1743: Coffee

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Remind me to order another pack of coffee filters from Dyson. Man, these things are EXPENSIVE.
Title text: Remind me to order another pack of coffee filters from Dyson. Man, these things are EXPENSIVE.


In this comic Cueball and Megan are anticipating guests. Offering coffee to house guests is a commonly-accepted courtesy in the United States (and most of the western world (and rest of the world (except where people serve tea))). However, they seem to be unaware of the basics of coffee making. Cueball is concerned that this lack of knowledge is an indication of their mutual immaturity (thinking of himself as a "fake adult").

This comic thus follows a frequently used theme of people growing up but finding themselves unable or unwilling to accept traditional adult roles (see 150: Grownups, 441: Babies, 616: Lease, 905: Homeownership and 1674: Adult). While there are cultures where coffee is served to children, it is generally seen in the United States (and western world (and rest of the world (except where people serve tea))) as an adult beverage—like beer which has also served as the subject in the comic 1534: Beer.

Megan is, however, confident that the necessary steps can be determined. The steps she follows however are quite unorthodox...

She attempts to make coffee by pouring the ingredients on the ground (misinterpreting the meaning of "ground coffee"), sucking it up with a Dyson vacuum cleaner (misinterpreting the meaning of "vacuum brewing"), then boiling the mixture by placing the vacuum cleaner's removable plastic canister over a hot stove, and pouring the resulting sludge through the vacuum-cleaner filter (instead of a standard coffee filter).

Megan says she is a regular "Starbuck" after pouring the batch of coffee, believing the name of the cafe chain Starbucks to be synonymous with the actual job title "barista", further indicating a general lack of knowledge regarding the subject of coffee. The Starbucks coffee chain was loosely named after the fictional character Starbuck from the book Moby Dick, so she could be referring to this, although Starbuck had nothing to do with coffee brewing! The third possible interpretation is that Megan is unaware of the reason for Starbucks' naming and thought that it was the possessive "Starbuck's" and that the founder was named Starbuck. See more trivia about Starbuck below.

This method of making coffee would be very expensive as it would most likely destroy the vacuum-cleaner canister and filter. If the vacuum cleaner had ever been used, then it would not be very hygienic either, although if it had not been used then the floor would probably also be very unhygienic anyway. Since the plastic from the canister has probably also gone into contact with the sludge after being heated over open fire, there is a high risk that this "coffee" is actually poisonous for more than one reason.

The title text refers to the expense of replacing the "filter", as vacuum-cleaner filters are considerably more costly than single-use coffee filters.

This was the first of two comics in a row about food, the next being 1744: Metabolism.


[Cueball and Megan are talking.]
Cueball: We should make coffee for our guests.
Megan: Crap. I know nothing about coffee.
Cueball: We're basically fake adults.
Megan: Don't panic. We can figure this out.
[Megan shakes a can of coffee grounds out on the floor as Cueball watches.]
Megan: We just pour the coffee grounds...
[Pan to only Megan who pours a pail of water over the grounds now lying in a pile on the floor.]
Megan: ...Add water...
[Cueball watches as Megan vacuums up the mixture on the floor with a bag-less vacuum cleaner, the wire going off panel right behind her.]
Vacuum cleaner: Vrrrr
[Megan is holding the dirt canister from the vacuum cleaner over two lit gas burners on a stove. The canister free vacuum cleaner is standing behind her and Cueball is behind this watching her.]
Megan: Now we just hold it over the burners...
Burners: Hissss
[Megan is holding the dirt canister over one shoulder while pouring the hot content into a small mug, as Cueball watches. Three wiggly lines above the liquid indicates that it is hot.]
Megan: Annnd... serve.
Cueball: Nice!
Megan: I'm a regular Starbuck!


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For me as a non-native speaker this XKCD looks like the guests ordered Ground Coffee and Cueball didn't realize that ground might come von "grind". Gunterkoenigsmann (talk)--

I hadn't even noticed that pun, thanks! 10:16, 7 October 2016 (UTC)
Thanks for catching all the puns, that helped make the comic funnier. Explain xkcd at its best. Jkshapiro (talk) 01:35, 9 October 2016 (UTC)

With "I'm a regular Starbuck" Megan says, she is a regular visitor of Starbuck and has learned her skills there watching. Sebastian -- 08:10, 7 October 2016 (UTC)

Since the Starbucks coffee chain writes their name as a plural, I just assumed it was a cross-referential joke about the Starbuck character on Battlestar Galactica. 10:16, 7 October 2016 (UTC)
I also like to think "Starbuck" here refers as much to the Battlestar Galactica character here as to the coffee shop. I'm pretty sure he is the one who explained how things worked in the show. Being from another time & planet, his explanations were usually a crude interpretation of actuality and were funnier for being mostly right but decidedly odd. 19:04, 7 October 2016 (UTC)
On Capitain Ahab's ship in Moby Dick there was a chef mate named Starbuck. But I fail to see a connection to this XKCD. -- Gunterkoenigsmann (talk) 20:25, 9 October 2016 (UTC)

The expensive coffee filter comment might be a reference to the ridiculously high prices for vacuum cleaner bags. -- 08:12, 7 October 2016 (UTC)

Ironic, since Dyson vacuums are "bagless" & use a canister instead. (Which is disgusting, by the way.) 10:16, 7 October 2016 (UTC)
Actually even Dyson vacuums have at least two filters in them. -- 10:21, 7 October 2016 (UTC)
Filters, but not bags. Emptying & subsequently cleaning the removable canister on a bagless vacuum can be hazardous for anyone with allergies (or just anyone, if the canister contains toxic or noxious materials); Not that most vacuum-cleaners aren't basically big dust blowers anyway. Inboard HEPA filters mitigate the dust issue during use, but emptying the canister itself can be a delicate & irritatingly messy task. Aside from the bag material wasted during disposal, bag-vacuums are in some respects very much preferable to bagless. Personally, I recommend eschewing vacuum-cleaners entirely, avoiding wall-to-wall carpeting like the plague, & using area rugs which can be removed for a thorough cleaning (on BOTH sides). 11:17, 7 October 2016 (UTC)
why don't you just vacuum out the canister? (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
Actually, the latest Dysons have no filters at all, because they improved the cyclonic filtering to render them unnecessary. That's what Dyson claims, anyway. 09:13, 13 October 2016 (UTC)

Can you actually "hoover" something up with a Dyson? ;-) 08:37, 7 October 2016 (UTC)

Decidedly not! That's like saying you are "rollerblading" when you are actually just inline-skating, or calling any cola a "Coke". You don't go toyotaing in your Chevrolet & you don't Colgate your teeth; such branding idioms really annoy me. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to gutenberg some compuserve post-its before my redenbachers are done kenmoring. 10:16, 7 October 2016 (UTC)
This may be a UK v. US English issue, my British friends all refer to vacuuming as "hoovering." Through usage over years, some proper nouns become 'ordinary' nouns (e.g., linoleum, jacuzzi, etc.). Miamiclay (talk) 03:19, 8 October 2016 (UTC)
Additionally, there are many places in the US (especially in the south/southeast) where all colas (and sometimes, all sodas in general) are called 'Coke' and all tissues are called Kleenex. Additionally, none of the proper nouns you mentioned as examples are often used as verbs, whereas 'to hoover' is in regular usage, as is 'to google,' even when the action is performed with a different search engine. Finally, the term 'Rollerblading' is so commonly used instead of the phrase 'in-line skating' that it's lost its capitalization. This entire conversation is pointless in its pedanticity.-- 23:31, 9 October 2016 (UTC)
OMG, I had always assumed that "to hoover" came from the tendency of the FBI to suck up enormous quantities of information, and was referencing the former director. Sort of like how "the Don Ameche" meant "the telephone" to my parents' generation because of his role as Alexander G. Bell. 10:41, 11 October 2016 (UTC)

megan explicitly calls them "grounds," probably because that's what they're called on the packet. no one mentioned beans. what made you think of beans? also, she's heard of "starbucks" and thinks it's a collection, and, since she is just one person she calls herself a starbuck. oh well. -- 11:54, 7 October 2016 (UTC)

are made of plastic and would melt or ignite if placed over direct heat from a stove – no, they wouldn’t; not as long as there is liquid water in it. You can even use a paper-cup to boil water. --DaB. (talk) 17:03, 7 October 2016 (UTC)

I thought about that too but it depends on the thermal conductivity of the material. Paper cups are thin enough to transmit the flame's heat to the water efficiently; the same is not true of a styrofoam cup. (Another word that is technically still a trademark, by the way.) I suspect a vacuum-cleaner canister would be thick enough and enough of an insulator that it would get damaged. Jkshapiro (talk) 01:35, 9 October 2016 (UTC)
Also, some kinds of plastics, while not directly melting, will become "plastics" enough to bend under weight even in temperatures near boiling water. PET bottles will not survive boiling water, for example. -- Hkmaly (talk) 15:21, 9 October 2016 (UTC)

Another reason why the coffee will be very expensive: if you throw a package of beans on the ground, you need many, many, many beans, as there is not enough surface on the beans to make the water brown and give the water any taste. With ground coffee you can get several cans out of one package, the method illustrated here needs at least one package per try. --User:Anonymous guest 20:19, 7 October 2016 (UTC)

I think this might also be related to the The Coffee Test, proposed by Goertzel as a way to measure Artificial general inteligence. By this standards they really seem to be "fake adults". Qbolec (talk) 15:16, 9 October 2016 (UTC)

When I first saw this cartoon - I thought that the point was that our heroes had looked online for a way to do this - and somehow tripped over one of those old vacuum cleaner adverts where the salesperson throws coffee grounds and water onto your rug, then vacuums it up to have it look like new. I'm not sure that was what was in Randalls head - but it's another interpretation of the cause of the error that is being made in the story. SteveBaker (talk) 01:37, 10 October 2016 (UTC)

When I saw the overall content, I thought it was in reference to the quality of Starbucks coffee... tastes about the same as drink something brewed off the floor. 19:29, 11 October 2016 (UTC)

I have some issues with parts of the current explanation, primarily due to the fact that I own a Dyson and know its parts inside and out. For starters, while it does have two filters, the materials collected in the canister are never in contact with either one. Both filters are for removing fine particles from the expelled airflow, with the last one at the HEPA level. In addition, my Dyson is not designed to vacuum liquids (although newer models may allow it), and some of the liquid might get to the first filter element at the motor and cause minor problems (yuck), but both filters are in fact washable and don't need be replaced. Furthermore, when Megan is pouring out the canister, there's no filter in that area of the canister to remove either the coffee grounds or 'the ground' from the brewed coffee - I think this is part of the 'eewwww' factor with this comic!

Since this is a bit pedantic, I'm not going to alter the current explanation but wanted to point out these details from my own Dyson. Peace, out.  ;-) --Ianrbibtitlht (talk) 17:07, 5 June 2017 (UTC)

It could also indicate that the characters have never used the vacuum, as Cueball and Meghan don't even know how a vacuum filter works