When coffee maker grinds to a halt, it's no-go to the flow


Without caffeine there is no intelligent life at our house. So when I broke the pot to the coffee maker it was a crisis.

I tried a back-up pot. I tickled the belly of the coffee maker with a wooden spoon. I made long-distance phone calls. I drove miles before finally finding an answer to my coffee-making problems in the paint department of Sears.

I found the substitute pot, called a carafe in coffee-maker jargon, in the pantry . I have a healthy supply of spare parts because our household has broken virtually every coffee maker that has come off the assembly line. We once owned a fancy coffee maker that, for a time, obediently ground the beans and made the coffee while we were snoozing. But after a few months, the brainy coffee maker got a mind of its own and started making coffee at 2 o'clock in the morning, and some days not at all.

We once owned a simple trickle-down coffee maker, shaped like a big hourglass. It worked well until it got banged against the faucet. Then it was shaped more like a 45-minute glass, and its trickling days were over.

When our latest coffee maker, a neither fancy nor plain 12-cup number, went on the fritz, I shoved the spare pot into the machine and began poking the coffee maker's belly with a wooden spoon.

The spoon-jab was an attempt to outfox the Pause 'N Serve feature. This is a little something the manufacturer dreamed up to let impatient people pour themselves a cup while the coffee is still dripping into the pot. Pause 'N Serve is a trapdoor that sits on the bottom of the basket holding the coffee grounds. When you pulled the carafe out from underneath the basket, the trapdoor would swing shut. The downward flow was halted and coffee backed up in the brewing basket, like a river pooling behind a dam.

When the carafe moved back under the basket, pressure from its special lid, a lid that looks like a wrinkled beret, reopened the trapdoor. Once the door was open, the coffee flowed like the Jones Falls after a rainstorm.

That is how the coffee maker worked if the carafe was tall and lean and topped with its snug-fitting, wrinkled lid. But the one I tried to use as a substitute was short and fat, and the trapdoor wouldn't open. Even when I tried to make the substitute carafe taller by putting the lid from the broken carafe on it, the back-up pot was still too short to reach the trapdoor.

So I tried to pry the trapdoor open with a wooden spoon. This worked for a while. Some steaming coffee did come rolling out of the bottom of the basket. But instead of running down into the pot, coffee streamed down the handle of the spoon and onto my fingers.

That hurt. So I put on one of those insulated mittens normally used for holding a hot pot and held the wooden spoon. Kitchen appliances are supposed to make your life easier, but there I was, hunched over my coffee maker, pressing a wooden spoon against its belly, trying not to scream as the hot coffee soaked through the insulated mitten toward my fingers.

This spoon-and-scream method produced about three cups of coffee. Once I got caffeine in my bloodstream, I was able to phone for help.

I called the manufacturer, the Proctor-Silex Hamilton Beach outfit, on its toll free number ([800]-851-8900) to order a new pot. Making a toll-free phone call is a great idea if you have some big book you want to read, like "War and Peace." After talking to a computer, punching some numbers on my telephone and even telling the computer that "Yes, I want to stay on the line," I eventually talked to a live person.

The live person said the company was temporarily out of my kind of coffee pots. The live person said I should check Sears and True Value Hardware stores, because those stores sold pots that fit my kind of coffee maker.

It was dark by the time I got to the Sears in Glen Burnie off Ritchie Highway. I was tired but closing in on my prize, a tall carafe with wrinkled lid. The coffee carafes were in the paint department. Who knows why.

I paid for the carafe in the washing machine department.

When I got the carafe home I saw it was the wrong color. Its handle was white, the rest of the coffee maker was black. I pulled the broken carafe from the trash, removed its black handle, and put the black handle on the new glass pot. I finished my coffee pot quest about 10 o'clock at night.

It had been a long difficult undertaking. But it was worth it. The following morning, coffee flowed and life returned to normal.

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