BREVILLE PRECISION BREWER THERMAL

I take coffee very seriously.  Not in the sense that I have to have a cup every morning, waiting in line at Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks or even my local gas station regardless of how late I am; not in the sense that recent McDonalds commercials have stressed that my day doesn’t actually start until I’ve had that first sip; and certainly not in the sense that any coffee is good coffee if the alternative is no coffee.

All those things are true for me, as they point to a type of person that I label as a “hard core coffee drinker.”  I am definitely one of those, and I know a bunch of them as well. When my back’s against a wall, as with all hard core coffee drinkers, I’ll make exceptions to my typical standards because I do have a physical addiction to caffeine that makes the day terrible if I don’t have it.  I don’t smoke, I don’t do hard drugs, so if caffeine addiction is my worst vice, I think I’m doing OK.

What separates people like me (because I know I’m not the only one) from a run-of-the-mill hard core coffee drinker is obsession over the precision, quality, technique and consistency that creates my preferred cup of joe.

My current coffee maker is a Bunn Classic Speed Brew maker, which brews an incredibly consistent cup of coffee.  It holds heated water, so it’s really fast—but you also have to use it every day to be able to keep a consistent ratio of grounds to water in your brew because the water evaporates more quickly than if it were room temperature. It uses a basket-style filter (Bunn brand, of course, because they are slightly taller than standard basket filters) and doesn’t run brewed coffee over top of any plastic pieces before it hits the pot.  It has a standard coffee burner on the bottom, so coffee sitting for too long gets gross.  It is the second one I’ve owned, the first of which is still being used by my brother. It is an excellent coffee maker.

I buy fresh, locally roasted coffee from a roaster about 5 minutes from my house.  I very recently purchased a Capresso Infinity conical burr grinder (don’t buy a blade grinder, please), but before that had that local roaster grind those beans for me. I use about 1 pound of coffee each week, and they range in price from $15 to $19 per pound, depending on the origin of those beans; I prefer single-origin beans from Central America more than any other region I’ve tested (South America, Africa, and Indonesia).

A coworker of mine (by the definition above, a hard core coffee drinker) was making a pot of coffee at the office in a traditional auto-drip coffee maker you would buy at your local big box store for less than $40–and in doing so, dumped the grounds from the one-pound bag directly into the basket, looking at me saying “that looks about right for 12 cups, right?” Needless to say, I was concerned. That led to a conversation about measuring versus “eye-balling,” water quality, coffee maker brands and eventually, my commitment to bring her a thermos of actually good coffee (by my standards).  When that happened the next week, we had more conversation about the importance of precision, quality, technique and consistency in making the best cup of coffee you can with the equipment you have.

And all of that happened before I got my hands on Breville’s Precision Brewer system.

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I’d identify this brewer as a very capable, but still very simple coffee maker.  The stainless steel finish is nice, but if you’ve ever cared for stainless steel appliances you know they can be a bit of a pain.  Regardless, it’s a very high-class coffee maker from an appearance perspective.  It has no burner, like my Bunn does, because the thermal carafe keeps your brew hot for a long time—during the first week, I had coffee in the carafe for 2 hours and still found it to be nearly as hot as when it was brewed.

I like everything about the design with a couple of exceptions: first, the water tank is not removable, so it can’t be filled without using another pitcher (or even the carafe itself).  If you obsess over precision and consistency like I do, you’ll need to get your hands on a 60 oz measuring cup, which isn’t a big deal. Second, the lid on the carafe seems to be more complicated than I’d prefer it to be; I want my brewed coffee to go from the basket to the pot without touching more plastic parts than required.  If hot coffee in this maker could be brewed without the lid being on the carafe, that would reduce the plastic contact further and simplify the lid design. And, with the exception of the lid, cleaning the parts is very simple, which is an area where many more advanced coffee makers can fall short.

Upon first use, it prompts you to test your water hardness, which makes some internal change to your brewer that is kept behind the scenes; it was a fun science experiment for my daughter and took only a couple of minutes. Next you flush water through the pot, all standard stuff, and you’re ready to make your first pot.  But where to begin?

Breville includes a reusable basket filter, several paper basket filters and a cone filter insert (which requires the purchase of cone filters), along with a coffee scoop that is paramount in maintaining the “Coffee/Water Ratio” laid out in the instructions; there is an additional accessory available on Breville’s website which adds pour over functionality to the system, although with all the options already included I’m not sure why they didn’t throw that in as well.

So, options—with this brewer you have a lot of them.  You can do full carafe brewing (60 oz of brewed coffee, or 12 5 oz cups), single cup brewing, iced coffee, cold brew, and Breville’s “Gold” brewing which is certified by the SCA as some of the best coffee you can drink.  There is also a custom brew option called “My Brew” which allows you to control the bloom time, water flow rate and water temperature, for those who really want to tinker with their brews; and a  “strong” brew setting, presumably which makes some adjustments available for further customization in the “My Brew” settings.  And, there is an option to program an auto-start if you want to set up your pot of coffee ahead of time.

But none of this matters if it doesn’t make a good cup of coffee, which for the record, it does.  “Gold” is my preferred brew so far which far surpasses my Bunn coffee pot’s performance for the last several years.  It is slower than my Bunn, but it will put out 35 oz of brewed coffee in about 7 minutes, which is all the coffee I need to make in the morning to get a cup before work and fill a travel mug.  A full 60 oz of coffee can be brewed using basket filters in as much time, although you’ll have to adjust the coffee/water ratio for basket brewing.  I found Breville’s recommended ratios for cone brewing (approximately 7 grams of grounds to 5 ounces of water) to be good, but the same ratios can’t be applied to basket brewing—it took closer to 10 grams of grounds for each 5 ounces of water to maintain similar strength to cone brewing.

Some of you may read this and think, “who wants to spend this much energy making coffee?”  People like me exist, I’m sure of it, but for those who don’t understand the obsession, I’d suggest you give it a try.  If you’re a hard core coffee drinker who wants to take it up a notch, I don’t think you’ll regret this kind of an investment.  And it is an investment: Breville’s system is $300 retail, which is almost triple what I’ve previously paid for any coffee maker.  If I had to justify the price tag to someone like my wife, who is overly frugal most of the time, it might look something like this:

Cost for coffee makers is complicated, but from my perspective, to make a great cup of coffee I’d argue you need a good coffee grinder, good coffee, a digital scale, and filters IN ADDITION TO the coffee maker. I will target this calculation toward a hard core coffee drinker who consumes 16oz of coffee every morning on their way to work, plus on the weekends, 48 weeks out of the year.  That person pays maybe $1.50 to $2.50 for a cup depending on where they buy it from, with the exception of gas station coffee which by my house is around $1.00.  Assuming you replace your hardware (maker, ginder, scale) every 5 years, equipment is going to cost you $0.25 per 16 oz cup, cone filters on Amazon will run you $0.05 each, and assuming a $17 cost for a pound of good locally roasted coffee ($0.89 per 16oz cup), your homemade high quality brew with this maker will cost you $1.19 for each 16 oz cup.

Which is, to say the least, a really good price, even if you don’t care about precision, quality, technique and consistency.  The difference between my coffee at $1.19 for a 16 oz cup, and the local gas station coffee (which is actually pretty good) or Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks or McDonalds, is that my coffee is fresh, locally sourced, and extremely customizable while still being consistent. Say what you want about your local coffee establishment, but I assume they’re nothing if not consistent.  Add in the value you get with the extra options—cold brew, iced coffee, single-cup brewing, high-volume brewing—and this is a great buy for someone who obsesses over coffee.

Still, if you’re not making this kind of investment in coffee today, it might be hard to justify the purchase—and I totally understand that. This is not the brewer for someone who loves their pod brewer and is totally happy with K-Cup coffee.  But, if you drink coffee every day or even more than 3 days per week, I don’t think you’ll be dissatisfied with this purchase.

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