New Orleans residents can generally anticipate an impending boil water advisory when their water pressure drops, but, apparently, one local coffee shop’s 40-year-old espresso machine is an even more reliable soothsayer.
The city has been through rough weather this week — it experienced multiple days in a row of street flooding, thunderous middle-of-the-night storms, and a now-verified tornado touched down around 2 a.m. Wednesday, May 12, striking Uptown and traveling more than five miles before wrapping up its destruction in Algiers. And as the icing on the cake (though the week’s not over), the city issued a boil water advisory Wednesday night, due to a power outage at the Carrollton Avenue water plant. Coincidentally, this is the same plant that was one of President Biden’s stops during his visit to New Orleans and Louisiana last week, shown as a prime example of a system in crisis that he wants to address with a proposed $2 trillion federal infrastructure plan.
The boil water advisory was probably least surprising to Kevin Pedeaux, owner of Coast Roast Coffee, who tweeted out a boil water prediction Wednesday night based on his fortune-telling machine. The city issued the advisory about 40 minutes later.
The hot water in the espresso machine at St Roch backs up and blows up the filtration system when the incoming water pressure is low. It happened tonight. Usually that happens before a boil water advisory is called. @SWBNewOrleans— Kevin Pedeaux (@Kpedeaux) May 13, 2021
Eater chatted with Pedeaux about the special machine, which he says predicts a boil water advisory with “100 percent accuracy.” Pedeaux says the 1980s-era espresso machine, which he got from a tinkerer in Gretna, is entirely manual — no computers involved. It’s located at the Coast Roast stall in St. Roch Market and is the only manual machine he has in his various shops — and also the only one that will alert to an impending advisory based on its function.
As Pedeaux explains it, an espresso machine is nothing but a hot water heater, really. “When the incoming pressure drops suddenly, the hot water and boiling steam backs up into the filtration systems,” Pedeaux says, at which point the filter blows up, essentially, or splits — even with solid brass, heat-resistant piping, and three high-pressure check valves that Pedeaux swears to the plumbers out there are oriented correctly. When this happens, the bottom line is the need to replace a filter — something Pedeaux has done many times. He’s also rebuilt the machine several times, including once from the ground up during the COVID-19 pandemic — but if that water pressure drops, the system ends up leaking.
Interestingly, this now-familiar sequence of events will occur even when the neighborhood St. Roch Market is located in doesn’t experience a low enough drop in water pressure to qualify for a boil advisory. Meaning even though downriver neighborhoods weren’t included in this week’s boil water advisory (which was just lifted Friday morning) the machine was still able to predict the forthcoming advisory for the Uptown neighborhoods that were affected.
Pedeaux isn’t sure why modern, computer-based espresso machines don’t have the same problem when the water pressure drops. He has no plans to replace the St. Roch machine, though — it’s become too much of a puzzle Pedeaux would like to one day solve.
“Maybe a plumber out there will be able to help me figure it out,” Pedeaux says, though several have tried and failed. “There must be one plumber out there who hasn’t worked on a machine since like, the ‘90s — that’s who I need to find.”