The perfect cup of coffee

22 06 2013

This is my Moka Express coffee maker.

Made to last - a VERY long time!

Made to last – a VERY long time!

It has been around as long as I can remember. As a child I was forever lifting the lid to see if the coffee was coming out of the central spout. I also remember that my parents didn’t seem to use it very much, perhaps it didn’t make enough coffee so it was replaced by a percolator which made a lot more and was also interesting for a six year-old as it made interesting noises and splashed coffee against a clear glass top. And made awful coffee.

My little, very old espresso “machine” (can it be a real machine without moving parts?) to my mind makes very good coffee. No, it probably isn’t perfect, and in the morning I don’t have time for making the perfect cup but it is important that I have good coffee to start the day. NO, INSTANT WILL NOT DO and we do still have one good brand of local coffee called Farfell produced here which I keep well stocked up.

Anyway, the filter thingy that holds the coffee was looking like it had come to the end of it’s life, the gasket I’d replaced with a silicone one of my own imperfect design and the handle – well, nothing one couldn’t fix with a bit of epoxy and a paper clip!

We are famous for making do in Zimbabwe but now it’s the era of the internet so I set about seeing if spares were to be had. Oh delight! They still have spares for my 6 cup (I get just one mug out of it) Moka Express made by the original Bialetti company! Yes, there a loads of new designs in stainless steel and different colours to boot but my old aluminium version is still there.

For some reason Amazon won’t ship direct to Zim but my long-suffering postal master in the UK (brother and sister-in-law) divert the package to me and the Moka Express is almost back to new (wrong handle).

And the coffee tastes just as good as ever!

Where have all the skills gone?

28 06 2012

For 20 minutes I sat and watched an abortive attempt to tow a heavy steel structure across the car park of the engineering works that specialised in welding. They were using a thoroughly inadequate chain which kept breaking and it was getting boring so I decided to go and see what was happening with the coffee pot. I’d bought it at the gym coffee shop towards the end of last year because it seemed easier to use than the espresso pot that was probably older than me and, despite being very expensive, I thought it had to last a long time as it was made of stainless steel. I’d never been over-impressed with the marketing guff on the side of the box; “The Signature Collection is 100% craftsmen made because objects that are made by craftsmen resonate with emotion. Pick one up and you can sense the time and effort invested in its creation“. It felt to me distinctly machine mass-made to me but what the hell, it was a Nick Munro design (whoever he is if indeed he exists) so it had to be good. Then last week the spout began to leak and lo, with minimal effort, it came right off! Some craftsmanship this was but having paid $60 for it I thought it worth getting fixed.

They still hadn’t managed to get the gas lit so with an increasing sense of foreboding I decided to hang around and watch. Eventually things started to happen but it seemed to take an awful long time to merely re-attach a spout. The welder then made off with the pot and my concern turned distinctly nasty when a stub of a file was found and the inside of the pot attacked. I asked for it back, told the foreman I wasn’t paying and made off with the pot and my money nearly and hour after arriving.

It’s well know of course that skilled artisans are in short supply worldwide. Zimbabwe is no exception. In the dark days of the Zimbabwe dollar’s plunge in 2007/8, large numbers of professionals and artisans left for more stable and better paid jobs elsewhere. It was at that time that I had my Land Cruiser engine rebuilt at a machine shop in Harare. All seemed well but after 2000km it self-destructed and I opened the engine to find all 6 liners (hard metal sleeves in the cylinders) broken. I found out later that the original owner had sold up, emigrated to Australia and then sponsored all his best machinists to go over from Zimbabwe and join his new business. As I had done the re-assembly of the engine I was advised that I could not try to pin culpability on the machine shop even though it was obviously their error. Quite how they’d managed a blunder of that magnitude nobody could really tell me.

On a far larger scale the commercial farmers who were kicked off their farms in the land grab in this country took their hard-earned skills to the Middle East, New Zealand, Afghanistan, Iraq, West Africa and even Russia amongst other places. Zimbabwe is not an easy country to farm and we are now paying dearly for these skill losses.

As for my coffee pot I will have to see if the mess can be cleaned up (he even managed to BURN THROUGH THE SPOUT!) enough to make it useable. So it’s back to the old espresso pot (on the right in the photo) which although more fiddly to use does, in my opinion, make better coffee. Who knows, it might really have been put together by real craftsmen all those years ago when they weren’t in such short supply!


About nothing and DIY in the middle of winter

22 06 2012

I haven’t written anything for sometime now. Nothing much has happened though I’ll have a go about writing it. Actually, quite a lot of nothing has been going on in Zimbabwe. I’ve heard of at least 2 Spar supermarkets that have closed their doors recently due to lack of trade. The small sawmill that operates off the same premises as my nursery is also on the verge of closing. They had a run-in with a union some time ago so paid off all their staff and now just employ them on a day-to-day basis as and when they have work. I got them to cut 1200m of battens for the greenhouse that we are recovering with plastic. We are not that busy either so are doing the maintenance that we ignored for so long in the dying days of the Zimbabwe dollar (LONG may it stay that way!). Actually this is traditionally a quiet time for us so I am not that concerned – yet.

I know that in the developed world there are specialist greenhouse covering and maintenance companies but that is not how we do things in Zimbabwe. If there’s a problem on the farm you get on and fix it yourself. ART Farm where I live has a fully fledged workshop that does all the on farm repairs and maintenance and on occasion I do use their skills. The senior mechanic is a pleasant fellow and I have used his help on the Land Cruiser after-hours on a Saturday. Though I have to admit (with head briefly bowed) that I thought replacing the oil seals on the half shafts would best be done professionally in town this week. Then I got the bill and thought that for $580 I should have had a go myself!

Building is not my forté but what the hell I gave it a go this week. OK, I supervised the builder who did the building. It’s nothing much, just a pit toilet known as Blair toilets in this part of the world after the government laboratory that many years ago developed the standard. It’s simplicity itself; a sort of square spiral wall (work it out!) over a squat hole in a concrete slab with a roof and vent pipe. There’s even a plan in the CFU (Commercial Farmers’ Union) handbook. Pretty basic stuff but it still required me to supervise the builder for the best part of the day while he got the plans wrong. It has taken him the last 3 days to do something that a skilled builder would have done in a day. At one stage I began to think that I should have got in a skilled builder and just paid but actually his building is OK for a farm builder and the skilled builder is “not reachable” according to the cell phone service provider. Which is a pity as we have some tobacco ponds to construct and it really does need accurate building skills. A previous builder “had a go” at some ponds a few years back and when I queried about why the walls were not visually level (no spirit level required to see this) he told me that it was not the walls that weren’t level it was the water in the ponds that wasn’t level! Harsh words were exchanged and I refuse to employ him. Maybe I’ll have to give it a go myself. I know that Tony has a dumpy level and I watched the skilled builder doing it just in case I needed the knowledge.

Maybe I’ll just go and employ a builder off the wall I see being built around a property on Harare drive. It’s certainly straight and level enough. And big. It’s at least 3m high and 300m long on just the road side – they have yet to build the other 3 sides but the bricks are there. That’s certainly someone with plenty of money and no taste. It’s been painted a light pink with mauve on the top. Mind you, I saw another like it (though much shorter on the Rolf Valley road) that was painted lavender and had a mirror in the electric gate. The lavender did not last; something much less brash now though the mirror is still there.

I suppose I should also have a go at repairing the coffee plunger pot at my elbow. Stainless steel no less and not cheap the spout is in the process of coming off and there is coffee leaking onto my desk. I could be catty and say it was made in China (which it was) and what does one expect except I do still have the box and it goes on about what a quality coffee plunger thing it is but it does claim to be designed in the UK and the English is genuine. Or I could just get on and have a go at fixing it. I have no idea how to solder stainless steel but I suppose I can find someone who does though I suspect it would be cheaper to buy another coffee pot. Though I did see some “cold solder” in an auto supplies outlet yesterday…

Wasting time (and money)

3 07 2008

I have just, come from the bank where I deposited 660 billion (about USD20) of the local dollars in mostly 50 million dollar notes. It took about 3/4 hour and the biggest challenge for me was staying awake. OK, so the teller was not the fastest around but I can not even guess how much it cost the bank to count the money; certainly less than its face value. Feeling in need of a cup of coffee and some sustenance I wandered around the corner to my local WiFi cafe that actually does good coffee and muffins too and anyway, I needed to check on the email. Walking past a notice board advertising air fares to London (and other places) I noticed that a business class fare to the UK was all of 15 trillion. I will save you the bother; it’s less than USD500! The catch of course is that the airline is Air Zimbabwe and is not overly reliable but my aunt recently flew to the UK and she said business class was fine but definitely don’t fly economy! I commented on the price to the proprietor of the cafe and he said just wait until Monday when it will be the equivalent of 200 US dollars as they are always slow to update their prices. A plan is forming here…