Caffeine High Tech

I know that I have hit a nerve when each time I put pen to paper, yet another colleague comes in and asks for just one more cup. "Have milk left for cappuccinos?" "How much is the coffee grinder?"

Since we decided to take a brief look at "java technology" (I'm talking about the bean here), my office has been filled with the latest espresso machines and novel methods of getting the daily dose of caffeine. Caffeine surely is the most widely consumed drug in existence. The addiction seems to be the hardest one to break.

What exactly is so stimulating about 3,7-dihydro- 1,3,7-trimethyl- 1H-purine- 2,6-dione; 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine; 1,3,7-trimethyl- 2,6-dioxopurie? Well, caffeine is one heck of a stimulant. But coffee, the elixir of poets and truck drivers, is the world's most reliable wake-up call and most of us can't survive without it.

Always in search of a better cup, here are several new devices that should guarantee our early morning CBS News Up To The Minute broadcast even more sleepless viewers!

Senseo Coffee Machine

First, Philips' Senseo Coffee Machine sports an astonishingly novel design and comes at an equally reasonably price. Senseo, retails for $69.99, and comes in three colors, cobalt blue, black, and white. Remarkably easy to use, simply pop a "pod" of pre-measured coffee into the chamber, push a single button, and wait less than one minute for your coffee. (A bag of 18 pods costs $3.99 - 22 cents a pod.)

This elegantly sculpted machine slopes forward over the cup and the electronics assures that each cup is brewed precisely to the right temperature and water level. Should you want to brew two cups, pop in two pods and press the other button.

Senseo boasts it is the only coffee maker that creates a unique "frothy coffee layer" on each cup. Our assistant Andrea in our office was bouncing off the walls after a day with this machine, having made so many easy refills. Frankly, I liked it too, but for me this exclusive "frothy coffee layer" is a poor man's "crema." Other more confident coffee snobs say that the Senseo has changed the way they make coffee for the better and you can find this object d'art in stores from Bloomingdale's to Target.

KitchenAid's Pro Line

Always over the top, my pricey new romance is with KitchenAid's new Pro Line Series Espresso Machine. Let me be clear, this is the Hummer of coffeemakers: a commercial product tailored to cater to the high-end home. This monster machine has two boilers... yowsa! Anyone who has made espresso or cappuccino with less knows that having just one puny boiler results in steam petering out after a couple of cups. With the Pro Line, we're talking sauna here, folks - you'll run out of water well before you run out of steam.

Other neat features: the heating elements will last longer because they never touch water and that means coffee that won't taste like rust. Now that I've built up the pressure for you to buy one of these bad boys, the suggested retail price of $899 probably will take the steam out of you. This is for a serious coffee drinker (or for someone ready to open their own neighborhood Starbucks).

While we're in deep-coffee space, KitchenAid's Pro Line also features a burr coffee grinder with 15 selectable grinds. This industrial strength coffee grinder is truly overkill and costs a staggering $299. It does tear through a fresh bag of roasted beans with enthusiasm.

Perhaps it was because the machine was new, but I found I had to whack it on the side once or twice with my hand just to get all the beans ground down...and for that price it should come with Juan Valdez, "El Exigente," pushing the beans down by hand. But you could hit this Burr Coffee Grinder with a sledgehammer (not recommended by manufacturer) and your grandchildren will be surely still be grinding with this thing - if coffee is still legal a hundred years from now.

KitchenAid's Pro Line products are exclusive to Williams-Sonoma.

JetBoil

If the ProLine is for the overpowered Humvee crowd, then JetBoil is for those who prefer Toyota's 50-mile-per-gallon Prius. Thanks to Stewart Brand, the legendary gadget maven, I just discovered JetBoil and see why this unit is literally the hottest new portable cooker for the great outdoors.

The heating unit (with its own self-ignition system) attaches to the bottom of a pot and heats the series of baffles on the bottom of the pot. The ingenious heat exchanger vastly speeds up the process of boiling water. Best of all, the foam cover surrounding the pot keeps you from burning yourself and the lid/cover keeps coffee spillage to a minimum. The efficient water boiler can then be stored (with fuel container) inside the pot for superb lightweight (12 ounces) and carry convenience.

Since it's illegal to cook with propane at my desk, I won't. But don't think I'm not tempted. I may even use it to make fondue in Central Park! JetBoil is available if you're very lucky at EMS, REI, Cabela's, and other camping places. $80 for the stove and $3 for the 3.5 ounce fuel canisters. Think Father's Day, folks.

Beyond Microwave Oven

This baby won't be on the market for another six weeks or so, but we're going to put our order in today.

It's a microwave oven that's actually got a brain. Thanks to those same UPC symbols that made the supermarket checkout lines go faster twenty years ago, this oven takes all (ok, most) of the guesswork out of microwave cooking. You simply pick up the scanning wand attached to the front of the oven and scan the UPC of whatever it is you want to cook. If it matches one of the 4,000 items stored in the microwave's memory, the proper cooking time and settings will appear in the LCD window. All you have to do is hit "start" (after you take the food out of its box, and put it in the oven).

If what you're cooking isn't in the memory, you can teach the oven how long to cook it, and store it for the next time you scan that same item. It's so easy, it's scary.

Best of all, this oven works as part of Beyond's "Home Hub," so it will connect wirelessly to your Beyond clock-radio to set its clock. Now you'll only see 12:00 twice a day. A steal at $149.

Caffeine Without The Cup

Back to caffeine, and at this hour, I NEED it, my friends at the insane online geek-o-rama, "ThinkGeek," shamelessly push the demon mighty white keeper-upper to the grateful throngs of late night hackers and Internet surfers who really should just take a shower and go to bed. But, if you're one of the many folks who like to defy the laws of gravity (regarding sleeping in your bed), you will be astonished by the variety of "No-Dozeian" remedies "ThinkGeek.Com" is pushing. Items like:

  • JOLT, the caffeine energy gum, where two pieces of gum equal one cup of coffee. Chew the whole pack of twelve pieces and you can drive straight to Vegas from, um, anywhere.
  • Penguin Caffeinated Peppermints (where three mints equal one highball of Coca Cola)
  • Timmy Torrid Tonic: ThinkGeek even made their own caffeinated hot sauce.

    Plus, caffeinated soap (they swear it works, caffeine soaking up through your pores) and more.

    Now that this little tribute to advances in caffeine is done, and I still can't get to sleep, for obvious reasons, I'm reminded of an observation as true today as it was when they wrote it:

    "Coffee leads men to trifle away their time, scald their chops, and spend their money, all for a little base, black, thick, nasty, bitter, stinking nauseous puddle water."
    - The Women's Petition Against Coffee (1674)

    By Daniel Dubno and Bob Bicknell

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