Coffee cup

When it comes to coffee, writes James Lileks, people have opinions. (Mohd Hafiez Mohd Razali/Dreamstime/TNS)

"Do I smell something burning, or is it the COVID?"

We're told that olfactory anomalies are a side effect of COVID, but isn't that loss of smell? Well, to be honest, the list of symptoms is all over the map.

My wife caught the scent, as well, and she recently tested negative, so it wasn't COVID. With all my manly powers of deduction, I said it smelled like an electrical aroma, with top notes of bacon. Had she been forcing bacon into the outlets?

"Why would I do that?" she asked. "How would I do that?"

"Well, you'd tie it to a knife, I expect. No? Then we have to eliminate every possibility. Nothing seems to be on fire, so perhaps it's an outdoor scent that wafted inside. Perhaps the neighbors are forcing bacon into the outlets."

I thought nothing more of it. Hours later, I filled up the coffee pot and flicked ON. It did not go ON. No red light. Hmm. Is the outlet bad? Should I wire bacon to a knife and see if it's live? No, try another appliance. It worked. I unplugged the coffeemaker, plugged it in, flipped the switch. Red light. Ah. Good. That was odd.

But it did not gurgle. You know that sound your coffeemaker produces? The deep borborygmi of intestinal activity? Nothing. It had all the makings for coffee, yet refused to produce the precious ichor. I could send it back, but the warranty was expired. Why do I never get spam calls about this? "We've been trying to reach you about your coffeemaker warranty." I'd listen to that.

Then I remembered the morning scent. Aha! When my wife came down for dinner I said, "I have deduced that no one has been forcing bacon into electrical outlets."

Her expression indicated that she did not see me in a deerstalker cap with a large magnifying glass, the modern incarnation of Sherlock Holmes.

"The smell was the coffeemaker. See? It is on, yet it cannot produce a drop. The heating element is as cold as a banker's heart. The scent you detected was its dying throes. Elementary, really."

"My hero!" she said, and swooned into my arms.

I had a sinking feeling, though: I would have to get another coffeemaker. Worse, I would probably write about it, and that would produce a torrent of e-mails about how you've had a Mr. Coffee that's worked since 1977, or I should really be hand-grinding my beans with river rocks and French-pressing my java, and so on. When it comes to coffee, people have opinions.

It also meant plunging into the boiling hell of Amazon reviews, where one person says it's the best thing ever and the next person says it created a time-space distortion field that wiped out their genealogical line back to Genghis Khan, and someone else gives it three stars because the company promptly replaced the unit after it exploded and speared the family parrot with a shard of carafe, and someone else gives it one star because the delivery person had too many tattoos.

But wait. If I had to go online to order a new one, maybe I could find a fix for this. I googled (brand name of coffeemaker) "electrical fire smell" and got a million complaints. Apparently, that coffeemaker has been smelling like outlet knife-bacon since 2005.

To make a pointless and unnecessary story shorter so you can get on with your day but have the satisfaction of knowing there was a point to all this, I ordered a coffee pot.

The manual suggested that the company was not inclined to spend the money to run the copy past a native English speaker, since it said things like: "Coffee will drop into carafe" and, my favorite, "Use more scoop for power coffee blend."

A few days later I was at the Giant Swede's house, watching the Vikes, and I noticed he had the same machine I'd just gotten rid of.

"How long have you had that one?" I asked.

He said, "Oh, 15 years."

"What? You're kidding me. Mine didn't last two."

"That's because you fill the tank from the carafe," he said. "I've seen how you do it. You use the carafe. It's full of oils from the coffee, they get into the mechanism, short out the heating element."

I should note that the Swede is an engineer. I should also note that I asked him, with considerable pique, why he hadn't warned me about this, not once, in the decades he has watched me make coffee.

He shrugged. "Never came up until now."

Male friendships in a nutshell.

By the way, the new one I bought broke the first day. The clock couldn't be set. Granted, I used my finger to push the buttons. You know what's on your skin, right? Oils.


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