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

KitchenAid’s Big Step!

KitchenAid review photo.cropKitchenAid’s new 8-cup automatic drip Coffeemaker is proof that appliance manufacturers now take coffee making parameters as seriously as they do any culinary art. KitchenAid has long been a coffee innovator, with high build quality and within reasonable price points. This new model has literally been years in the making.

I visited them during summer 2012, during which time their four person design team held a therapy session, where I lay back and told them everything missing from most coffeemakers. Just kidding about that part, but suffice it to say, I left feeling unburdened and they went to work building it.

Sure enough, they brought it to this year’s CoffeeCon San Francisco and Los Angeles events. I recall making a beeline to taste a cup. It was good enough that I requested a model for my long-term at-home tests, from which I made review judgments.

This KitchenAid model has several important features:

• Pre-infusion stage. It dribbles a small amount of water, pauses to allow ultra fresh coffee grounds to get wet and exhale their carbon dioxide.

• Intermittent brewing throughout the brewing process, just like you instinctively do using a manual drip coffeemaker. We’ll talk more about this in in a moment.

• Two brewing temperatures. A higher one is just over 200°F, and optimized for lighter roasted (most Third Wave) coffees. The second, lower temperature setting stays under 200°F and is optimized for darker roast coffees. It’s up to you of course, as it’s so cutting edge that there’s hardly consensus on this subject. Suffice it to say, it’s amazing to see a big brand acknowledging the standards and then going a step further by offering you a choice of two brewing temperatures within those standards. Again, this is sophistication on par with manual brewing geeks.

• Perhaps the biggest news is that the KitchenAid meets SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America) brewing guidelines, which are stringent. This means a temperature spec (range: 196°-2015°F), within the given drip time spec of 4-6 minutes.

• Cup number setting. This at least promises to be an attempt to prefigure brewing algorithms so you and I don’t have to. More later, but this just might be their most important feature – if it does what it I think it promises.

First, let’s get this out of the way at the start – most so-called automatic drip brewers are one size brewers that are, by modern standards, not very automatic. If you make a full batch, they do well, maybe even very good, but most coffee enthusiasts eventually discover a manual coffee maker makes better coffee, since you have to figure out each parameter. But still, there’s a need for an automatic maker, because everyone, myself included has something else to do other than make coffee. It’s easy to operate. Just choose your cup setting. I had to get used to it, but the first thing you must do is select your desired cup batch size, but pressing plus/minus buttons. Then press whether you want light or dark roast (higher or lower brew temperature). Then hit brew and you’re ready in ten minutes, no matter what batch size.

How did it do in my tests?

Pre-infusion – The KitchenAid does really do this, but it’s still a best guess. As everyone who brews with manual drip brewers knows, this time varies depending upon how fresh your coffee is. KitchenAid designers chose a reasonable pause. It won’t please everyone, but in my tests, it did a good job of allowing most grounds to rise and fall, and then repeating this drip, pause, drip sequence throughout. Only at the 8-cup setting using extremely fresh roasted and freshly ground coffee did I get any foaming that left residue at the top of the brew basket (near showerhead). Most times it was not a problem.

Intermittent brewing – Part of the benefit of continuing to drip, pause and drip throughout the brewing is let all the water drip through before pouring more water onto the grounds. It seems to achieve a better, more thorough extraction. The KitchenAid did not disappoint. I’m sure there are some that will say their manual drip pours are better still, but for many, this brewer will deliver everything they want from their coffee.

Brewing temperature – Here KitchenAid has done itself proud. Its brewing temperature stability is as good or better than most manual drip, especially if you’re using a traditional kettle. If you’re using a kettle with settable temperature, the KitchenAid still matches or exceeds it, but the difference might be unnoticeable. Still, kudos for the two temperature choices and stability.

Cup setting – Many don’t realize that every automatic drip coffeemaker is optimized in contact time for one size batch. Larger batches will take too long, resulting in bitterness/excess strength; smaller batches mean faster (too fast) contact times and resulting weaker brew. This is simple math. If you baked a half batch of cookies and shortened or lengthened baking times, you wouldn’t expect them to taste right, would you? All drip makers, even manual ones have this challenge. KitchenAid seems to do some adjusting of the drip rate inside to accommodate the changing times, so it lessens it. I’d say they’ve make it work overall. The batches I made between four and eight cups were all between four and six minutes in overall contact time (this spec does not/should not count the time the water is heating with no contact). At the two cup setting, the contact time was not long enough. Keep in mind the cup quality may vary between 4 and 6 minutes contact time, but overall I was satisfied.

There are little tweaks you can try such as grinding a notch finer for fewer cups, or simply upping your grounds to water ratios a gram or two. I’ll leave it to others to explore these options. I settled on 6 cups for most of my tests over a month’s use and found it delivered excellent coffee at all settings between 5 and 8 cups, coffee on par overall with my manual drip brewers.

A couple of extra notations:

• The KitchenAid coffeemaker’s sound is quieter than most other automatic drip coffeemakers and its sound is subjectively nicer.

• KitchenAid is to be commended for offering detailed grounds to cup measuring recipes in their well-written instruction book.

• The water input at the KitchenAid’s top is too narrow for my tastes. I occasionally spilled water while filling it. Maybe it’s just me.

• I routinely filled the water tank exactly to the intended batch cups mark, and found the resulting brew on the carafe at brewing’s end was frequently less. I realize this may be caused by steam loss, but I found it works better to always overfill above the water mark.

Here are a few taste test highlights: I was fortunate to pick up a sample of Martin Diedrich’s Kean Coffee at CoffeeCon L.A. It was a slightly darker roast than most Third Wave roasts, and, (gasp) in my opinion, the better for it. It really shined, especially with using the lower (but still SCAA-approved) temperature setting. This kind of coffee really has that chocolate taste (cliché though it seems) and that temperature just seemed to highlight it.

Another treat was Counter Culture’s latest Ethoipian in a new package. This one really called for the higher temperature, but fully matched my expectations, with a fruitiness and acidity this coffee brewer brought forth in all its glory.

A surprise hit of CoffeeCon LA’s roasts was Temple Coffee’s Panama Geisha. Oh my Lord! What a coffee!! I did two batches concurrently. It was so good I went past my limit. The high temperature was my preference, but it did splendidly (albeit differently) in each. Note: I found a perfect formula for me was to make six cups, using 50 weighed grams of beans, medium-fine grind. The slightly less than full batch allowed even the freshest coffees to brew properly, and gave us a perfect way for Pat, I and a friend each have a couple of cups each.

The KitchenAid 8-cup is highly recommended.

SCAA Brewing Standards: We’re Committed

Coffee Temperature test warmI realize this article will be read mostly by coffee enthusiasts already so involved in brewing that they likely have their own views regarding brewing, and its three most important variables: time, temperature and grind particle size. But, lately there’s been dissention over what for many years appeared to be consensus among the trade. As brewing as an art and craft (hence my book’s title) has developed, there are those who question the basics.

Questioning the basics is, I think, a good thing. Anyone who’s been in family counseling knows it’s a healthy thing to revisit how you divide labor. When it comes to processes, it’s a good thing to reconsider the variables. My observation is that coffee brewing is still being analyzed. Don’t forget that as roasts, types of beans, brewing methods and consumer tastes change, it’s a good idea to do a few experiments. If they confirm the basic parameters, so be it. But, they may not, and why keep doing something wrong?

Historically, much coffee was boiled. I can think of all kinds of reasons for this: pre-chlorination food safety, ease – the bubbles tell you the water’s ready, and thrift – the cheapest way to maximize extraction strength is to use the highest temperature.

The Coffee Development Group, or was it the Pan-American Coffee Council – some predecessor to the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), did extensive testing, using food experts, not just coffee folks, which resulted in the standards that have been in place for many years.

They include:
• Grind size specifications, basically finer for short extraction times, coarser for longer ones. The current challenge with enthusiasts likely to grind at home, is how to confirm this. It used to be written right on a coffee can.

• Brewing Temperature – It’s easy to tell consumers: “Under Boiling”. Everyone seems to get that now. The last percolator I came in contact was in my late Aunt’s estate sale. BTW, 195°-205°F just tightened to 196°-205°. The extra degree may or may not matter to you, but according to my little birds, the US and European specialty coffee groups wanted to share the same standards for a variety of reasons.

• Contact time – In my observation, this is the one most difficult to control, partly because it’s so difficult to measure, especially in intermittent drip methods. Ever tried?

Recently, I’ve run into a number of enthusiasts, baristas, brewer designers, who complain like music composition students do about tonal scales. Recently, I was sitting in the office of one of the most influential big-coffee business owners, who many would say personifies the word establishment and he told me he believes 200°F is too high a brewing temperature. I’m sympathetic. After all, what kind of thinker would I be if I didn’t like to challenge rules? “Question Authority” – That’s my bumper sticker!

But, I’m here to re-commit CoffeeCompanion to following the rules, at least for now. We need some kind of reference point, or a dialogue is useless. The fact is that a great number of culinary experts were consulted in creating the standards. These folks had taste buds. This wasn’t a casual industry lock down for convenience.

I will always challenge the established rules. I will also follow the standards and use them for my tests. I may expand my tests in certain instances but I will always strive to identify those instances.

Meanwhile, I urge those of you who are doing your own home experiments, playing with brewing parameters to customize your methods to your individual tastes, a worthy pursuit even within the parameters, to start off following the standards. If you decide your Chemex or Aeropress tastes milder, better straight (minus cream or sweetener) when brewed at 180°F, no one is going to take the children from your home.

But, as my music theory teacher said to us in college, “Learn the rules so they can be broken by design, not ignorance.”

We are living in a golden age of brewing. There are all kinds of new brewers, the re-discovery of old ones. The profession of barista confirms that the industry gets that how its coffee is created in a coffee establishment makes a difference. Remember: Wine tastings don’t need bartenders, but coffee tastings need baristas.

CoffeeCon, my ‘lil ol’ coffee show is great fun, but I have an agenda as plain as Karl Marx at a school board meeting. I want consumers to discover coffee as a culinary art and invest the same passion they do into cooking into brewing their coffee. Anyone can do a coffee tasting. We are a coffee university.

So, just FYI, I will keep taking any coffeemaker’s temperature, use a stopwatch to check how long it subjects your (ever-increasing-in-cost) ground coffee to hot water, and play with grind and include those results in my reports.

Bonavita Automatic Drip Coffee Brewer 2014 Version (BV1900TS)

Bonavita Brewer crop
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!

CoffeeCON 2012 Video Highlights

During the extreme heat of summer I took the time to gather some video highlights of CoffeeCON 2012. I’m already thinking about Coffee 2013 with more classes, more speakers, more roasters, more free prizes and more music. I want to triple the size of the February 25th event and offer it to you, the coffee loving consumer for free, just like before. I have a long and hard road ahead to convince the coffee industry to financially support CoffeeCON, the world first coffee university and conference just for consumers, once again.

The bottom line is that big and small business alike want to know if you’re interested??? If I can get enough views, likes and comments I’ll be able to get the funding the event needs. I’m are looking for 10,000 people to view this video and like it. Let me know if you were there in the comments area. All of this will help the coffee industry understand you want this event again. Please watch and vote today.

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