t want to be associated with these people.

When I thought about the times I really enjoyed a cup of coffee, I thought of sitting on the dock at my sister’s cabin in beautiful northern Minnesota or first thing in the morning after a late night of client dinners at a work conference. I thought about sitting on the balcony of my cabin-condo with my husband or catching up with KitKat at the local coffee shop. I decided that I didn’t want to buy something that by its very superiority would lessen those treasured moments.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not passing judgment on someone who buys an expensive espresso machine. Not. At. All. If you like coffee and can afford it, go for it. I did—or tried to. (And if that darn Saeco had worked, rest assured that I’d be typing this while enjoying a lovely latte.)

Not as sexy, but he’s there for you in the morning.

However, the reverence with which some of the online reviewers idolized their espresso machines was as eye-opening as espresso itself. As I found myself spending a ridiculous amount of time trying to settle my own coffee dilemma, their obsessiveness hit a little too close to home. After all, I’ll give people second chances, maybe even third chances, but I don’t extend the same courtesy to appliances. Why was I spending so much time and energy on this one? 

I decided that reliability is more important to me than Coffee Nirvana, so the next day I returned the Saeco and bought the Bonavita coffee maker instead. It reliably produces a decent cup of coffee, and I’ll just savor those transcendent moments of caffeinated bliss whenever they happen to occur.

Florida vignettes, part I: The work chronicles

I recently returned from a trip to Florida. An industry conference brought me to The Sunshine State and since my folks spend their winters there, I tacked on a couple of days to visit them. This trip produced a number of blog-worthy moments. But many of them could be considered incriminating to myself or others, so I’m just going to share with you some random and relatively harmless vignettes.

A room with a view

Generally, when I travel for work, I end up in a room overlooking a rooftop and related heating and cooling systems or perhaps hotel rooms in another wing of the hotel.

Room with a view
Room with a view

This was my view on this trip. Beautiful, right? And even better, I could leave the drapes open the whole time and wake up to the gorgeous sunrise. (Okay, someone on a passing tanker or cruise ship may have caught a glimpse of my naked-out-of-the-shower self, but I’m not going to lose any sleep over it.)

First-world problems

A consistent problem when I travel is what to do about my caffeine addiction. As you may have gathered from my confession about drinking coffee in the shower, I need my morning cuppa merely to cope with the onerous task of getting showered and dressed. I’m also very particular about my joe. My standard coffee is a dark roast, brewed strong (brewed coffee should be completely opaque), diluted with a generous splash of half-and-half, with the addition of a teaspoon of sugar (regular old sugar, not some new-fangled substitute) and a teaspoon of Ghirardelli ground chocolate. Sugar and chocolate are optional (though preferred), but half-and-half is not (although cream, whipped cream and ice cream can be used in a pinch). Bailey’s is also an acceptable substitute, but not recommended on workdays.

A coffee shelf!
A coffee shelf!

So how do I make-do with in-room coffee? I put two pods into the single-serving machine for a nice espresso-like base and, thankfully, Westins provide real half-and-half vs. the wretched powder. In fact, after two days of noticing me using up all four little containers, the maid got wise and left me six. (I left a good housekeeping tip in exchange for this thoughtfulness.)

And guess what? This Westin even had a coffee shelf in the shower!

Miami Vice: A classy joint

At our industry conferences, we typically host dinners for clients and prospects and this event was no exception. The last evening, we hosted a large dinner party. We had rented out the lounge of a fine-dining establishment and planned a generous menu of wine, seafood and other delights. For transportation, our event manager arranged for pontoon boats to shuttle guests to the restaurant along the intercoastal waterway, so everyone could enjoy the beautiful evening and see the various mansions that line the route. Everything was carefully planned to ensure a lovely evening.

Being on the first pontoon to arrive at the restaurant, I ducked off the boat and headed to the restroom to see how windblown my hair was after the boat ride. That’s when things took an interesting turn. I opened the ladies room door to two strippers changing clothes. How do I know they were strippers? Well, to be honest, I’m merely making a judgment based on visual evidence: Fur thigh-high boots, sequined bra, hot pants. You decide.

Our intention was to provide a first-class experience for our guests, so this was an unexpected wrinkle. I stood outside the restroom sending panicky texts to our event planner and sales staff. I wasn’t sure whether they were changing into or out of the attire mentioned earlier, and I was trying to decide whether I should act shocked or amused if the women walked out in full regalia and were spotted by our guests. But eventually the ladies left in their street clothes (vs. street walker clothes) and I breathed a sigh of relief. Crisis averted.

However, that introduction set the tone for the rest of our party. From what we could gather, the restaurant is frequented by those in the import/export business (wink, wink) and their regulars are accustomed to living large. The cars in the parking lot were a motorhead’s fantasy and the bar tab for the 60-person private party in the next room totaled $50k according to the waitstaff. (That’s $833+ per person, if anyone cares to do the math.)

Oysters were served in a giant tub, shrimp cocktail appeared on a ceramic elephant two-feet high, and desserts were served out of a giant silver spoon. (The same size as the tacky wooden one in my mother’s kitchen!) Everything was completely over-the-top in the blingiest, Miami Vice sort of way. Ironically, the whole experience became the night’s entertainment–an unexpected bonus. The food was great, our guests were jovial and a good time was had by all.

After the conference ended, I spent an afternoon on the beach with a few coworkers and clients to rest up for the second half of my Florida adventure–a visit with my elderly parents in the heart of the state. Stay tuned for part II…