Microwave Coffee

My wife and I are coffee drinkers. Beverly Mae used to drink a dozen cups of fully caffeinated coffee everyday.  By her third cup she could boogie with the best of them.  But that was a long time ago, before we got old. Now she drinks about two cups, and it’s decaffeinated. Me, on the other hand, well, I still imbibe the high-octane stuff.  I love it.

If your marriage is anything like ours, you probably own one coffee-maker, but you and your spouse drink different brands, flavors or styles of coffee.  For us, it means we have to store the contents of at least one of our coffee-pots off-site, away from the coffee-maker, in containers and carafes; perhaps cups or bowls or glasses or whatever is handy.  The coffee gets cold.

Only one of us at a time can store coffee in the coffee-pot.  But since we have two microwave-ovens, we don’t really need to keep our coffee hot.  We can turn off the coffee-maker after we brew each pot to save energy.  And so, everyday, we reheat our coffees in the microwaves, more than once, and thanks to having two of them, we don’t wait in line.

Beverly Mae and I have an eclectic collection of coffee mugs gathered together over decades of marriage. I’ve often wondered: how is it that no matter how big the coffee cup or how tiny; how robust the mug or how dainty; how full or empty we fill—or even which microwave we choose—my wife and I almost never set the timer to reheat our coffee more than once? We always seem to set the microwave to exactly the right number of minutes and seconds to heat our coffee to exactly the right temperature.

Think about it. Can there be any doubt that the mathematics required to accurately set the timer must be beyond the capabilities of 99% of the people who set these timers to reheat their coffee everyday?

The size of the cup, its thickness and material; the amount of coffee in the cup—these are important variables that are required to be taken into account when setting the timer. Not only these variables, but there is the subjective calculation: how hot do I want this coffee to be today? Real hot? Tepid? Mildly warm? There are many tricky variables to track and put into an equation. And, if we are reheating coffee for our spouses, we have to anticipate their calculation of what the best temperature is for their mood and state of mind.

It really takes a sophisticated matrix populated with complex differential and difference equations to work out what the results might be under all the possible scenarios. And it might require a government super-computer to crunch the numbers. Of course, I’ve never done the actual work of creating the matrix or the equations. Even if I had, I would have faced the daunting task of isolating all the relevant variables, the tedium of tracking all the units to make sure I ended up with seconds only in the answer, and the exhaustive testing of results to see if they match up with my expectations and experience. Successful creation and application of a workable calculus might involve a lot of tweaking.

Come to think of it, why would I do that? Guessing seems to work better and it’s a lot faster. But I wonder. Am I really guessing? Or is my brain, somehow, doing the math in some far away place inside my brain, behind the scenes and beyond my conscious scrutiny? It’s kind of mysterious, being right all the time, about something as complicated as getting the number of minutes and seconds correct when setting the timer to reheat my coffee.

And my wife, who knows no math, is just as good at the mental calculation as me. Go figure.

Billy Lee

P.S.  Readers take note: on Valentines Day, 2015, Billy Lee bought a second coffee-maker for his wife, Beverly Mae. Why it took so long for Billy Lee to solve his coffee-problem is a mystery even skilled mathematicians won’t solve.  The Editorial Board.