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the detailed review - balance brewers
Balance Brewers - Form and Function
Introduction | Overview | Form & Function | Operation and Taste | Cleanup & Care | Comparisons | Conclusion
Cafetino spout and stove

At the most basic level, the balance brewers from Coffee4You work like any other vacuum brewer, even the modern ones by Hario and Bodum. The device has two distinct areas: a kettle and a brew vessel. Water is heated in a kettle. It eventually boils, which creates water vapor (steam). Steam expands, water doesn't contract, so the water has to go somewhere. It travels through a siphon to the brewing vessel, which has your ground up coffee.

Once the heat source is removed, the opposite occurs. The steam subsides, the water vapor contracts and also converts back to liquid form, and a vacuum is created. Something needs to fill that area - liquids don't contract any more than they expand, so something is pulled to fill the vacuum. The siphon provides the route for this "something": brewed coffee. The coffee in the brew vessel is pulled back through a filter on the end of the siphon, passes through the siphon, and ends up in the "kettle" portion. It is then ready to serve as brewed and filtered coffee.

That in a nutshell is how vac pots work. A balance brewer works the same way - except the travel of the liquids occurs sideways instead of the up and down motion that more traditional vacuum brewers use.

In addition, balance brewers get their name because usually a counterweight (or springs) is designed to raise and lower the kettle depending on how much liquid remains inside of it. Why does it do this? Because balance brewers are, by the very nature of their design, automatic brewing devices. As the kettle raises, the lid for the stove or burner under the kettle will swing shut once it "clears" the bottom of the kettle. This eliminates the heat source, and brings the brewed coffee back over to the kettle side.

Filter holes
Shown are the filter holes that aid agitation and extraction. The Cafetino has one, the Royal has two.

There is one intrinsic negative to balance brewers when compared to more traditional vacuum brewers - the brew time is too short for proper saturation of the grounds, and proper extraction from the slurry formed. You can increase this brew time by keeping the kettle portion lower for a longer period. You can do this by holding the counterweight on the Royal in its highest position, or by pushing down on the wood cap on the Cafetino kettle. Do this with care if you choose to prolong the extraction times - those kettles are sizzling hot and you can easily burn your fingers.

The Cafetino and Royal brewers do have some design tweaks that help minimize this negative aspect. They both feature a perforated siphon tube (the portion of the tube that is in the kettle) to help aerate the slurry more and force greater agitation and extraction during the fast brewing cycle.

Another negative shared by both brewers is that I feel the lids on the stoves are too low from the kettles - in other words, they close too soon. I would be happier with both of them if the lids were set so that the kettles had to be completely "up" or at their highest position before the lids would snap shut. As they are designed now, the kettles only have to rise about 50% of their allowable height and the lids snap shut.

If these were changed to a tighter tolerance level vis a vis the kettle height, more liquid will pass to the brewing side, and you'd gain at least a few more seconds of actual "brew time" from the devices.

There is one other thing I should point out about both devices. I cannot stress enough how hot these brewers get - the stainless steel and copper really do reach temperatures approaching 100 Celsius, and can easily burn upon contact. You should never move these brewers while they are functioning, nor should you attempt to touch the kettles without some sort of protection for your hands.

Cafetino Brewer

Cafetino Form and Function
The Cafetino brewer can brew up to 1 litre of coffee, or roughly 32 ounces. On the kettle side, you have a stainless steel globe with a solitary hole on top, and a spigot in front bottom portion. All the steel used in this device is 18/10 grade stainless steel, polished to a mirror finish, with the exception of the filter, which is brass, clad with palladium.

Out of the top of the kettle, the siphon tube extends from the kettle over to the brewing vessel. The siphon on the kettle side has one hole drilled into it, about 3 inches up the tube - the reason for this is to draw steam into the hole, through the siphon, and out into the brewing vessel to increase agitation of the coffee slurry while brewing.

On the brew glass side of things, you have a handblown piece of heat resistant glass, very simple yet elegant in design, and it can easily hold the maximum amount of brew this device produces, including any "bloom" you may experience with fresh coffee.

The package is rounded out by a nice ovoid-shaped beech base with cutouts for the burner and brewing vessel. It has three hollow steel pillars for the springs and kettle to sit on, and a long inverted U shaped bar for picking up the device.

Overall, the package is very modern looking, yet elegant, and it definitely draws stares and questions. As a dinner party "element" it has very few competitors - take one of these things out, and your guests will remember it for a long time.

Click for larger image
The Cafetino spout does not clear the base, forcing you to hold your coffee cup while pouring.

One negative exclusive to the Cafetino is that the spigot is too short. With the Royal, you can place your cup on the table and pour into it, hands free. Not so with the Cafetino - you have to hold the cup, due to the proximity of the wood base. Also, filling a thermos from the brewer is next to impossible because of the angles and the proximity to the globe. With the Royal, it is much easier - move it to the edge of the table and you can pour straight down into a thermos.

Aesthetics have played a role here in this short spigot design (think anatomy), but in this case, function should win over aesthetics, and I believe the device would benefit from having a spigot that extended another half inch or so out from the brew kettle in terms of the gain in convenience for the product user.

The manufacturer does point out that if you turn the kettle in such a way that the spigot is facing inward, you can set a cup down to pour into, hands free. It does work with some cup sizes, but not all. It is a comprimise, but is also up to the end user as to whether or not it is an acceptable one. Keep in mind, this is a very minor negative, and we are taking up several paragraphs for what is a very small concern.

Cafetino Five Angle Views
Below you can see the cafetino brewer from five different angles. Click each image to see a full sized version. Each full sized image is approximately 55 kilobytes.

Click for larger image Click for larger image Click for larger image Click for larger image Click for larger image
Front View
Right View
Back View
Left View
Top View
Royal Brewer

Royal Form and Function
The Royal brewer does everything the Cafetino does, so I won't rehash those details. I will discuss the differences, and in some cases, the improvements this model has.

The Royal is available in a wide variety of materials, and in two unique designs - a more modern look and a carved, ornate antique look. You can buy Royals that are made with a polished copper finish, completely gold plated (22.5 kt, using a high-resistance adhesion to kobalt), or the very intriguing Palladium plated models. Palladium is a precious metal in the same chemical group as platinum and rhodium. It's commonly used in surgeons' instruments, high end jewelry, and dentistry. The best way to describe it is "mirror polish titanium" as far as its look goes.

We were supplied with two copper models, a modern and a carved ornate model. Other materials used in our test models were tin (inside the kettle), brass and oak for the base.

One major difference between the Royal and the Cafetino is in its "balance". Where the Cafetino uses springs, the Royal uses a big beefy piece of polished brass that surrounds the brewing glass. This model is very close to the original patent design for balance brewers, and is a huge hit at the dinner table - the visual stimuli from the counterweight moving up and down always seems to amaze those who see it for the first time. You don't get this appeal with the Cafetino (which nevertheless appeals greatly in its own regard).

Click for larger image
Cafetino Filter sits almost flush with the bottom of the brewing glass when the kettle is full of water
Click for larger image
The Royal filter sits higher, which means some liquid is left behind after the brew is siphoned.

The Royal also features two other improvements over the Cafetino, based primarily on its vertical height. First, the siphon tube (which is brass, plated with 22.5 kt gold!!) has two side holes on the kettle side, which further increase agitation in the brewing vessel. Second, the brew vessel is taller, narrower, and shaped in such a way that almost no stirring is necessary with this device - it agitates and saturates grounds very nicely on its own.

Another improvement is length of the spigot, which easily allows you to place a cup on the table and pour, hands free.

There aren't many negatives with the Royal. One very minor issue is that the stove should sit a bit higher (same problem as the Cafetino), and that the filter side of the siphon tube doesn't sit low enough in the brewing vessel - ideally it should be another 3-5 mm lower. At the current height, about an ounce or less of liquid is left in the brewing vessel once the brew is finished. The manufacturer says that this occurs because of the handblown nature of the brewing glass - some sit a bit higher, some sit lower. In my case, our sample cafetino's brewing glass was in the higher scale, and the royal brewing glass was on the lower scale of things.

Royal Five Angle Views
Below you can see the Royal brewer from five different angles. Click each image to see a full sized version. Each full sized image is approximately 55 kilobytes.

Click for larger image Click for larger image Click for larger image Click for larger image Click for larger image
Front View
Right View
Back View
Left View
Top View

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Introduction | Overview | Form & Function | Operation and Taste | Cleanup & Care | Comparisons | Conclusion
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