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.
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.
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.
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