Why can't you get a decent cup of coffee at the European Commission's headquarters?

Something tasted wrong in the espresso made at the European Commission's headquarters in Brussels. And an EU archivist found out why.

Something tasted a little bit metallic in the espresso that Alexander Just, an EU archivist, was getting in his cup of Joe at the European Commission's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. So he took a sample from a cup of espresso and paid about 80 euros ($95) to have it tested for impurities.

Cimbali Espresso Machine

Imagine his surprise to find that the espresso coffee contained astronomically high levels of nickel and elevated levels of lead, both of which could cause cognitive problems, stomach ailments, and allergic reactions. Separate tests by the European Commission found similar results.

But this was no ordinary coffee machine. It was about 20 machines installed throughout the European Commissions headquarters called Berlaymont, used for espresso drunk by its highest ranking officials including the President.

But there's more.

It turns out that the machines were purchased and installed for about 5,000 Euros ($6,500) each, for a total of about 100,000 Euros paid to Italy's Gruppo Cimbali. That's about the most expensive machine possible (see attached photo of Cimbali's top-of-the-line machine)

Now while having to work under the mind-bending influence of nickel and lead, the European Commission is having to defense its Louis XIV style spending on lavish coffee machines. ""The commission has to get the best value for money and that doesn't always necessarily mean we buy the cheapest products available," said Dennis Abbott, a spokesman for the commission. He added "You wouldn't expect government ministers to waste their time queuing for coffee when they could be doing government work"

The issue isn't yet resolved. The machines have been removed. The Italian espresso machine vendor Cimbali says that its machines comply with all environmental standards. So now the EC is testing both the machines and the water lines.

There are a couple of weird elements to this story. First, that an employee would care enough to have his coffee tested independently by a lab (lucky he did). Second, that the EU paid an astronomical amount for 20 coffee machines. And perhaps third, that there would be such a high amount of metal in the coffee machines.

Get a cup of coffee and stay tuned. Before we know it, the European Commission will issue a thousand pages of regulations for coffee machines sold in Europe.

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