The International Housewares Show is another important trade show for coffee, yet it seems to attract few other coffee journalists. Why? I assume it is because many writers are still stuck thinking coffee is just another beverage ala wine or beer. Those items are brought to their final greatness, then sealed in packages until consumers open and drink them. Period. Coffee is different and a key to its greatness is the final brewing step. At a café, this is someone else’s challenge. At home, where 70% of it is consumed according to the National Coffee Association, the brewing equipment is an obvious dramatic ultimate creator of coffee flavor as it conducts the alchemy which extracts the glorious complex notes from our prized coffee beans. This year’s Housewares show featured a number of important pieces of gear that those of us who know of brewing’s role, will find beneficial to our quest to enjoy the world’s best coffee at home. Here’s my short list:
Behmor’s Joe Behm has single-handedly driven the coffee brewing world to new heights. Before Joe, the brewing world seemed to sit on its collective hind end and got hung up adding alarm clocks other useless features to its products. Joe created the first multiple temperature brewer, the first once since the lengendary Chemex Automatic that had pre-infusion (for fresh-roasted/fresh-ground coffee). Joe’s Behmor brewer was the first I ever tested that acknowledged the fact that anyone living in high-altitude cities wasn’t able to brew at near ideal water temperatures and added an attitude setting. This past year, Joe became the first one to issue a coffee brewer that can be operated by your smart phone. Before you say, “so what?” and wags issue lame jokes about our modern society not being able to press the “on” button, let me quickly explain what this really means. It means being able to control many variables too numerous to accomplish simply by adding buttons. It means taking advantage of the phone’s better interface to those features, which will soon include not only brewing temperatures and pre-infusion times, but things heretofore only available to manual craft brewers, such as rest periods between pours during brewing. Best of all, and most important in my view, is the connected feature that lets your favorite roasters upload their own personal favorite brewing parameters to the Behmor website. Let’s explore this scenario: Let’s say Jeff Duggan at LA’s Portola roasters decides that his latest Panama Geisha is ideally brewed at a temperature of 197°F. When it’s brewed within its ideal window of fourteen days from roast, it requires a 1 ½ minute pre-infusion of water to settle the grounds before brewing starts; after that it does best with a fifteen second spacing between pours throughout the brew cycle. Then Jeff uploads those parameters to the Behmor web site, aside other similar instructions for various beans. You go there using your phone app, download it and press go. The Brazen Connected brewer just went from being one of the most extensive to use to being one of the simplest. That’s why it’s important.
Bonavita is distributed by Espresso Supply. This is good because Espresso Supply has very close contact with many roasters, some who’ve become for the first time comfortable carrying and endorsing an electric home automatic drip brewer. The public too, has become very comfortable with SCAA industry-certified automatic home brewers thanks to Espresso Supply. They distribute Bonavita gear and make some of their own. They also introduced two reusable K-cups, a plastic one made in the USA and a stainless version not made in USA. I snared a sample and will test it soon. A new Bonavita 5-cup brewer is undergoing my testing right now.
Boyd’s Coffee Company distributes Behmor, and so shared their booth with Joe Behm and with their own TechniBrew International brand. Boyd’s is an unusual coffee company because they are a large wholesaler and coffee brand, especially strong in the Pacific Northwest, but also employ engineers and have a piece in other coffee brewers. One, which I think they own but are branding through the name TechniBrew (they used to be the Technivorm’s US distributor) is a K-cup pod brewer. Before this publication’s fans stop reading, you should know that this one possibly deserves your attention for two reasons. First, although I have not yet officially tested it for review, Boyd’s designed it to fully meet industry brewing standards. I’ve tested one other K-Cup pod brewer that claimed this (made by Bunn) and that unit did prove to me that much of the coffee aficionado’s distaste for this format is due to lackluster brewers that use it, not the format itself. Inventor/Engineer Dave Wheeler of Boyd’s told me the TechniBrew K-cup brewer will meet all SCAA Brewer certification standards. Please note: The SCAA does not review nor certify K-cup brewers. In a casual tasting at their booth, I must say I did find the coffee of a different level than with other K-cup brewers, but of course that is a totally unscientific and anecdotal comment. Boyd’s also designed their K-cup products so they are 100% compostable. From an environmental point of view, this is even more significant.
It’s a little known fact that Brewista is the brainchild of Brian Gross, likely as close as the coffee world has to a Henry Ford. Brian is a genius and inventor. He is co-owner of BonaVita, whose coffee makers are the current everyman’s favorite, but created Brewista as if he became bored with owning just one great company. Brewista even seems to compete with Bonavita on some levels, something I can’t say I understand. Brewista makes the only coffee brewer other than AeroPress which is made in the USA, Cheyenne, Wyoming to be precise. It’s called the Brewista Steeping Filter, and it is a hybrid steep and drip manual pourover. They’ve also got a number of kettles, scales, and other gear. While Brian seems to be aiming Brewista to mostly be lower-cost Bonavita equivalent gear, he revealed an inventive variable spout kettle that allows the user to control flow and thrust. I know of at least one prominent end user who eschews goose-neck kettles for his Chemex pours because he can’t get enough flow and power in order to “push the grounds around” (their words). Most interesting to me is that Brian is developing different paper filter grades to appeal (I think) to different folks’ tastes on filter. More on that as I learn more from Brian. If you listen to the podcast clip you’ll understand why I can only process a percentage of Brian’s mind while he’s on a roll.
Bunn exhibited a newer, simplified and less expensive single cup Trifecta. They’ve taken their previous two buttons, one controlling time and the other turbidity (using air blown through the brew chamber to stir things up) and made a single button that combines the two. While I despair at losing any functionality of this brilliant and unique machine (both Bunn’s commercial and home marketing teams really blew it in my humble opinion), I think the single button might be justified if it brings the Trifecta into spitting price distance of say a Technivorm, whoops – MoccaMaster. Coleman Garcia brought several new
Hario products to IHA. One was actually premiered at CoffeeCon LA in January, well ahead of this trade event. It’s a programmable infrared heater for the Hario Siphon. While their previous product is functional and makes a compelling statement to the already visual home theater experience of making coffee, this new unit offers a touch screen and it’s able to record user information, including the ability to record and repeat your personal siphon brewing method and timings, making it even more beautiful. Suggested retail pricing will be $500. It is awaiting US approvals, but I predict it will be a big seller among this method’s fans. Hario has introduced metal V60s and accompanying matching black, gold and silver aluminum stands. I may be fine with my plastic version, but I also expect these to move into home setups soon. They had their already-well known Mizudashi Immersion cold coffee Brewer there as well. Finally, Hario introduced a home grinder, optimized to accompany and even grind directly into a V60 cone. It also features front panel indicators for Press, V60 and Siphon. While Coleman humbly referred to it as a brand extension, I can imagine a lot of interest as their core audience is sophisticated enough to appreciate a grinder and has a fervent interest in any product labeled Hario, similar to the Apple brand allure.
I almost missed them – I keep forgetting that Technivorm is really MoccaMaster. The machines haven’t changed and they likely won’t, and to this brands fans that’s a good thing. MoccaMaster stubbornly refuses to embrace frivolous new features, although some of them in my opinion contribute to taste, but no one can deny they make a great product. They are still hand-built in the Netherlands. They have stuck to all copper heating elements, arguably the best and safest to health. Oh, there is a new color one to add to their array of beautiful ones. A beautiful machine in a geeky way.
While all pod machines presume unproven assertions that pre-ground coffee can be kept fresh in those pods, both Nespresso and Illy pod machines have proven to my taste buds that they are capable extractors of taste, given you like the taste they are engineered to deliver. This year, Nespresso has added the connected feature, meaning you can use and app to program, start and keep track of onboard pod inventory with your smart phone.
The 12-cup OXO brewer I reviewed recently was getting a lot of attention. Last year OXO brought prototypes and this year they’re all working and their two top brewers earned SCAA certification. To me, the pride of earning this honor with your first machine and one that is able to make 12 cups is noteworthy. OXO’s grinder is also noteworthy because theirs equals a higher priced Baratza grinder (in our grind results tests). One brewer they had that’s spanking new was the OXO Autodrip pourever coffee maker, which makes 6 – 12 ounces of brewed coffee using an innovative cup-marked overhead water reservoir to eliminate guesswork, and which also have a dozen smaller drip holes in order to spread the shower over the grounds. OXO’s Dave Lionetti also told me they’ve played with alternating size and patterned drip holes, which he says enhances the way water falls, agitates and steeps the grounds, which results in a better tasting cup of coffee.
Those are highlights. I reserve the right to add more if I think of them, but those stood out and, once again, Housewares proves to be a great place for coffee brewing products. #Housewares 2016.
I keep saying we’re living in a golden age of coffee brewing. This year’s Seattle SCAA Event brought more brewers. There are even a few coffee discoveries to report. Here are some highlights:
Nick Kohout of Arcaia showed me some scales that, frankly, did not impress me at first. I mean, they supposedly have some higher-end parts than comparable Bonavita scales, but does that excite anyone? I’ve had no problems with any Bonavita scales, not that I’m a barista, but I’m just being honest. Then he showed me how its timer keeps track of the contact time in manual brewing. Apparently, it detects when the water has gone through the grounds, and pauses the clock. Now I am excited! Their goal of connecting folks via the web so they can meaningfully compare their brews is also a step in the right direction.
Lots of new coffeemakers, some Kickstarter projects and others already developed and seeking coffee stores to recommend and sell them to customers. Gregory Bombeck’s Phoenix coffeemaker was one. Another was the Kinto coffeemaker from Japan. Saint Anthony Industries has one of the most beautiful cold brew makers I’ve yet seen, although the whole cold brew thing leaves me… oh, I won’t say it.
My own personal favorite was from 21 year-old Cameron Hughes of Invergo Coffee, of Garden City, New York. His brewer’s patented swiveling spray head may have cracked a problem that’s plagued automatic drip makers since George Bunn introduced the first Bunn-O-Matic in the 1950s, and that is how to effectively mimic the way you and I pour water so beautifully by hand. He also claims you can set the brewing temperature, not revolutionary, but makes me want to test his machine in my kitchen. My at-show tasting was compelling however. Remember, Orson Welles was twenty one when he became famous in radio. Post-moderns may prefer a Beatles analogy.
At the Remarkable Indonesia pavilion, they were tasting some interesting coffees. It’s no secret that I’m a fan of this country’s coffees. The flavor diversity is astounding, and I can only assume that it’s distance and the fact the only a select few green buyers (think Geoff Watts) ever makes the trek (20 hours-plus) to actually visit. My personal taste favorite was Bali coffee. I admit I have a guilty pleasure for some of their robusta varieties as well. But the news this year was their showing clips of a new film, Aroma of Heaven, created, written and lensed by cinematographer Budi Kurniawan. Budi K, as he introduced himself, is almost as interesting as his film. A compulsive shooter, he had a camera in his hand both times I’ve seen him. I predict this film will be a big hit among coffee enthusiasts. It deserves special mention for being the first film to not seem like a colonialist perspective, but rather an honest, if not bitter, but also not candy glossed look at coffee. Indonesia goes pretty far back in coffee history, by the way. Budi says a download is going to be available, but I’m pitching for some neighborhood showings (I know someone at CoffeeCon hehe). It’s a remarkable film, and thanks to a screening of it in entirety) I speak with confidence.
I’ve been trying to track down Breville products for reviews for years. Fortunately, a changing of the guard has opened transparency and Category Manager Alejandra Lin has pledged to get us some of their products that are promising. I’ve heard good things about their grinders, but talk (especially about grinders) is cheap. Let’s get one and do some measurements, which is what matters. Breville really had something that caught my attention. Alejandra told me their automatic drip maker has the ability to modify its contact time according to volume. As you may know, most automatic drip makers’ contact time between the grounds and hot water is optimized for one specific cup size, usually, but not always, the maximum. Make more coffee, it’s too strong/bitter. Make less, it’s weak/undeveloped. If the new Breville machine delivers, it will be front page news (here anyway!).
The show surprise was this new stovetop coffee roaster. Jung Park of Dr Mahn Coffee brought his new design from Korea, which seems to be experiencing a coffee renaissance of new innovations. Can’t wait to try it, remembering both the 1990s Palani Pan roaster and the importance of a kitchen fan when roasting over fire. What this country needs is a simple professional quality sample roaster on par with the classic Siemans Sirocco coffee roaster long out of production (spotted one last week on eBay, which was snapped up before I could say “Buy it Now”. I think I may have found it. Luke Kawa of Kawa Coffee had one, which is also extremely attractive, but how it roasts will be what interests me most, of course.
Remember a Netherlands company named Bravilor? They used to be distributed by Boyds. I always thought of them as a commercial version of Technivorm. They are about to introduce a consumer automatic drip coffeemaker. Seemed very robust, but not coffee samples at SCAA. Might be ready by CoffeeCon Chicago in July, according to Eric Covelli, Bravilor Marketing
VP. Had a delightful dinner with Kenneth Davids, famous author of many books on our favorite subject. One of our topics was the current Geisha coffee craze. According to Professor Davids, there are genuine attributes to the Geisha cultivar. One such sample (roasted here in Chicago by Big Shoulders) earned a whopping 96 rating in a recent CoffeeReview.com tasting.
Bonavita had their latest 5-cup maker and many other products on display. They’re an amazing coffee maker success story. I’m particularly interested in this size category because as more people buy specialty (read: expensive) beans, they’re going to take a closer look at over-brewing those twelve cups, when they each have a couple (read: 4). Marcus Boni assured me a sample will be sent and, of course, a review will result.
Jim Shanley is a farmer with a unique geographic location. He’s in California and his farm is aptly titled, California Coffee Farms, the first I know of in the continental 48 states. Hopefully I will try some soon.
Robin Thorum spoke to one of my favorite subjects, testing grinders. Mr Thorum’s company has done a lot of research on measuring irregular objects such as coffee grounds. According to him, laser measuring tools presume all ground particles to be spherical, which would be nice, but anyone can see this is not so. Ditto traditional sieve tests, where oblong grind particles outsmart screens and slither through, which gives inaccurate comparisons. What we want to measure of course is surface area. He claims his company, Coffee Laboratory, has developed a better, more accurate way to measure this surface area.
At the expense of getting a little sniffly, there were several awards given to longstanding coffee industry members that deserve mention here. First, Carlo Di Riocco, whose Mr Espresso is the curator of what many of us consider the true Italian espresso. Di Riocco started as an engineer, but combined his insistence on consistency with art. I compel anyone to find a finer drink. He’s also kept doing the right thing against various fads in espresso roast, preparation and serving, a combination that’s kept his product unique.
Oliver Strand was able to do what no other comparable media personality has, and that’s bring coffee to the pages of a big city newspaper, in this case the New York Times. The coffee people I know don’t always agree with him, but that fact is they read everything he writes. So do mainstream readers and that’s what’s most important. If coffee is really the next wine it needs to enter culinary arts columns nationwide. The best part to me is he is real. He really is a coffee enthusiast, not a poseur. I still cringe when I view how coffee has been presented on the Food Network.
Finally, La Minita’sBill McAlpin was the first person I called after I read a Corby Kummer Atlantic article about coffee. After hearing my own enthusiasm for coffee and wanting to learn and write about it, spent an hour or more discussing it with me, and even introduced me to Ken Stevenson and others so I could get a proper education. I’ve met no more generous person than him in the years I’ve been a coffee scribe. The fact that La Minita defined what is now called a specialty coffee farm is possibly of equal importance. Oh yes, and the coffee is always great! Bill McAlpin was finally properly honored this year. I was surprised to see the outwardly cooler McAlpin get glossy-eyed while receiving his award. Mr Espresso seemed to foster a trend, making these normally staid awards a three-hanky one. Even I wasn’t immune from tearing up a bit seeing these greats get their just acknowledgement.
Finally, we surprised to see OXO, seemingly moments after the Chicago International Housewares Show. Claire Ashley and her team brought their new coffeemakers and accompanying grinder, which features a built-in scale. Lots of folks whispering about it, as I think it shocks them to think a large housewares company (admittedly mostly unpowered) might enter the coffeemaker sweepstakes. I keep telling folks, brewers are the power behind the glory in every great cup of coffee. Great job, SCAA. Another fun and productive trade event.
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!
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 BEHMOR BRAZEN
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.
Back in the days when you could find coffee perfection in any top restaurant, you could also be gentled into caffeine bliss during any of several top notch train runs across America.
It was all part of the taming of this land that rail travel be as luxurious as possible, as a way of compensating the developers of our country for the enormous spreads of land, across which we now soar in a matter of forgettable hours.
You’d never know on Amtrak that the crack Twentieth Century, hurdling passengers down the tails at 90 miles per hour, served an excellent blend of Brazilian and Mocha. Coffee brewed in a sparkling clean urn was made fresh on the hour by the book (one pound of coffee per pot) plus a copious extra handful of fresh grounds in order to give it that extra flavor expected by travelers who were issued both the New York Times and Wall Street Journal each morning in its diner.
Waiters brought fresh coffee cream (18 percent butterfat) sourced from a small Connecticut farm.
A glance at a menu from a golden age diner shows no special hype about the coffee. Naturally, a passenger would only expect a train with the best food to serve the finest beverages aboard. As for the railroad management, every possible consideration was given to keeping business and tourist travel at the peak of perfection in order to maintain an image of efficient supportive of the really profitable freight business.
A discussion with Dana Ishman, a dining car chief steward with the Amtrak, but also a real historian, proved instructive, Ishman told me that each train had its specialty. “The Nebraska Zephyr held a reputation for the best, thickest steaks and served only two pounds russet potatoes. The Denver trains actually stopped on a train trestle over a river where local fishermen handed up fresh-caught trout”.
I asked Ishman what coffee his train used when the Burlington operated it… “They used a blend from a roaster in Chicago who delivered the coffee direct to the train just before departure time”, he offered. I then asked him if they made the coffee particularly strong. “Not by my standards. But then railroad people like good hearty coffee.” Then he volunteered, “If you ask my opinion, the key was they never let the coffee sit and the urn was always scrupulously clean. You go to a restaurant now and often the coffee is just sitting there for a few hours, especially if it’s an off-hour. That just wouldn’t happen on any train of mine!”
During this last statement the otherwise soft-spoken Ishman took on an authoritative tone that matched the images the people who ran “restaurants on wheels? held during these years. According to legend, Great Northern’s chief steward William Kurthy ran his trains with a temper to match the piping hot coffee he served. Kurthy would march up and down the aisle between tables and inspect the coffee cups on them. If one was empty, a single flaring look from Kurthy commanded an immediate refill, from an urn cleaned nightly as the passengers slept. Kurthy, or “Wild Bill”, as he became known, had a mesmerizing but maniacal control over his domain. Never content with the well-earned reputation for excellence on his trains, he had a habit of publicly and ceremoniously firing waiters and other servers for the slightest infraction, always at the height of the dinner hour. These exhibitionist dramas were always much appreciated by the diners, who boarded the trains in knowing expectation of both the level of service and Kurthy’s national fame as a America’s most fanatic food service operator. Lest you think he was tough just on the hired help, Kurthy was perfectly suited to bully passengers as well.
In great railroad chronicler Lucious Beebe‘s words, “Tiny old ladies who ordered tea were forced to eat T-Bone steaks smothered in mushrooms, and retiring passengers, numb with good living, spoilt by Kurthy’s team, were met at bedtime by a grinning waiter with a foot-high stack of rare roast beef sandwiches and glasses of half and half.” Glasses of half and half?!?!?
My research shows that coffee during the great rail era was simply expected to be top drawer. Before the age of espresso/latte evening repasts, the after dinner blend of choice was 1/3rd Mocha to 2/3rds Java. This staple was considered the staple and the Broadway limited served it. Rich Colombian or other fine Latin American coffees were the wake up call. Film star Spencer Tracy‘s regimen was to be awakened at 5AM, whereupon he drank an entire pot of specially-made strong black coffee (Tracy reportedly hated weak drinks of any kind) and then returned to sleep for another hour. Orson Welles has his dwarf manservant boarded the train with his own blend, heavily laden with beans from Sumatra in addition to the twenty or so books with which he always traveled. Year’s predating the controversial McDonald’s scald trial were several lawsuits during the railroads’ heyday where passengers claimed injury due to waiters spilling hot coffee on them during the sudden jerks as the trains rolled uneasily on rugged track sections. Rail workers too, unprotected by government worker’s compensation, were required to sue for their on-the-job injuries as they remain today.
The great coffee merchants of the day, strategically located in high visibility railroad towns went to extraordinary ends to serve the best fresh coffee to their customers. Dallis Brothers in New York. Stewarts and the House of Millar in Chicago. Boyds in Portland. Hills Brothers (then using only high grade arabicas) in San Francisco. In the days when famed author E. B. White was once quietly asked to leave the diner because a torn sock and a spot of flesh had been spied just above his shoe top, a cheap robusta coffee would have been denied access to any respectable railroad diner. Even predating the great dining cars were the along-the-route food oases operated by British emigrant, Fred Harvey. A glance at a Harvey company training manual describes the necessary ingredients to a successful cup of coffee, Fred Harvey-style: “A great cup of coffee is brewed with fresh coffee, made strong and served within minutes of brewing, piping hot.”