The Scoop: A true one-cup at a bargain price.
The single-cup coffeemaker is currently the marketplace Holy Grail. It makes sense. More people are drinking coffee for taste, not just energy and as they slow down to enjoy it their coffee, it makes sense to drink less at one sitting. Also, we who buy high-end coffee start noticing the extra cost of making a full pot, one that in my case would go to waste after a couple of cups. Pod machines are inherently inferior because the pre-packed pods cannot be fresh, not to mention their increased waste.
The ideal solution is a machine much like the Hamilton Beach’s The Scoop. The concept is perfect: A brewer that creates one or two perfect cups. One cup is 8 ounces, so its maximum yield is 16 ounces. It’s designed with this clever reverse cup stand which moves a smaller cup closer to the spigot. I actually like the hobo pour you get from a more distant relationship, but no matter.
This is a frustrating review. Why? Because Hamilton Beach’s new The Scoop coffeemaker is so close to perfect and yet so far.
Drip makers almost never work at two cup sizes. A major part of brewing cup of coffee is how long the grounds and hot water are in contact with each other. When a drip machine offers two sizes, one of them must be wrong because the contact time changes.
The Scoop gets the water to 200°F right off the bat. I tested it repeatedly because I have rarely found a brewer that starts with the right temperature water. This one does, and it maintains altitude throughout the brewing. The brewing contact time is a bit short, even for the larger cup cycle. It takes from 2 to 3 minutes depending upon the size cup you choose. This alone would not disqualify it, especially if you could either increase the grounds or lengthen the contact time by grinding more finely. But you can’t.
When you use regulation brewing recipes for your coffee, it causes a backup. The only way to get this brewer to behave is to lower the grounds-to-water ratio, or use coffee so stale it does not expand when the water hits it, which presents other taste problems.
More bad news. It cannot handle truly fresh coffee. Fresh out-of-the-roaster grounds foam up. The Scoop has a cute but undersized grounds holder. The coffee gets nice and wet, but it has nowhere to go but up and that makes a mess. It can even cause a backup so bad that if overflows over the sides, which is otherwise well sealed.
My sample brews included Passion House Rwanda Dukunde Kawa, Kaffeeklatch’s Mocha Java and Oren’s Daily Roast Nicaraguan La Ampliacion , all wonderful coffees. The Nicaraguan La Ampliacion is a Cup of Excellence winner that sells for $30 per pound, a perfect justification for a single cup brewer because I do now want to waste a drop of it, much less make unneeded cups. No doubt, the Hamilton Beach was able to extract the ample acidity from this and the other coffees. The Rwanda’s Pomegrante notes jumped out of the cup. But, clean-up was a mess, and in each case I know these coffees have more flavor than this brewer was getting due to waste. Why? Because they are all fresh coffees and when they expand, the grounds swell up and this causes an overflow, underextraction and a mess.
The only way it worked was to make the smaller 8 ounce cup size and then the contact time is too short. The best extraction I got was using pre-ground coffee past its freshness date, what John Martinez would call dead coffee. My guess is they built this coffee around supermarket pre-ground coffee and perhaps even used smaller grounds-to-water ratios.
Remember, the coffee brewing recipe is 10 grams or on 2 tablespoon scoop for each six ounce cup.
Look at the sides and you'll see fresh grounds that foamed up and never participated in the brewing process. Sad, because otherwise The Scoop showed such promise. Will Hamilton Beach issue a 2.0?
Then you’ll have the brewer for that perfect one cup that really works and I’ll be the first to say so.
The two things I will not do is use less-than-fresh or less-grounds than the recipe calls for. Sorry, Hamilton Beach, not in my house.
Since it’s so close, I have some friendly counsel for Hamilton Beach. Retool it using a larger filter holder and issue The Scoop 2.0.
Cuisinart 14 Cup Brewer
I was excited to try a Cuisinart which has definite curb appeal. And, fourteen cups? WOW! That’s a lot of coffee. I’m sure Cuisinart was proud of the engineering triumph of putting so much yield into a fairly small size footprint. Ever a value champ, the Cuisinart adds a permanent filter, which I used. Not only does Cuisinart brew the largest size brew, it offers a special 4-cup setting. Cuisinart’s fit and finish is not quite up to Saeco’s — I had to jimmy the filter door to close properly. Its brewer intuition is user friendly, however. The charcoal filter is easy to insert. You literally drop it in and it places itself properly into position. The instructions counsel using SCAA measurements, 85 grams for a full fourteen cups. It’s like having the babysitter show up with a Bible in her hand. Everything looks good.
Nice touch…disappearing power cord!
Cuisinart’s got a good seal, good sprayhead, and good extraction.
Temperature — The unit takes its time to reach a credible brewing temperature. It took nearly three minutes to reach 180 degrees F. This is like a Boeing 747 climbout, which is slow. Worse, it never gets to altitude — the brewer, not the plane. It stays there through much of the brew cycle, rising to the bottom official brew temperature some ten minutes into the brew cycle. It peaks at 195 F at the eleven minute mark.
Contact time — The cycle takes a very long 13 minutes start-to-finish. That’s a long time to subject any coffee grounds to hot water, even when the water isn’t very hot.
The V-shaped filter means there’s a concentrated bottleneck where some coffee grounds are overexposed to hot water to begin with — which only increases bitterness.
Extraction — The grounds basket inspection revealed a good extraction of all the grounds to all the water. Too bad the other variables were poorly met, because the water flow design is obviously a good one.
Taste — The resulting brew reflects their attempt to temper long brew times with substandard hot water. The coffee was overextracted; bitter, and totally lacking in the refined flavor notes that should be present, especially given the healthy amount of grounds used. It was full-flavored but devoid of anything special. I tried a sack of Colombian coffee from Dunn Brothers in Minneapolis. This coffee was super fresh, which was an acid test of the brewer’s ability to not foam up due to Co2 degassing. No problem there, but the flavor was still bad. A Mocha Java from Salt Lake City’s Caffe Ibis, a great blend by the way, was just lost on this brewer. I know what both these coffees are capable of, so it was doubly disappointing.
CUISINART 4-CUP SETTING
I repeated brewing using the four cup setting. I put twenty-four ounces of water and 36 grams ground coffee and then pressed the four-cup button. The instructions promise “double heated” water. This double heated concept may work on paper, but it seems to generate just slightly earlier hot water, and the water never gets hot enough, reaching just short of 192 five minutes into brewing. The four cup setting gives a seven minute brew cycle, still long for manual brewing, but within reason for contemporary electric drip. Due to the very low early water temperature there was not evidence of bitterness in the final brew. It was actually decent tasting, but again with very little cup sparkle that a fine coffee maker would resolve. I used the same two coffees and each was better, but still far short of their potential.
Conclusion — Who tasted coffee from this machine before they brought it to market? Did they really bring this to a conference table, the executives tasted the coffee and they all shook hands and high-five’d each other. It just goes to show there’s no brand consistency. The grinder is great. Get a different brewer. If you do own one, I’d always try to use the four-cup setting, where at least a decent cup is possible.
Automatic drip coffeemakers used to be considered a dead category. No longer, there are several new machines. The Brazen is well named because it’s the most daring and innovative. It is the brainchild of inventor/entrepreneur Joe Behmor, whose Behmor drum roaster is popular among home roast enthusiasts.
Joe is my kind of guy. I like options and he gives us lots of them. This is the first home consumer model that has the following combination of features:
• Variable temperatures – you can customize the Behmor Brazen each time you brew for any temperature between 180°F and boiling. This is the only consumer automatic drip machine I know that offers this feature. Coffees taste different when the brewing temperature changes.
• The Brazen features on-board temperature readout that constantly monitors the temperature it’s putting out. Most manufacturers wouldn’t dare.
• The Brazen has a pre-infusion cycle. This means your ultra fresh grounds can get wet with a few ounces of how water, then they can rise and fall, so the rest of the brew cycle can proceed normally. It’s a huge taste difference in the cup and other than manual drip users almost no one offers this feature. Joe’s automated this. You can choose any time between one and four minutes depending upon the coffee grounds’ freshness and your patience.
• The Brazen even supports and encourages unorthodox practices like inserting a 5-cup hand-blown Chemex in order to automate a manual drip maker. The unusually wide dispersion sprayhead gives you kind of water coverage needed for a number of manual drip brewers. Can you imagine any large manufacturer taking such a magnanimous, inclusive approach?
There are other features, but these are the ones that excited me and that distinguish the Behmor from its competition. Suffice it to say, this is an aficionado’s brewer. Of course, promises must be kept by test results. It’s all for naught if it doesn’t deliver.
It also could mean a consumer’s worst nightmare if complicated menus and settings limits the Brazen to the coffee elite. How easy is it to program?
Let’s answer the second question and then go to test results. The menu is intuitive enough to be a 90s-era Sony camcorder. Pat and I needed to leave on a weekend drip in the middle of testing. I left the Brazen set up in my kitchen, expecting it might frustrate my wife’s cousin Leigh who stayed over and is fond of calling electronic settings “thingies”. Happily she was able to brew beautiful coffee with a 30 second tutorial as I was walking out the door. You literally could buy one of these and use it without every worrying about any of the settings, or put it off until you get picky.
As far as test results, I have good news. The temperature is accurate and rock steady. The sprayhead can be observed and it gives ample coverage. Thanks to this and the pre-infusion feature, grounds end up good and soaked as it should be. The amazing thing was being able to report this using coffee hours fresh from being roasted.
Fresh roasted coffee foams up when water hits it. Anyone who brews using a kettle knows to simply wait until the grounds rise, the carbon dioxide gas emits and the grounds all back down again. The Brazen Behmor accommodates this by spraying just enough water to wet the grounds. Then it stops brewing, which can be programmed to last between 1 and 3 minutes, depending upon the freshness and how determined you are to address it. After that it brews continuously. This is an effective way to accommodate fresh coffee. The only other coffee brewers in history I know of that similarly dealt with fresh grounds were the Chemex automatic, many years gone and a Braun brewing in the 1990s which used what they termed interval brewing.
The coffee I did most of my testing with was a Costa Rica from Arnold’s Coffee in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. Arnold roasts beautifully, one of the best. However, I have a confession. I don’t usually care for Costa Rican Coffee, even Bill McAlpin’s, perhaps the most OCD coffee producer in the world. I swear he dusts the coffee trees. Anyway, using 63-65 grams of coffee and brewing temperatures upwards of 206°F, I finally found the caffeinated Nivarna I found I could emulate a French press taste using lower temperatures. I’m sure people are going to start posting their favorites here and elsewhere. This brewer puts control and fun in your hands. I have no knocks or gripes whatsoever.
Perhaps my favorite tests were using Oren’s Daily Roast’s two Guatemala coffee varieties, one from Antigua and the other a Coban. With the Brazen I had a great time brewing each to perfection. I found I was able to optimize each coffee to my taste buds at brewing temperatures in excess of 200°F, the Coban tasted ideal brewed at 203°F. Short of brewing in a vacuum maker, I don’t think I could reproduce the flavors I achieved in any other brewer.
I repeated the above tests using a five-cup hand-blown Chemex (the six-cup more commonly available is just a bit too big to fit) inserted into the Brazen’s carcass. It performed beautifully. Joe Behm brilliantly devised a manual release setting that allows you to choose a brew temperature, get the water up to that point and release showers of hot water over your Chemex. The results matched or exceeded what I got using the Behmor by itself. Perhaps I’m biased in favor of the Chemex filter or the multiple pauses during brewing. At this exalted performance level one should expect a little subjective hair splitting. Suffice it to say it’s another brewing option that will increase the Behmor’s value to its audience.
The Behmor Brazen takes paper filters, but after a few times, I just started using the supplied metal filter and it works just fine. Joe Behm told me he prefers the gold filter. My only caution is to be sure to keep it clean, immediately scrubbing it after use with a little perfume free detergent.
Dynamic Duo: Brazen with Chemex Insert
I prefer glass carafes, but the thermal carafe works fine, does a good job of holding the coffee temperature steady for an hour or more. I just make sure I thoroughly clean it when we’re done with the same detergent regimen I use for the filter. But, I just hate cleanup.
Build is good. Obviously I can’t judge long-term longevity. I try to avoid the disdainful and vulgar subjects of money and value, but I was actually surprised to find this much technology in the $200 price range. Consider other passions where cutting edge technology can be had for so little.
Joe, thank you for this brewer. It not only holds its own amidst the other top performing automatic drip machines, but French presses, Hario v60s and Chemexes as well. For the coffee brewing hobbyist, there is really nothing else out there like it.
We are living in a golden age of coffeemakers. Just a short while ago I honestly could not say this, but today I can and the biggest innovations are happening in automatic coffeemakers. It used to be the Technivorm and Bunn, and the industry didn’t understand the Bunn, so it was really just the one machine among the elite. Today there are several that meet high enough standards to motivate me to write a comparison to help make up your mind. Please read the in-depth reviews as they appear, but I wanted to get something out to clarify them side by side.
Here is the current A list:
• Behmor Brazen
• Bunn Phase Brew
Each of these has the following traits in common:
• Meets goal of brewing in under 6 minutes contact time. The Bunn and Behmor machines take longer from the time you press the button, but that’s because they’re designed to heat the entire water amount first, but none over extracts like so many automatic drip machines from other manufacturers.
• Brews at industry standard brewing temperature: 200° F.
• Gets the grounds properly wet.
Here is a profile of each, containing my observations for each machine.
The Technivorm is the original automatic drip machine champ. It is the oldest engineering design. It has a well-earned reputation for performance and longevity. It gets the water almost instantly hot and stays there ruler flat. I’ve got one that’s twenty years old. It is discolored but still performs. You could get one and call it a day. Its only weaknesses are price ($300) and a less-than-perfect showering system. It’s nit-picking but the Technivorm sometimes leaves a few dry grounds or with ultra fresh grounds, they tend to swell up and then the water drips through the center. Technivorm fans own them for years and don’t notice or care or find hacks to overcome it. Strengths: The Technivorm is the best-built coffeemaker I’ve ever tested. It does not have a single lowest-bidder part in its makeup. The one I recommend has a patented tube that ensures all the coffee is evenly distributed as it brews and it works. $279 glass carafe/$299 thermos
The Bonavita is really designed by Melitta in Europe, but since they license their name to Hamilton Beach in the US, an American stage name needed to be created. It has been accused of being a Technivorm knockoff, but if it is, it’s a knockoff at half the price. In testing I found it does meet the industry temperature standard of 200°F +-5°F but it does so over a wider variance. Whether this matters to you or not is a matter of opinion, but no, it is not exactly the same. It does actually outperform the Technivorm when it comes to water saturation of the grounds. In this regard it is the best coffeemaker I’ve ever tested. Weaknesses: Build quality okay, but longevity is unproven. Strengths: Price and overall cup quality and ideal water distribution. $129/$149 glass carafe/thermos
The Behmor wins the award as the most innovative coffeemaker of all. Invented by Joe Behm (Behmor Coffee Roaster) this one has some unique and first-ever features. Fresh coffee foams up when hot water hits the grounds, a big problem for all automatic drip machines. This rise and fall takes a minute or more. Chemex and other manual method users watch this and wait to start pouring the rest of the water over the grounds. It makes a big difference in taste. The grounds just extract better once they’re settled. The Brazen can be programmed to get the grounds initially wet, then wait between one and four minutes before running the rest of the water through. The Brazen also lets you choose the brewing temperature, even outside the recommended temperature range. As far as I know, this is a first. The Brazen has you enter your location’s altitude when you set it up (just once, and it’s easy). I know that’s a first. Setting the brewing temperature makes a profound difference; not subtle at all. Best of all, these settings are really easy to access. It’s a geek’s dream maker, but anyone can use it, it works out of the box or after setup, and temperature can be adjusted before each brew if you like. Definitely the choice for those who need absolute control and like to vary the taste for each coffee they try. $199 thermos only
BODUM BISTRO POUROVER
Bodum has long been associated with the French press, but they’ve done some other coffeemaker designs, including an electric vacuum maker. The Bodum Bistro is their first foray into the world of automatic drip. Rumor has it they simply sourced the same heating element as Technivorm. Not original, but a good choice. It has a see-through design that’s as sexy as any actresses’ Academy Awards frock (to me anyway). I’ll say it right now: It’s the best looking coffeemaker made on the planet. Weaknesses: It has a slightly tight brewing chamber. I found it can get messy with just-roasted coffee, unfortunately the kind I use. By carefully measuring the grounds you can eliminate this, but it takes trial and error with measuring and grind tweaking. Cost matches the Technivorm and its durability is yet unproven. Strengths: Beauty. $299 thermos only
BUNN PHASE BREW
Bunn is the sleeper of the group. Bunn has always met the industry specs, but their earlier brewers met consumer resistance to an always-hot water feature, good for fast brewing, but perceived wasteful. This latest one breaks with tradition. No water is stored or kept heated. You add water to start making coffee just like everyone else’s. The Phase Brew has grown a quiet reputation as Bunn’s best-ever consumer brewer. Like the Behmor Brazen, it heats all the water to desired temperature, then releases it over the grounds. It consistently brews at 200°F just like a Technivorm, and gets all the grounds wet; just does so at a lower-than-Technivorm cost. The Phase Brew has a sleeker design than earlier Bunn models. Weaknesses: Difficult to figure out how to open and close their thermal carafe. I made coffee, had to grab the phone, and came back to find my PhD friend struggling to pour himself a cup. Strengths: Top rank coffeemaker, but the price is heavily discounted due to Bunn’s wide distribution and being undervalued by marketplace. Shhh, Bank of America got a break. Why shouldn’t you? $99 Glass carafe/ $120 thermos
I’d be happy with any of the brewers in this group. Not one of them need apologize for being an automatic drip machine. Although I can already hear manual drip enthusiasts saying none could replace their Hario or Chemex, you might be surprised after tasting some of the coffee I’ve had from each of these machines. I know that this or that function might be more controllable using manual methods, but any of these can produce an excellent cup of coffee. In some ways they offer more control, and certainly more consistency. So here you have it… the closest I get to offering a shopper’s guide.
To the manufacturers who aren’t listed. I apologize but I will add anyone’s machine as they qualify. They must brew a full batch in under 6 minutes, get the water heated to the above-stated specification and get all the grounds equally wet.
When you pick up a bag of Kona blend coffee how much Kona coffee do you think is inside? I would guess most folks would guess around 80%. How about 50%? 10%? It may interest you to know at Safeway for years it has been an honest 5%. I say “honest” because apparently there is no real coffee blend percentage regulation.
Kona coffee farmers complained. They feel that the product bearing their origin name on it should be labeled with a percentage breakdown. Last year, Safeway voluntarily agreed to a Hawaiian Department of Agriculture request and pledged to increase the Kona percentage in their Kona Blend to 10% and reflect it on the package. Kona farmers weren’t thrilled with the change, but at least it was in the right direction. Their latest complaint is that nothing appears to have changed at Safeway. The farmers claim Safeway is not keeping their word and that consumers are still buying coffee that’s only 5% Kona and 95% commodity blender quality coffee in the old unmarked bags.
Safeway’s answer? Safeway vice president of public affairs Brian Dowling says, “Given the product shelf life, packaging used before the (changes) may still exist on store shelves or elsewhere in our distribution chain,” then added that that the company doesn’t plan to destroy or dispose of those products. I am surprised to hear anyone at a food supplier say their company doesn’t plan to destroy or dispose of old perishable products. I guess my followup question to Mr Dowling would be, “Ever?” So, the 5% Kona blend is still on their shelves because it’s still well within the freshness range they accord the product. To me their defense is more alarming than the original charge. They agreed last year. Does this means that all these bags on the shelves were packed and labeled before 2012? That seems like a long time, even by a supermarket’s standards.
What kind of coffee flavor can there be in a product this old? Just to give reference, coffee is best consumed within 2 weeks of being roasted. Assuming it is packaged in an oxygen-free environment in proper packaging, some large-scale roasters in the industry claim it can preserve its flavors for up to six months, although there’s dissention even within their ranks. I would argue after twenty years of personal tasting that coffee is good for me for about a month after roasting, regardless of packaging. Only freezing significantly slows the staling of coffee beans and this is still controversial.
So Safeway is saying, relax we’ve still got plenty of coffee so old it predates our year-old pledge right there on our shelves. Nice.
None of this is about safety, so I’m not pushing new laws. This is about taste, a company’s in-house freshness standards and their word. I don’t blame the farmers for asking for more, but I’m going to offer a quick guide to getting your money’s worth when you shop for coffee.