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Coffee - It's not your computers friend · 19.03.08 by colin newell

Coffee does not like your laptop computerI spend a lot of time in cafes… of all shapes and sizes. I also work on a University campus – that has numerous cafes and lounges.
And there is a common list of ingredients in University, College and City Cafes:

Hot coffee. Students. And expensive lap-top computers.

Two of my colleagues, who I have coffee with, tell me this tale several times a week. Students are always bringing in their shiny new laptops; apples, PC’s – it makes no difference. They are now deep into their degree, or their Masters degree or their Phd and their life is on their laptop.
And they have spilled hot coffee into the thing. Hot coffee. Into a lap top computer. And while it is running. Coffee and laptops make for a lethal combination almost 100% of the time. Ok. Maybe 90% of the time provided you are lucky enough to be drinking black coffee.

Organic. Fair trade. Bird friendly. It makes no difference. If you spill anything, including water, into a lap top computer, it is almost always a death sentence. Good bye data. Good bye thesis. Good bye dissertation.

My two coffee buddies are, by the way, Apple certified technicians – and they see an endless stream of coffee related tragedy.
For us, at coffee time, this rich hot zippy beverage is a God send. I love coffee. They love coffee. We are surrounded by coffee lovers.
And if you are a student, coffee is the fuel that gets you through those never ending all night cram sessions.

But their MacBook Pro’s hate it.

One mouthful of Ethiopian Sidamo and I am singing. Four fluid ounces of Arabica coffee poured into an i-Book generally results in tears. I kid you not. We have seen more than our share of pouty faced girls and sad-sack boys whose second biggest academic investment (next to their tuition) has just gone up in a puff of smoke… and a very recognizable scent of Starbucks.

And the only thing that fixes it is a call to Mommy or Daddy… or not.

A student asks: “My computer is dead… I spilled my coffee into it… I have the extended Apple warranty on it… Is it covered?”

Technician Mike or Al replies… “This is a warranty program, not an insurance policy…”

And yet the average college or University age person who has invested almost 2000 dollars in their computer and software feel that they are covered. But they are not. And for good reason. The other recent enemy of the delicate laptop is the physical abuse it gets on the way to and from the cafe or dorm. Imagine getting stuffed into a pack-sack 3 or 4 times a day. Picked up. Dropped. Squished in next to your lunch… or into tight spaces. No warranty covers abuse. Try and remember that kids!

Coffee (or Beer) spilled into your 17” Dell is a sure fire ticket to the loans office. There is no second chance. Coffee, by itself (black) is an almost certain path to mother-board melt-down. Add cream or sugar and there is no chance of survival. Why? The fruit acids in coffee eat through the delicate circuitry faster than airplane glue through styrofoam – and the liquid (water content) shorts stuff out guaranteeing permanent death – sorry, no coma! There is something in milk (Lactose) that reacts with the motherboard resulting in something with the processor power of a slice of burnt toast! Not good.

So what is the fix? Well. There isn’t one. When I walk into Victoria area cafes (especially ones that have wireless access) – almost each and every table has someone at it with a lap top computer – and a tall mug of joe… in close and dangerously flirtatious proximity.

What do we, the technicians, do? Well, we preach and preach – if we see a student with an open lap top near a steaming mug of mud, we let them know the stats – even if we come off as worry-wart geezers.

Frankly, I would rather not have to work on someones fried MacBook pro – because in the end run, there is only bad news, sadness… and tears.

All for the love of the coffee bean.


Colin Newell lives and works in Victoria B.C. Canada at a local University – Coffee is his best friend… but he knows that coffee has a mortal enemy… called the lap top computer!

  1. This post is completely off base.

    While it’s never a good thing to spill liquid on your laptop, a quick scan of various computing forums shows that many such incidences do NOT result in the complete demise of the machine as you state.

    There are steps that should be taken [remove battery and AC adaptor, flip laptop over to allow fluid to drain out, place near heater or in a container with rice, etc.], but even when people did everything wrong, their laptops still quite often sprang back to life. And it seems when all the correct steps are taken, the machines typically survive, albeit sometimes with minor problems of sticky keys or ports not working. But it’s certainly not the doomsday scenario you’ve described.


    A. Price    Apr 9, 12:24 pm    #
  2. Utter nonsense! I work next to a Apple Certified repair center – and I get to see first hand what happens when anything other than water is spilled into a functioning lap-top. Sadly, you do not know what you are talking about.


    Colin    Apr 9, 05:20 pm    #
  3. OK here is the lowdown from a laptop technician with firsthand experience. If you spill anything but water in your laptop there is a good chance that it will do irreversible damage. Most liquids have some sort of sugar in them and this is the culprit that does all the harm. I have seen many laptops of the Macintosh variety that have had wine, milk, juice, beer all spilled onto the keyboard and none have survived. Most of the time they are in use when the deed is done and this is when the damage is greatest. Drying out the unit near a heater of some sort will not clean out the most damaging component of the liquid. Only a take apart and thorough cleaning gives you any chance that it may survive. Many modern laptops now have air venting thru the keyboard and that also provides a nice conduit thru to the main board for any spilled liquid as well. SO, as I have first hand experience with this problem, it is DEFINITELY a serious problem that should not be ignored.


    Mike W    Apr 9, 06:05 pm    #

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