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January 26, 2004

Buzz Buzz Buzz

We finally collapsed the dither function on a new coffee machine, though not without some added extra dither. The Bodum shop was selling the small version of the electric Santos, reasonably cheap. They also had a good price on the large one, but didn't have it in stock. So we bought the small one, and then spotted that the Starbucks right next door was selling the Barista Utopia for less than Bodum's reduced price on the identical large Santos. Some time later, we'd returned the small one, and bought the big one (and two grande skinny lattes with extra shots and two lollipops, which between them added 10% to the price of the machine).

This is an electric vacuum brewing machine. I've owned a Cona in the past; they make lovely coffee, but are far too troublesome first thing in the morning. Remember, we're the people who enumerate 'coffee disasters' for filter machines:


  1. forget to put water in
  2. forget to put coffee in
  3. forget to put filter in
  4. forget to put jug in
  5. forget to plug in
  6. forget to switch on
  7. put water in the place where the coffee goes
  8. put coffee in the place where the water goes
  9. put beans in the filter instead of ground
  10. leave the hopper out of the grinder so the coffee goes everywhere
  11. grind the coffee twice so the hopper overflows
  12. add the water twice so the machine overflows
  13. making coffee with half the water you intended too so it comes out too thick
  14. forgetting to empty old coffee out of the jug before you start
  15. leave machine turned on overnight

[EDIT: I forgot a whole pile the first time. And we've done each of these at least once, most several times.]

We have friends who use a Cona all the time, and who have an exciting history of coffee disasters far more spectacular than ours. After all, filter machines rarely implode, or fall off the stove spewing near-boiling coffee all over the kitchen.

The promise of the electric Santos is to deliver vacuum-brewed coffee with no more hassle than a filter coffee machine. The web offers mixed reviews, partly because of the original high price, and partly because this machine does not allow you to tinker the way that stovetop vacuum brewers do. But the biggest gripe is inconsistency of timing; and that's because this gadget is, at heart, an electric kettle -- and individual electric kettles vary considerably in the point at which they turn off. So you have to fiddle with your specific machine until you have the right combination of coffee quantity, grind, strength of vacuum seal and slope of kitchen counter. After which it's highly consistent.

Anyway, we've brewed two pots so far, and jolly nice they were too. It's superficially harder to clean than a filter machine -- but actually easier, because of all the bits in a filter machine that you can't get to and which eventually clog up your coffee. It does have that classic Cona taste, where you get all the flavour and no grit. And it is, unsurprisingly, great fun to watch.

Incidentally, the Rhyl SeaQuarium may be the single worst value tourist attraction we've ever visited. I'm not exaggerating in the slightest here; it has remarkably few fish, it majors in UK coastal fish, which tend towards the grey and dull, there's very little educational material on the walls, the roof leaks in wet weather, and it charges 5.50 for an adult and 4.50 for a child or pensioner (though Jonathan was free). Several of the exhibits were closed for winter, though there was no reduction in charges. It kept us entertained for 37 minutes, of which at least half I spent trying to take pictures of the dozen or so tropical saltwater fish while the kids moaned at me to hurry up. Don't go there. Next time we're in the area, we will try the Blue Planet Aquarium, one of the UK's largest, which is slightly more expensive but holds much more promise.

Posted by Alison Scott at January 26, 2004 12:57 AM