Automatic Drip Coffee that Rivals Hand-Crafted

Can you really make automatic coffee that tastes as good as the best manual hand-brewed? Let’s just say it is possible. To illustrate this claim, I chose the Bonavita BV 01002 to demonstrate the possibility.  It meets the stringent Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) standards. Most automatic drip brewers do not.  It is simple to use and pretty un-tweaky as well. Frankly, other than having to measure grounds and grind the coffee separately, it’s as easy to use as a K-cup brewer. It works great as is. But, I have found some nips and tucks to my procedures that lift it to match my best manual brew results and I thought I’d share them.

I’m sure you’re already aware that I’m a big fan of this brewer. So is George Howell who uses it to accompany his tasting seminars at our CoffeeCon events. But, if someone were to ask exactly how I make coffee with this automatic drip machine it would be as follows:

Auto drip tweaks grindGrind – If you’ve been with me for awhile, you know I advocate erring a notch coarser when using most brewers. But I also advise playing around with grind and, once in a while, it pays to just experiment a notch at a time. For instance, with this brewer I go one notch finer. That may be because I don’t usually make a full 8-cup batch, but rather fill the water only to the 1 liter mark. Just so you understand the testing procedure for SCA certification,  brewers must make their coffee, start to finish, within six minutes. So when you make approximately 25% less, it’s likely that it will be a little rushed traveling through the grounds. I’ve found by grinding slightly finer I slow the drip rate and this increases brew strength. If I make a full batch I coarsen the grind slightly.

Auto drip tweaks use lessRecipe Measurements – Consider that we may have gone from using too few grounds to using too many. Maybe this brewer does such an efficient job it does not need the requisite 55 grams specified for a liter of coffee. If you make one liter, I suggest you try using 50-51 grams. I found this to be the best recipe. I discovered this by accident as I only had 50 grams left of a particularly memorable ReAnimator coffee when a friend arrived for a visit and a cup. Since I needed to make one liter, I decided to chance it. To my surprise I preferred it using this formula.

Pre-infusion – This brewer has a pre-infusion stage, which drips a few ounces of water over the grounds to saturate them before the majority of water is released and dripped over the grounds. I strongly recommend using it if your coffee is fresh, meaning just a week or two from its roast date. If your grounds are older than this, or you use pre-ground coffee, you may skip this stage, although it won’t hurt, so if in doubt, use it. Its purpose is to allow the coffee to de-gas, which prevents foaming up and potentially spilling over the filter holder’s top edge. Pre-infusion also allows it to de-gas and settle down before the majority of water drips through, which actually helps facilitate the extraction process.

Auto drip tweaks not great dispersion 2

Filter holder – If there’s one area where manual drip still reigns supreme it is the end user’s manual water dispersion over the grounds and subsequent even extraction.  Fortunately, the Bonavita already does a good job dispersing the water. But, for a perfectionist end-user, we are able to occasionally swivel the filter holder to vary the showerhead’s position over the grounds. This is kind of tweaky, but shows to what extent I’ve played with mine over the years. I would not expect this tweak to make a night and day difference with this maker, but it is a slight tweak and just goes to ensure that all the grounds get wet. If someone told me this is too far to go to make coffee, I’d likely agree. But, I do it. Look at my “after” photo of the grounds post-brewing and see if yours matches. Again, if it’s too much, skip this if you like.

IMGP1718

I define tweaks as anything I do beyond the instruction manual, that appears to make a better pot of coffee. This brewer is noteworthy in that none are necessary for it to perform its stuff. But, I’m comparing to the best manually brewed coffee I’ve ever had. That fact that it’s that close to perfection already is impressive. I simply believe I can match that perfect flavor with this brewer, with just a little attention to details.

What are your tweaks?

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When Coffee People Talk About Brewing: Chris Legler Interview

The Bonavita coffee makers are the current coffee maker for everyman. They are easy to use, forgiving of those who do not self-identify as geeks; those of us who just want to scoop our grounds in, fill with water and press go.chris legler 2 Bonavita coffee makers were originally Melitta units, the first generation designed in Germany by Melitta, who license their brand name to Hamilton Beach in the US.

Espresso Supply distributes them and, when Espresso Supply took over their distribution, I had my doubts. Their background is, as the name implies, espresso. They have a separate line of manual brewers, including a widely used variable temperature kettle. They had no experience with electrics. Yet, the public and cafes seem delighted with this company’s approach.

What Espresso Supply is, is dedicated to brewing coffee. This means they really seem to understand both the consumer (you and me) and the process, and it shows in just about everything they do. I met Chris Legler, their Financial Strategist, a few years ago now. Now, if you know me, you’ll know this is a role I would usually dismiss as one of the suits, about as useful to know as Human Resources. As I got to know Chris, I developed a lot of respect for his devotion to coffee and brewing. I came to learn he worked for Sony, a company I long ago admired for their understanding of their audience and both sound and visual products, at least in their heyday.

I see Chris the same way, and I invite you to eavesdrop on a more or less typical conversation between us about brewing. Note: He has no problem discussing any brand of coffee product. He realizes we’re discussing something bigger and has that sense of history not often found in corporate cultures. And, he actually seems to use his (and everyone’s) coffee brewing products!

This podcast was recorded at the NCA Conference in San Diego in March, 2016. Thanks to Joe DeRupo, NCA’s Director of External Relations and Communication, who provided the recording space. 

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Bunn Trifecta Home Review

Bunn Trifecta Home
As one of the earliest manufacturers of an autodrip coffeemaker, Bunn is not known for change. The Trifecta Home is going to wake up Bunn’s critics. It is not an extension or variation of any previous design of theirs or anyone’s. It is a totally new concept. It is bold.

The Trifecta Home takes the best from several coffee brewing methods, elevating the art of control during brewing. It steeps coffee like a French press. It agitates the brewing chamber during contact and forces finished brew through the exit hole upon completion, emulating the best of vacuum coffee brewing. In fact, the Trifecta Home appears to be everything except what Bunn is most known for, that is a drip coffeemaker.

Let’s get this out of the way early: The Trifecta Home is not Bunn’s new home espresso machine, and to me that’s a good thing. What is the Trifecta Home? It is a new coffee high-extraction brewer that wrenches every precious bit of acidity from coffee, allowing some very focused user control over some physical variables for the first time in an automatic coffeemaker. Why am I happy that it is not an espresso machine? Acidity = the high notes, the most expensive flavor ingredient of the best coffee beans. Light roasted single origin coffees fired out as espresso shots give you acrid, overlit flavors. These same coffees in the Trifecta and will give you beautifully extracted balanced coffee with the full spectrum of tastes.

Perhaps the Trifecta Home will be compared mostly to the commercial Clover machine. I’ve tried both side by side and the Clover accentuates a low bitter note in almost every coffee I’ve tried in it, and the Trifecta does not. I limited my comparisons, but it may be naught anyway since Clover, after being bought outright by Starbucks, appears to be all but gone. Certainly, no one has suggested a Clover Home is forthcoming.

Meanwhile, apparently Bunn’s years of underextracting grounds using shorter-than-average contact times has paid off. The Trifecta Home’s contact time is short, a minute or so. The two longer settings are for tea. I did try doing coffee at the tea setting, but preferred the three coffee settings overall.

The brewing contact temperature is smack dab at 200°F, as usual for a Bunn machine. An ‘instant on’ steady temperature is especially important given its brief grounds/water contact time. Bunn is known for good, consistent water temperature, and the Trifecta Home is no exception. Unlike most earlier Bunn drip machines, the Trifecta Home has no onboard heated tank. I found even if I unplugged the Trifecta Home and plugged it in a minute before brewing, the temperature and startup time remained roughly the same. If it is not instant-on, it is very, very close to it.

The Trifecta Home injects air to agitate the brew. The number of times it does this during brewing is one of two user adjustments. Bunn claims varied agitation tilts the body versus acidity of the coffee. More agitation reduces acidity; Less agitation reduces body. My tastings confirm this. Turbulence in coffee is just like it is on an airplane flight… air bubbles that shake things up. Bunn’s promoted its use of turbulence in brewing for a while now. The Trifecta has finally convinced me they know how to use it to make better coffee.

Turbulence!
At the brew cycle’s conclusion the coffee is forced from the brewing chamber down into the supplied beaker/carafe with such vigor the spent coffee grounds are almost completely dry. I suspect they are using air pressure to force the liquid out so thoroughly. Regardless of how, the combined turbulence and efficient separation of the grounds and brewed coffee do the best job of extracting and leaving no liquid behind in the grounds of any brewer I’ve yet tested, matching vacuum brewers and espresso machines.

Interesting: Bunn recommends using coarse ground coffee. I’ve suggested this for years. Maybe we’ve both learned something from each other. Interestingly, after a month or so I found I backed off from the recommended 22 grams of coarse grounds per 12 ounces water brewing formula. I got my best results using 18 grams fine grounds per 12 ounces water. This is my preferred Trifecta Home recipe with almost any coffee I’ve yet tried as of this writing.

The cups are so good, so rich and full-flavored, nothing is missing. The amount of coffee produced, between one and two six-ounce cups, is just about perfect for two. Considering how many people have one or two cups, it’s, from a ‘mileage’ point of view, economical, and doesn’t fill trash heaps like the Keurigs do. It’s worth noting that the Bunn Home Trifecta also does a single 6 ounce cup with equal aplomb. Few machines so equally match taste when you change batch size.

Oren’s Daily Roast’s Ethiopian Longberry Harrar had all the flower you could ask of it and, believe me, this is one beautiful floral bomb! Stumptown’s Guatemala Antigua Buenavista did itself proud with the unique black cherry and milk chocolate notes I so enjoyed in this bean. I Have A Bean’s Uganda Bugisu Kapchorwa, which I’d brewed recently in a manual pourover, just burst forth with cinnamon and malt flavors and a powerful complexity that justified this machine’s ability to carefully agitate the water while in contact with the grounds in controlled doses. I could literally dial in this complexity to alter the balance. Consider that once I adjusted the settings just so, I could repeat these perfect cups in succession reliably, almost casually. This is a significant benefit. Before the Trifecta Home, I felt I could have perfection or consistency, but typically not both. And that’s the Trifecta Home’s true greatness.

Some folks will ask me, “Kevin, do you really expect me to put $500 into a coffeemaker during these economic times?” Hey, I’m not a 1%’er. Yes, $500 is a lot of money, even to me (ha!). I believe you can probably match the cup quality, although I’m honestly not certain, using your best vacuum, Chemex, Hario, Aeropress technique. But, every time? The Trifecta Home is for the coffee aficionado who wants the best, wants it consistently, and wants ease in achieving this perfection. And, I do mean perfection.

The cost of entry is high, but to someone who spent $500 on a DSLR camera, a plasma TV, or other top consumer gear it’s in line. How about a decent prosumer home espresso maker? If you like coffee, single-origin coffee as much as I do, you’ll just accept it as the cost of entry to a big step up in our hobby. Let’s put it this way. If you own one of these, I’ll never again worry about giving you coffee for your birthday and wonder if you will begin to taste what I can taste when I brew it. Let’s see: a state-of-the-art, made in America machine that brews coffee like a top café barista. What more do you want?

It’s the machine I’ve waited for since I started drinking coffee. If you can afford one, it’s a no-brainer. Bunn knocked it out of the ballpark with this one. The Bunn Trifecta Home almost deserves to rename a cup of coffee a Trifecta, it’s that outstanding. It defines the state-of-brewing-art according to me and The Coffee Companion.

Chemex Coffee Brewer

The Chemex is both a coffee brewer and an artwork. Few coffee brewers have the ability to show to an audience like this brewer. It’s even earned a place at the Smithsonian. It’s so delightful to look at that it’s easy to overlook that it’s a fine coffee brewer that offers a unique flavor profile.

How It Works

The Chemex uses a thick laboratory-grade paper filter. If you try to use Melitta-style filters in a Chemex, the water will run through too quickly. The paper is part of the method. It asks as a flow regulator. The idea is to fill the Chemex with coarse ground coffee and let it soak as the thick paper slows the water’s movement through the coffee. In this way, it offers and almost-French press-like soaking to the grounds. But, most Chemex aficionados suggest tiny hot water pours, adding just enough to completely cover the grounds.

The thickest filter paper ever... let's you brew stronger, which surprises a lot of people.

Tests

I made coffee using very coarse grounds, identical to what I’d use in a French press or percolator. This is counterintuitive to drip making, but the thick paper demands it. If you grind too finely, the combination of paper density and grind will slow your drip rate so much, you’ll end up with very strong, bitter coffee, although there will be no sediment. I heated the water to boiling and then removed it. In about a minute the water was 200 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s a good temperature to pour into the Chemex. The Chemex inventor, Dr. Peter Schlumbohm, believed that most coffee brewers (especially the vacuum) brewed at too high a temperature. The Chemex is designed to brew at standard or below temperatures. While I got good results at up to 200F, I often preferred the coffee brewed at around 190, which is technically 5 degrees below industry standards. Let’s just say this: don’t pour the water in once it’s boiling; you won’t like the results.

The temperature curve reflects the gaps between pours. As you can see, it’s hard to determine the exact contact time between the water and the grounds. One reason for the distinctive flavor of the Chemex might be the wide temperature variance once the water is poured in, without any more hot water joining it until that amount has gone through the grounds. Another reason may be the coarse grounds. The thick paper filter is almost certainly a factor. While critics may claim the Chemex filter holds back important flavor oils, I would not agree without some evidence. The cup profile does not indicate anything less than a stellar cup of coffee. In fact, I think I can make stronger coffee with the Chemex with no bitterness at least partly due to its filter. If a wine-like viscosity is what you want in your cup, the Chemex is your brewer.

Grind

The Chemex works by trial and error. It is difficult to calculate the contact time, as you really have a number of contact times, due to the practice of pouring small amounts of hot water and allowing it to cycle through the filter bed before pouring in the next one. The best starting point it simply to use a coarse grind and not-too-hot water.

Coarse ground, like Kosher salt, because the filter controls contact time, not the grind.

Measurements

I use forty grams of ground coffee in the so-called six cup Chemex. I own the larger one too, the eight cup. I use seventy-two grams of ground coffee and I grind is slightly coarser. I use less and grind coarser because the ground coffee bed is deeper, meaning the contact time is automatically longer.
Water temperature

An interesting point how hot the succeeding pours are. Most manual drip users boil the water, then let it come off the boil and then pour it in without reheating it. As Oren Bloostein told me, he continuously keeps the water at near boiling. I’ve done it both ways, and am unconvinced that one way is inherently right versus the other. I suggest you try both and decide.

Cleanup is simpler with the Chemex than any other brewer I’ve used. You simply toss the paper away. If you compost, you toss the remove the grounds and toss the filter. The glass maker rinses easily — nothing to scrub.

Conclusion

The Chemex is the most attractive manual drip maker ever made. It is a manual drip maker, which means it’s more work to make the coffee. Even though I do, I can understand others claiming they don’t want to make manual coffee while getting ready in the morning. Its cleanup is so simple, and once you get your measurements and grind down, it’s really quite an easy brewer. The only thing left is how to keep the coffee warm. I suggest the cost is low enough that you buy two sizes and make the right amount for a half hour, and spring for the glass top that keeps the heat in.

I strongly recommend the Chemex brewer.

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