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The Many Problems With Airplane Coffee

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As air transport becomes increasingly less glamorous, passengers find themselves grateful for even the smallest in-flight comforts. Beverage service is an amenity that frequent fliers can still depend on, and the arrival of the drinks cart signals the opportunity to enjoy a cold soda or a hot cup of tea. Caffeine lovers, however, often get their hopes up for a fresh, strong sip of coffee, and are inevitably disappointed by a mediocre brew. It’s not a mass hallucination; in-flight coffee really is underwhelming. The Kitchn investigated and found out this is for a number of reasons.

The usual culprit in a case of not-so-great coffee is the beans: low-quality beans naturally lead to a low-quality beverage. While airlines might conceivably want to cut costs by stocking up on the cheap stuff, coffee culture is such a force now that most flight providers wouldn’t dare. In fact, certain airlines proudly advertise the quality of their coffee sources. Clearly, the beans aren’t to blame.

Once the coffee beans have been ruled out, the next most obvious ingredient that could be at fault is the water—the very same water that, according to a 2012 EPA report, tested positive for coliform and other harmful bacteria in 12% of test cases from commercial airline water supplies. While that might be one reason to eschew in-flight coffee altogether, bland coffee probably isn’t caused solely by coliform bacteria.

Actually, there are likely other factors at play: humidity, noise, altitude, and air pressure. Just as a dry airplane cabin can cause food to taste bland, it can do the same to coffee, which falls victim to the same desensitization of a passenger’s taste buds to sweetness and saltiness, and to the the failure of about a third of them entirely. Odor receptors don’t function as well in flight either, and a normally aromatic coffee smells—and tastes—not much better than hot brown water. Even the noise of the turbines dampens passengers’ enjoyment of their coffee break, as the 85 decibel drone interrupts a brain’s ability to identity and taste flavor compounds.

All of this spells bad news for caffeine fiends—as long as it’s 10,000 feet in the air, that cup of coffee is going to taste pretty blah. As far as alternatives go, wine is no better (perhaps even worse). Delta Airlines sommelier Andrea Robinson notes, “subtlety is not well served at altitude.” However, there may be hope yet for an in-flight treat. Marion Nestle, NYU professor of nutrition and food studies, says ice cream should still taste fine, no matter how far off the ground you get. So get on it, airlines; my frequent flier miles and I will be waiting impatiently for our complimentary in-flight ice cream service.

[h/t The Kitchn]

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Why You Might Not Want to Order Tea or Coffee On Your Next Flight
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A cup of tea or coffee at 40,000 feet may sound like a great way to give yourself an extra energy boost during a tiring trip, but it might be healthier to nap away your fatigue—or at least wait until hitting ground to indulge in a caffeine fix. Because, in addition to being tepid and watery, plane brew could be teeming with germs and other harmful life forms, according to Business Insider.

Multiple studies and investigations have taken a closer look at airplane tap water, and the results aren’t pretty—or appetizing. In 2002, The Wall Street Journal conducted a study that looked at water samples taken from 14 different flights from 10 different airlines. Reporters discovered “a long list of microscopic life you don’t want to drink, from Salmonella and Staphylococcus to tiny insect eggs," they wrote.

And they added, "Worse, contamination was the rule, not the exception: Almost all of the bacteria levels were tens, sometimes hundreds, of times above U.S. government limits."

A 2004 study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that water supplies on 15 percent of 327 national and international commercial aircrafts were contaminated to varying degrees [PDF]. This all led up to the 2011 Aircraft Drinking Water Rule, an EPA initiative to make airlines clean up. But in 2013, an NBC investigation found that at least one out of every 10 commercial U.S. airplanes still had issues with water contamination.

Find out how airplane water gets so gross, and why turning water into coffee or tea isn’t enough to kill residual germs by watching Business Insider’s video below.

[h/t Business Insider]

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Design
This Concrete Block Makes a Fine Espresso
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Montaag

Have you ever thought your kitchen could use more of a Soviet Union vibe? Do you find the fixtures in abandoned buildings charming? Then the AnZa espresso machine—essentially a coffee maker encased in a concrete block—may be for you.

According to Curbed, the AnZa is part of the art and installation aesthetic dubbed Brutalism, an architectural movement using spare, blocky designs. Moving away from the sleek, shiny appearance of most modern appliances, design firm Montaag crafted a rough block with simple knobs. As post-apocalyptic as it may look, it’s reputed to make a very good cup of espresso. And it’s “smart”: a smartphone app can adjust the brewing temperature to the user’s preference.

A close-up of the AnZa's knob
Montaag

The project’s Kickstarter recently met its $145,000 goal and is now accepting preorders at Indiegogo for $799. You can hoist this subjectively beautiful appliance on your countertop beginning in March 2018.

[h/t Curbed]

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