Bonavita practically owns what might have once been called “The Chevy” market. This meant, again at one time, a good quality, well designed product that was easy to use and maintain. It had no stunning features, but was priced for everyman. I suppose in automobiles Chevy has been replaced by Toyota, or recently, Hyundai.
Bonavita hit the marketplace with a Melitta-designed 8 cup coffee maker. It was known as a lower-priced Technivorm but that’s really not the truth. It was a lower-priced Technivorm that increased the water spray width to better match the grounds basket width. Generation 2 Bonavita brewers (no longer designed by Melitta) went further by adding pre-infusion features and switched to flat bottom filters, all in the pursuit of better cup quality. Bonavita gets good marks in the consumer press, including this blog.
Recently, Bonavita brought out this model, which is for the growing medium batch market. Households with two coffee drinkers don’t need eight or ten cups each time they brew. Consumers have realized that fresh is best, and in my home, I brew a couple of cups for each of us each morning. If we are home and wish a repeat dose after lunch or later, we simply repeat the process. It reduces waste too. I pay roughly $20 per pound for specialty beans and, believe me, I cringe whenever I see leftover coffee go down the drain.
The Bonavita 5-cup returns to their Melitta roots with the use of a V-shaped cone filter. They used a number 4 filter, which Bonavita, ever the practical company determined was the easiest to find, plus it gives the coffee plenty of room to expand, which truly fresh coffee does in the first few minutes of brewing. I assume a V-shape was chosen to increase saturation and slow brewing slightly. With an 8-cup brewer, there’s a concern about the brewing happening quickly enough, so that the grounds are not over-extracted. With the smaller batch of a 5-cup, the opposite is true. All drip machines are a carefully thought-out process where grind, volume and time are matched to create the ideal extraction. So, whenever I test a new different-size batch coffee maker, even from a manufacturer of another machine, I spend a fair amount of time playing with the variables I as consumer have over the process.
For instance, I initially tried a grind similar to what the Bonavita 8-cup uses. I found this was the most important thing to tweak. This is not specific to this brewer, but the shorter the contact time, the precise grind needs to be, in my experience. I played with typical cone Melitta-style grinds and finally ended up using a somewhat coarser grind. Not as coarse as Chemex, but definitely coarser than I’d use for most cone filter machines. I also settled on 42 grams of coffee to deliver a cup of coffee I could really enjoy.
The Bonavita 5-cup also has a pre-infusion stage which is easy to implement. You simply hold the on button in place for a few seconds. Once it blinks, simply release it and press it on again. Every time you start it the pre-infusion stage will work until you physically unplug it. This stage is important to anyone who uses coffee two weeks from roast, which is how I do it and I assume you do too. It’s technically known as “fresh coffee”. Of course I’m also assuming we’re all fresh grinding it seconds before we brew.
Consistent with the whole 1960 Chevy concept Bonavita doesn’t waste time with metal filters, on-board water filters, alarm clocks or other non-essential frills.
How does it test? I measured the temperature right at the hot water exit holes. It is slightly lower in temperature than I expected. It peaks at near 200°F, 199°F to be exact. The first minute was spent climbing “to altitude”. While not seeming ideal, it probably matches many slow brew methods in practice. Most people who use a Chemex may not measure their brewer’s temperature, but sub-200°F temperatures are quite common in practice. It doesn’t really bother me, but it did bother the SCAA, who held to their exact temperature specs their certification program demands.
A non-certification test, but one I consider critical and a hallmark of every other Bonavita brewer I’ve yet tested is the water dispersion, which is truly excellent with this machine. Dispersion is geek-speak to describe what happens when a skilled barista constantly surveys the grounds in your Chemex and makes sure the water covers the grounds, ensuring there are no dry spots and that all the grounds receive equal saturation. In practical terms this means you get strong flavor that is less bitter, than it is if you concentrate the water too much on one particular spot.
The contact time between the hot water and the grounds is slightly under 5 minutes. This is at the short end of the SCAA brewing specification of 4-6 minutes for drip. Again, I could get all sniffly about it, but I found that it was not a problem. If I were to guess I’d say the aforementioned water saturation is so efficient it accomplishes the right amount of extraction in less time.
A note about temperatures: I think the range of 196° to 205°F called for in the SCAA standards (themselves adaptation of the original Pan American Coffee guidelines developed many years ago) are reasonable. I agree we need to start somewhere, but there’s also a big difference between a brewer that misses the mark by a degree or two, while still meeting other criteria versus ones that don’t seem to even try, frankly, most of the ones out there made by the largest small appliance makers.
Test 1 – I made a batch using Groundwork Coffee’s Organic Rwanda, they’d been kind enough to share with me at CoffeeCon LA. I already enjoyed it in my Bonavita BV1900S, but I made it improperly in this first outing. Although the coffee had the same notes, everything was out of balance, and auspicious beginning. I realized I’d used 44 grams (still not sure why) and a medium coarse grind as I would in an 8-cup flat bottom brewer. I’m only reporting it because I can’t say enough about how important it is to use the right recipe.
Test 2 – Next, I was able to snare Old Soul Coffee’s Panama Elida Estate Lot #13, which was rated 95 by Ken Davids in The Coffee Review. What a fruit bomb! Fortunately I backed off the recipe to just about 42 grams. What a difference! I strongly recommend this coffee to anyone who’s convinced that the recent Panama Geisha invasion is only attributed to the Geisha bean. While I’m a fan of Geishas, this coffee proves a Panama coffee can be stellar and not be Geisha. This one isn’t a Geisha, but it’s delicious.
Test 3 – Kean Coffee’s Congo Lake Kivu is a rarity for me. I’ve never before had a Congo coffee. I guess I’ve been missing a lot. This coffee, selected and roasted by Martin Diedrich, is not only a wonderful bean, but Martin is not afraid to roast it just a shade darker. It suits this brewer perfectly. I had trouble trying anything else after I’d tasted this.
Test 4 – Finally, I received a Sumatra Mandheling from Mr. Espresso in Oakland. John DiRiuocco uses a wood fired roaster. I know nothing professionally about roasting, but I do know how heat is applied makes a difference. That and a honey roasted Sumatra made for an interesting sample. I’d brewed tests of this coffee (and compared them to an Oren’s Daily Roast Mandheling I also had in stock) and discovered I preferred it brewed near the 195°F mark, so it was a good fit for this brewer. I used 42 grams medium finely (#12 grind on my Baratza Encore grinder). I felt I’d finally arrived at the perfect intersection of coffee bean, recipe and grind setting, the holy trinity of good automatic drip brewing.
Previous review note: I make it a policy never to read other reviews while mine is in progress. I had seen this one however and I noticed CNET’s reviewer (Brian Bennett) noted a bitter taste. I’m not sure what the difference was, but I was unable to produce a bitter coffee during any testing of this machine, which was over a one month test period. Two test results I tested and reported that could cause bitterness, temperature and contact time, are both at the low end in this machine, so that are unlikely (ne impossible) to produce this result. Other factors could be his choice of beans, which he did not identify. I only test using lighter (Third Wave style) high end specialty beans, in this case two of our samples were brewed using beans rated in the mid 90s in the Coffee Review. No bitterness whatsoever. I’m unaware of other factors that would result in bitterness. Maybe he needs to check his water supply. If Mr Bennett wants to contact me, reveals his bean choices and discuss other possible causes, I’d be happy to share them. I’m befuddled by his claim. In any case I didn’t find cause to be concerned and I suggest it’s unlikely under your conditions.
Conclusion: I’m getting spoiled lately. Between my manual drip methods, and some ultra-sophisticated automatic drip brewers which feature multiple brewing temperatures, which is one reason I was able to simply match up a coffee to this one’s brewing temperature range. However, those machines are larger and costlier, both in base price and coffee to keep it going (think gas mileage). The Bonavita 5-cup makes four/five delicious cups of java. Consider that the smaller the batch size and brewing time, the more precise you must be in measuring your coffee grounds and grind. That said, I could easily live with this brewer. If you want a trouble-free, easy to use, no frills but high quality brewer to make fresh specialty coffee for you and a friend, the Bonavita BV1500S five cup is a good choice.
The Bonavita coffee makers are the current coffee maker for everyman. They are easy to use, forgiving of those who do not self-identify as geeks; those of us who just want to scoop our grounds in, fill with water and press go. Bonavita coffee makers were originally Melitta units, the first generation designed in Germany by Melitta, who license their brand name to Hamilton Beach in the US.
Espresso Supply distributes them and, when Espresso Supply took over their distribution, I had my doubts. Their background is, as the name implies, espresso. They have a separate line of manual brewers, including a widely used variable temperature kettle. They had no experience with electrics. Yet, the public and cafes seem delighted with this company’s approach.
What Espresso Supply is, is dedicated to brewing coffee. This means they really seem to understand both the consumer (you and me) and the process, and it shows in just about everything they do. I met Chris Legler, their Financial Strategist, a few years ago now. Now, if you know me, you’ll know this is a role I would usually dismiss as one of the suits, about as useful to know as Human Resources. As I got to know Chris, I developed a lot of respect for his devotion to coffee and brewing. I came to learn he worked for Sony, a company I long ago admired for their understanding of their audience and both sound and visual products, at least in their heyday.
I see Chris the same way, and I invite you to eavesdrop on a more or less typical conversation between us about brewing. Note: He has no problem discussing any brand of coffee product. He realizes we’re discussing something bigger and has that sense of history not often found in corporate cultures. And, he actually seems to use his (and everyone’s) coffee brewing products!
This podcast was recorded at the NCA Conference in San Diego in March, 2016. Thanks to Joe DeRupo, NCA’s Director of External Relations and Communication, who provided the recording space.
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The International Housewares Show is another important trade show for coffee, yet it seems to attract few other coffee journalists. Why? I assume it is because many writers are still stuck thinking coffee is just another beverage ala wine or beer. Those items are brought to their final greatness, then sealed in packages until consumers open and drink them. Period. Coffee is different and a key to its greatness is the final brewing step. At a café, this is someone else’s challenge. At home, where 70% of it is consumed according to the National Coffee Association, the brewing equipment is an obvious dramatic ultimate creator of coffee flavor as it conducts the alchemy which extracts the glorious complex notes from our prized coffee beans. This year’s Housewares show featured a number of important pieces of gear that those of us who know of brewing’s role, will find beneficial to our quest to enjoy the world’s best coffee at home. Here’s my short list:
Behmor’s Joe Behm has single-handedly driven the coffee brewing world to new heights. Before Joe, the brewing world seemed to sit on its collective hind end and got hung up adding alarm clocks other useless features to its products. Joe created the first multiple temperature brewer, the first once since the lengendary Chemex Automatic that had pre-infusion (for fresh-roasted/fresh-ground coffee). Joe’s Behmor brewer was the first I ever tested that acknowledged the fact that anyone living in high-altitude cities wasn’t able to brew at near ideal water temperatures and added an attitude setting. This past year, Joe became the first one to issue a coffee brewer that can be operated by your smart phone. Before you say, “so what?” and wags issue lame jokes about our modern society not being able to press the “on” button, let me quickly explain what this really means. It means being able to control many variables too numerous to accomplish simply by adding buttons. It means taking advantage of the phone’s better interface to those features, which will soon include not only brewing temperatures and pre-infusion times, but things heretofore only available to manual craft brewers, such as rest periods between pours during brewing. Best of all, and most important in my view, is the connected feature that lets your favorite roasters upload their own personal favorite brewing parameters to the Behmor website. Let’s explore this scenario: Let’s say Jeff Duggan at LA’s Portola roasters decides that his latest Panama Geisha is ideally brewed at a temperature of 197°F. When it’s brewed within its ideal window of fourteen days from roast, it requires a 1 ½ minute pre-infusion of water to settle the grounds before brewing starts; after that it does best with a fifteen second spacing between pours throughout the brew cycle. Then Jeff uploads those parameters to the Behmor web site, aside other similar instructions for various beans. You go there using your phone app, download it and press go. The Brazen Connected brewer just went from being one of the most extensive to use to being one of the simplest. That’s why it’s important.
Bonavita is distributed by Espresso Supply. This is good because Espresso Supply has very close contact with many roasters, some who’ve become for the first time comfortable carrying and endorsing an electric home automatic drip brewer. The public too, has become very comfortable with SCAA industry-certified automatic home brewers thanks to Espresso Supply. They distribute Bonavita gear and make some of their own. They also introduced two reusable K-cups, a plastic one made in the USA and a stainless version not made in USA. I snared a sample and will test it soon. A new Bonavita 5-cup brewer is undergoing my testing right now.
Boyd’s Coffee Company distributes Behmor, and so shared their booth with Joe Behm and with their own TechniBrew International brand. Boyd’s is an unusual coffee company because they are a large wholesaler and coffee brand, especially strong in the Pacific Northwest, but also employ engineers and have a piece in other coffee brewers. One, which I think they own but are branding through the name TechniBrew (they used to be the Technivorm’s US distributor) is a K-cup pod brewer. Before this publication’s fans stop reading, you should know that this one possibly deserves your attention for two reasons. First, although I have not yet officially tested it for review, Boyd’s designed it to fully meet industry brewing standards. I’ve tested one other K-Cup pod brewer that claimed this (made by Bunn) and that unit did prove to me that much of the coffee aficionado’s distaste for this format is due to lackluster brewers that use it, not the format itself. Inventor/Engineer Dave Wheeler of Boyd’s told me the TechniBrew K-cup brewer will meet all SCAA Brewer certification standards. Please note: The SCAA does not review nor certify K-cup brewers. In a casual tasting at their booth, I must say I did find the coffee of a different level than with other K-cup brewers, but of course that is a totally unscientific and anecdotal comment. Boyd’s also designed their K-cup products so they are 100% compostable. From an environmental point of view, this is even more significant.
It’s a little known fact that Brewista is the brainchild of Brian Gross, likely as close as the coffee world has to a Henry Ford. Brian is a genius and inventor. He is co-owner of BonaVita, whose coffee makers are the current everyman’s favorite, but created Brewista as if he became bored with owning just one great company. Brewista even seems to compete with Bonavita on some levels, something I can’t say I understand. Brewista makes the only coffee brewer other than AeroPress which is made in the USA, Cheyenne, Wyoming to be precise. It’s called the Brewista Steeping Filter, and it is a hybrid steep and drip manual pourover. They’ve also got a number of kettles, scales, and other gear. While Brian seems to be aiming Brewista to mostly be lower-cost Bonavita equivalent gear, he revealed an inventive variable spout kettle that allows the user to control flow and thrust. I know of at least one prominent end user who eschews goose-neck kettles for his Chemex pours because he can’t get enough flow and power in order to “push the grounds around” (their words). Most interesting to me is that Brian is developing different paper filter grades to appeal (I think) to different folks’ tastes on filter. More on that as I learn more from Brian. If you listen to the podcast clip you’ll understand why I can only process a percentage of Brian’s mind while he’s on a roll.
Bunn exhibited a newer, simplified and less expensive single cup Trifecta. They’ve taken their previous two buttons, one controlling time and the other turbidity (using air blown through the brew chamber to stir things up) and made a single button that combines the two. While I despair at losing any functionality of this brilliant and unique machine (both Bunn’s commercial and home marketing teams really blew it in my humble opinion), I think the single button might be justified if it brings the Trifecta into spitting price distance of say a Technivorm, whoops – MoccaMaster. Coleman Garcia brought several new
Hario products to IHA. One was actually premiered at CoffeeCon LA in January, well ahead of this trade event. It’s a programmable infrared heater for the Hario Siphon. While their previous product is functional and makes a compelling statement to the already visual home theater experience of making coffee, this new unit offers a touch screen and it’s able to record user information, including the ability to record and repeat your personal siphon brewing method and timings, making it even more beautiful. Suggested retail pricing will be $500. It is awaiting US approvals, but I predict it will be a big seller among this method’s fans. Hario has introduced metal V60s and accompanying matching black, gold and silver aluminum stands. I may be fine with my plastic version, but I also expect these to move into home setups soon. They had their already-well known Mizudashi Immersion cold coffee Brewer there as well. Finally, Hario introduced a home grinder, optimized to accompany and even grind directly into a V60 cone. It also features front panel indicators for Press, V60 and Siphon. While Coleman humbly referred to it as a brand extension, I can imagine a lot of interest as their core audience is sophisticated enough to appreciate a grinder and has a fervent interest in any product labeled Hario, similar to the Apple brand allure.
I almost missed them – I keep forgetting that Technivorm is really MoccaMaster. The machines haven’t changed and they likely won’t, and to this brands fans that’s a good thing. MoccaMaster stubbornly refuses to embrace frivolous new features, although some of them in my opinion contribute to taste, but no one can deny they make a great product. They are still hand-built in the Netherlands. They have stuck to all copper heating elements, arguably the best and safest to health. Oh, there is a new color one to add to their array of beautiful ones. A beautiful machine in a geeky way.
While all pod machines presume unproven assertions that pre-ground coffee can be kept fresh in those pods, both Nespresso and Illy pod machines have proven to my taste buds that they are capable extractors of taste, given you like the taste they are engineered to deliver. This year, Nespresso has added the connected feature, meaning you can use and app to program, start and keep track of onboard pod inventory with your smart phone.
The 12-cup OXO brewer I reviewed recently was getting a lot of attention. Last year OXO brought prototypes and this year they’re all working and their two top brewers earned SCAA certification. To me, the pride of earning this honor with your first machine and one that is able to make 12 cups is noteworthy. OXO’s grinder is also noteworthy because theirs equals a higher priced Baratza grinder (in our grind results tests). One brewer they had that’s spanking new was the OXO Autodrip pourever coffee maker, which makes 6 – 12 ounces of brewed coffee using an innovative cup-marked overhead water reservoir to eliminate guesswork, and which also have a dozen smaller drip holes in order to spread the shower over the grounds. OXO’s Dave Lionetti also told me they’ve played with alternating size and patterned drip holes, which he says enhances the way water falls, agitates and steeps the grounds, which results in a better tasting cup of coffee.
Those are highlights. I reserve the right to add more if I think of them, but those stood out and, once again, Housewares proves to be a great place for coffee brewing products. #Housewares 2016.
The Behmor Brazen was the most advanced coffee brewer I’ve ever tested, until this new Connected version came along. Joe Behm continues to innovate, always a step ahead of others who rush to implement his ideas. The big splash about this latest version is the ability to use your iPhone or Android to operate it. But, more important to me is the availability of the roasters to create downloadable brewing parameters so that we can begin to taste the morning cup George Howell, Klatch’s Mike Perry or Equator’s Helen Russell has. Altitude adjustment, adjustable brewing temperature, pre-infusion options. What are these and what do they mean to our coffee’s taste?
Todd Larrabee is Marketing VP for Behmor. He brought a spanking new Brazen Connected to my house and we enjoyed coffee as he explained what this brewing is about and how it can close the loop between what your roasters achieves in beans and your final cup of coffee produced by this machine.
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Once upon a time, the way to brew 12 cups of coffee at one sitting was owned by Bunn and its use of always-hot water to make it possible to deliver 200°F (+/-5°) water to a grounds basket and run it through the grounds in an impressive three minute window. A consumer falling-out with the standby mode and a misunderstanding of contact time by consumers, retail appliance buyers and Bunn’s competitors caused these units to be discarded, although if you look through Bunn’s current lineup, there may be a brewer in there that still follows this general principle. But, I’m unnecessarily distracting you from our guest of honor and that’s this new OXO machine, which solves a few of the problems and limitations of earlier big batch consumer brewers, and is at once a leader in this category. Let’s go through its features and then discover how it does in actual kitchen testing and tasting.
- Batch Size = real 12 cups – This brewer makes an actual 12 cups of coffee and they went with the larger 5 ounce cup size, not some metric variant claimed to be from Europe, which translates into four ounces or less in order to create false confidence. If you have 12 guests or a half-dozen who’d like a second cup, you’re in for a treat.
- Water heater/Kettle – through an ingenious design, OXO has created a water heater that’s removable and can be used as a separate kettle.
- Water scale – the kettle is actually sitting on a scale that automatically weighs the water and selects the batch size.
- Adjustment of drip parameters to accommodate various batch sizes.
- Brewing temperature adjustment. This is a big benefit, and more about it later.
How does it all perform?
- Batch size – works well in that, as mentioned before, honestly calls a cup a cup.
- Water Kettle – it works like it says it does and gives the consumer two appliances they might normally need, which goes some to make up for the brewer’s somewhat larger than usual footprint.
- Water scale – works well and fooled me. I forgot about it a few times and didn’t trust it to choose the batch size. Once I got comfortable with its doing this step for me, things were easy.
- Adjustment of drip parameters – no matter what batch size I chose, the contact time was three minutes. This is actually a bit fast for those used to Chemex or most other automatic drip coffee makers. You might consider a slightly finer than usual grind in order to ensure your coffee is fully extracted. But, yes, it works, and I’m still not sure quite how, as I can’t really see inside the brewer while it’s functioning.
- Brewing temperature adjustment – This is a wonderful feature, especially for those of us spoiled by using our own temperature adjustable kettles when brewing manually. I found 198°F to work ideally when brewing Metropolis Coffee’s Honduras from Mario Doreteo Perez at Finca Guamilito. When I brewed Old Soul’s Papua New Guinea – Aiyura Plantation coffee, I found 202°F really brought forth the bright notes in this surprisingly fruity Indonesian coffee.
Tasting tests I’m in a testing phase right now with several (including a second OXO model) other brewers on the bench. I had one coffee in house, the aforementioned Metropolis Honduras from Mario Doreteo Perez. Fortunately, it is a very fine one. Its beautiful fruit and nut notes came through loud and clear with this maker. As I’ve found with most shorter-extraction-time brewers, the bitterness really gets down to the null point. So did even the two degrees below 200°F as a brewing temperature. 198°F just offers a little more fruit, a little less tang. It’s a well-known trade secret that different beans and roasts perform optimally at different temperatures. The great news is if you can play with this or not; it’s up to you. We used this brewer for several large family gatherings over the holidays and I found it very easy to use and deliver a large batch of delicious coffee. I had to get used to turning it on, as you need to turn the knob to brew so it doesn’t just boil water for its other role, but once you get used to it, it’s really quite intuitive. I was worried that the cupcake filters I found at the supermarket would be undersized, especially given the rather short contact time. Yet, the coffee level, while extremely close, never rose above the line and overflowed inside the basket, a sign of good engineering. Notes: I notice OXO chose a cupcake/flat bottomed filter for this brewer. I have always preferred this filter style. While there are V-shaped filter brewers that meet their specs and brew fine coffee, I think the flat-bottom style does the most to prevent an over-extraction point in the brew basket. It does require 12-cup filters, and ideally you can find these at a restaurant supply house, where they should be, if anything, less expensive per brew than v-style filters from a grocer.
The decision to have the brewer start from cold instead of a constant always-on mode is likely a good one. The fact is it still means only about a twelve minute start-to-finish brewing time and that means it rivals many other twelve cup automatic machines, and many of those never reach the optimum brew temperature, and meanwhile over-extract as they start right away (tepid water and all) and extend the contact time throughout the twelve minute brew cycle. My best brewing results occurred using the full batch recipe of 100 grams medium fine grind coffeee, slightly coarser than I would grind for say a v-shaped filter try automatic drip brewer such as a Technivorm. I realize the OXO uses a shorter duration contact time between water and grounds, and so it is counter-intuitive, but I’m just reporting culinary taste results, not attempting to justify them. Your mileage may vary and I always encourage others to tweak theirs and report back. Conclusion – If this is OXO’s first effort, it is a very good one. Apparently the Specialty Coffee Association agrees with me, as they certified it, not bad for a first effort. haha Simply, I would put the OXO 12-cup at the top of my list for a twelve cup automatic drip brewer. Highly recommended.