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.
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.
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