Peterson: New coffeemaker has bells, not whistles

From the start, the on-off switch on our coffeemaker was tricky, not a great feat in engineering.

The engineers tried to fit too much into a circle a little larger than a shirt button. The left half of the button was for on, the right half for off, and you really needed small, strong fingers to turn it off and on. My fingers are gargantuan, comparatively speaking.

So we fought for many years over off and on.

It’s not the kind of thing you think about when buying a coffeemaker. You expect, after all these years, for designers to hit on the perfect off-and-on switch, and stick with it. But that’s not the case in coffeemakers.

I would think that a button for off and a button for on would be ideal, instead of trying to pull double duty for a single small button.

We had this coffeemaker for many years – so many that I cannot remember when we bought it or what the old one looked like, or for that matter, what went wrong with the old one. But then I can watch the same movie twice in a matter of months, and enjoy it like it was the first time I watched it, with just a hint of deja vu.

And the coffeemaker plays a key role in our lives. It gets used every single morning, and sometimes, early afternoons when we begin to start dragging prematurely. There’s nothing like a cup of coffee to perk you up.

I made my first cup of coffee when I was 18 years old and a student at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, and it was in a small yellow, four-cup percolator. And it was at night, as I had homework to do, and I was running out of gas. So I filled the basket with ground coffee, filled the percolator with water, and waited.

I overdid it on the coffee, as you could nearly stand a spoon in the cup, and it was so strong that I can still taste it to this day.

It was thick and rich and aromatic, and drinking it kept me alert for studying.

In fact, when I tried to go to sleep hours later, my head was floating on my pillow because I was still so charged on the coffee.

I have not made another pot like it since, although I have been tempted. I know my limits, and I know when taste is excessive. I sometimes will sneak an extra scoop of ground coffee into the basket, but that’s about as dangerously as I live.

But the off-on switch on our trusty old coffeemaker finally gave out, with half the button falling out. We still could make coffee, but this was an impending emergency. There was no guessing whether that was the last cup of coffee this maker would brew.

So I was given the executive decision to buy a new coffeemaker, and there are a dozen kinds to choose from, and none of them looked like the coffeemaker that had brewed its final pot.

I grabbed a middle-of-the-road Mr. Coffee, noticing that it had a single tab to turn it off and on, none of this crazy half-circle stuff.

This coffeemaker had features I wasn’t aware of. It has “regular” and “strong” settings for brewing, and, of course, we always choose “strong,” even though I’m not sure how the coffeemaker can make that distinction. But psychologically, it works; the coffee tastes stronger if the red light is on. It’s bright red, too. And red means warning. So we live on the wild side.

In addition to off and on, you can press the button once more for the cleaning feature when you run four cups of vinegar through the maker – once a month – to clean out the calcification. It’s a 45-minute process, which I know because I read the directions cover to cover. Yes, I am one of those people.

The best thing is the maker’s alert system, a feature that was not explained in the directions. When the pot is done brewing, it beeps four times so you know it’s ready to drink immediately. And it beeps when it turns off by itself after two hours, so you know when to hit the switch to keep the coffee hot. And if you turn it on again to keep the coffee hot, it beeps five times, just in case you forgot to add water.

So it has bells. And it brews a perfect cup of coffee. The bells are a treat. It doesn’t need whistles.

• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental health advocate, a freelance writer and a former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He can be contacted at

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