Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at
Posted 12.13.16
Stanstead, Quebec


The coming of the coffee bean behemoth

The office where I work is in a former home set a fair distance from the rest of the school. I'm alone on the second floor, making me the most outlying member of the school staff. I'm the institutional Pluto.

There are five of us in this building. Sometimes I hear them having a good time downstairs. Sometimes they leave and lock me in. When this occurs, I remind myself that I have a private bathroom.

What we do share is a coffeemaker, an ordinary drip machine. It's a chore. Someone (preferably not me) has to rinse the pot, get fresh water, empty the soggy liner, fiddle with the new liner, put it in the basket, grind the beans, guess how much coffee to add, guess wrong, close the lid and press the button. Then we wait. Imagine: having to wait for a cup of coffee! What is this: 2010?

Meanwhile, over in the main building of the school, there are contraptions, one for teachers and one for the administrative staff one floor down. These coffee contraptions have nozzles and spigots, they grind and hiss, they spew milk and foam, with lights and whirs and perfectly proportioned fresh beans, only the best beans. I assume the bad beans it gleans from the machine. It's a dream.

Something this sophisticated, of course, is prone to fussiness. Whenever a contraption breaks down, an e-mail is hastily sent out. I paraphrase:

    "The coffeemaker in the staff room is out of order. REMAIN CALM! During these dark times, we have engaged the services of the finest baristas to deliver freshly brewed artisanal blends in easily manipulated carafes. To make up for the lack of hissing, spewing, foaming, etc., our baristas will personally top anything you want with whipped cream. We deeply apologize for the inconvenience and hope to alleviate the problem ASAP so as not to endanger the very core of our educational system."
When these e-mails arrive, I'm tempted to reply, "Come to our office. We have drip!" Then I'd indicate our location with a Google map.

But I don't. Too sarcastic. Plus, the teachers would say, "Who's Ross Murray?"

Not to mention the fact that our office likes the contraption too. When I tire of holding out for one of the others to undertake the drip process, I'll sometimes come downstairs, mug in hand, and announce, "Who wants coffee!"

"Aaah!" they shout. "We didn't know you were here!" But then they take me up on my offer.

With three mugs in hand, I set out –- boots, parka, ration of pemmican. I trek the path, through the cedars, across the road, beside the dining hall, over the tundra, into the main building. I rest a moment to regain my strength. Then, with the press of a button –- once, then again –- I fill three mugs with rich, perfectly measured coffee.

With Indiana Jones-like dexterity, I carry the mugs back to our office, moving not so slowly as to render the coffee cold, yet not so fast as to slop the precious liquid onto my mukluks.

We on the outer edges of the scholastic solar system have come to accept our fate. In this world, there are the javas and the java-nots. We are the latter, not the latté. Lately, though, there's been a balance shift. After going without their contraption for a couple of weeks, the administrative staff has replaced its contraption with — a behemoth.

It's sleek and square, the size of a beer fridge, with scrolling video screen, language selection, size and strength options, blend selections and choice upon choice. It makes espressos, Americanos, cappuccinos, mochaccinos, muchachos, RalphMacchios. Hot chocolate! It operates with the sound of industry and fashion models and luxury cars.

I have yet to explore its intricacies, but I suspect it will memorize your preference. It will suggest stock market strategy. It will scold you for wearing that purposely ugly Christmas sweater. It will provide parting words to those setting out on long journeys with three mugs in hand. It will someday run for president.

Up one floor, meanwhile, the teachers are stuck with their contraption, steam engine to the administration's time machine. Will this stand, this archaic, analog coffee-dispenser? Surely they too deserve the state of the art in beandom. In the name of all that is good and teacherly, they too shall have their behemoth!

And when that day comes, I will rise up, and I will speak for all of us (five) who have gone without for so long, who have ground our own beans, cursed the filter, the endless drip, and cried out, "This coffee is mediocre at best!" I will say to them: "We will take your coffee contraption, please!"

And they will answer, "And you are — ?"