Achy Breaky Coffee

One of my talents is breaking things. (I have others; they just have not yet been revealed to me.) I am not a physically strong individual. I just use what strength I possess ineptly.

Now, I know that anyone can break anything with enough gumption and/or strength. Give a man a big enough lever, and he can move the world, said Archimedes. Teach a man to swim and he can fish for a bicycle, said no one.

At best, this talent is an inadvertent one; at worst, it portends possible certain probable doom for the planet.

I am not certain that I am incapable of shattering paper.

This talent was discovered the hard way: when I was claiming that I do not have it. I no longer remember what point I was trying to illustrate when I said with my outdoors voice to a group of people, “Nothing’s unbreakable. Right? Who hasn’t broken a so-called ‘unbreakable’ comb?” Perhaps I was talking with a group of fancy people who don’t buy their combs at convenience stores or truck stops, unlike me, but I had in fact lived through the experience of buying and later snapping in half a comb that had “unbreakable” written right smack on it. In. CAPITAL. Letters.

Like some of you reading this right now, no one in this group knew what I was talking about. It turned out that each person’s experience with combing his and/or her hair with an unbreakable comb was only as described on the tools themselves. Bendy, yes. Twisty, uh-huh. Shatter-y? No, just me.

I once broke a Livestrong bracelet. (Livestrong is a cancer research fundraising foundation that sells bright yellow rubber band bracelets that one can wear. Thick and strong, most people just roll them up their hand onto the wrist to which it is usually attached. Like a thick rubber band, which is what they are, they have very little give.) What was I trying to do with it? Put it on my wrist like anyone else does. The thing snapped and flew across the room.

One day last year, I was cooking. It happens. I was cooking something in a Pyrex pan in the oven, which is something I should not do, because I have 1. metal pans, 2. common sense, and 3. I am in a relationship with a girlfriend who is an excellent cook. Back to me. I had a Pyrex pan in the oven, and when I had cooked my food to something just this side of dust it was finished, I removed it from the oven. (You know, it occurs to me that most cookbooks describe this part, which is the most exciting piece of the entire cooking process after all, very blandly. “Remove dish from oven.” That’s how it is phrased. It’s the only thrilling part of the cooking experience, at least for the cook. Whatever the opposite of overkill is, that right there is an example. Underkill.)

I moved the food onto my plate and carried the Pyrex back into the kitchen. And then, because I do not think things through, I placed the thick, glass, hot-from-the-bowels-of-Hell cookware in the sink …

… Did you know that not all Pyrex is the same? (Why, thank you, online world of information.) Corning divested itself of its consumer goods division more than 15 years ago and licensed the name “Pyrex” to other companies, some of which use a different formula for manufacturing glassware from Corning’s classic one, so they sometimes produce glassware that is not as heat-resistant as Corning’s original. Of course, “heat-resistant” was always something of the entire point to anything called Pyrex, so this is head-scratchingly wonderful. If you see a Pyrex product with the red logo in all caps, like this: P Y R E X, that product is one that was made by Corning with the original formula and it is stronger. It is also older, rarer, and no longer being manufactured, so you should buy it whether or not you need it that day or ever. The other logos are the newer products and are usually seen with all lowercase letters, like this: p y r e x; these are not exactly knock-offs, as Corning did indeed grant these companies licenses, but they are not made following the same exact formula. “The more you know …” ™

… I placed the heat-resistant glassware in the sink and hit the faucet. In a split-second, I remembered that objects right out of a hot oven react violently to cold water, so I twisted the faucet back off. One drop of water (this is no exaggeration and is one of the rare occasions in which I can legitimately write “literally”) left the faucet. When it hit the Pyrex, my sink was suddenly filled with shards of glass. Some of the shards were as big as a finger, let’s say the angry universe’s middle finger, but most of the dozens of shards were smaller. Oh, and the billows of eye-scalding steam.

So I break things. Things that were invented with the raison d’être of being less likely to break.

With great power comes great responsibility, so what am I thinking with making my morning coffee in a glass press? (This column is a re-write of one that first appeared in December 2014. It was called, “Mea cuppa.” Helpful readers wrote in with good advice, which I have included below, because good advice is for everyone.)

The French press “is essentially open-pot coffee with a sexy method for separating the grounds from the brew. The pot is a narrow glass cylinder. A fine-meshed screen plunger fits tightly inside the cylinder; you put a fine-ground coffee in the cylinder, pour boiling water over it, and insert the plunger in the top of the cylinder without pushing it down. After about four minutes the coffee will be thoroughly steeped and you push the plunger through the coffee, clarifying it and forcing the grounds to the bottom of the pot. You serve the coffee directly from the cylinder. Be certain not to use too fine a grind unless you have an athlete or a weightlifter at the table; the plunger will be almost impossible to push down through the coffee.” This passage is from Kenneth Davids’ classic book, “Coffee: A Guide to Buying, Brewing, and Enjoying,” and my quote is from the 1981 edition. His more recent edition changes the ground to “coarse-to-medium,” the water from boiling to “just short of boiling,” and loses the weightlifter joke. Oh, and “sexy” is changed to “sophisticated.” That’s too bad.

Just short of boiling? When is that?

He goes on, “The plunger pot was apparently developed in Italy during the 1930s, but found its true home in France after World War II, when it surged to prominence as a favored home-brewing method.”

This may be why, when I first saw one in a friend’s kitchen, I asked if the thing was a “French” press. I knew that much, I guess. I also asked where one turned it on. She didn’t stop laughing long enough to tell me. She knew enough not to tell me, because I break things.

* * * *
I do not remember at what age coffee infiltrated its way into my life. Not childhood, not high school. Like some other substances, it changed my life from that first moment; unlike those other things, it did not derail me on the course of my life.

Several readers suggested getting a stainless steel coffee press. That is on the shopping list; my girlfriend and I have discovered that one of the chain retailers with the initials BB&B often has some pretty good models on sale. We also have a coupon for BB&B. By “we,” I mean she has a coupon.

(We live in a land of malls and chain stores here; the only “mom & pop” stores that are lucky enough to start life in the Hudson Valley seem to be opened simply so the local chamber of commerce can photograph itself cutting a ribbon with a giant pair of scissors. After the ribbon is cut and photos taken, the mom & pop stores are immediately shuttered by the mortgage lender, leaving the chains and mall stores safe from competition. In my clumsy hands, those scissors would break into two large knives.)

The WordPress Daily Prompt for November 17 asks us to reflect on the word, “Percolate.”

The WordPress Daily Prompt for October 13 asks us to reflect on the word, “Clumsy.”

The WordPress Daily Prompt for February 23 asks, “Most of us are excellent at being self-deprecating, and are not so good at the opposite. Tell us your favorite thing about yourself.”

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  1. Leigh W. Smith · February 23, 2016

    Great post, Mark. Where else would I learn the finer points of PYREX versus pyrex and about French-press coffee (which I’d love to have; right now, we use a gifted Keurig, but not the wasteful K-cups)?! [I need an interrobang. Again!] I have broken some “strange” things, too, myself–probably, most notably, whilst, um, contacting the front windshield of a limousine (don’t ask, and I won’t tell!). Maybe we should have a club, except we’d be dangerous if all our members ever got together. I often wonder if I have a condition, because I drop things a lot, but it’s probably just haste/impatience/carelessness for me. I also D’ohed once and put aluminum foil briefly in the microwave, then realized my folly a second later. Fortunately, no explosion, just a ‘bzzt.’ I blame that one on pregnancy brain, which I had at the time. Side note: Have you thought of submitting this, or other coffee-themed posts, to a paying publication, say, maybe for caffeine enthusiasts or some such?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mark Aldrich · February 24, 2016

      Yes, our Dangerous People Anonymous meetings might be harmful for any innocent people passing by.

      You know, I haven’t thought about submitting things from this web site …

      Correction: I have thought about it. And some things (human rights oriented pieces) have been published elsewhere, but I have allowed my natural indolence to get the better of me and have not thought to submit any of my personal “humorous” essays. I ought to. Thank you for encouraging me.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. hemashah · February 23, 2016

    Great comments from Leigh ! I enjoyed your post Mark, and I wondered….ever try out to be a software test engineer ? 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mark Aldrich · February 24, 2016


      I tested HTML for some web sites (one was the web site for the allergy drug Allegra when it was brand-new) in the 1990s. I still use the HTML editor for this web site.


  3. Life With Jess · February 23, 2016

    As I was reading this, I kept thinking, “How did you know?” This is so describing me! What a wonderful post. I was given an “indestructible” bowl for Christmas. New Years eve, it came to tragic end…in 5 million little pieces. Great read!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. rogershipp · March 4, 2016

    Funny! My ‘gift’ is locking-up/ jamming/ causing to freeze” computer programs in classes right after the instructor says, “It’s yours now, class… Don;t worry. You can’t mess it up.” I even warn them! But NO… they don’t listen….

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Mark Aldrich · September 29, 2016

    Reblogged this on The Gad About Town and commented:

    In honor of #NationalCoffeeDay: “Achy Breaky Coffee” by The Gad About Town. #coffee


  6. s1ngal · October 13, 2016

    OMG… if I were a brilliant writer, this could be my POST!!! Wow

    Liked by 1 person

  7. writerinprogresssite · October 13, 2016

    Gave me a great laugh!! I’m known for dropping everything I touch, but I think your history of breaking things absolutely trumps that. Great post!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mark Aldrich · October 15, 2016

      Thank you for offering me the title as record-holder. (Of course, anything I hold I may break.) Thanks for taking the time to comment, too!

      Liked by 1 person

Please comment here. Thank you, Mark.

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