Refreshing bath helps coffee maker perk up

March 20, 2004|By ROB KASPER

THERE IS NOTHING more irritating than a smart-aleck machine. You know the type. It flashes snickering messages at you. It travels a preprogrammed path, and expects you to meekly follow.

I have battled many forms of the species - car radios that select their own stations, washing machines that take their sweet time releasing lid locks, rental cars that automatically lock the doors. My antipathy toward modern phones (thanks for all those cards and letters from the hardcore corded-phone devotees) is a matter of record.

This week I encountered yet another assertive appliance, a coffee maker that nagged me about proper hygiene.

The battle began one morning this week when I padded into the kitchen and rather than being greeted by the customary welcoming aroma of freshly brewed coffee, was instead confronted by a machine on a cleanliness strike.

The coffee maker's "on" button was pitching a fit, repeatedly blinking its red light. The only way I could come up with to stop the annoying blinking was to unplug the coffee maker. Unplugging the coffee maker wiped out any chance that it would continue to perform its usual service of making a pot of coffee early in morning, when I am upstairs in my pj's.

Until this flare-up, the coffee maker, a 12-cup DeLonghi, had been pleasant company. It made a good cup of coffee. It was easy to clean. It was obedient. It did not appear to have any "issues."

Little did I know that behind that gleaming exterior lurked a high-maintenance neatnik.

By blinking its light, the machine was demanding that its innards be cleansed.

Who knew coffee makers could be so sensitive?

I found a hint of the coffee maker's fastidious nature in the English-language section of its multilingual manual. The section titled "descaling" described a cleansing ritual, and said it was supposed to be undertaken after "40 cycles." This, I figured, meant after brewing 40 pots of coffee, a mile marker that had long been passed. The process was designed to remove lime-scale deposits from its vital ports and parts. Lime scale, I learned, is the result of hard water, and its unwelcome deposits disturb the machine's well being.

But nowhere in the manual's many pages or troubleshooting chart was I told that if your coffee maker starts blinking, it is a cry for vinegar.

To find that out, I had to call an 800 number. To get that telephone number, along with the all-important model number and serial number, I had to turn the coffee maker upside down, a move best attempted in the kitchen sink. There, emblazoned on the bottom of the distressed machine, were the particulars needed when addressing the help line.

The woman on the coffee-maker help line, told me in a pleasant sort of way, that my machine had been neglected. To make things right, she recommended the ablution rituals set out in the manual's "descaling" section.

I put 2 cups of white vinegar and 3 cups of cold water in the coffee maker's water tank. I started the brew cycle, but stopped it half way through its routine. This allowed the machine to soaks its sullied parts in the vinegar bath, thereby ridding them of the dreaded lime scale. Next I restarted the machine. Later I rinsed any hint of vinegar from the coffee maker by filling its tank with cold water, and brewing pots of nothing but water until the brewed water stopped smelling like vinegar. This took two pots.

Yet even after the vinegar ritual, even after its parts had been purified, the machine's on button was still blinking. What a complainer. To quell it, I had to simultaneously push the "hour" and "minute" buttons on its timer. Again, advice on how to soothe the distressed machine came from the help-line lady, not the manual.

The help-line lady also suggested, in a pleasant sort of way, that I had probably overlooked the machine's water filter needs as well.

Sure enough, the chlorine filter in its water tank was supposed to be changed after "80" cycles, a long-gone landmark.

Taking care of the coffee maker's chlorine filter required calling another 800 number, and conversing with another woman with a pleasant voice. This woman might have had second thoughts about shipping new filters to a household with an obvious history of chlorine filter abuse, but she accepted my order.

In seven to 10 days, the innards of my coffee maker should be pure. Maybe then it will just shut up and brew.

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