This is the first in a series called “Everyday Coffee”, in which I put four highly-rated coffeemakers through everyday, real-world testing.
We have a long-lasting love-hate relationship with coffeemakers.
Your great-grandparents likely used a French press, siphon, or pourover. Probably involving fire. They’re all great brewing methods with their own strengths and weaknesses. They take a bit of effort to do correctly, but they can easily coax out the rich, full-bodied flavor of coffee.
Your grandparents likely used an electric percolator. And it was terrible. It produced hot, dark liquid that contained caffeine. Technically, it was “coffee”. But if you weren’t careful, it would burn and over-extract the coffee, resulting in a bitter pot of awfulness. Most electric percolators have a window of roughly 30 milliseconds between “still brewing” and “LOL RUINED AGAIN”.
Your parents likely used an automatic drip. And it was a MASSIVE improvement over the percolator. In theory, automatic drips can make a very good cup of coffee. In reality, cheap engineering means the water never gets get hot enough to coax out all the rich, complex flavors of coffee. The end result is weak, dull coffee.
What the hell is this crap
We all tolerated automatic drip for a few decades because it was super convenient. Add grounds, push button, drink coffee. Done. But over the past 10-15 years, as streets run brown with coffee drinkers collectively spitting out crappy coffee, we’re returning to manual brewing methods.
And this is great. I can break out my French press when I want a bold, full-bodied cup to kickstart a rainy Saturday morning. I can fire up the pourover when I want to really taste the delicate, subtle notes from my local roaster. I can bust out the siphon when I want to feel like a mad scientist. I can fire up my Aeropress when I want to be a hipster.
They’ve all got their place, and they all make an amazing brew.
There’s just one problem
Manual brewing methods take time. When I’m on my way out the door en route to the office on Monday morning, I don’t exactly have time to craft a pourover or babysit a French press. This is doubly true if I’m brewing a second cup for my wife. And if I get woken up at 3am because the datacenter is literally on fire, I’m lucky if I can manage a cup of instant.
Automatic coffeemakers are just so convenient that most of us are willing to take a hit on quality to save a lot of time and effort.
For the record, I hate, hate, hate K-cups. They’re incredibly wasteful and you have zero control over the brewing process. Not only that, but it’s a massive hassle to be able to use beans from a local roaster. Sure, there are reusable K-cups out there, but after adding the work to empty, rinse, dry, and re-load them, what’s the point? At that point you’re basically using a tiny automatic drip.
And here’s an Easy Solution
Thanks to the heroic efforts of the Specialty Coffee Association of America, a handful of coffeemakers have heard us. Names like Cuisinart, KitchenAid, Bunn (yes, THAT Bunn), and Behmor have started rethinking the coffeemaker. They’re cranking out a new generation of automatic coffeemakers that get everything right.
The water temperature is in that golden 195-205 zone. The water flow is perfectly regulated. The finished product is held at a safe, non-scorching temperature (or better yet, in a thermal carafe). Some even emulate the pourover process by presoaking the grounds and sending the water in carefully-timed waves.
In other words, coffeemaker makers are getting serious about getting good.
By the way, that’s the single most awkward sentence I’ve ever written.
Taking Four for the Team
But don’t worry about that. I’ve got you covered. I just purchased four SCAA-certified coffeemakers, and will spend the next few weeks using them daily and posting my results. Each coffeemaker has to meet five basic criteria:
- They must be “Gold Cup” certified by the SCAA;
- They must have an auto-off feature, so I don’t accidentally burn my house down;
- They must be programmable;
- They must be available from a local retailer; and
- They must be under $200.
If you’re going to spend more than $200 on a coffeemaker, you might as well jump up to $300 and get a Technivorm Moccamaster — arguably the best consumer coffeemaker you can buy right now. But since it isn’t programmable, it doesn’t fit in with the rest of this test.
I’ll be taking a subjective look at factors like flavor, ease of use, and design. How easy it is to program? Will it fit under your cupboards? Can it resuscitate this month-old bag of mystery coffee? Can I use this when I just woke up and I have to be at the office in 30 minutes and seriously why can’t I remember to set the timer for once?
It’s not that acidity and total dissolved solids aren’t important. It’s just that those results have been covered exhaustively elsewhere. This series is called “everyday coffee”, so I want to see how these coffeemakers fit into a real-world hectic morning. Let’s face it: if you’re going to spend $150 on a coffeemaker, it needs to not only deliver amazing coffee, but also look great and be easy to use.
Here are the reviews that have been published so far:
Cuisinart CPO-800 review: part 1 & part 2
Kitchenaid KCM0802 review: Read part 1 here – part 2 is coming soon!
Behmor Brazen Plus review: Coming soon!
Bunn HB 10-Cup Programmable review: Coming soon!
OXO On Brain 9-Cup review: Coming soon!
And just for fun, I also gave the Ninja Coffee Bar a spin.