Finally running out of steam?

Gaggia, the company that brought us the coffee machine that brought us coffee snobs, has gone bust.
Cofee machines were once considered a symbol of civilisation.
Cofee machines were once considered a symbol of civilisation.

Gaggia coffee lovers, your time is up. Better break out the Nescafé Gold Blend. Gaggia UK has gone bust and you won't be able to find those pesky filters and spare parts for weeks, if ever. The electronics company Philips is currently engaged in picking up the pieces - or "wiping up the mess", as one spokeswoman put it this week. It's probably best to postpone smart dinner parties for now, in case you make a mortifying caffeine faux-pas by running out of Arabica coffee pods.

For coffee snobs, Gaggia has always been the most desirable coffee machine to display atop a gleaming, granite kitchen surface. The coffee makers were named after a Milanese gentleman named Achille Gaggia, who invented the first steamless coffee machine in 1938. The machines started arriving in Britain en masse from Europe in 1952, when holidaying Brits began returning from continental jaunts buoyed with enthusiasm for thick coffee instead of that watery sewage made from granules.

Coffee machines became a symbol of civilisation, much as you now see people wandering the streets clasping a Starbucks cup, delighted with how cosmopolitan it makes them seem. The truth is they're probably slurping at a skinny, decaf, hazelnut latte, essentially a grown-up milkshake. But, goodness. Don't they look chic and continental? The great coffee revolution happened in earnest in the 1990s. At one point in the last decade, Starbucks was opening one new branch a day in locations across the globe. Coffee became the new water.

And now can you walk more than five steps anywhere in the world without tripping over a Starbucks or Costa or any one of a million spin-offs? You cannot. There are probably remote Amazonian tribes who take theirs venti, straight up and extra hot with a dash of foam and one sugar. This domination of coffee shops subsequently spread to people's homes. They simply couldn't face propelling themselves through the door in the morning without hitting the switch on their Gaggia and smugly making themselves a ristretto macchiato. Or espresso lungo or doppio. The options were endless. Coffee machines offered "active bean management" with "pre-brew aroma" systems. And if you had guests over, you wouldn't just ask: "Black or white?" That would mark you as dreadfully provincial. What about a hearty mug of Indonesian or Mexican coffee instead? Or a dainty cup of Arabic coffee flavoured with cardamom or saffron? Do the results taste earthy, mellow, grassy or of car tyres?

One person to ask would be Gennaro Pelliccia, the chief coffee taster at Costa, whose tongue is insured for $13.5 million (Dh50m). One wonders what happens if he burns it. No matter the type of bean, you must remember coffee rules at all times. Drinking cappuccino after midday is simply not done. Do so in Rome and you will be laughed at. Honestly. What are you, some kind of savage? (Espresso, on the other hand, may be enjoyed at any time.)

And then there's the one thing you must never do: drink instant coffee. It's social suicide. Look at those adverts of George Clooney smouldering over a Nespresso pod. You'd never catch him tucking into a mug of instant coffee, and therefore you yourself must never sink so low. Last year, coffee machine madness reached its zenith with the creation of the Clover, a machine developed in Seattle that costs $10,000 (Dh37,000) and makes, supposedly, the perfect cup, which costs up to $16 (Dh60).

Coffee fans subsequently posted pictures of the machine (there are only 250 in the world) on Flickr and dribbled about the elixir they produced. "This has ruined me for all other coffee," said one. Is it rude to suggest that he maybe gets out more? Find a girlfriend, perhaps? Of course, once you have the expensive machine, you need to learn how to work it. So a culture of barista courses has grown up too. The Institute of Coffee and Barista Training offers just such a course in Dubai, with topics ranging from tips on how to perfectly froth and steam milk to the impact of the grind size.

How have you come this far in life without it?

Published: September 17, 2009 04:00 AM


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