My coffeemaker broke. It was a no-name freebie, a long-ago inducement to buy Gevalia coffee. (I bought just enough coffee to get the coffeemaker, then quit the subscription program. Sorry, Gevalia.) I was reduced to consuming my emergency supply of Starbucks Via, which I’d been saving for the Big One.
I needed a replacement, stat.
I didn’t want a French press: I’d tried one and disliked the results (lukewarm, gritty). I didn’t want a cappuccino-espresso maker. I didn’t want one of those trendy single-serve K-cup models, which strike me as absurdly wasteful, especially if you want a little bit more than a single cup every morning. I didn’t want a 15-cup behemoth suitable for a medium-size office.
I wanted something compact, efficient, effective, and not too expensive.
One of my Twitter pals recommended a Braun four-cup model, but it seems to have been discontinued. Someone else recommended Technivorm, a Dutch brand I was tempted to buy on the basis of its name alone, but the smallest model costs $280, which is about four times more than I was willing to part with.
So I asked Amazon to suggest a four- or five-cup automatic coffeemaker with high marks from reviewers. And Amazon replied: “Zutto.”
I was intrigued. I’d never heard of Zutto, but I was charmed by the name. (I’ll get back to the name in a minute.) A little research revealed that the appliance’s Japanese manufacturer, Zojirushi*, was founded in 1918, which reassured me. Amazon gave the model I was considering, the EC-DAC50**, a solid four-star rating based on 124 reviews. Zojirushi also makes the much better-known Air Pot push-top beverage dispenser. And—whaddya know!—Zojirushi America Corporation is right down the road in Union City, California, in case I ever needed parts or service.
I’ll cut to the happy ending: I received my Zutto coffeemaker two days after I placed the order, immediately set it up, admired its handsome looks, and made a test pot. Excellent. Even with $7.99-a-pound Trader Joe’s coffee.
My new Zutto EC-DAC50.
But you didn’t come here for a coffee review. You came here to find out why the Zutto name works so well.
Here’s what I learned about the name from the Amazon copy:
Zutto (Zoot-tow), meaning “always” in Japanese, is designed to be enjoyed and used universally, for any occasion, anytime.
Nice story, appropriate meaning. But the name’s success goes beyond the literal.
For one thing, it’s easy and fun to say; the pronunication guide is superfluous. For another, it sounds vaguely European—I originally thought it might be Italian (as in zuppa) or French (as in zut alors!). Now, it happens that Japan has for many years enjoyed a thriving coffee culture; it’s the third-largest importer of coffee beans in the world and has had coffee shops along with tea shops since 1888. But for most North Americans, Europe is the model of “aspirational” coffee consumption. (Not for nothing did Starbucks import terms like barista and venti.) A name that conjures up double espressos on the Ponte Vecchio or café au lait and croissants on the Rive Gauche sounds right to our ears.
The Zutto name also benefits from distinctiveness. It’s probably coincidental, but a large number of coffeemaker brands in the US mimic the initial consonant sound of “coffee”: Krups, Cuisinart, Kalorik, Keurig—even Mr. Coffee. Most of the others cluster in the first half of the alphabet: Bunn, Braun, Black & Decker, Hamilton Beach. I couldn’t find a single coffeemaker other than Zutto whose name started with a Z.
Bonus points: If you know the Zojiroshi parent company, Zutto will sound like a member of the family. Repeating the initial letter reinforces the relationship.
Here’s something else I learned that tickled me: The Zutto line includes rice cookers that incorporate “advanced Neuro Fuzzy® logic technology, which allows the rice cooker to ‘think’ for itself and make fine adjustments to temperature and heating time to cook perfect rice every time.” Neuro Fuzzy: how great is that? Turns out it’s an actual thing and not just a cute trademark: In the field of artificial intelligence, “neuro-fuzzy” refers to combinations of artificial neural networks and fuzzy logic. (See the Wikipedia entry, which I should warn you has been flagged for quality issues.) I’m not currently in the market for a rice cooker, but if I ever am, I will definitely be looking for the neuro-fuzziest one I can find.
* I couldn’t find out exactly what “Zojirushi” means, but “Zo” is Japanese for “elephant,” which, according to the corporate website, symbolizes strength, intelligence, and familiarity. “Shirushi,” which changes to “jirushi” in the compound, means “mark” or “brand.” (Thanks, Yoko, for the explanation!) The company took the name in 1961—it had originally been called Ichikawa Brothers Trading Company—and began using a logo that incorporates a stylized elephant.
** As much as I love “Zutto,” I can’t muster any warmth whatsoever for “EC-DAC50.” I have no idea what it stands for.