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At the breaking point: Like it or not, coffee carafes simply go 'boom'

The Baltimore Sun

Every few weeks, I break the coffee carafe. Not intentionally, though I have to admit it might be a lot more entertaining that way. I could stage every-third-Wednesday carafe-bashings in my kitchen. You could come and watch. And maybe help clean up.

A few of the early breaks were understandable, or at least there appeared to be a logical explanation for the glass cracking. First, there was the time I was nearing the end of a lengthy, dismal housecleaning day. Exasperated with the whole kitchen mess, I loaded the carafe into the dishwasher, right next to the cast iron cook-top burner grates, which are not particularly dishwasher safe, either.

You really ought to keep your distance from me at the end of housecleaning day, or you, too, could end up on the top rack in the pot-scrubber cycle.

Next, there was the time I accidentally banged the carafe against the sink nozzle while cleaning it. Turns out if you hit a coffee carafe just so, it explodes. Then I had to play a tense game of dishwashing Go-Fish, dipping my hands into the soapy water to gather jagged shards hidden among soaking dishes and cutlery.

Finally, I once ran cold water into the carafe immediately after taking it off the warmer. I believe Mick Jagger said it best, in his cryptic yet evocative lyric: "Shattered, shadoobie."

But other times, it seems I've looked at the carafe and, boom! One minute it's in the dish drainer, and the next it has flung itself into oblivion on the tile floor. I feel a little uneasy. My children are starting to gather significant material to create a documentary in the style of The Blair Witch Project about the possessed carafes around here.

It seems more reasonable, however, to look at it this way: That particular carafe had just timed out. It probably had some sort of embedded chip that caused it to self-destruct after a certain number of brew cycles.

Yes, the self-destructing coffee carafe is another product in a widespread campaign against the budget-conscious consumer. It is the marketing dream-scheme of the low-priced item with exceedingly high-priced replacement parts.

Consider this: You can buy your basic, no-frills, 12-cup coffeemaker for about $25. But then, if you have to replace the fragile carafe every six-to-eight weeks for about $12.99, well, even we English majors with a concentration in French can perform the necessary calculations to see that this is no bargain.

Walk with me down the shaving-razor aisle of our local grocery store. Here, we can purchase the most technologically advanced, five-blade razor with flexible head, comfort grip and aloe-oozing strips for less than $10.

But try to buy some replacement blades, however, and they're going to set you back about $25.

For another example, regard the typical computer printer. You can pick one up at office supply stores or discount warehouses for less than $100. Sometimes a printer is tossed in as a freebie with the purchase of a new desktop or laptop.

But do I have to tell you what the printer-ink cartridges cost? Well, the price of a multipack of cartridges often approaches the original printer price.

Clearly, it's time for me to sit myself down with a lukewarm cup of coffee - brewed into a saucepan Rube-Goldberged onto the coffeemaker's warmer with a bungee cord - and type a letter requesting some hard facts before I invest in my fifth carafe of 2007. "Dear Mr. Coffee: What is the average life span of the deluxe thermal carafe that comes with your more upscale coffeemaker?"

Perhaps you think I'm being overly cautious and frugal, but my icemaker recently broke, and we all know what this means. It's probably time to replace the refrigerator.

Contact Janet at janet@janetgilbertonline.com.

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