Home brewers have always gotten a bad rap from more experienced coffee lovers, because it could never replicate the consistent and balanced brews of a good commercial brewer like the Fetco and Bunn brewers you find in your local independent coffee shop.
Home coffee could never be as good as your local coffee shop for two reasons. 1. The water in most of the cheaper home brewers like the ones you find for $20 at your local Target don’t get the water hot enough. The optimum temperature for extracting coffee is between 195-205. Anything outside of this makes the flavor suffer. 2. Most folks are still using those cheap $20 blade grinders, which chop the grinds up into very inconsistent sizes. Under the blade, fine powder, on top, more course grinds. This leads to very inconsistent brews. Replacing the blade grinder with a good burr grinder like the Baratza Encore makes all the difference in the world, and helps you on your way to better coffee.
If you’re not interested in manual brewing coffee, like using the Clever, Chemex, Aeropress, or pourovers like the Hario V60, Beehouse, or Kalita Wave brewers, then you have very few choices for electric brewing that does get to the proper temperature. The standard for many years, has been the Technivorm Brewers. They do a great job of heating the water up to the proper temp, and have a great spray head to evenly distribute the hot water over the grounds. The biggest con for this brewer has been the price, as it retails for around $300.
There are two relatively new brewers that also heat the water up to the proper temp, and are made to please even the most critical coffee palates. First, the Bonavita Brewer, which in design resembles the Technivorm in simplicity. It retails for around $150, and we carry it at our Dancing Goats Coffee Bars and on our website. The Bonavita doesn’t have lots of features, just a simple on/off button. It uses regular Melitta-style #4 cone filters like you’d use with the Clever.
Second, is the new Behmor Brazen. If you’ve never heard of Behmor, you’ve never delved into the home roasting industry, because that’s where they’ve made their mark for years with the 1600 home roaster. Now, they’re throwing their hat into the home brewing arena with the Brazen. The Brazen has lots of features, including adjustments for altitude and full temperature controls. It also has programming for delayed brewing and other things. It has a great, large spray head too. Plus, it looks very well made. The water reservoir is stainless steel with indented markings for water amounts.
Today we did a taste comparison between the Behmor, Bonavita, and we also brewed a batch off the Fetco CBS-2031e for safe measure - to see if these new home brewers come close to the commercial brewers in taste. I had nine people who participated, including two of Batdorf Atlanta’s roasters, four coffee industry folks (including myself), and three of our customers, just lovers of coffee. I think it was a very well balanced panel.
Now, for the particulars: The coffee amount used was 65 grams of coffee for 8 cups (cup being 5oz. as per both instruction manuals.) The water temperature was 208 in the Behmor, 205 in both the Fetco and Bonavita. The coffee used was Batdorf & Bronson’s Guatemala Finca El Valle, a perennial favorite. All were brewed at the same time. I measured time, and each person recorded Taste, Overall Balance (including body and acidity) and Overall Notes. Each person had a separate sheet for each brewer to record notes. Coffee was sampled blindly, with no one knowing which coffee came from which brewer. Scoring was from 1-5, with 5 being best, 1 being worst.
Now, for the results.
The Bonavita scored an average of 3.38 for taste. It scored an average of 3.38 for overall balance. Notes written included: Good brightness, dark sugars, sweet, buttery, heavy body, clean, very well-balanced, nice aftertaste, nice mouthfeel, rich flavor, sweet finish, chocolate flavors, nutty.
The Behmor actually got brewed and scored two ways, because it comes standard with a gold mesh filter, and to make it fair I brewed one batch with a paper filter so they were all brewed with paper filters, too. The Behmor scored an average of 2.72 for taste when brewed with the gold mesh filter, and an average of 3.28 for overall balance. Notes written included: Nutty, high acidity, sour aftertaste, most bitter, flat flavor, tangy, sour, sweet start and sour finish, medium mouthfeel. Everyone agreed the coffee brewed with the gold mesh filter wasn’t very good.
So, again, to be fair, I brewed it with a paper filter. It scored much higher, with an average of 3.93 for taste, and 3.25 for overall balance. Flavor notes included: Much sweeter, more balanced acidity, softer and smoother than the previous brew, spicy, nutty, bold, cinnamon, slightly bitter finish.
The Fetco scored an average of 3.38 for taste, and 3.38 for overall balance. Notes included: Bitter, sour, bright, crisp acidity, sharp citrus tones, dry aftertaste, citrus flavors, tea-like taste, caramel, hints of fruit, sweet finish, nutty, toasty.
As you can deduce, there are now home brewers that brew coffee that tastes as well as, if not better, than some commercial brewers. The Bonavita and Behmor (using a paper filter) both did very well, and are great brewers for any home. Advantage? Well, they balance out. The Bonavita is $50 cheaper, but has less control over some of the variables. The Behmor has more controls, including great temperature controls and adjustments, but is $50 more than the Bonavita. In the end, either one is going to suit you well.
I tend the think the Bonavita is going to be the best all-around brewer for most homes looking to upgrade their home brewer, if they’re not interested in manual brewing. It’s the perfect balance of great coffee, ease of use, and lower price makes it more accessible. It scored very well, and had a great balanced cup. The Behmor is a great brewer for prosumer use, people either working in coffee, or more experienced coffee folks who are looking for even more control over brewing their coffee. It’s great to see home brewers do this well in a comparison, and more proof that these are great times for folks drinking coffee at home.
Today I went back into the lab to measure a couple of things I didn’t get a chance to yesterday and figure out why it took the Behmor so much longer to brew a pot of coffee than the Bonavita. Today, I brewed in 6 cup batches, (each cup is 5oz), which is about what a normal household might brew. Yesterday I was brewing in 8 cup batches, or 40oz. Today, I used 48 grams of coffee, which lines up with their recommended 8 grams per 5 ounce cup. I was measuring both time and temperature today, and we tasted them to note the differences. Joining me in tasting today was Aaron, our head roaster, Brad, and Matt, our other two roasters, Mike Ferguson, and a couple of other folks. There was a clear difference in taste between the two.
So, let’s get to the data:
For the Behmor Brazen, it takes 3:20 to bring the room temperature water to 205 degrees. Total brew time for a 6 cup batch was 9:43. The end temperature was measured with two calibrated thermometers, taken just after brewing was finished. The end temperature was 162 degrees.
For the Bonavita Brewer, it takes 25 seconds to start brewing, and the total brew time for a 6 cup batch (30oz.) was 4:25. The end temperature was 170 degrees.
You may ask yourself, why does it take the Behmor twice as long to brew the same amount of coffee. It’s actually very simple. The Bonavita uses an internal boiler displace system, like you’d see in a commercial pourover brewer. You pour water in, the water that has been heating in the boiler is used to brew the coffee with and is displaced by the colder water. The Behmor doesn’t have an internal boiler, instead, a reservoir on the top boils the water before brewing. Hence the additional time to heat the water from room temperature.
As far as the taste goes, with both using paper filters, 48 grams of coffee, ground on the same setting, the same amount of water, the Bonavita had more body and bright flavors. But our roasters loved the variable controls of the Behmor and the ability to change temperatures for different coffees.