The impact of science and technological advances as a motif in post-war design was eventually felt in the manufacture and marketing of coffee and coffee-makers. Consumer guides emphasized the ability of the device to meet standards of temperature and brewing time, and the ratio of soluble elements between brew and grounds. The industrial chemist Peter Schlumbohm expressed the scientific motif most purely in his "Chemex" coffeemaker, which from its initial marketing in the early 1940s used the authority of science as a sales tool, describing the product as "the Chemist's way of making coffee", and discussing at length the quality of its product in the language of the laboratory: "the funnel of the CHEMEX creates ideal hydrostatic conditions for the unique... Chemex extraction." Schlumbohm's unique brewer, a single Pyrex vessel shaped to hold a proprietary filter cone, resembled nothing more than a piece of laboratory equipment, and surprisingly became popular for a time in the otherwise heavily automated, technology-obsessed 1950s household.
That said, it’s not as elegant to use as the OXO machines. (Nor is it as nice to look at. One tester described its tall, bulbous body and squat carafe as “UFO-like.”) Take its eight-button controls, for example, which you use to toggle among brew modes, scroll up and down within the menu, and engage a manual brewing feature. Programming it to start brewing at a certain time was about as intuitive as setting an alarm on a clock radio — easy enough, but more technical than sleek. OXO definitely feels like the future; Behmor is more, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?”
Like the OXO machines, it has only one button on its interface. Unlike the OXO machines, that button does only one thing: start the brewing process. If you hold it down until it blinks, you’ll activate the pre-infusion; otherwise a simple click gets it going. Brewing a full pot of eight cups took us about seven minutes, by far the fastest of any of our top picks — which is a good thing, considering you can’t program it to start brewing before you wake up.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, although some coffee makers tended to uniformity of design (particularly stovetop percolators), others displayed a wide variety of styling differences. In particular, the vacuum brewer, which required two fully separate chambers joined in an hourglass configuration, seemed to inspire industrial designers. Interest in new designs for the vacuum brewer revived during the American Arts & Crafts movement with the introduction of "Silex" brand coffee makers, based on models developed by Massachusetts housewives Ann Bridges and Mrs. Sutton. Their use of Pyrex solved the problem of fragility and breakability that had made this type of machine commercially unattractive. During the 1930s, simple, clean forms, increasingly of metal, attracted positive attention from industrial designers heavily influenced by the functionalist imperative of the Bauhaus and Streamline movements. It was at this time that Sunbeam's sleek Coffeemaster vacuum brewer appeared, styled by the famous industrial designer Alfonso Iannelli. The popularity of glass and Pyrex globes temporarily revived during the Second World War, since aluminum, chrome, and other metals used in traditional coffee makers became restricted in availability.
Domestic electrification simplified the operation of percolators by providing for a self-contained, electrically powered heating element that removed the need to use a stovetop burner. A critical element in the success of the electric coffee maker was the creation of safe and secure fuses and heating elements. In an article in House Furnishing Review, May 1915, Lewis Stephenson of Landers, Frary and Clark described a modular safety plug being used in his company's Universal appliances, and the advent of numerous patents and innovations in temperature control and circuit breakers provided for the success of many new percolator and vacuum models. While early percolators had utilized all-glass construction (prized for maintaining purity of flavor), most percolators made from the 1930s were constructed of metal, especially aluminum and nickel-plated copper.
It’s not that cone filters won’t make a great cup of coffee — the OXO On 9-Cup still ranked fifth out of 10 in our taste test. But flat bottoms generally allow for the grounds to be more evenly extracted and increase the coffee’s flavor. (It’s no coincidence our other three recommendations have flat-bottom brew baskets). You may have to do a little more tweaking to get this coffee maker’s brew to the best it can be, and that’s the other reason we like the 12-cupper more. This smaller version doesn’t let you tinker with water temperature.
When it comes to features, our top pick’s little sister, the OXO On 9-Cup Coffee Maker, looks and feels much the same: a single-button dial, programmable start times — even the timer that lets you know how old the coffee is after it’s been brewed is identical. On this version, the water reservoir isn’t detachable, but it brews coffee significantly faster than the 12-cupper’s 14 minutes(!) and it’s $100 cheaper. It’s a great machine that didn’t earn our top spot simply because the coffee it makes didn’t perform quite as well as the other three top picks in our taste tests, and it doesn’t let you tinker with water temperature and extraction the way the larger machine does.
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As with any appliance, newer models are constantly getting rolled out. The newer Nespresso VertuoPlus coffee machine became available since I got my original Pixie. But I'm so pleased with mine — from the important stuff (like how well it makes my coffee), to the superficial stuff (like how it looks) — that I can't think of a single reason why I should change what I've got going on right now.
†Programmable Brew Time: Conventional wisdom frowns at grinding beans early and programming a pot to brew later. The aromatic compounds in coffee beans start to oxidize as quickly as 15 minutes after grinding, which causes coffee to start losing aroma and flavor. But Michael Ebert, senior consultant at Firedancer Coffee Consultants, LLC, assured us that, given the trade-offs for convenience, “grinding the night before will still make a great coffee — just not as great as it could be.” Seven of the 10 pots we tested are programmable, including three of our top picks (all but the Bonavita).
This testing was designed to highlight the difference in how each machine extracted its coffee grounds. Remember, extraction is tied to water temperature, how long the grounds had to steep, and how evenly that water is distributed in the brew basket. (Depending on how the machine distributes the water and the shape of the basket, any particular ground may or may not receive the same amount of time in contact with water — thus any individual grind may be over-extracted, under-extracted, or just right.) Properly extracted grounds would have a balance of notes and aromas, from slight hints of acid to a pleasant amount of bitterness.
Breville's 12-cup Precision Brewer is stacked with features that allow you to fully customize your coffee, like adjustable brew temperature, bloom time, strength and more. It also has settings for making cold brew, iced coffee, or the Specialty Coffee Association's standard Golden Cup. It's beautifully designed thanks to its sleek brushed stainless steel exterior and LED-lit digital display. Just note that you'll have to spend time exacting your preferred settings, especially when you first set it up.
CR’s take: This Cuisinart drip coffee maker with a stainless steel finish and glass carafe earns an Excellent rating for brew performance. It’s programmable and features a water filter, a permanent coffee filter, cleaning mode, a cleaning indicator, and auto-shutoff. The machine also allows you to adjust the strength of your brew. For the money, this model offers style and features that are hard to beat. If you can live without the built-in grinder of the Cuisinart Burr Grind & Brew above, you can save yourself some money and still enjoy Cuisinart quality for a lot less.