Coffee makers: weak or strong?

Test Kitchen

January 03, 2007|By Amy Scattergood | Amy Scattergood,LOS ANGELES TIMES

The all-in-one grind-and-brew coffee maker -- a machine that, with one press of a button the night before, has a hot, brewed pot of coffee waiting for you in the morning -- is a coffee lover's dream. But, like all utopian promises, you have to wonder if it's really possible.

So we decided to put the three grind-and-brew machines on the market -- Melitta, Cuisinart and Capresso -- to the test.

Only the Capresso offers the advantage of a burr grinder, which crushes the beans between rotating cones (rather than shredding them with a single blade), yielding better-tasting coffee that keeps its aromas longer. It's also the only machine that measures the coffee beans for you, according to the strength you want. Two of the machines, the Capresso and the Cuisinart, have thermal carafes.

The Melitta was a very capable machine with good value -- a French press and a grinder purchased separately would cost more -- but the lack of a carafe invalidated the fresh-grind advantages within 15 or so minutes. The Cuisinart produced an even better cup of coffee. But it was the Capresso, the priciest of the three, that made me decide to retire my French press.

Amy Scattergood writes for the Los Angeles Times.

BEST BREW

CAPRESSO COFFEE TEAM THERM

What's the difference: The only grind-and-brew on the market with a burr grinder and the only one that measures the beans for you. It has a removable gold filter (with paper-filter option) and see-through window for its grinder channel. Unlike the previous Capresso grind-and-brew, this model has a thermal carafe -- a huge improvement. Brewed coffee was 178 degrees.

What we thought: This machine made by far the best coffee of the three. The burr grinder works smoothly, and the swiveling filter compartment that rotates automatically from under the grinder to a position above the carafe for the infusion process is impressive. Because your beans can be stored in the attractive airtight container (though we wish its capacity were greater), all you do is add water and -- presto! The only serious drawback to this machine is that there are, apparently, some duds on the market. The first one we tested was never capable of making a satisfactory pot.

How much: $300. Available at Sur La Table, Williams-Sonoma, capresso.com and amazon.com

ALSO TESTED

CUISINART'S GRIND & BREW THERMAL 10-CUP AUTOMATIC COFFEE MAKER

What's the difference: It represents a clear evolution in technology with the carafe and separate grind and filter baskets. But you can't control the grind: It's set at "medium." Brewed coffee was 174 degrees.

What we thought: This machine made a good, clean, strong cup of coffee, but it was not as aromatic or layered with flavor as that made by the Capresso. The lack of a grind setting control can be frustrating, but you can vary the strength by adjusting the amount of beans. And the charcoal filter is a definite plus because it eliminates the need to use filtered water. You can't see the water chamber from the outside, so it's hard to fill correctly unless you're tall. The filter basket drawer and the lid covering the coffee and water reservoirs seemed flimsy. But the well-designed carafe kept the coffee hot for hours.

How much: $150. Available at Sur La Table, Williams-Sonoma, Bed Bath & Beyond; cuisinart.com and amazon.com

MELITTA'S AUTOMATIC MILL & BREW 10-CUP COFFEE MAKER

What's the difference: It's the same old drip coffeepot you've always had, but with a grinder built into the simple operating system. And there's a feature that allows you to choose among seven grades for the grind. Brewed coffee was 160 degrees.

What we thought: It makes a decent (if a bit chalky) cup, especially for the price -- but you have to drink it almost immediately. The simplicity of the machine is pretty appealing; it's easy to program and to clean. However, the combination basket-filter doesn't allow for the option of a paper filter. And the fact that the brew basket and the grinder basket are the same means that the coffee can have a metallic note.

How much: $60. Available at melitta.com, target.com and amazon.com

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