Friday, 3 March 2017

Coffee O'clock? Atomic Coffee Maker Adventures

I've been posting about Linux stuff for so long that I sometimes forget this blog is also about The Whitsundays and Me!

So here's my first coffee post in probably 2 or 3 years.  :-)

A friend introduced me to the Atomic coffee maker many years ago, and before that I rarely drank coffee because I hate instant coffee.  He and his wife gave me the first coffee maker I ever owned, an electric model that works on the same principle as the Atomic.

You put water in the coffee maker, put ground coffee in a filter basket, put the basket in the holder and put the holder in the top part of the coffee maker.

The water boils, the steam pressure forces some of the water up to the top of the machine where it is forced through the ground coffee under pressure.  Then the residual steam is used to foam milk if you want a cappuccino or latte.

I have had several of these electric boiler/steam machines since then, but never had the urge to spend an exorbitant amount of money for an Atomic.  Second hand 40 to 50 year old ones are going for over $500 and even crappy looking ones with some broken bits are going for $300 plus.

But when my son wanted one to use in Japan, because the electric appliances there are a pain in the neck, we began looking around.  We got what we thought was the buy of the year.  An Atomic in pretty good condition and nice looking for $250.  With delivery it was $280.  A nice deal.  And he has been learning how to drive it since.

But I was interested in a cheap one if it ever came up to take to Isla Verde, where we don't have a reliable source of power for electric appliances.  the resort runs on a couple of small solar panels, some batteries runing a small inverter, and a generator for more or less emergency use.  So when one of us saw one that had been advertised on ebay for some time and had only a few bids, we got interested.  It looked horrible.  There were a few made with an enamel paint over them.  Orange, red and brown seem to be the colours and not all that many were made.

This one had obviously been used in camp fires and was horribly burnt.  Also, the steam wand looked all corroded and so did the screen and screws up inside the top.  The advert said the filler knob was seized too.  So I placed a low bid, knowing they always go crazy in the last half hour.

This one did, and I won it by about a dollar!  And when it arrived it looked just as bad as it had in the description.  But it was ridiculously cheap even if I had to spend the planned $100 or so for a new knob and some seals.  When the filler knob becomes seized in the neck, it is almost always broken by the person trying to free it.  All the advice I found on Google and videos on Youtube had people using various kinds of multi grip pliers on their knob or putting their knob in a vise.

I thought abo tit for a while.  The knob gets seized in the hole because people leave it in the hole after they finish.  The aluminium body of the Atomic gets really, really hot, but the bakelite knob stays cool.  So when the aluminium cools down, the hole is dry and your knob can get stuck in the hole.

I wondered whether anybody had ever tried reversing the process.  So I heated the Atomic in boiling water.  Then I was about to look for some decent multi-grips when I had one of those sideways thoughts I am infamous for.  I wanted to put steady, gentle pressure and grip on a round fragile surface.

So instead fo pliers I grabbed a webbing oil filter wrench and a socket ratchet handle.  And nothing happened.  So I got a half inch breaker bar instead.  And my knob moved.  A little bit more pressure and my knob was free of the evil hole.

The threads were in good condition and the knob was undamaged.  But when I turned the Atomic over some grains of sand textured whitish powder fell out.  I hit it with the palm of my hand and got more, so I went around it with a hammer.  This is part of the result!

There was more, but I had washed it away before I realised I should be documenting the experience.  Once I had loosened and emptied as much as I could I washed the inside out with vinegar over and over, then with soap and boiling water to try to wash out any residual acid (vinegar) because I have no idea what leaving that stuff in there would do to the aluminium.

The screws in the top still can;t be removed, so I reverse flushed that part and got lots more horrible gunk out.

 Then I stuck it on the gas stove with enough water to make a single shot of coffee.

It tasted horrible with the residual taste of WD40 (I forgot to mention trying to loosed those screws) and vinegar and soap, but it was definitely coffee and about the right strength.

So on my $178 Atomic, everything works like new.  Next post I will have put a few lots of coffee and water through the thing so after I get one really good tasting coffee, I'll post the steps for my next brew.

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