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the detailed review - balance brewers
Balance Brewers - Operation and Cup Quality
Introduction | Overview | Form & Function | Operation and Taste | Cleanup & Care | Comparisons | Conclusion
Royal Spout

In this segment, I will discuss the operation of these devices, and the quality of the beverage they produce.

Operation of the Cafetino and Royal.

Using these devices is fairly straight forward. Fill the burners with methyl hydrate or denatured alcohol or similar. Boil water (yes, boil it) in a separate kettle. Measure out your volume of water (up to 1.1 litres for the Cafetino, up to 0.9 litre for the Royal), pour into the kettle. Grind your coffee, and use about 15 grams of coffee per 225 to 250ml of water (2 heaping tablespoons per cup of water).

At first I used my standard "glass filter vac pot" grind, that is, a shade coarser than medium ground. I found that the resulting coffee was weak and agitation and saturation were less than ideal. My concern was that a finer grind would clog the filter, stall the "kickdown", or result in too much sediment in the kettle.

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Royal Filter with lots of perforations. Cafetino is similar, but brass coated with palladium. Click to enlarge.

This turned out to be a false worry. Both brewers can easily take a very fine grind, about half way between drip coffee (medium fine) and espresso grind. You get a much fuller cup, saturation is nearly ideal, and no clogging occured. There is a bit of fine sediment in the final cup, but not as prevalent as it is with a press pot.

You probably won't want to use the alcohol stoves that come with these brewers as you primary "water heater source". They just don't have the heating power capable of heating up 800ml or more of cold water in any reasonable time. I tried it twice, and the alcohol stove for the Cafetino took over 28 minutes to heat up enough to commence the brew. The Royal's burner took about 25 minutes. All this time your ground coffee is going stale. I should note that this is common for all vac pots with alcohol stoves - they just don't have the power to heat up a lot of water quickly. Perhaps one day Coffee4You will develop a much more efficient and powerful burner, like the aftermarket butane burners used for Hario vac pots, but until then you should pre-boil your water. (note, you can use the butane burners on both units, but you take away the automated feature of this brewer by doing so).

The device, filled with pre-boiled water, will take between 2 and 5 minutes to commence the brew - the point where liquid is travelling through the siphon to the brewing vessel. At this point, the springs on the Cafetino and the counterweight on the Royal start to play their role, lifting the kettles slowly. Once they reach a certain point, the lid on the burners snaps shut. On the Royal, the lid performs this action thanks to two counterweights on a curved bar. On the Cafetino, the lid is spring loaded.

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Cafetino and Royal alcohol burners. Cafetino is spring loaded; royal is counterweights. Click to enlarge.

When the flame is extinguished, the coffee travels back through the siphon over to the kettle side. Once all the liquid in the brewing vessel "clears" the filter top, your brew session is over. Put a small cup under the spigot, and turn it on and off - not much liquid will come out. You have to remove the siphon top from the kettle on the Cafetino, or the screw top on the Royal to release the pressure inside and allow free-flow of your brewed coffee.

I found that both devices kept coffee reasonably warm, but all the coffee should be drunk within 15 to 20 minutes after brewing to ensure a hot cup.

Step By Step Guide
The following shows step by step how to get the most out of a balance brewer. This series includes two optional things you can do to improve the brew, but are not necessary to get a good cup of coffee. Clicking each image shows you a full sized picture, approximately 55kb in size.

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Step One
Boil water, and measure out your volume prior to adding to the brewers. They do not have water level indicators, so pre-measuring is important.
Step Two
Remove the top cap (or siphon on the Cafetino) and fill the kettle. It's easy to spill, so you may want to use a plastic funnel.
Step Three
Add your fine ground coffee. Measurements are personal choice, but I like 15 grams of coffee per 225-250ml of water.
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Step Four
Tilt the counterweight to raise the kettle and open the lid on the burner. Cafetino owners can hold the flip lid open as they place it under the lowered kettle. Be careful - the kettle is HOT.
Step Five
Light the burner. Even with pre boiled water, it may take a little while (2, 3 minutes) for the water to start making the trip left.
You may wish to add a couple of ounces of boiled water to the glass portion. This helps presaturate the grounds. This is almost a required step when using fresh roast - it helps to reduce the "bloom" that can occur in the brew glass.
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Step Six
This is semi-optional, but aids in getting a fuller cup of coffee. You may wish to stir the slurry while it begins rising to fully saturate all the grounds. This is more necessary with the Cafetino than the Royal.
On the Royal, you can hold the counterweight to prolong the heating time and brewing time. On the Cafetino, you hold down the wood cap that is part of the siphon. I do this for about 30 seconds to get better extraction.
Step Seven
Burner closes automatically, and within a few seconds, the contraction of gases in the kettle will start the kickdown. (or kick sideways)
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Step Eight
The Kickdown commences fairly quick. Even with a fine grind, the filter allows for a rapid kickdown that will empty most of the liquid from the brewing glass in about 30 seconds.
Step Nine
Once the kickdown is completed, you should unscrew the cap on the Royal (and remove the siphon cap from the Cafetino). BE CAREFUL - the kettle is hot!! Removing cap releases pressure, allowing you to pour coffee.
Step Ten
Pour the coffee, and enjoy!

Cup Quality of the Cafetino and Royal
As a coffee brewing device, I'll be honest with you - you won't get better coffee from this device than you will from any other capable vac pot. But you won't get much worse either, and some innovations that Van Den Noortgaete has done to these brewers increase brew quality considerably.

And while your brew won't be any better than most vac pots, the key factor with the Cafetino and Royal balance brewers is this: you and your coffee drinking friends and family will probably remember the coffee better and more fondly, when you use this device, especially when compared to any "ordinary" vac pot (I can't believe I'm calling vac pots ordinary. I'm not that jaded, yet!).

Is this an important factor? Yes, I truly believe it is - remember that while many may feel coffee is 100% taste, I am not in that boat. I believe in the importance of coffee taste a great deal, but I also am a hopeless romantic for the social and cultural aspects of coffee. This is a very important factor.

That said, these brewers produce a very fine cup of coffee when used properly. The actual "brew time" is very short due to the very nature of their design and function, but the addition of little "steam holes" in the siphon tubes aid agitation and extraction from your coffee grinds. The key factors with these brewers are that you should use a fine grind, use fresh coffee, and use quality water.

I found that when I used some of the tips listed in the sidebar column (most notably adding boiled water to the grinds, stirring the brew vessel contents, using a proper grind, and holding down the kettle), I could produce a brew that was on par, with some of my best vac pot coffee. Van Den Noortgaete also suggests that instead of stirring the slurry as it starts to saturate with water, you can slowly turn the brewing glass to even out the saturation. This has the added benefit of not having to find a place for a messy stir stick after you're done agitating the grinds.

When I operated the device hands off, completely following the instructions, I got good coffee, but body was a bit thin. Adding more grounds would fix this.

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Introduction | Overview | Form & Function | Operation and Taste | Cleanup & Care | Comparisons | Conclusion
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Detailed Review Sections
Arrow 1. Introduction
Aarow 2. Overview
Aarow 3. Form & Function
Arrow 4. Operation and Taste
Aarow 5. Cleanup & Care
Aarow 6. Comparisons
Aarow 7. Conclusion
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