Coffee makers, prices, and reality checks

24 Nov

I am a coffee drinker.  Not exactly a connoisseur, but I appreciate good coffee and despise bad coffee.  I hate weak coffee, where it tastes as though the coffee and the water were not on speaking terms.  I drink it with cream & sugar, but I want the coffee flavor to come boldly through without bitterness.  I tend to prefer darker roasts too, probably because of my fondness for bold flavored coffee.  Dark roasts, however, are often prone to a faintly burnt overtone, which I do not liked.  My current favorite for “everyday” coffee is Folger’s Black Silk.  I really like it, and it doesn’t have that burnt overtone.

The coffee maker is an important part of the coffee experience.  Over the years, I cannot even begin to count the number of coffee makers I have bought and used…and then thrown away.  They don’t last forever.

It’s funny how many machines I have killed over the years, especially when I compare that to the memories I have from other coffee makers.  My great grandfather had a Bunn coffeemaker that seemed to last for an eternity.  In my case, if it lasts a week for each dollar spent, I’m normally happy.  I have owned many cheap machines, and a few expensive ones.  What have I learned?

Sometimes brand names are just not worth the money.  That cone shaped filters seem to use less coffee per pot, but the filters are more expensive.  That the more features a coffee maker has, the more likely it is to quit working.

THE most dependable coffee maker I’ve ever owned is a Melitta ones.  Low tech, you simply put in a filter and add your coffee, then pour in boiling water.  The coffee drips into your mug.  Simple, effective, and dependable combined with very cheap and compact.  That coffee maker often sees duty while camping.

The worst coffee maker?  Anything made by Tassimo is guaranteed to start looking like a possessed machine once you have had to deal with their customer service.  I cringe every time I look at mine, despite the fact that it makes excellent coffee…some of the best I’ve had at home (it should at over $1 per cup!)  I cringe again every time I see them on the shelf in a retail store too, and pity the person that buys one, whether its the $89 model from Walmart or the $200 model from anywhere.

Right now, we’re using a machine purchased from Walmart that cost less than $10.  It was not chosen on price alone–I had one criteria as I looked at the machines.  It could not have a filter basket that was accessed by the same lid as the water reservoir.  That design happens to make me crazy…sooner or later, I end up dumping coffee grounds into the reservoir.  Many brands use that design, and I despise it enough that I refuse to buy a machine that includes it.  This cheap machine has a filter basket that slides in like a small drawer above the coffee carafe, and the water reservoir is accessed through the typical lift-up lid on top.  The coffee is good, and my sole complaint is that the warming plate does not actually keep the coffee hot, but more like passably warm.  We’ve been using it for 8 weeks now, and it does just fine.  We’ve almost reached the point where the machine has paid for itself (10 weeks in this case.)  I have no idea what brand it is, but would bet that it was not made in the USA.  Why?  It is cheap AND bought from Walmart.  Walmart sells enough imported goods that you’ll be hard pressed to find American produced ones on its shelves.

Two years ago, we bought the machine that at that point, was THE most expensive machine I’d ever purchased.  It lasted until the warranty was over and quietly died one morning without any sign of impending trouble.  It was a name brand.

The lesson learned?  Expensive does not equate quality.  Pay attention to user reviews on small appliances–and seriously, that one step before purchasing can save you hundreds of dollars a year and countless gray hairs from dealing with customer support.  That is also a two way street, though.  Everyone needs to review products–in regards to the product AND in regards to the customer support experience.

I guess I’m on a rampage to make customer service reach acceptable standards throughout corporate America.  I’m really fed up with substandard and outsourced customer service for products sold in the USA.  Some days, I feel like I will go insane if I get one more “I am never wrong” agent from India for anything!  (I have had them actually hang up on me so that they can retain their 100% accuracy rating rather than give me an answer.)  One of the biggest offenders in my eyes?  Microsoft.  They make me utterly crazy with their off shore customer no-service, which has now been downgraded to support via email and the standard request is “send me a screen shot.”

Screen shot of what?  In my case, it was billing and I wanted to know what I was being billed for each week.  I finally challenged the charges with the bank, canceled the card so they couldn’t continue billing me, waited for a response from them that I never got, and had my money refunded by the bank.  Do I know what I was being billed for?  Nope, never did find out what that was…and the amount never matched anything I’d bought.  I now pay for anything Microsoft with a pre-paid debit card loaded with the correct amount and no more.  That card is ONLY used for Microsoft billing too, by the way.  It costs me $3 each time I have to “load” that card, but it saves me considerably in terms of stress, aggravation, and hair pulling fury.

And that is one of the largest American corporations.  It doesn’t get any better with multi-nation corporations selling imported goods usually either.  Still, I use my cheap Chinese knock off camping stove that arrived with the directions written in Chinese (which I cannot read or comprehend) without any problems.  I don’t expect customer support with them, but the price paid was inexpensive enough that the lack of directions and support was to be expected.  I am furious when I pay a premium price for a name brand, expecting support…and get off shore no service in addition to shoddy goods.

As far as I am concerned, a warranty is worth the paper it is printed on.  If I have to use it, the product didn’t meat minimum standards.  Warranties also seem to match the expected life span of a product too.  I’m not impressed with a 90 day warranty.  A one year warranty means little.  A truly quality product should offer a 3 year warranty.  And customer service should provide service to customers…not aggravation.

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