I can’t function without coffee. And as any coffee enthusiast knows, a handcrafted cup of coffee — such as what you get out of a pourover or French press — is the best way to go. Unfortunately, that’s not always practical. Some people might be able to carve out an extra 20 minutes for coffee zen during the morning rush, but I’m not willing to part with that much sleep.
For the past few months I’ve been testing a handful of coffeemakers that promise to come close to manual-brew quality while adding the convenience of an automatic drip. A far cry from your average $50 Wal-Mart coffeemaker, all of the coffeemakers in this group have to meet four criteria:
- It’s SCAA-certified. The SCAA has some pretty strict requirements involving temperature, brew time, sediment, and consistency.
- It’s programmable. This is all about balancing convenience with flavor, without compromising either.
- It’s got auto shut-off. Because I like having an un-charred house.
- It’s affordable. Specifically, priced under $200. Go any higher, and you might as well get a Moccamaster.
I used fair and consistent testing methods to gather my results in real-world, everyday environments. Here’s the scoop so far:
Unfortunately, that’s where the fun ends. The end result was consistently bad coffee. No matter what I tried, the final brew was always dull and/or sour. Repeated testing confirmed that the water entering the brew basket didn’t get hot enough until the carafe was about 25% full — an obvious recipe for bad joe.
As much as I loved that beautiful VFD display, the CPO-800 was knocked out early on. Next!
The KCM0802 came in second place for final brew quality. However, the user interface is needlessly complex. For example, to start the delay brew cycle, you press menu, menu, set, set, set. The cafe’s handle is a tight fit for my apparently colossal hands. And based on my experiences, I have long-term concerns about reliability.
My unit began leaking water after about a month of daily use. Every morning I’d wake up to find a few ounces of water on the countertop. I could have returned it for warranty service, but given the design issues, I decided to pass.
Bunn HB 10-Cup Programmable
See my Bunn HB review here and here. The Bunn makes a very good cup of joe, and is a close third behind the KitchenAid KCM0802. This was surprising, as the Bunn is the only unit in this group that doesn’t pre-soak the grounds.
In fact, the Bunn HB is as basic as you can get. The interface could not possibly be any simpler, thanks to single-function buttons. There’s a certain elegance to simplicity, especially when it brews a consistently good cup of joe. It’s also worth pointing out that the Bunn is the only coffeemaker in this group that’s made in the US.
While the Bunn is third place behind the KCM0802, let’s keep this in perspective: it’s still light years better than your typical $50 Wal-Mart coffeemaker.
Behmor Brazen Plus
The Brazen Plus has a lot of features you simply can’t find at this price point. Unfortunately, nearly all of them felt unfinished. Whether it’s the significant condensation problems, the sloppy pour of the carafe, the backwards instructions on the carafe lid, or the crude user interface, entire unit felt unrefined — like it was rushed into production.
But at the end of the day, the end result is an amazing cup of coffee — if you can put up with all its quirks.
If you can live with its quirks, the Behmor Brazen Plus makes the best coffee. Unfortunately, even its advanced features aren’t enough to outweigh its design shortcomings and “personality”.
The Kitchenaid KCM0802 offers a great balance of brew quality, visual appearance, and functionality. However, I can’t ignore the fact that my unit developed a serious water leak after only a few weeks of daily use.
The Bunn HB brews a very good cup, and comes in third place behind the Behmor and the Kitchenaid. What it lacks in bells and whistles it makes up for in durable design and a simple-but-effective, easy-to-understand interface.
The Cuisinart CPO-800 was a massive disappointment. It wins in the design department, because who doesn’t want their kitchen to look straight out of 1985? Unfortunately the final result was dull, sour coffee — completely unacceptable at this price.
Since this series is called “Everyday Coffee”, I took a subjective look at each unit to see how it would hold up to real-world usage and expectations. Yes, factors like total dissolved solids and holding temperature are important, but it’s the end result that matters: does it produce a consistently superior cup of joe, is it easy to use, and will it stand up to real life?
And the Winner Is
While it lacks advanced features like presoak and pulsed brewing, the Bunn HB delivered a consistently excellent cup of coffee. It won’t match a pourover or French press … but it’s close. So close that it makes a perfect daily driver when you want to wake up to freshly brewed coffee every morning.
The Brazen Plus came in a very close second. If you can live with its quirks (and they are substantial), it produces a cup of joe that puts the Moccamaster to shame.
The Kitchenaid KCM0802 was originally the winner. It offered a brew quality very close to the Brazen, but without all the issues. However, the needlessly complex UI combined with the reliability issues knocked it out of the running.
At the end of the day, what really matters is that you drink what you like. If your idea of the perfect cup of coffee is Folgers in your grandparents’ circa-1979 Mr. Coffee, go for it — but do yourself a favor and at least try a manual brew with fresh, local beans.
But if you’re looking for a better coffee experience, you need to check out the Bunn HB.