I 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 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 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.
I’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!
Several years ago, I was attending an SCAA event. Nancy Bloostein, of Oren’s Daily Roast nudged me and suggested I take a look at some new Melitta coffee makers. I ran (literally) over to see what appeared to be Technivorm knock-offs. They were labeled Melitta, but I was then told that they would appear on the marketplace soon under a new name, Bonavita. According to what I was told, Melitta licenses their nameplate to Hamilton Beach in the US. Therefore, although these were Melitta conceived and designed, no mention of Melitta would appear in the US market brewers.
Fast forward to 2014, Bonavita is now a treasured brand. What seems a simple proposition to make an excellent brewer priced to the average consumer, has long eluded most appliance brands. Even though it seems simple, apparently it is not. You need a smart design, one that gets the water almost-instantly hot, a spray heat that evenly disperses that hot water over the grounds, achieving even distribution, and gets the grounds thoroughly soaked, and gets all this done, start-to-finish, within 6 minutes.
So revolutionary was the Bonavita concept that it currently is the leading automatic drip coffeemaker. Bunn, Technivorm, Bodum, KitchenAid and Behmor all have fairly comparable brewers that compete, but somehow the Bonavita just seems to have an edge, when it comes to hitting the consumer sweet spot of price, performance, quality and ease. Remember if it isn’t easy, it isn’t automatic, is it?
So far, I’ve compared the Bonavita only to other automatic drip brewers. But as Third Wave Coffee has emerged, the bar has been lifted, as more consumers who use a Chemex, Hario or other manual brewer for their weekend or other special brews, want an automatic drip brewer to reach higher to match these inherently customized devices.
One interesting change: Bonavita has moved from the Melitta V-filter to the US-cupcake filter. Does this mean that Melitta no longer designs this brewer? Inquiring minds ponder this. Although I have found differences such as filter types to generally be outweighed by other factors, I philosophically agree with the reasoning that the cupcake filter spreads the grounds extraction task more evenly at the bottom, so I consider it a good (if shocking) move. I also applaud their resistance of the metal filter, which I consider overall inferior to paper in its ability to separate flavor compounds from grounds.
There are two things the Bonavita did not do as compared to manual drip. One is vary the brewing temperature. The other is match the intermittent pour that we use when we brew manually, which is especially important near the brew’s beginning when using fresh roasted coffee.
The new Bonavita offers only one brewing temperature, but they have gone out of their way to include a pre-infusion stage, which sprinkles ideally hot water over the grounds, then shuts down in order to allow a freshly-roasted, freshly-ground coffee to rise and fall appropriately, before continuously running hot water over the grounds.
So, how does it perform?
The new Bonavita handily meets every specification of an automatic drip coffeemaker, as did its predecessor. The brewing temperature is within the 196-205°F range. The brewing cycle (without pre infusion) is under 6 minutes. Pre-infusion adds around 30 seconds, as it should.
The ability to match intermittent brewing with your (or your barista’s) best efforts keeping pace with the water’s drip rate during brewing is not able to track as well as manual brewing, in my opinion the goal. Nor is it with the Behmor Brazen or any other yet-invented automatic brewer. What I can say, is I never had an overflow, no matter how fresh the grounds. I inserted a Chemex underneath the Bonavita, which is to be fair, not anything they suggest or offer to accommodate. The brew drip rate was simply too fast, even in the pre-infusion setting. But, this is more about how fast consumer expectations are rising, than any shortcoming on this brewer’s part.
What’s left? Well, the Behmor Brazen offers adjustable brewing temperatures and adjustable pre-infusion time settings. Will this matter to you? I cannot answer that, but I can say the Bonavita does a very, acceptable job with several coffees I’ve been using since it arrived one month ago.
Temple Roasters Panama Don Pepe Boquete Geisha is a light roasted delicate coffee that showed its full colors when brewed in the Bonavita. I was able to closely match what I could achieve in a Chemex.
Kean Coffee’s Nicaragua La Prometido is roasted slightly darker, or is it just the Diedrich roasting imprint? Not sure, but this stellar varietal comes through with its notes intact. This kind of roast is not for the timid (roaster that is). To catch it just before it starts to go caramel on us, is really a test of roasting skill. I was able to taste the full resolution of the coffee with the Bonavita.
Conclusion: The Bonavita took a good idea and made it better. There is not one thing I noted where I said, “Oh, I wish they hadn’t changed that”. Bravo!
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.