The coffee served in the private offices of European Commissioners tasted decidedly odd, even though the espresso machines cost more than $7,500 each.
The metallic tang was too much for one official, who sent samples from his machine back to his native Austria for testing — only to receive results suggesting that the European Union’s most senior figures were being slowly poisoned.
Now the Commission’s entire collection of elegant Cimbali coffee-makers, together worth $153,500, have been mothballed while the Italian company — which disputes the findings — carries out its own analysis.
Meanwhile, the most important unelected officials in the EU, often criticized for their grand lifestyles and generous allowances, are getting a taste of what it is like to line up in the cafeteria for coffee — or even to drink tea.
The tests commissioned in Austria by Alexander Just, an archivist with a background in biology, suggested that in every cup that he tested he found up to 175 times the recommended intake of nickel and doses of lead that were 16 percent above the level considered safe.
“The result was shocking,” Just wrote to the Office of Infrastructure and Logistics at the European Commission. “Two parameters of heavy metals are above the legally allowed limit for drinking water and therefore should not be used for drinking any more.”
Members of staff in the Berlaymont headquarters of the European Commission in Brussels have been sent a helpful medical note advising them of the symptoms of high nickel doses.