Bonavita Coffeemaker

Bonavita Coffeemaker

For a long time the Technivorm coffee brewer has been the out-front champion consumer auto drip machine. Other than Bunn, there’s been no one that’s even been close. At last year’s Specialty Coffee Association bash in Houston, I spied a truly interesting Technivorm lookalike. I begged a sample and one day my UPS driver showed up with it on my front porch.The Bonavita 8-cup looks a lot like a Technivorm, enough to be called a knock-off. But, knock-offs serve an important place in consumer culture. They give those of us down the working class a chance to taste the gear caviar we otherwise can’t afford. So, how does it measure up?

First, the Bonavita hits the basic temperature of the Technivorm, not quite its ruler flat 200°F, but comfortably in the 195 to 205 industry spec. This will be made a big deal of by some, and I can’t deny it is at least partially true. If you’re a total perfectionist, the Technivorm will still be your machine when it comes to the art of delivering stable 200°F water to your grounds. The Technivorm produces a magical full 40 ounces in just over six minutes. This upstart brewer is capable of making the same size batch in just over five. Whether this is an improvement or not is subjective. Some might say it’s closer to the ideal “American” cup. All in all, it’s a pretty impressive feat and testament to the Bonavita’s beefy heating element. In the video review I referred to ramping up my grounds from 60 grams to 64 grams drip grind coffee for a full Bonavita pot. I have since found that simply grinding a notch finer and 60 grams does the trick.

There is one area in which the Bonavita 8-cup outperforms the Technivorm and that’s the ability to get all the grounds thoroughly soaked during brewing. This has always been the Dutch coffeemaker’s sole weakness and the Bonavita just does it beautifully, and it is a very important attribute since it means you get full, even extraction for all the precious coffee grounds. This is an area that many will miss as there’s no real easy industry specification. It’s not easy to measure, although it is simple to observe. The Bonavita does as good a job of any automatic drip coffeemaker tested so far, equal to the famed Kitchen Aid 4-cup and recent Kaloric models. And, in my opinion, this is one of the most important areas of accomplishment for any automatic coffeemaker.

The one area where the Technivorm might prove more cost effective in the long run is longevity. Technivorms are the coffeemaker equivalent of Volvo automobiles. My 30 year-old Moccamaster just chugs away. But, none of my tests indicated anything inherently slapdash about the new Bonavita either, so time will tell.

The Technivorm has a two position setting that really works when making a half batch. If you regularly make less than a full pot, it’s a nice and useful economy feature and it’s missing on the new competitor’s. I did not even test the Bonavita in any but full batch modes. Assume you will make a full pot each time in order to get the performance I did in my tests.

I’ve been brewing with the Bonavita daily for nearly three months. I brewed Counter Culture’s Finca Mauritania El Salvador with it, as well as their Jagong Sumatra, one of my current favorites. All superb, as was Oren’s Daily Roast’s Cup-of-Excellence Nicaragua La Ampliacion. I found it was almost boring in its ability to brew brilliant coffee batch after batch, minus any futzing.

I tested the glass carafe, my preference, but there’s a themos version on the way. It’s worth noting that Bonavita has earned a Specialty Coffee Association of America certification. I prefer glass carafes as they are easy to wash and really get clean, plus I toss any coffee after 30 minutes regardless of how it’s stored. In my opinion thermoses offer very little advantage.

I’d say this machine is going to give Technivorm a run for its money and a lot of people are going to go for the extra cost savings and drink some pretty excellent coffee at a bargain price. Considering there are millions of coffee drinkers, there’s room for more than one machine that performs to spec. If you’re looking for a top auto drip brewer, the Bonavita definitely fits the bill. It gets a top rating from the Coffee Companion.

The World’s First Consumer Coffee Conference

Ah, the perfect cup of coffee. Once we’ve had it, we spend our lives trying to find it again. There are so many brewers and brewing methods, grinders, not to mention all the beans from around the world. I’m Kevin Sinnott and I’ve spent my life as a passionate prosumer. I’ve never gone to the dark side and started my own coffee company. Why?  Because I’ve had the opportunity to get to know just about everyone in the business. I’ve never had the desire to become one of their competitors and because of this I have the industry’s trust. The top coffee players talk to me and continue to share their extensive knowledge base for which I’m grateful.

I want to share everything I’ve learned about the bean and brewing with you the passionate coffee drinker. At CoffeeCon you will get to meet the industry leaders, top coffee bloggers, learn the best brewing techniques, becoming an expert in all brewing methods. In fact after attending the classes you will get a Coffee Companion Certification recognizing you as a Certified Coffeeologist.

You will sample coffee from a wide variety cafes and roasters. You will be introduced to new interesting coffeemakers and some not yet been released. Want to know what Fair-Trade or organic labels mean? You’ll know after attending this event. It will transform you! During the coming weeks watch this space as we grow CoffeeCon into the coffee event of the year.

I want to hear from you in designing this event. You and I are the consumers and drivers of this industry. This will be a two-way dialog as coffee drinkers are the ultimate experiencers of the beverage. The coffee industry is waited to hear from us. The event is being held at the ultramodern IBEW building right off the Reagan/88 Tollway in Warrenville, IL.

Space is limited and this event will fill-up quickly so register to attend now.

Watch this space in the coming weeks as new information, videos and details emerge.


Coffee on Classic TV

Andy Griffith Show without Sheriff Andy Taylor making a trip to Aunt Bea’s lace-curtained kitchen and pouring himself a cup of Maxwell House from the percolator.

My father had a somewhat different reaction to the trouble that boys make than television’s Leave It to Beaver father Ward Cleaver. Ward should be brought back, if just to prove it is possible to have a cup of coffee to face every life challenge and still maintain calm. Although every episode I remember featured the electric percolator, there is a persistent rumor among coffee aficionados that there are early episodes showing a vintage vacuum coffee maker in June Cleaver’s pristine kitchen.

Perry Mason - Lawyer - Coffee Drinker

Those impressed with the legal might of the recent “dream team”, must have forgotten Perry Mason. Raymond Burr, television’s he-man lawyer who would have scoffed at the “power tie”, took just fifty-four minutes each week to have his client found innocent rather than the sheepish “not-guilty.” Mason, fueled on coffee throughout the seemingly twenty-four hour days he worked, plowed through and did the police and prosecution’s work as well, never ending a case until he produced the real murderer. No wonder the LA police have never recovered from his cancellation. Della Street, in Barbara Hale’s superb and understated performance, insisted on bringing fresh coffee into every scene. I viewed one episode where Mason brought a half-dressed suspected damsel to Miss Street’s apartment in order to hide the accused from Lieutenant Tragg. 3 a.m. or not, Mason’s secretary instinctively went to the kitchen and brought forth freshly brewed coffee.

James Bond may have been the movies’ first spy, but for most American kids, it took two spies, Napolean Solo and Ilya Kuriakan in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. to really cement our relationship to these dogs of the Cold War. U.N.C.L.E. headquarters was stocked with both young studs whose muscles were held in check by firearms in shoulder holsters and beautiful false-eyelashed women carrying coffee carafes. Napolean and Ilya didn’t bother to wait to arrive at headquarters to drink coffee. A favorite coffee moment occurs right at the start of “The Deadly Decoy Affair.” David McCallum, as Ilya, darts out of his New York jazz lp-filled apartment brandishing a coffee cup and, still sipping, slips neatly into Robert Vaughan’s (Solo) convertible. Moments later they drive up inside the U.N.C.L.E. garage, where they do gun battle with some enemy THRUSH agents. Although the coffee cup disappears in order for Napolean to shoot two or three of the jack booted thugs, his coffee-charged bravado carries him proudly when, surveying the mass of bodies he and his comrade have just eliminated, he deadpans, “We haven’t even punched in yet.”

My parents always tried to stop my watching Dobie Gillis. I don’t know why this particular program ranked so low in their book. I remember my mother voicing concerns that young people might “get the wrong” idea watching Maynard G. Krebs, Bob Denver’s beatnik character. Naturally, we watched every episode, although the only striking memory I have is of seeing cans of coffee in father Herbert T. Gillis’s corner grocery stacked behind a sign advertising 99 cents per pound prices. I always longed for a scene where Maynard would introduce us to his beatnik friends at a coffee shack, but somehow the show’s producers failed to utilize Maynard as anything but a way-out loner, with no other links to the subculture but his dress and scruff-beard. At the other end of the unreality spectrum, there was Hazel, an already out-of-date character developed in the post World War II GI promise/fantasy of upper-middle class luxury for having beaten both Germany and Japan. My parents both watched this program, laughing buckets when Shirley Booth ran her buxom frame at trot-speed in response to any irrational requests from her scatterbrained family employers. Hazel‘s ultimate obnoxiousness was that she appeared not to pay any attention to how many scoops of canned coffee she spooned into the by-then standard electric percolator. Here’s hoping the coffee was better served at the inevitable family therapy sessions where this dysfunctional broadcast clan must have gone, maid and all.

Coffee was best left to the working class, after all, television’s real audience backbone. While Hazel’s boss hardly touched his coffee, Dragnet’s Joe Friday took his coffee like communion, especially in the series’ 1950’s heyday. First with partner Ben Romero (shot and killed in the series after actor Barton Yarborough died of a heart attack) and then with Frank Smith, Friday lived on coffee and cigarettes, a diet no longer fashionable. Unlike modern police methods, Friday’s always produced the right suspect, with airtight evidence and likely a fully signed confession, although the use of a high intensity lamp aimed directly at the suspect’s beady eyes seemed to help.

Jack Webb‘s staccato production style seldom allowed for close-up shots of coffee making, but when he and a sidekick poured themselves a steaming cup in their squad car during a stakeout, you knew it was good and strong. No matter how many cups, Friday never had the coffee jitters. If he did, he knew he could release them by taking an extra long puff on a filterless Chesterfield cigarette, or by delivering one of his famous clipped lines of sarcasm to a reluctant witness, always to the nods of everyone present. I like to picture Webb, night creature, sitting in a late-night coffee bar, sipping hot java (even his first name was slang for coffee) in his trench coat. That dream, by the way, is still in vivid black and white. Later Webb shows, filmed in weak color, fail to provide any of the atmosphere of the early series. It may be my imagination, but I don’t think there’s much coffee, either.

A lot of people have fond memories of Bonanza, but not I. I remember it being on Sunday night, which was right before Monday’s school week began. Wrestling with bouts of depression looking towards another week of academic imprisonment, I felt little affection for this all-male ranching family. Their coffee came from stovetop pots, indicating that they were boiling the brew. There is no romance in any aspect of old west coffee making.

I couldn’t really pretend to discuss television’s treatment of coffee without mentioning that 60’s angel of bad coffee-making and domestic meddler, Folger’s Mrs. Olson, played by some bad actress whose name escapes me. The script was the same for all these ads: A 60’s housewife, distraught at having her lack of social and culinary skills exposed before her husband’s boss/mother/golf buddy is about to fall apart (too many diet pills?) behind the kitchen door, when in comes this smiling patron saint of middle brow entertaining, Mrs. Olson. The young woman moans that she’s never made good coffee (the most believable piece of dialogue contained) and now is compelled to perform. Does Mrs. Olson glare over at the electric percolator and accompanying can of supermarket swill and growl, “There’s your problem, Bimbo!”? Of course not.

In true corporate form, Mrs. Olson, trademarked “Svedish” accent in high gear, assures her tenderly that there’s no secret to making good coffee. Then she ushers her young charge back into the living room and proceeds, I believe, to pull a small sack of beans out of her purse and probable hand grind them and then brew them using a vacuum coffee maker. All the audience knows is a few frames later, in walks Mrs. Olson with a percolator (no doubt as a serving vessel) full of fresh-made coffee. Hubby, realizing it’s the weekend and bubbling with testosterone, looks over at his wife and exclaims “Honey, that’s the best coffee I’ve ever had.”

Not bully content to remain a backroom consultant, Mrs. Olson cattily pokes a small hole in the hostess’ ego, by crediting THE PRODUCT. “Folgers is mountain grown.”

“Mountain grown?”, cries the chorus.

‘It’s the richest kind,” responds Mrs. Olson, apparently satisfied that she’s thwarted any kind of false glamour that might be ascribed to either the hostess or the coffee maker.

It’s this kind of thinking and false advertising that will someday be known as having led to our tumbling post-World War II empire.

In recent years television seems to have been content to limit itself to products more in keeping with their audience’s true sophistication, such as instant coffee.

Perhaps it’s best, as I have yet to see a truly fine product or proper coffee making appear on television. Apparently, like the Irish language and freedom in Eastern Europe, fine coffee remains a person-to-person art form best left off the tube.

Meth Coffee

This is a shocking product, which might just make it successful. But, from a coffee aficionado’s point of view, this is the worst of everything.

Really.

For one thing, it is sold as a drug, and an unnecessary one. That’s not a problem. Half of any Walgreen’s might be deemed unnecessary. But, this drug is caffeine. Caffeine is known as a generally safe stimulant. One reason I’m convinced coffee has stayed as popular as it has is because it delivers a small amount of this stimulant at little or no risk. This product intermixes Arabica coffee beans with Yerba Mate, a tea-like herbal stimulant. Yerba Mate is hardly a new product, and normally I would have no objections to it. I will reserve judgment on flavor until I taste it, but there are better ways to increase caffeine content without intermixing substances into it. Most canned coffees already do this at a bargain price by using most of all Robusta coffee in their blend. Robusta was a wild-growing coffee that had little or no market value and wasn’t even cultivated until the 1940s when shortages of good Arabica beans caused the industry to look into them. Robustas can offer twice the caffeine content of Arabica. It’s still all coffee and, believe it or not, there are some that are quite tasty.

The problem in the coffee business is the audience is moving away from high caffeine and has been for years. The modern coffee drinker is consumed with flavor. There’s even a sizeable market for no-caffeine coffees. Most coffee drinkers I know prefer low caffeine Arabica because they can have more coffee. I don’t stop drinking coffee because I get tired of the taste. I get tired of the caffeine.

But this product is not marketed to coffee drinkers, is it? It’s marketed as a legal version of illicit stimulants. Last year, I worked on a short video spot in Oregon, one of Crystal Meth’s highest use regions. It wasn’t pretty. This is a drug that can cause its user to forgo eating – the classic laboratory rat story of preferring a substance to food. This was the drug involved when a woman sold her child for money. That’s the drug this product is tying itself to.

The only reason I’m writing about it is because they’ve tied their product to my passionate product and I wanted to make sure if I publicize them, that I also publicize the terrible life they are selling along with it.

It’s just my way of introducing myself to the anonymous folks who are bringing you this product.

It’s one of those products I’d go out of my way not to buy just to not support it.

Krups Moka T8

Krups Moka

Here’s a classic case where the marketing department tried to get a basically very good machine to do something it was not designed to do. The packaging indicates it as a way to make an espresso beverage for several people at once. Meanwhile, the product styling makes it look like just another automatic drip machine, which it definitely is not.

What Is It? — The Krups Moka is, if anything, an attempt to make a large quantity of something called a Moka. Moka is a problematic word. To much of the world, it means chocolate or a coffee bean varietal from Yemen. In Europe, it means a sort-of stovetop espresso beverage. The Krups Moka is none of these. It is a slightly pressurized automatic drip machine, a sort of hybrid. I would hesitate to compare it to a stovetop Moka and it is certainly not any kind of “mass espresso” machine.

I decided to test it according to drip standards, although, as you will see, it is really in its own category and you will be happiest if you regard it for its own value, rather than attempt to slot it as a preexisting type.

Temperature — The Krups Moka T8 works like an electric water kettle. The water boils and that pressure forces it up and over the grounds. Most automatic drip brewers are designed to deliver the water to the grounds at lower-than-boiling temperatures; the standard is 195 to 205 Fahrenheit. Here was see boiling or very near it water, with somewhat long gaps between as the water is boiled in pulses.

Level but don't tamp

Time — This makes it very difficult to determine the exact water/grounds contact time. The time from when the water first hits the grounds until the last drop leaves is something like seven minutes. If boiling water is truly in contact with fine grind coffee for this duration, we could expect some pretty bitter coffee, couldn’t we?

Almost a mouse tail

Grounds saturation — The Krups Moka T-8 does a very thorough job of getting all the grounds wet. The combination of a sealed grounds chamber and the pulse flow of pressurized water makes sure no flavor is left behind. There are also six exit holes in the filter basket, encouraging a quick escape once the water has contacted with the grounds.

Spent grounds are bone dry, just the way you want them.

Cup tasting — I have observed that lighter roast coffees seem to handle higher brewing temperatures. George Howell, Terroir.com, has many beautiful light roast coffees. He buys micro lots of prize winning coffees and it shows in both the cup and my monthly charge card statement. He’s got a long-term relationship with La Minita Costa Rica coffees. I put sixty grams of fine grind La Minita in the Krups unit and it tasted fine, with surprisingly no bite that one might expect using these high brew temps. What really surprised me was putting some Boyds coffee preground in this brewer. It’s ground for auto-drip and it’s a comparatively dark roast. I’d expected the unit to favor lighter roasts, but this coffee compared favorably to the La Minita. It’s a blend and a complex one, far more than I realized. My previous cuppings had been in a Technivorm.

I expected light roasts to taste right, but I didn’t expect a darker-than-average coffee to shine. But, the Boyd’s Rip City Blend, tasted about as good as any coffee I sampled. Perhaps a greater surprise is that it’s pre-ground. I know some of you are going to be shocked, but it’s true. I was pondering why, and I think part of the reason has to do with the excellent grind pre-ground coffees have. It’s one area where they exceed almost any grind possible at home. Also, as Randy Layton expressed to me as far back as when we served on the Specialty Coffee Association’s Technical Standards committee, as well as in our recent video Coffee Brewing Secrets, he thinks that coffee needs to rest after roasting before it extracts to its potential. I know I’m speculating, but it seems possible that high pressure brewers require more exact grind in order not to impede their flow rate. That’s a guess, but the results I got with the Boyd’s sample was as complex a cup as I’ve had, with absolutely no bitterness.

Conclusion — The Krups Moka is not for everyone. Many consumers won’t understand why it takes nearly five minutes just to heat the water up before its first burst. Nor will they appreciate that the seemingly overside bottom water boiler is not truly a warming plate. The first cups will be piping hot, but the coffee won’t keep warm for hours like it does with some auto drip machines. The exact placement of the brewer under the hot water release valve is critical. I misaligned it once and it was quite a mess. Once you get the hang of it, it’s not difficult, but it’s non-standard.

What sets the Krups Moka T-8 apart most though is the outstanding cup quality. I truly wish they’d reintroduce it to Americans as at home coffee is getting more serious. Perhaps they will. Meanwhile, check the auction sites. It’s a winner.

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