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Why did my cup explode when instant coffee was added?

Your Mattness:

The other day I was reduced to making myself a cup of (ugh!) instant coffee. I put a cup of water in the microwave, zapped it for a couple of minutes, took it out, dropped in the coffee powder, and the whole thing exploded. What happened? Did somebody slip dynamite into the Nescafe jar? Was it a warning from the all-powerful Starbucks? Should I be afraid of instant coffee?

-- Jeff, SDSU

Tut-tut, Jeff. Pit bulls. I-15 at 5:00. The Disney juggernaut. Those are things to be afraid of. Exploding coffee cups is a problem easily solved. First of all, not all hot water is created equal. Or equally. When you boil water on the stove, it hots up at the bottom first. The hot water rises, the cold stuff at the top falls, setting up little ocean currents in the pot, so we can see that the water is "boiling." The other clue is all the bubbles of steam that rise from the pot bottom. They form when the heated-up water swishes by a tiny scratch or other imperfection in the pot bottom. Any scratch or bump gives the bubbles a place to form. When enough steam has clumped together, the bubble is light enough to float and it rises to the top and pops. I'm sure you're familiar with the scenario. Leaning lazily on the stove, watching water boil is exactly the kind of mindless activity that hypnotizes us while our little mind voice that sounds strangely like Mom is telling us to get in the shower, get dressed, get to work.

Micro boiling is a whole different thing, and ten times more boring than watching the pot on the stove. Because the waves heat all the water at once, no convection currents form. Not enough water comes in contact with the bubble-starters. We have no visual evidence that anything is going on. It's actually possible to heat the water beyond the boiling point while the water lies there as innocently as Golden Pond. But as soon as you take the cup out of the wave machine and dump in the coffee, you provide jillions of tiny points at which steam can form. Steam forms. Coffee explodes like Mt. Etna. Next time, you pour the coffee in before you nuke the cup.

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Your Mattness:

The other day I was reduced to making myself a cup of (ugh!) instant coffee. I put a cup of water in the microwave, zapped it for a couple of minutes, took it out, dropped in the coffee powder, and the whole thing exploded. What happened? Did somebody slip dynamite into the Nescafe jar? Was it a warning from the all-powerful Starbucks? Should I be afraid of instant coffee?

-- Jeff, SDSU

Tut-tut, Jeff. Pit bulls. I-15 at 5:00. The Disney juggernaut. Those are things to be afraid of. Exploding coffee cups is a problem easily solved. First of all, not all hot water is created equal. Or equally. When you boil water on the stove, it hots up at the bottom first. The hot water rises, the cold stuff at the top falls, setting up little ocean currents in the pot, so we can see that the water is "boiling." The other clue is all the bubbles of steam that rise from the pot bottom. They form when the heated-up water swishes by a tiny scratch or other imperfection in the pot bottom. Any scratch or bump gives the bubbles a place to form. When enough steam has clumped together, the bubble is light enough to float and it rises to the top and pops. I'm sure you're familiar with the scenario. Leaning lazily on the stove, watching water boil is exactly the kind of mindless activity that hypnotizes us while our little mind voice that sounds strangely like Mom is telling us to get in the shower, get dressed, get to work.

Micro boiling is a whole different thing, and ten times more boring than watching the pot on the stove. Because the waves heat all the water at once, no convection currents form. Not enough water comes in contact with the bubble-starters. We have no visual evidence that anything is going on. It's actually possible to heat the water beyond the boiling point while the water lies there as innocently as Golden Pond. But as soon as you take the cup out of the wave machine and dump in the coffee, you provide jillions of tiny points at which steam can form. Steam forms. Coffee explodes like Mt. Etna. Next time, you pour the coffee in before you nuke the cup.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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