Bonavita Brewer crop
Several years ago, I was attending an SCAA event. Nancy Bloostein, of Oren’s Daily Roast nudged me and suggested I take a look at some new Melitta coffee makers. I ran (literally) over to see what appeared to be Technivorm knock-offs. They were labeled Melitta, but I was then told that they would appear on the marketplace soon under a new name, Bonavita. According to what I was told, Melitta licenses their nameplate to Hamilton Beach in the US. Therefore, although these were Melitta conceived and designed, no mention of Melitta would appear in the US market brewers.

Fast forward to 2014, Bonavita is now a treasured brand. What seems a simple proposition to make an excellent brewer priced to the average consumer, has long eluded most appliance brands. Even though it seems simple, apparently it is not. You need a smart design, one that gets the water almost-instantly hot, a spray heat that evenly disperses that hot water over the grounds, achieving even distribution, and gets the grounds thoroughly soaked, and gets all this done, start-to-finish, within 6 minutes.

So revolutionary was the Bonavita concept that it currently is the leading automatic drip coffeemaker. Bunn, Technivorm, Bodum, KitchenAid and Behmor all have fairly comparable brewers that compete, but somehow the Bonavita just seems to have an edge, when it comes to hitting the consumer sweet spot of price, performance, quality and ease. Remember if it isn’t easy, it isn’t automatic, is it?

So far, I’ve compared the Bonavita only to other automatic drip brewers. But as Third Wave Coffee has emerged, the bar has been lifted, as more consumers who use a Chemex, Hario or other manual brewer for their weekend or other special brews, want an automatic drip brewer to reach higher to match these inherently customized devices.

One interesting change: Bonavita has moved from the Melitta V-filter to the US-cupcake filter. Does this mean that Melitta no longer designs this brewer? Inquiring minds ponder this. Although I have found differences such as filter types to generally be outweighed by other factors, I philosophically agree with the reasoning that the cupcake filter spreads the grounds extraction task more evenly at the bottom, so I consider it a good (if shocking) move. I also applaud their resistance of the metal filter, which I consider overall inferior to paper in its ability to separate flavor compounds from grounds.

There are two things the Bonavita did not do as compared to manual drip. One is vary the brewing temperature. The other is match the intermittent pour that we use when we brew manually, which is especially important near the brew’s beginning when using fresh roasted coffee.

The new Bonavita offers only one brewing temperature, but they have gone out of their way to include a pre-infusion stage, which sprinkles ideally hot water over the grounds, then shuts down in order to allow a freshly-roasted, freshly-ground coffee to rise and fall appropriately, before continuously running hot water over the grounds.

So, how does it perform?

The new Bonavita handily meets every specification of an automatic drip coffeemaker, as did its predecessor. The brewing temperature is within the 196-205°F range. The brewing cycle (without pre infusion) is under 6 minutes. Pre-infusion adds around 30 seconds, as it should.
The ability to match intermittent brewing with your (or your barista’s) best efforts keeping pace with the water’s drip rate during brewing is not able to track as well as manual brewing, in my opinion the goal. Nor is it with the Behmor Brazen or any other yet-invented automatic brewer. What I can say, is I never had an overflow, no matter how fresh the grounds. I inserted a Chemex underneath the Bonavita, which is to be fair, not anything they suggest or offer to accommodate. The brew drip rate was simply too fast, even in the pre-infusion setting. But, this is more about how fast consumer expectations are rising, than any shortcoming on this brewer’s part.

What’s left? Well, the Behmor Brazen offers adjustable brewing temperatures and adjustable pre-infusion time settings. Will this matter to you? I cannot answer that, but I can say the Bonavita does a very, acceptable job with several coffees I’ve been using since it arrived one month ago.
Temple Roasters Panama Don Pepe Boquete Geisha is a light roasted delicate coffee that showed its full colors when brewed in the Bonavita. I was able to closely match what I could achieve in a Chemex.

Kean Coffee’s Nicaragua La Prometido is roasted slightly darker, or is it just the Diedrich roasting imprint? Not sure, but this stellar varietal comes through with its notes intact. This kind of roast is not for the timid (roaster that is). To catch it just before it starts to go caramel on us, is really a test of roasting skill. I was able to taste the full resolution of the coffee with the Bonavita.

Conclusion: The Bonavita took a good idea and made it better. There is not one thing I noted where I said, “Oh, I wish they hadn’t changed that”. Bravo!

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Conan’s Coffee Clip: Did He Nail It or What?

by Coffee Kevin on November 20, 2014

Conan and Dan in segmentBy now, everyone has likely seen the Conan coffee clip where his coffee snob employee snubs an Intelligentsia espresso. Don’t worry. Intelligentsia is laughing all the way to the bank, as the snub gave them an opportunity to put the dissenter in his place. Meanwhile, it warmed my heart to see coffee given its minute of fame (actually eight minutes of good air time). There were some genuinely funny moments in it.

Conan O’Brien is among my favorite on-air comics. He plays his everyman role well. Jordan Schlansky, plays the dour office coffee snob to perfection. An unfortunate side effect of becoming a connoisseur in any art appears to be the loss of humor, and he characterizes it nicely. This is all good. But, what, if anything did the segment accomplish in teaching a mass audience about coffee?

Single origin versus blends – Jordan points out that he prefers a traditional Italian espresso over the single origin American one prepared on camera by an Intelligentsia barista. Most Americans probably know that Starbucks did its own version of espresso, but likely some learned for the first time that the latest round using one coffee type is still very different from the original drink.  Jordan made a point that traditional espresso almost inherently contains both Arabica and Robusta coffee types, a blend which he thinks tastes better.

Roasts – After warming up by questioning the use of a single origin over a blend for espresso, Jordan challenges the holy grail of the Third Wave – its roast.  He taunts Sam and Eden, the two Intelligentsia employees by attacking their light roast’s suitability for espresso. Sam points out that they chose espresso since Jordan stated it was his interest. One of the things I like most about Third Wave is its return to brewed coffee to strut its stuff. I wished they’d brewed using a Chemex or Hario, myself. But, it’s a fun and still informative bit.

Brewing – Jordan finally takes issue with what he identifies as over-filling the coffee machine with grounds, creating a too-strong coffee, versus his nostalgia for a more pleasant (if weaker) 7 grams per 25 ml water (traditional espresso shot). He is here, in effect, really attacking the Americanization aspect of Third Wave espresso. Here, the Intelligentsia on-air staff, who do an overall admirable job keeping straight faces in what must have been a high-tension situation (all of professional coffeedom’s eyes were no doubt on them) had one of their lesser moments, in my opinion. Admittedly it’s a tough theological coffee question (I’m not sure who could have really answered it better) but when basically asked if their coffee is too strong, barista Eden answered that they have determined the strength using scientific measurements. Her words: “What we are looking for is the proper amount of extraction for each coffee particle”. Jordan retorts, “By whose criteria?” I know this is supposed to be fun, but in my opinion, this is a key question, one I hope resonates with the industry’s leaders, who should really be careful before they use numbers as arguments. In other words, it all really still starts, not with science, but with someone’s opinion. While I believe this is really how it should be (and in reality, must be), it should serve as a deterrent to the idea that somehow anyone has a definitive lock when it comes to these numbers. Meanwhile, to get consumers to even think about measuring a recipe is definitely good.

Third Wave identified – Just as in the 1960s most kids nationwide learned the Southern California surfing jargon in the Beach Boys song Surfin’ USA, there may be a million TV viewers who learned the term Third Wave for the first time in this segment, as well as got at least a partial definition of what it means. I refer of course to the description of coffee growth in the US (and elsewhere) as split into waves. First Wave (as I understand it) refers to the general explosion of a culinary coffee market after it was discovered that beans given extra farming and grading attention were special and the term Specialty Coffee (credited to San Francisco coffee importer Erna Knutsen) was coined. Second Wave is often given to Starbucks, Peet’s and other roasters’ emphasis on (darker) roasts that called attention to the roaster, with an emphasis on espresso extraction. Third Wave became a popular term (I heard it first from legendary coffee pioneer roaster George Howell) to describe single-origin coffee roasted (usually very lightly) to emphasize its origin characteristics at the expense of roast development and (in the extreme) any hint of caramel flavor. The best part of Third Wave coffee (to me) has been the emphasis on brewing, often using manual devices, and a return to filtered coffee over espresso as the preferred extraction method.

Identifying and introducing to mainstream conversation the term Third Wave might be the anthropologist’s desert. I know it made my heart skip! Having consumers learn what the heck some of this means, arguments and who’s right aside, is good for business. It does more to give people an understanding why they’re lining up and waiting ten minutes to get their morning coffee at Intelligentsia (and others) each day. Yes, there will be some who will have an epiphany that they really don’t like what they’re getting and may switch back to something plainer. But, there will also be water cooler coffee talk at work. Some will try the coffee minus cream and sweetener (Intelligentsia does offer it, as do most Third Wave coffee environs). Some will become super elitist and seek out the traditional espressos (ie: Bay Area’s Mr. Espresso) and decide for themselves. The important thing is they will have their coffee consciousness raised. And, yes, they may start questioning the standards, realizing that their own taste buds are entitled to be heard in the quest for the perfect cup.

If this was supposed to be a debate, I think everyone won, with Jordan winning some surprising points, no doubt in part because as a performer he was less nervous, but also because he was able to slip in some genuine questions many of us are asking, and I am overall a fan of Third Wave Coffee. Intelligentsia’s Sam Sabori and Eden-Marie Abramowicz handled their parts with aplomb and they were good at advancing their company’s image without themselves seeing too snobbish. It’s hard to be on the spot and they were really playing themselves, not roles, a far more self-conscious circumstance. The heat was on, and the TV people are always going to win, as Bill O’Reilly, Jon Stewart, Ellen DeGeneres prove each airing. Conan O’Brien himself, really played the straight man, giving his fellow player the main character role. Points were made, I think in the consumer’s behalf.

A glance at social media since shows the industry saying how important it is to get the word out there. I  hope behind closed doors they are also saying they need to listen to consumers, mainstream and also informed ones as the segment’s Jordan Schlansky, who I continuously find are raising questions about coffee. I keep saying the industry needs a healthy combination of leading and following consumer tastes. Most industry professionals would I think agree with this. There really are some high-end consumers out here who are as knowledgeable as the trade professionals.

Kudos to all who created the segment, and especially to the Conan O’Brien Show. They really gave coffee a boost in this entertaining segment.

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National Coffee Day Reflections

September 29, 2014
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I saw several signs this morning: “Free Coffee in honor of National Coffee Day”. Instead of looking for a free cup of coffee today, I suggest you go the other way: Try a coffee a notch above what you usually purchase. You might be surprised by its taste, its aroma. If you like cream and […]

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What I Really Think of K-Cups

September 9, 2014

Recently, I reviewed every brewing format in the U.S. I freely admit I was previously strongly biased against pods in general and specifically the K-Cup, the number one pod format. My reasons weren’t simple connoisseur snobbery, but cool analysis based upon the following industry givens: Coffee must be brewed within two weeks from roasting. Drip […]

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Keurig 2.0 Debuts!

August 25, 2014

As I write this, the next generation Keurig machine is moments away from hitting American consumers. Keurig is doing everything to get the word out. I’ve had a sneak preview here and there, places such as SCAA’s recent Conference and the International Housewares Show, where prototypes were on display. I will disclose that they’ve even […]

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Aeropress: Little Coffeemaker that Could

July 8, 2014

The Aeropress marks the longest I’ve ever waited for formally review a product. I met inventor Alan Adler nine or more years ago. We were introduced by then Bunn VP Aimee Markelz. Just to show how gracious some people can be even in an industry with such hot competition as coffeemakers, Ms Markelz was walking […]

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Another Coffee is Wine Article

January 9, 2014

Oh, no! Not another coffee is wine article!! Ever since the coffee trade learned how much wine is marked up before you and I buy it, they’ve salivated over this analogy. Is coffee like wine? Of course it is, just like maple syrup, blueberries and salmon. There are grades and flavor differences based upon where […]

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Is Coffee Brewing a Science or an Art?

November 30, 2013
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Is brewing a science or an art? A colleague recently posted this article on Linked-In. http://www.ajcoffeeco.com/blog/coffee-brewing-science-or-art/?goback=%2Egde_43141_member_5796946764351184896#%21 It’s a fairly concise piece that attempts to answer its question, but along the way I find it gets confused. It makes the point that a true professional barista should not need to use a scale and that an accomplished […]

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Coffee For Congress: Coffee on The Hill Event 10/22/13

October 25, 2013
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During the recent National Coffee Association Summit in Philadelphia, I discovered the NCA planned a one-day coffee event for Congress to help bring attention to coffee and coffee issues.  The NCA’s Donna Pacheco seemed to have everything planned, but when I volunteered she graciously suggested I might be able to discuss coffee with the Congressional […]

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Should you Jump on the AeroPress Coffee Bandwagon?

August 18, 2013

Much like Coffee Kevin, our crew tests and evaluates every brewing gadget large or small and we share our feedback. Some equipment is strictly for commercial use: Does anyone need 240 cups of coffee per hour at home? Maybe, it depends on how many coffee drinkers live with you — I know that I could […]

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