Is there anything you enjoy more first thing in the morning than carefully measuring out each coffee bean, preparing your filter, and weighing your water carefully as you control a graceful, slow stream of water for several minutes into the current-most-popular manual brew method available? What? No?
Perhaps you're looking longingly at your neighbor's pod machine and thinking: how much do I really care, at 6:15 a.m.? You just might be ready for a sophisticated automatic drip brewer that will try to do as good a job as the artisanal techniques. We braved weak cups and weaker circuit breakers to test out three higher-end home drip coffee makers, each of which aims to bring a higher quality experience to the automatic-drip (coffee) table.
Knowing the biggest obstacles faced in most automatic brews are underextraction and poor temperature stability, we donned lab coats and brewed in each machine with the same parameters and the same coffee, head to head to head, until our palates hit their two-hour auto-shutoff. Here are the findings.
The long reigning Technivorm, known for its awkward tower-like construction, high price tag, and of course the sexy blonde on the box, has for years been the coffeemaker of record for anyone who takes their auto-drip seriously.
With a reputation built on precise temperature control—the Achilles heel of the everyday home coffeemaker—the 'Vorm remains one of the few reliable, delicious ways to get the most out of drip coffee without a terribly huge investment of effort. Though the assembly of parts is flimsy and frustrating—the lightweight filter apparatus and detachable sprayer-head always seem to fly out of my hand in an embarrassing pre-caffeine loss of motor control—they are easy enough to put together and brew, or to take apart and clean.
The Technivorm sprays the coffee grounds from above with a nine-nozzle spray head (with jets oriented somewhat like a domino) maintaining heat through the wet bed of coffee grounds, or "slurry", at a nice hot 197 to 199 degrees Fahrenheit. (Most autodrip coffee makers max out around 185, which is a somewhat low temperature at which to brew coffee.)
Though we found that following recommendations to agitate the grounds partway through the brewing process produced a better cup, our measurements and tongues showed the un-agitated brew to be only a little underextracted—pretty damn good for an automatic machine. Total brew time took about 4.5 minutes.
You have options with Technivorm, on whether you'd prefer a thermal carafe (keeps coffee hot for a long time) or glass (tastes cleaner and more pure but cools off sooner) or in different sizes of brewing capacity. The only thing that really makes this hard to recommend is the price, which ranges from $250-300 depending on which model you prefer. Then again, that's a few hundred trips to the coffeeshop you've cut out of your budget, and a very high quality cup.
Bonavita Coffee Maker
Launched as a direct rival to the Technivorm (right down to the hot blonde on the package) is the newish-to-market Bonavita Coffee Maker, from the same folks who beat Hario to an electric pouring kettle in the US market. Clocking in at half the price, the Bonavita does everything the Technivorm does and a little more, maintaining a higher temperature in the slurry bed (we measured as high as 202°F) and requiring little to no interference or agitation to get an evenly saturated bed of grounds (the Bonavita's "shower head" is oriented more like a criss-cross, of seven jets).
What's more, you can use the Bonavita to make pourovers for you, too! By removing the plastic filter apparatus, which is actually a #4 Melitta cone dripper that happens to fit nicely on the Bonavita carafe (or your mug), you can swap in your Kalita Wave, Clever dripper, or even a petite Chemex to brew right under the heat-stabilized spray head.
Total brew time for an 8-cup reservoir of water took about 5 minutes 30 seconds, and produced a cup with lots of body and flavor development—still a wee bit underextracted but resoundingly impressive. I have yet to meet a coffee professional that isn't as happy with the Bonavita as our tasters were. Also: easy to clean, and has the option of a thermal carafe, like its friend the Technivorm.
Krups SilverArt Coffee Maker
We wanted to put the "geek" coffeemakers up against a high-end home machine, and the Krups SilverArt KT600 was just the ticket, entering the market at a price near the Bonavita but aiming at an audience that wants their coffeemaker to look as good as it brews. (Admittedly, the gangly Technivorm and pragmatic Bonavita do nothing to spruce up a kitchen.)
Krups' SilverArt line is a pretty sexy, chrome-and-"wood" counter topper that produces as decent a cup as you'll find in a high-pricetag machine that isn't aimed at the refractometer-and-thermocoupler-set (and if you don't know who that is, it's safe to say you aren't among them.) The box boasts claims that it is precise and practical, and set out to test both.
The nine-nozzle array of jets coughs out about a 185 to 190 degree shower of water over the vaguely awkward filter cone, and if you can easily lift and pour off the clunky carafe when full, more power to you! This coffeemaker makes a comforting, back-to-childhood soundtrack of arhythmic gurgling, sending my senses straight to soundtracks of 1980s mornings craning my neck up to the kitchen counter to see if coffee was ready yet.
Once the gurgling's through, a cup of full-flavored, but less delicate than the others we tried, with a body that ended rather abruptly. You may not get an award-winning cup out of this (though it still extracts reasonably well for the range of heat it can manage), but you'll get something decent—and you'll definitely look very modern doing it.
Thanks to Krups, Bonavita and Oren's Daily Roast for providing samples of the Krups and Bonavita Coffee Maker for testing. Thanks to Park Brannen of Handsome Coffee Roasters, and Oobee the dog, for the use of their Technivorm.