EU makes a bad brew

I am very amused by this story:

The European Union is adding a job position: coffee monitor. The move is not part of the latest stimulus plan, but a fittingly tasteful settlement to a particularly European dispute.

The union’s executive office, the European Commission, was embarrassed when The International Herald Tribune reported last December that the commission had bought 21 deluxe espresso makers costing 5,000 euros each, then about $7,500. […]

But the Italian maker of the machines was scandalized by something else: some of the most senior officials, their guests and employees complained that the coffee tasted bad, despite the machines’ pedigree.

Now, as part of the settlement with the maker, La Cimbali of Italy, the commission will receive not only new machines, but also training on their proper use, including for some of the European Union’s highest officials.

In a statement that could save face for La Cimbali, the commission hinted that the taste of the coffee might have been affected by the water in the Berlaymont Building, headquarters of the European Commission, and poor cleaning, rather than the quality of the machines.

I’d like to gloat and say this goes to prove the ineptitude of government officials, but the fact is this same kind of drama plays out every day at Williams-Sonoma and other gourmet stores. Customers spend ridiculous amounts of money on shiny new machines with lots of bells and whistles, only to find that the resulting coffee tastes nothing like what they get at a decent cafe. With a little bit of knowledge and a little more work, they could spend the same or less for a simpler machine and a good grinder and be making good espresso and cappuccinos in no time.

The EU and La Cimbali are taking steps to educate staffers on proper use of the machines to prevent future failure:

La Cimbali is organizing training for a representative from each commissioner’s office to enhance their “coffee knowledge, from beans to the cup,” La Cimbali wrote in an “action plan” obtained by The Herald Tribune.

Officials, informal coffee monitors, will be taught “coffee tasting theory and sensorial techniques,” “recipes and hints,” and “ordinary machine maintenance procedures.”

Mr. Kidd said the company was “open to anyone who is interested in learning how to make an optimal espresso.”

Unless you are dead set on having an espresso option (as many in the EU likely are), my own advice is to avoid it in an office environment. Skip the drip, too. A good grinder, a hot water source, and a few French presses or pour over setups will do far more to enable employees to make good coffee on the job.

[Thanks to Toby for the link!]