Everyday Coffee: Coffeemaker Roundup

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.

An antique hand-operated coffee grinder is overflowing with beans. It's sitting next to a cup of rich, fresh-brewed coffee. Morning sunlight reflects off some out-of-focus objects in the background.
You don’t grind coffee like this. Stop showing off.

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.

A closeup of a cup of coffee being made using the pourover or Chemex method. A stainless steel gooseneck kettle slowly pours water into a filter.
Ain’t got time for this.

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
Four of the tested coffee makers are pictured on a granite countertop. They are the Bunn HB, the Cuisinart CPO-800, the Kitchenaid KCM0802, and the Behmor Brazen Plus. The Bunn's carafe is full of rich, dark coffee.
Bunn HB, Cuisinart CPO-800, KitchenAid KCM0802, and Behmor Brazen Plus.

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.
Four boxes are piled up next to each other, one for each coffeemaker. On top of the boxes are three bags of coffee: one small bag from a local coffee roaster, and two large bags of Starbucks-roasted beans from Costco.
5 pounds of coffee and how to use it.

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.

2 thoughts on “Everyday Coffee: Coffeemaker Roundup”

  1. Dave, I’d like to hear your thoughts on a somewhat-related topic. Do you find any performance and tastes differences between the permanent mesh-type filters and the paper (i.e., Melitta) filters (assuming all else being equal)?

    1. I think it really depends on the type of filter. The Cuisinart CPO-800 ships with this weird slotted filter that does a poor job of holding in the grounds, resulting in sludgy coffee. But at the same time, I’ve used permanent mesh filters for years without any issues.

      A permanent filter definitely pays for itself and reduces landfill waste. But at the same time, paper filters decompose quickly (especially when soaked with coffee) and can even be used in a compost pile. I’d say if you aren’t experiencing any sludge issues, the permanent filter is the way to go.

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