I have a soft spot in my heart for Bodum (website), the Danish nee Swiss company that started around 1944 and produced its first product some 14 years later in 1958. It was that first product that made me warm up even more to the company, but I only discovered that bit of history recently - in 1958, Bodum designed and sold it's first product - the Santos vacuum coffee brewer (previous to this, Bodum mainly sold imported goods). While other companies dropped vacuum brewers from their appliance lineup at this time, Bodum toughed it out, and even brought different designs in vac pots to the market.
But that's not the main reason why I like Bodum so much. It's because the company introduced me to the concept of quality coffee in my own country.
In 1989, I graduated from university and went to Europe. The trip was only supposed to last a month or so, but ended up taking a lot more time than that. Prior to my trip, coffee was the instant stuff in the cupboard, the stuff you added one heaping teaspoon to one twelve ounce mug of hot water.
By the time I was back in my hometown of Ottawa in 1991, I was exposed to so many new experiences, so many new cultures, I was very much alive and very much a changed person. Two of the major influences that changed my life were the whole aspect of cafe culture and the art of people watching. Along with these things came an appreciation the art of socializing over a memorable cup of coffee.
I sought out (and found) cafes in Ottawa that suited this new lifestyle, but in the home, I was a neophyte - I had no clue as to how good coffee was made. Espresso was complete magic to me - I recall seeing baristas in Italy, Spain, France, the Benelux countries etc etc work their machines with aplomb and panache, showing it was childs' play if you were "in the know". I even worked a cafe while in Paris, but was not allowed to operate the two group Conti machine they had.
Back in Canada, I was the neophyte. Then one day I walked into a Hudson's Bay store and saw this dazzling (and tres Euro) promotional display for a company called Bodum. I hung around and watched not one, not two, but three of the 15 minute "shows" a demo person put on every half hour. During that show, he demonstrated how to use a variety of Bodum products, including the venerable Bodum Bistro press pot. I even got to drink a cup from the second and third shows. And I was hooked.
Understand something, because I certainly do: coming from a life of thinking that coffee involved dissolving granular powders into a cup of boiling water; well the press pot was a complete revelation. It was a magic step up the ladder to a certain sense of self-styled sophistication and taste.
Also understand that while you and I may fuss over whether a 26.5 second shot is a better target than a 28.2 second shot for espresso, many people see the leap from instant to press pot coffee as one in the quantum variety - it's almost too much to go for. It's such a radical shift in what you drink and how you drink it and what goes on in your cultural antennae while you do it, it's a truly treasured moment.
At least it was for me.
I was hooked. Even though I was broke (just back in town, no money, a huge VISA bill, an equally huge Mastercard bill), I had just enough cash to buy an eight cup Bodum Bistro press pot. I also understood the importance of a grinder, and while I could never justify the cost of one of those expensive Braun burr grinders, I did sell a couple of my music CDs at a used music store to have enough cash to buy a Krups blade grinder on sale at The Bay. (my, how times have changed for me - I really am jaded these days)
When I got my first paycheck from my new job (fortunately, only a few days after this), I also shelled out money for a set of four Bodum Bistro cups and matching plastic circle spoons, and the Bodum Bistro creamer and sugar set. And man, was I set.
In those first heady weeks, I must have drunk about a pound's worth of coffee a day. It wasn't cheap - I still didn't know about micro-roasteries, arabica beans, or the effects of oxygen and age on roasted coffee, but I did luck out in that half a block away from my shared house, there was a coffee shop that sold "fresh roasted" beans and their prices were good. Still, I was spending about $50 a week those first few weeks on coffee beans, money I didn't really have.
I didn't care. I was almost back in Europe again, this time in my own home, sharing with my roommates and my friends who were more than happy to partake in the experience (at no charge, of course - I picked up the coffee tab).
Coffee in the home quickly became a practiced and cherished ritual. Some of my best friends in my life became my "best friends" because we came up with the "coffee klatsch" afternoons (I know there's a similar German phrase - but we made this one up). It was our own version of the British "tea" afternoons.
After work, one or two of them would come over, we'd set up on the back elevated sun deck of my home (actually, the roof of the car garage, with a fence around it). I'd boil the water, I'd bring the grinder right outside (there was a convenient plug), I'd grind up the coffee, and we would enjoy the aromas. I would carefully measure out the grinds, pour in the boiling water, stir just a bit, and set the plunger for a 3 to 4 minute "steep". We'd take turns each day on who would push it down, and dole out the goods, in the matching cups. Then we'd talk, reminisce, or watch the world go by (my house was on one of those streets that combine small shops and restaurants and cafes with homes). We'd play a variety of those intellectual-type board games, share experiences, and... become closer friends.
Bodum was a big part of this. The ritual, the subculture was one appreciated by myself and my friends, and I think this was (and is today) the company's intent - a culture of simple sophistication and the production of a quality beverage to go along with it.
Since that time I've moved on, and coffee has always remained a beverage I enjoy and seek perfection in, but coffee is equally important to me as a social beverage. I often say some of the best memories in my lifetime revolve around coffee. It's not the taste or the brewing method or the bean that is the core of that memory. It's the time shared with valuable people. It's the time I spent watching the world go by, studying human behaviour, learning to (hopefully) be a better, more educated, more wise person. Sure I still have a lot of work to do in those last three arenas, but coffee is a big part of my life education, and I value those cultural aspects.
I also value Bodum's role in this part of my life. I'm very fortunate that I had the opportunity recently to actually tell a senior Bodum rep in the US this very story, albeit in a much shorter form. I have a soft spot in my heart for the company, and I know there are literally tens of thousands of other people who made that leap from instant coffee, or preground auto drip up to a simple, elegant, and effective brewing device known as a press pot.
I think this is why I go gah-gah over so many Bodum products these days, always snapping up the more unique ones I see up on eBay. I sincerely hope that one of their premier (and frankly, risky) products, the Bodum electric Santos brewer, succeeds in the marketplace. I know Bodum has placed a lot of stake in this brewer, and nothing would please me more than to see it become a full fledged and lasting success, with the kind of longevity that the original Santos brewer has enjoyed. This, tied in with their wide range of press pots and other coffee related devices shows the company is committed to producing superior products that not only promote good coffee, but also the artistry and cultural aspects that go along with it.
This isn't to say that Bodum is the only company to do press pot coffee - many other companies do. But Bodum is undeniably the leader in this product and its overall development and exposure to the North American market. And I truly believe that, just as I've been influenced and affected by this company and their culture of coffee in such a redeeming and valuable way, many others have as well. In fact I know this is true - I get the occasional email from a person who has also discovered the ritual of press pot coffee, the social aspects that go along with it, and they like to share the experience with me through words. Invariably, the press pot they used was made by Bodum.