Bittersweet Eulogy as a Bialetti Kicks the BucketS

Everyone has some object that's just too beautiful to give up, despite a major flaw in its function. What is it for you—an old Polaroid or 35-millimeter camera, a stopped watch, an original Nintendo? Hell, a bit brace?

For me, it was a Bialetti Moka Express stovetop coffee maker. I loved it, but I'm glad it's gone.

The thing required constant supervision. It needed exactly 3 minutes, 30 seconds to produce a pretty great cup of coffee. Leave it past four minutes, though, and it would sputter thick brown spit all over the kitchen counter. Even when the results were perfect, there was never enough brew, and on many a weekend morning I found myself going through the whole grinding/pouring/babysitting rigamarole again while the pancakes sat cooling on the table.

Then, this Monday morning, I left it on the stove for way longer than four minutes. Like, maybe 10 minutes. I forgot it was even on the stove. I ran into the kitchen to find its base blackened, coffee everywhere, a sizzling puddle in the pitcher, and an acrid smell heavy in the air. When I unscrewed it—which required too forceful a twist, as usual—the rubber ring fell out like a wilted flower. It was dead. I done killed it.

The design was appealing for its simplicity—no moving parts, no plug, just three beautifully cast chunks of Italian aluminum. It could never be obsolete. It could produce coffee in the woods with a hand grinder and a flame. You might say it was primitive.

Its replacement, a DeLonghi that arrived last night, is much more Mr. Coffee than percolator. And this morning, it made a pot of joe that no amount of neglect could have ruined. Dump, pour, switch. Focus elsewhere. The results lacked the Bialatti blammo—it tasted like hot water with the faint suggestion of coffee inside. I will have to work on the ratios.

I was sorry to see the Bialetti go. It was lovely. But maybe there's something just as lovely in the ritual Frank Bruni describes in his defense of the drip machine:

You stumble out of bed, struggling toward consciousness, in urgent need of caffeine. You drag yourself into the kitchen. And there, ready and waiting, are 10 cups of coffee, brewed automatically, just five minutes earlier, as a consequence of a few simple steps and some alarm clock-style programming the night before.

I have other bits of eccentric old technology, whose irritating quirks I'll go on tolerating until I eventually lead them to ruin. But sometimes you might lose a product you love, only to learn you're better off without it.

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