Every time I've written that the coffeemaker on your kitchen counter is terrible, I was only partly trolling you. It's true! Your cheap automatic coffee machine is ruining your coffee. But now there are a couple of new automagical machines you can easily buy in the US that are very, very good: Bonavita's Automatic Coffee Brewer and Bodum's Bistro Pourover Machine. Which one is the best, though?
Some background. For a long time, practically the only home machine that would earn a nod of approval from your local barista—maybe—bared a Technivorm logo on it, for more or less two reasons: temperature and water distribution. Most automatic drip machines don't reach the 195-205 degree range you need to properly extract coffee (around 180 seems to be the average), and their showerhead tends to not to spray water over the coffee bed very evenly. So the coffee is poorly extracted, and it sucks. The Technivorm does do both of those things, which is why it is approved by Speciality Coffee Association of America, and 99.99999 percent of machines are not. But it's $250. And oh so ugly.
Bonavita's automatic brewer, new in the US, promises the same good things as a Technivorm—including a badge of SCAA approval. It looks like a poor man's Technivorm, because it kind of is, but in a good way—it costs just $150. (And it's beaten the Technivorm in some people's tests.) As for Bodum's Bistro Pourover, despite the name, it doesn't actually simulate a pourover coffee—the absolute trendiest way to brew coffee at this second—any more than any other automatic machine. But, like the Technivorm and Bonavita, it promises to brew it correctly. It also looks very neat, in a late 90s transparent-plastics-guts-showy kind of way. Both are super simple automatic drip brewers, with literally one button: off/on. You pour in ground coffee, you pour in water, turn it on. Coffee appears. And both have thermal carafes that keep coffee hot fooooooorever without needing a coffee-corrupting hotplate.
We tested the brewers at Gimme! Coffee's Brooklyn training lab, with coffee ronin Mike White (most recently of Coffee Common) along with blind taste tests with three Gimme baristas (plus one coffee novice). We used Gimme's tasty Honduras El Sauce coffee, and a fairly standard dose of 30g coffee per 500ml of water (producing roughly two 8.5-ounce cups of coffee).
Mike and I liked the Bonavita's coffee best, at first. The flavors were cleaner, thanks to the Melitta paper filter, and the coffee came out hotter, indicating a higher brewer temperature. (Hotter water = more extraction, though anything above 205 is no bueno.) Gimme's baristas, blind tasting, immediately picked up notes of wood from the paper filter, though.
Bonavita Automatic Brewer
• Capacity: 40 ounces
• Brew temp: 195-205 degrees Fahrenheit
• Filter: Paper
• Colors: Grey, grey, grey
• Price: $130 for glass carafe, $150 for thermal carafe
• Gizrank: 3.5
After the coffee cooled slightly, it was definitely sharper and more acidic, and not in the best way. That might be because of the shorter brew time, which averaged around 3:09. Or because its cross-shaped showerhead less evenly disperses water over the coffee bed, which looked slightly different every time—a less positive sign, because it indicates the possibility of less even extractions.
Overall, we'd still say it was good. Wish it wasn't so utilitarigly, though, even as much as I love stainless steel appliances.
Mike and I were not as jazzed on the Bistro's coffee at first, because the metal filter lets more coffee sediment through, so the the flavors were muddier than the Bonavita to start. (But if you like coffee with a thicker mouthfeel—a la French Press—you might dig the grit.)
It's hard to overstate how thoughtfully designed and neatly put together the Bistro is—the drip-proof coffee filter, the easily removable showerhead, the spillproof carafe—with one exception: When you pull the carafe out, if you're not careful, you'll pull out the filter basket and dump wet coffee grounds everywhere.
The circular showerhead produced a neat, even bed of coffee every single time after brewing, a good sign for promoting even extraction (which is the name of the game). The coffee temp was always lower than the Bonavita's, but that might be because its brew time was nearly 30 seconds longer on average, at 3:35.
As the Bodum's coffee cooled, it showed up with "more" of the pleasant flavors, as one of the Gimme baristas put it, despite the visibly grittier cup. When we used a paper filter, it produced an even better cup with more clarity—though Bodum explicitly tells you not to use paper filters.
The bottom line is sort of hard to draw, for a couple of reasons. The Bodum Bistro produced a slightly better cup of coffee every time and is by far the more personable machine. But it costs $250. Is the coffee $100 better than the Bonavita, when $150 is already a lot to ask people to pay for a coffee machine? Maybe, for something you'll use every day, if you're thinking about spending that much in the first place (like on a Keurig machine). Consider that everybody loved our control coffee—a cup manually brewed with a $15 Clever dripper—better than either of the machines by a sizeable margin.
That said, either of these machines is incontrovertibly better than any machine you have on your kitchen counter (unless you've got a Technivorm there), without making your life any more complicated than it is right now. They will 100 percent make you better coffee, and for some people, that's worth paying for. You know, a tiny lifechanger. Now if Bodum could bring this down to $100? That would be a gamechanger.
Video by Woody Jang