I'm reading Mark Frauenfelder's wonderful new book, Made by Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World, and on my lunch break I got to the chapter on his love of espresso. Frauenfelder had been making espresso at home for years but couldn't make a perfect cup -- a "Godshot" -- consistently. He visited a successful commercial espresso brewer to get some tips, and this fellow told him that his $500 home espresso machine would never be able to give him consistent results. Writes Frauenfelder, "He said buying a brew system like a Chemex (a glass carafe popular with coffee geeks) would be easier to master and more fun."
A Chemex! I haven't thought of those in years. My parents had one, as did, years later, my friends Bruce and Gena. With my love of all things circa Mad Men, I'm surprised I haven't considered buying one, if only for nostalgia's sake. I Googled Chemex when I got back to my desk, and sure enough, they're not only still being made, they look exactly as I remember them. One wouldn't look at all out of place in Pete and Trudy Campbell's apartment.
I wondered how much one of these babies would set me back, so I looked 'em up on that purveyor of all things, Amazon. Between thirty and forty bucks for most models, it seems -- not too bad. I scrolled through the "customers who bought this item also bought" list: special coffee filters, a special lid, a special cleaning brush. Lots of books on how to brew and enjoy coffee. All of these items seemed to be rated highly and enjoyed by customers. And then, mixed in with all these well-liked coffeecentric items, a popcorn popper. Specifically, the Toastmaster 6203 Popcorn Popper, rated an average of one-and-a-half stars by 38 people. What was this? I love reading terrible things about products on Amazon, so I quickly clicked to the reviews page. Apparently, the 6203 has a tendency to burn popcorn (also to spew superheated, unpopped kernels of corn all over the kitchen counter and floor). People described it as "junk," "not so snazzy," "a dangerous dud," and "worst consumer product I have ever bought." But why would people who love brewing a good cup of coffee by hand be buying this crappy popcorn maker, too? One of the reviews gave me the answer: apparently you can roast coffee beans in a popcorn popper, and this lousy model does that just fine. That's what I learned today.