International Housewares Show Coffee Report: 2015

KitchenAid SiphonI keep saying that if you don’t get into coffeemakers, your coffee at home will never be great. The best trade show for the gear isn’t a coffee show at all – it’s the International Housewares Show.

It’s where I discovered the Chemex, the Aeropress, KitchenAid’s legendary 4-cup, Bonavita, Technivorm and of course my first Bunn, the A10. Not bad for one event! They don’t really want consumers here. I get to go because I keep writing this blog and various articles. Even I used to get ignored because the sellers are always on the lookout for Macy’s buyers. Can’t blame them. I ask a hundred questions and might buy one, where department store buyers are going to buy a case for each store. It keeps me humble.

This year’s event had several new, innovative products. Let me give you a quick (by my standards) rundown. None are reviews. I sometimes look back at first-tastes and see them for the infatuations they are. I believe in long courtships regarding coffeemaker testing. 30 days is the minimum, and it reduces/eliminates new car smell, packaging, and gives me time to do old fashioned things like read the instruction book and tweak products a bit before shooting off my pen, figuratively speaking of course.

Behmor ConnectedBehmor won the Innovation Award, Kitchen Electrics, International Housewares show award for Joe Behm’s Brazen Connected 8 Cup Brew System. I was perhaps the first to review the Behmor Brazen, so you already know its leading edge position among brewers for its variable temperature setting, variable pre-infusion times (you can actually brew same-day roasted coffee without foaming overflows!) and altitude settings, which likely mean nothing to New Yorkers or Chicagoans, but are the only way to achieve SCAA-recommended brewing temperatures in Denver. Joe won his award (which kept him from showing up at CoffeeCon NYC) for the brand-new “connected” version of his brewer.

With the Behmor Connected you will be able to go online and download Counter Culture’s (or other roaster’s) recommended settings for his brewer. This means even more. I can envision barista champs blogging their favorite recipes and settings for coffees ala celebrity chefs (that they really are of course) and finally being able to achieve at home exactly what they are doing in the cafes. Meanwhile, it should double Behmor’s market because more casual consumers who just care about taste, not geeky tweaking, and give them easy downloads to load.

An interesting new startup is Brewista, the brainchild of Bonavita co-owner and inventor, Brian Gross. Brian is one of the great minds of coffee brewing. He talks faster than anyone I’ve ever known, and it’s all content. He’s establishing a coffee product innovation think tank, and future manufacturing site in Cheyenne, Wyoming! He’s releasing a line of simplified Bonavita products that will feature fewer features, and lower costs to bring things like their kettles to a wider audience. Brian is working on online interconnectivity with coffeemakers, which means more sophisticated brewing and simplified operation for sleeping early-morning operators. The thing that he was most excited about was his onsite coffee shop almond milk extractors for cafes. Of course, a home version cannot be far behind. Keep an eye on Brewista. Brian has a great track record with Bonavita, and among coffee’s best overactive imaginations.

Bunn in living colorBunn had a wall of colorful brewers. At first I thought they’d kidnapped an Italian designer and brought them to Springfield, but it turns out they were only for display. They did have their home Trifecta on hand. I can’t help continuing to believe they should sell those in a Bose-style direct program (the pricing/profit margins are too low for mainstream retailers, even so-called high end ones like Sur La Table or Williams-Sonoma). A Connected Trifecta has to be in the works, but if it is, they’re keeping mum about it. Hope they walked the show.

Bunn still makes the best tasting K-cup machine I’ve yet tried. It hits the 196°F mark easily, and, used in tea (pulse) mode, does a very nice cup. iCoffee is my single nod to K-cups. I lost interest in Keurig after they released the 2.0. It has the faults of the first generation, and some new bad habits like the locking mechanism that forces you to use mediocre coffees. Too bad too, because there are some good local roasters churning out fresher, higher quality K-cups. The Keurig 2.0 is not a bad machine, in fact it is amazing for what it does, but it was designed to expand its use for many beverages, soups etcetera. It makes good (not great) coffee.

iCoffee, brainchild of Bruce Burrows, who purchased the old Remington name (they used to be a high quality coffeemaker brand). The iCoffee does extract more thoroughly than Keurig’s or most other K-cup machines. And it uses any K-cup, just as Bunn’s does, so there’s no problem filling it with the really good ones coming out. Who’s got good K-Cups? La Minita’s own brand of K-Cups, made with proprietary filters made from surgical fabric and recyclable after peeling foil, are the best I’ve yet tried. I know K-Cups are under ecological and sensory fire, but they are market reality and, as Mc Alpin and Boyd’s have proven, can be made recyclable.

KitchenAid hosted a little reviewer party one morning at their nearby (it’s not that near) showroom. I was just wowed when KA Product Development Manager Meighan McLaughlin started brewing for me with their new Siphon (vacuum) coffee maker. It has automatic cycle, a permanent filter, and has a glass top, yet features steel reinforcement at the traditionally weak points. KitchenAid also has a new grinder, with claimed burr refinement. There’s even a new KitchenAid French press which operates on AA batteries.

Oxo grinder ecuI’ve saved Oxo for last. Oxo makes a lot of rubber-sided kitchen hand tools. I have their can opener, and nothing else, but it works well. So what are they doing in the coffeemaker business? Apparently, according to their charming French Senior Product Manger, Claire Ashley, they decided to enter the coffeemaking market after analyzing the current one and realizing how mediocre most coffeemakers are. Obviously, CoffeeCompanion fans know this, and also know I simply ignore most of the ones that can’t extract properly, but having searched last year for my Consumer’s Digest report, I can say that likely 80% of the ones in mainstream department stores are genetic failures in the kitchen.

Oxo first showed me their grinder; that they showed me the grinder first is a good sign. It has a built-in scale and automatic shutoff by weight. The upper beans bin is removable and sealable. If it grinds properly, (only testing can determine this) they might really have a powerful entry. They are introducing two coffeemakers. First, the 1 liter one has a glass tube so water at its hottest never touches plastic (although the grounds holder is BPA-free plastic). They have also developed algorithmic internal software that allows you to do various batch sizes and still deliver the same grounds/water contact time. This results in consistent tasting brew, whether you make two cups or eight. If it works as promised, it’s a great feature.

The second model offers a larger 12 – 4.5 oz cup batch size. According to Ms Ashley, Oxo designers recognized the heating limitations creating enough pumped hot water to do this, which she says is impossible with current technology. So, they are heating all the water at once, and then release it at approved brewing temperature. Both brewers feature tubes to release brew at carafe bottom in order to mix coffee before pouring. An unusual innovation is a transformer feature where you can remove the boiler and use it as a water kettle. Exciting!

As Sherlock Holmes, and later Carly Simon, say: These are the good old days!

Cafflano Klassic coffeemaker

Cafflano Klassic family shot 1We need a traveling coffeemaker. It may just be a romantic thought, but it’s as if coffee enthusiasts are always planning to travel and don’t wish to be way from a favorite method, or at least the ability to brew coffee at their same usual high standards. In this spirit is the Cafflano Klassic designed.

There is also a need for an at-home or at-work one or two cup brewer. Every morning I brew a larger batch, but there are times during the day when one person wants a cup of coffee. I tend to make a cup at four, and I usually offer one to whomever I’m with. The Cafflano Klassic fills this bill nicely as well.

First, it is designed much like a thermos. It resembles the one you had as a kid to keep your milk cold. It completely screws together. You can easily place it in a suitcase, or toss it into the trunk of your car and know it will arrive still-assembled. Second, it is truly a coffee brewing system. It has everything you need to make coffee, except a water heater. More on that in a moment.

The operation is simple and intuitive. If you remove the top cap, that appears to be a water boiling vessel. Directly underneath is a hand-operated coffee grinder. Remove the grinder and you have a metal cone filter, and under that, is the coffee server. You literally make coffee by performing a striptease. Haha. Not really of course, but it is a nice, simple design.

Now, that top lid. While it looks like it is a kettle, you’d fill with water and pop into a microwave, its designer quickly corrected me when I asked about it. “While it is BPA Free, we would be concerned about possible molecular restructuring a microwave might perform and therefore recommend an external water kettle to heat your water. I respect their forthrightness and the purity in their view, but I must say the top cap even has what appears to be an exit hole to pour water over the grounds, but since it works against any claims of complete self-containment, I respect them for this.

Cafflano Kassic 1Note: I received a prototype. Its designers told me that the production model will be improved, if anything.
Operation: Simple, intuitive and hot

The Cafflano Klassic is intuitive. You operated it by taking it apart. You can place it on a scale, zero it, and add 20 grams of coffee beans. Grind them, remove the grinder and they’ll already be loaded into the screened drip filter, stored below the grinder. I feel this is a key to this brewer’s greatness, as it removes any complexity which could otherwise drive an end user to other less-capable methods.

Then, you simply add hot water in steps, just as you would in any drip maker. I tweaked the grinder until I got a six-minute start-to-finish contact time between the water and ground coffee. The closed design meant that finished coffee was quite hot, on par with that of an automatic drip maker, which is a good thing. I received an urgent phone call during one test; it was ten minutes before I got back to drink my coffee. It was still piping hot. The built in grinder is also an important part of the Cafflano Klassic’s gestalt. It would never occur to anyone to use pre-ground coffee. It’s assumed, which is as it should be.

Some may ask: “How do I set the grinder?” I simply moved it by notches until I found it took six minutes for the coffee to be brewed. This is the ideal contact time for a drip coffeemaker. If you like it a little less strong, move it another notch coarser. I like the notches. I have a Zassenhaus manual hand grinder and, while it does a nice job and its mechanism is fine, it has a free-floating adjustment screw. It drifts and for something as important as a grinder, I prefer a locking stop, such as the Cafflano Klassic features.

I used a recipe of 20 grams weighed coffee per 12 ounces of water. You will want to use a kettle, empty it and add the exact amount of water to boil, because you can’t see into the plastic reservoir.

Cafflano Klassic grinder 1This is just a wonderful product. It does exactly what’s promised. It has a true, high-quality burr grinder. The torque, or balance between how often you must turn the grinder and its resistance while turning, is well proportioned, so grinding is less of a chore. The brewer’s design keeps the coffee enclosed and hot as it brews. The permanent filter is well made and filters all but a slight amount of very fine grounds, just enough to add a slight cloud to your coffee. I think most people will simply see it as a sign of thorough extraction and getting all the flavor in their cup. Fit and finish is first rate.

A couple of outstanding tastings:

Gorilla Coffee El Salvador La Esperanza – an old-growth bourbon coffee from one of the new hot NYC roasters, this coffee claims are cashew and red plum. I got a distinctively citrus note of some kind, but cashew was the furthest thing from my mind. However, the roast for a drip coffee was just about perfect. And the Cafflano Klassic just brought out the essence of that roast in spades.

Hapuna Espresso Blend – Surprise of the tasting, as I took the label too literally. This blend gave me one of my favorite taste experiences with this the Cafflano Klassic brewer. Kona, African and Indonesian beans roll into a delicious coffee cocktail.

Broadcast Coffee Roasters Guatemala La Hermosa – Honeysuckle, Milk Chocolate and Strawberry notes abound. The brewer just nails it. I got everything the roaster claimed it would have, and more.

Conclusion
This is the hardest kind of review. Everything works as planned. It’s a brewer that you will want to have for travel, for the afternoon one or two cups. Everything’s laid out so intuitively you won’t need to read the manual.

Highly recommended.

Pros –
• Easy to use
• Freshness built into product design
• Keeps coffee nice and hot until you use it
• Click stops on grinder (biggie)
• True high-quality burr grinder
• Permanent metal filter, high quality
• High overall build quality
• Easy carrying, quite portable
• Grinder torque smooth and easy to operate
• Simple to operate

Cons –
• Must be carefully cleaned afterwards
• Not truly independent – you need a third-party water heater
• Manufacturer made water boiler half from safe, microwaveable plastic, but still doesn’t recommend it.
• Need to measure water volume in advance of brewing. You can’t tell how much water is enough.

Neutral observations
• More silt than paper-filtered Aeropress – matter of opinion

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