Tag Archive for 'Kitchenware'

No pigs in the dishwasher!

These days vendors have become masters of  trivial warnings, as seen in coffee cups that warn us their content is hot, and countless other examples. Recently I ran into an amusing case.

Not dishwasher safe!

The little piggy is yet another form of the classic kitchen timer. What makes it interesting is the inscription on its base: “Not dishwasher safe” – in two languages too, not to take any chances.

I suppose there may actually exist people silly enough to try and dunk this along with the dishes… it’s a large planet. Still…

Coffee cans and Bees

Recently Elite, a major manufacturer of chocolate, candy and coffee in Israel, launched a campaign to prepare us all for “the same beloved familiar taste in a new packaging”. Every instant coffee can had a sticker heralding the change, then the new cans came out with stickers extolling it.

Elite coffee cansNow actually, the change is minimal and mostly unimportant, as you can see in the photo of the old can (at left) and the new. They have a slightly modified graphic design, but it’s the same good ol’ coffee we’re all addicted to. But there is one change that caught my eye: the new can is noticeably taller. Since both contain 200g of the same powder, you’d think it was also thinner; and in a sense it is, but not at the base; in fact the bottom and top are of identical diameter. The new can, however, has a “waist” in the middle.

HoneycombSo what? So, canned goods have to be stored, transported, and stocked. They therefore need to be packed close together; ideally you’d want them hexagonal, as the bees had discovered long ago. But even with round cans, you need to try and minimize wasted space. In the home this means minimizing shelf footprint, or base area; you want to be able to put as many of these on a shelf as possible. For shipping and storehouse space you also care about height, of course. But what you really don’t want is to have this sexy curvaceous can that maintains the same footprint but adds height by wasting unusable empty space in the middle.

Oh well, at least they have a new font in their logo.

Honeycomb photo source: Richard Bartz, via Wikimedia commons.

Humanity’s victory over rust!

Sometimes we need a reminder to realize the triumphs of Science and Engineering that went into the most common everyday objects. Take our ubiquitous stainless steel cutlery: what was it like when this recent addition to materials science – and our dinner table – suddenly made rust a non-issue?

Early Solingen stainless steel tableware

Check out a somewhat quirky tour of this story of progress in the latest article on my Possibly Interesting web site!

Cappuccino for two

One of the small pleasures of life is sharing a fine Cappuccino on a weekend morning at home. The only difficulty is, you need a way to produce one, and we don’t have a professional machine at home like they have in a proper coffee shop. We do have the means to make strong espresso – one half of the Cappuccino story – but what of the milk? We had a battery-operated propeller thingy that was supposed to beat milk into a froth, but it left much to be desired.

Enter Tupperware. This innovative manufacturer of kitchen plasticware came up with a gizmo for making foamed milk – the “Magic milk cappuccino maker” – that shines in its ingenious simplicity. It consists of a small plastic jug with a lid that allows through a round metal mesh – a strainer – on a rod. Here’s how this works:

First you fill the bottom third of the jug with milk, put on the lid and microwave for 2 minutes to get the milk hot.

Tupperware Magic Milk Cappuccino Maker

Next you put in the strainer, close the lid, and pump the rod up and down rapidly a few times. The mesh moves through the milk and foams it up in no time – very effectively.

Tupperware Magic Milk Cappuccino Maker

Meanwhile you produce the espresso in your Brikka, put it in the cups and shovel in foam and hot milk from the Tupperware jug. The entire process takes under 5 minutes, most of it waiting for the machinetta to boil. And here we are:

Homemade Cappuccino

Lovely, lovely Cappuccinos… none of the artwork a barista may make in the foam, but just as pleasant to consume.

In case you didn’t know…

And now, a nice sighting from Pil and Galia.

They report buying a coffee press made by Bodum, a leading maker of these ingenious devices. And on the bottom of the box came this enlightening revelation: “Boiling water and children should be kept apart”

Bodum coffee press warning notice

At first I actually thought this was said in jest, a sophisticated attempt to remind people of the danger without sounding too officious; but the other versions made it clear I was giving Bodum an unwarranted benefit of the doubt. The French warning is the silliest: it says that “Boiling water can be dangerous for children”. Which raises two immediate replies (beyond the obvious “Well, Duh!“):

  1. Can be?
  2. Why only children? What about adults?

Oh well, at least the coffee is good.

Coffee and Waste

Back from NYC… I already reported on the big stuff I saw there; and here is a small but annoying thing I also saw.

My hotel room had a drip coffee maker, a standard item in American hotel rooms (and much better than the old dependence on Room Service). But this one had one unusual feature. Instead of the usual plastic basket that you put a filter bag into, this one had no built in basket. The brew basket came in the filter pack – and was disposable.

Coffee pack and contents

You can see the content of the pack in the photo: the black plastic tray has a hole in the bottom, and you throw it out with the soggy filter bag after one use. The old system with a reusable basket was perfectly good – whatever gave anyone the idea that we need more trash on this planet?!…

And ironically, the packaging has the green “Rainforest Alliance” logo at the top which asserts it is environmentally friendly. Yah right!

Water cooler improvement – just don’t cool!

Many times, a small change in a design makes a product a lot better.

You know the modern version of the office water cooler: a vertical unit that dispenses cold (and in many models, also hot) water into disposable cups. Well, I’ve just seen one that made my day. The unit in the photo, a new model from Tami (a.k.a. Tana Water), has a small but smart addition: the button marked “Room Temp”.

Tami Bar 4 water cooler

What’s the big deal? Well, in most models, you push the button and get ice-cold water. This must be very attractive if you’ve just jumped off a camel at a desert oasis on a scalding summer day; but in most offices, which are air conditioned, you don’t need it to be ice-cold, and some prefer it not to be. Their solution in the past was to either try to add a little boiling water, or to sip slowly. So now Tami have added the Room Temp button – you can get the same clean, filtered water, without the extra cooling. A tiny redesign, leading to a better product.

Coffee-to-go elegance

My friend Jeff pointed out to me a novel implementation of a coffee-to-go carrying device, in use in a coffeeshop chain in Germany. The assembled device in use is actually less elegant than the usual little tray-with-handle cardboard carriers we’ve had for a long time; in fact you can’t even plop this one down on a tabletop at destination; you have to unload it with care. What makes this one worthy of mention in the elegant design category is a different aspect.

Cardboard coffee carrier

I refer of course to the extreme simplicity of assembly and disassembly – just two folds in a flat piece of cardboard, and you’re good to go; and at destination, if you’re green-minded, you can “disassemble” it by just flattening it out, and store it for future re-use with minimal fuss. The slit for paper napkins is another nice touch…

Sinn-Frei, via Oh Gizmo!

Emergent misfeatures: more than meets the eye

Any wise consumer checks the specification of the purchased item in the store, in order to know what he’s getting. Unfortunately, this does not guarantee a happy deal…

One day we decided to go buy a new TV set. We went to the store and selected a top notch Sony, with impressive specs. We took it home, set it up, put the resident teenagers in front of it… and they expressed major discontent!

It’s not that the picture was bad (it was crisp and vibrant), or that the sound was poor (it was excellent), or that the set failed to live up to the impressive specs on the box. The problem was that when you used the remote to channel-surf, instead of the Zap-Zap-Zap of the old TV, this one went Zapppp…… Zapppp……Zappppp… you see, the TV needed a whole second to blank the screen and bring up the next channel, making rapid switching an impossibility. You’d think a second is no big deal, but I had to agree with the kids: it completely obliterated the user experience of the surf.

Now, this is one thing I could never have foreseen. The feature list on the box did not say, “Optimized for a crummy channel surfing experience”; and having never had a TV that needed to think about obeying the remote, I never thought to check this in the store. It was an undocumented feature in the design – an emergent misfeature, if you will – that the buyer would only find out at home.

Here’s another: we have a Sharp microwave oven that has the useful habit of beeping once when the time is up. Cool. It has the slightly less useful feature of beeping again a minute later if you didn’t notice the first beep. Okay. And then it has the maddeningly stupid feature of beeping three times every minute thereafter, never relenting until you give it your attention. Hey, stupid oven, I heard you, but I’m busy right now – keep the food inside and shut up!

Again, this is an undocumented feature – one no salesman would tell and no buyer would ask, but one that delivers a major annoyance once you get the thing home. These examples showcase how the imagination of a bad designer in inventing misfeatures transcends the buyer’s ability to foresee them…

Come on, designers, have a heart!

Bialetti’s Brikka: only one extra piece!

All coffee lovers know the classic Italian “Machinetta“, or Moka pot, that 3-piece stovetop espresso maker: not a competition to the professional espresso machine of a coffee shop, but good for a fast, concentrated caffeine fix at home. These have been around since their invention in 1933 by Alfonso Bialetti, and we have a number of them at home in various sizes (hint: go for the stainless steel ones, they don’t corrode and last forever if you don’t burn the plastic handle).

But on a trip to Italy we were served by some friends with tiny portions Bialetti Brikka coffeemakerof a much stronger, foamy brew; and upon inquiring how they could produce it at home we were shown the Brikka, the machinetta with the “sbuffo” (the dictionary says “gust of wind; puff“, but a fiery snort sounds more appropriate to convey this word’s feel).

The amazing thing about the Brikka is that it is practically identical to the old Moka, except that it has one additional piece: a heavy steel cup, padded with a rubber gasket, that sits atop the tube from which, through a hole at its top, the hot coffee issues. This means that before the steam in the bottom half can push the water through the coffee powder, it has to achieve a high enough pressure to lift the steel weight; essentially the arrangement you find in a pressure cooker’s regulator valve. Once the correct pressure is reached the valve lifts and the coffee suddenly blasts through in a matter of seconds, accompanied by a loud puffing noise, much stream and bubbling foam. Sbuffo!

Brikka Sbuffo

The photos above capture the moment – mere seconds separate the two.

The Brikka, which Bialetti makes in 2-cup and 4-cup sizes (we’re talking Italian cups – about half a demitasse each), makes far stronger coffee than the Moka, and with some foam to boot. And all by adding one piece to an age-old design!

Brikka mechanism

Note the hole at the top of the tube, exposed with the weight dismantled.

Brikka compared to ordinary Moka

Brikka (right) compared to the open tube in a regular Moka style machine.

What will they think of next, you say? Don’t get me started about Bialetti’s “Mukka Express”, which seems to apply similar ideas to produce Cappuccino in one go (I’m still resisting the temptation to buy one of those).