The single biggest flaw in your everyday automatic drip coffeemaker is temperature control. We've trod this ground before: it hardly seems possible, but only a couple of machines in the seemingly infinite selection of automatic coffee brewers for the home market get this crucial factor right. Without the ability to maintain a consistent brewing temperature (much less get your brewer to the right temperature to begin with), your coffee results will be inconsistent, at best, and result in straight-up bad-tasting coffee, at worst.
Automatic machines have been making a comeback in the cafe setting. Versatile-to-program, variable-stable machines like the Fetco, the Curtis Gold Cup, and others, have been re-embraced as automatic methods of preparing coffee in higher volume situations. So why hasn't home technology caught up yet?
It's slowly getting there. We recently had a chance to try the Behmor Brazen Coffee Brewer, a couple-years-old invention freshly partnered with Portland's Boyd Coffee and flung back at the home consumer market with renewed enthusiasm. The $200 machine is aimed at brewing geeks as well as the everyday home consumer who appreciates a great cup, and for many of us, it's been flying under the radar.
What's different about the Brazen? It does two of the main things that separate the great automatic drip brewers from the hoi polloi: 1) It has a large, very effective "shower head" to infuse the bed of grounds, and 2) Its all-metal water chamber allows for precise, maintained temperature control—meaning it heats up to exactly the brew temperature you request, and stays at that temperature while it makes the coffee.
While existing high-end models like the Technivorm Moccamaster and its more-affordable knockoff by Bonavita both feature great spray heads and steady temp control, neither allow you to adjust exactly what that brew temperature is—which for expressing certain flavors in certain coffees, one may wish to attenuate by a degree (or ten), and be able to taste a real difference in the cup. This is also a boon for people at higher altitudes, whose brewing temperature needs will differ from those of us flapping around at sea level.
There's another feature to get behind: preinfusion. A basic step of any good pour-over coffee brewing method, or espresso machine for that matter, is giving a bed of coffee grounds just a small—not the full—amount of water to bloom the grounds and prime the rest of the coffee for its full extraction. The Brazen offers a preinfusion phase—which you're able to program the duration of (it defaults to 15 seconds). (You can find this feature on a Technivorm KBGT 741 model, too, but it's automatically programmed in already and not adjustable.)
What's not to love? A few things. First of all—this sucker's huuuge. Clocking in at 15 1/4" high by 9" in diameter, you're going to have to really love the way Brazen performs to make room for it on a small kitchen counter. Secondly, it's not too pretty—but neither are any of the high quality auto-drippers, unless you can afford a Technivorm in Yellow Pepper. Also, there's only an option for a thermal carafe, rather than a glass pitcher. These are large or small complaints, depending on your preference.
And if you're more of a casual coffee person, the Brazen's made some basic stuff easier for you, too: it ships with a reusable gold filter basket (though we found coffee tasted much better when eschewing it for paper filters), and like many other popular commercial models, allows you to load water and coffee and program it to begin its brew cycle at whatever time of day you like. While this runs counter to the Sacred Tenet Of Never Grinding Your Coffee In Advance that coffee specialists hold dear, not everyone cares about that, so if you're among those who don't—why not have a hot carafe of coffee ready for you in the morning? Life doesn't always have to be hard.
Ultimately, we were really impressed with this as a versatile machine for home use, both of appeal to serious coffee nerds and casual drinkers alike.
Brewer sample provided for review consideration.