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the first look - capresso mt500 brewer
Capresso MT500 Coffee Brewer
Author: Mark Prince
Posted: March 10, 2003
First Look rating: 8.6
feedback: (21) comments | read | write
Capresso MT500

One of the real problems for drip coffee lovers in N. America is this - far too many of the department store brands (including Braun, Krups, Proctor Silex, and other makes and models) do not brew at the proper temperatures needed to extract all the stuff you want from ground coffee, while leaving behind the bitters and sours. You get bitters from brewing water that's too hot, or grounds exposed to brewing water for too long. You get sours from brewing water that is too cool, or coffee that is too rushed and under extracted.

This has long been a complaint of most of the folks here at CoffeeGeek - from the site authors to the site contributors, from yours truly to many of our advertisers and sponsors (at least in private, when I discuss this very issue with them). So when Aabree Coffee told me that their Capresso MT500 brewer hit 94C temperatures in the brew basket, I said, send one up! If the brewer does what they claim, it's worthy of a CoffeeGeek Detailed Review.

CoffeeGeek would like to thank Dan Hughes for supplying us with this machine. The Capresso MT500 sells for $169, and is available in many retail outlets in the United States, as well as through Amazon.

Note: While I am extremely critical of most coffee brewers on the market today in N. America and their average 76-85C (170-185F) brewing temperatures, not all drip brewers fall into this class - some on the market do indeed brew near the SCAA-recommended temperatures (between 90-95C, or 195-203F). It is CoffeeGeek's mission in life to tell you about these specific brewers.

Out of the Box

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The Capresso MT500, like all Capresso products, comes well packed and secured in a very graphical and informative box. These are designed to sit on store shelves and entice. In many ways, Capresso sees themselves as a competitor for Krups, Delonghi, and Braun, but also considers the products they sell to be far superior than those other brands. I would agree that, when stacked up against the main department store brands, Capresso usually is head and heals above the competition. Capresso also is a strong believer in the marketability and demand for the drip brewing system. They continuously bring out new models, and usually have at least 8 or 10 actively sold brewers on the market at any time.

While some of their models seem a bit suspect to me, it looks like Capresso is dead serious on producing a first rate brew with the MT500. Let's take a look at some serious innovations as well as just plain good stuff for your poor little coffee beans.

Thermal Carafe - while not "innovative", it is still a rarity in the drip brewing world, and if I had my druthers, it'd be a requirement for any company making a drip brewer. The reasons are simple - coffee never benefits from being cooked after it is brewed. With most drip brewers, the glass carafe sits on a hot plate which "keeps your coffee hot for 3 (4, 5, 8) hours!!!!" No, my marketing dweeb, it doesn't keep it hot - it cooks and bakes the coffee, ruining the delicate tastes within minutes. Then for the next few hours, these active-heating plates do a rather admirable (to some) job of turning the "coffee" into home brewed motor oil. Yum. Not.

Thermal carafes are the only way to go for people who want their coffee hot for a long time. A well designed thermal carafe can give you above 80C (180F) coffee for at least an hour or two, and in that time, the delicate tastes and aromas usually stick around. The MT500 has what appears to be an excellent stainless steel vacuum carafe, and that's all good in my book.

Paying Attention to Heat - Capresso "gets it" with this brewer, when it comes to brewing temperatures. While their literature (manual, box graphics and text) don't specifically mention it, Capresso laughs in the face of frivolous lawsuits and their "ooo, it's too hot!" whines with this brewer - they deliver the sweet spot 94C (201F) temps in the brew basket.

Unique Heating System - Capresso is concerned about you drinking aluminum. Okay, okay, there's plenty of debate as to whether or not aluminum touching your food is good or bad for you, let's leave that aside - aluminum inside a brewing device has another problem - calcium buildup. If you have a cheap kettle that you can look inside of, and it's aluminum, what you see may freak you out (don't look!). The MT500 is, as they claim, "the only coffee maker on the market with a stainless steel lined heating element, completely eliminating any contact with aluminum. It reduces the need to decalcify dramatically". I don't know about the claim "the only coffee maker", after all, plenty of full commercial machines have all steel boiler systems (even the consumer oriented Bunns do), but this is good news for you and me as someone who might use this brewer. I think it also helps with the previous point - the heat thing.

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Here's the stuff that ships with the MT500: brewer, carafe, gold filter, scoop, and charcoal filter (and holder). Click it!

Other Niceties
The MT500 comes with a couple of things that Capresso, to their credit, are making "standard" on more and more of their brewers - a water filtration system, and a permanent gold-tone filter. Both these things rank as "really good" in my book. Usually you have to buy an upper end Braun to get this from their lineup, but most of Capresso's line have these goodies, including this here MT500.

Those are the good things. While taking the machine out of the box and checking the it out, I noticed other points about the MT500 - some good, some good to some people, some bad to some people, but nothing really bad to all people. Confused? So am I - let's get into those things.

One thing I consider good is that the brewer has digital controls, and one of the best digital displays I've seen on a coffee brewer. It's a nice bright yellow orange LED/ dot-style display (made up of something more akin to pixels than lcd numbers). It's small and the angle may make it difficult to see from some angles, but brightness is not a fault.

The control panel is a softtouch pad, and you have a variety of options:

  • Auto brewing button with indicator light
  • 3-5 Cup brewing button with indicator light
  • On/Off brewing button with indicator light
  • h button for setting display hours (timer and clock)
  • m button for setting display minutes (timer and clock)
  • Programming button
  • Charcoal Filter button with indicator light.

Let's shortform here: auto brewing button: bad (though good to some people who don't know better). 3-5 Cup button, good. Brew button, good (very tactile feel, no guesswork about pressing it to brew). Programming buttons - bad (though good to some). Charcoal filter indicator and button - good.

I said the auto brewing button and programming buttons were bad, because remember - we're all about quality coffee here at CoffeeGeek. I'll only say this once, and never repeat (until I write the detailed review, when I have to test the auto brewing, sigh):

Grinding your coffee hours before brewing will kill the delicate aromas, colloids, flavours, lipids, etc etc you are trying to get into your cup. Always grind only seconds before brewing.

There, I said it. Don't come to me going "gee Mark, I don't understand it. Wah. My coffee sucks. Wah. I use the best beans. Wah. I brew at the right temperatures. Wah. I use a good grinder. Wah. But I like to wake up to the aroma of coffee, so I grind the night before. Wah". If you do, I'll wallop you with a trout.

Click for larger image

Out of the box... let's get back to that. One thing I have to say: this is a stunningly good looking machine. I especially like the super slim side profile and what the silouhette looks like without the carafe in place. It feels solid as well, though there is some flex to the top plastic. The main body is all metal (aluminum, but don't worry - it doesn't touch your coffee or brew water) and is coated to resist fingerprints and to stay good looking for a long time.

The thermal carafe looks good too with its mirror finish. It's a vacuum carafe, meaning it has almost no air between the inner and outer walls. If you read my Thermos Nissan Detailed Review (coming soon) you'll know this is a good thing. I dunno yet if the Capresso thermal carafe is up to Nissan standards, but it looks good.

The base feels solid, and the control panel's buttons, while soft touch, do give good tactile feedback when pressed. One thing I don't like about some softpads - you sometimes don't know when a button is pressed. Not so with this brewer. It's the bomb.

First Use of the Capresso MT500

Most Tuesday nights around Casa del Princo, my girlfriend has a few of her friends and family over for dinner and talk (or during the fall, winter and spring, a geek fest watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Smallville). I used one of these occasions to test out the brewer for the first time, and had 5 willing participants ready to sample the MT500's wares.

But first, I RTFM'ed (read the (rhymes with puck-in) manual). Around CoffeeGeek, you ain't a true CoffeeGeek unless you read the manuals - there's really no excuse for not doing so. Besides - yer' a geek! Don't you want to totally immerse yourself in everything possible that you can read about your new purchase?

What's really cool here is that Capresso does some good manuals, and the MT500 is one of their better works. It's quite detailed, and sometimes even frank with solid, common sense advice. It's a page turner.

You learn from the manual that you have to do a "dry" run as it were (it's actually really wet) to charge and scrub the filter and get the machine slightly seasoned. Just for the hell of it, I ran the full load of water through the brewer twice. Good thing too - the second pot of brewed water was had a very slight gray tinge from the charcoal filter (the first pot was very gray).

Then I set it up to brew a full load. Another cool thing about the MT500 - it does 10 cups where many thermal-carafe equipped brewers only do 8. I did an initial measurement of Capresso's idea of what a cup is - the carafe, to the brim measures about 1350ml, which means Capresso's idea of a cup is 135ml, or 4.5oz. Not to single out Capresso on this - all brewer makers have weird and small numbers for what constitutes a "cup", but I'd love to see the day when a brewer maker is more accurate with their terminology for capacity. At least Bodum puts the ML number on their brewers (along with a "cup" indicator). On the other hand, 1 "cup" equals 1 "scoop" of ground coffee, so that's cool.

I maxed out the water load the machine takes, and added 10 rounded scoops of medium-fine ground coffee. Then I added another scoop for the chef. I like that guy. Pressed the brew button, and walked away for a while.

I came back 4 minutes later to peak at the progress. I should note that by lifting the lid, you screw around with Capresso's water delivery design, but I wanted to see what the dispersion of the brewing water was like. It was okay, but there were still some unsaturated grounds at the edges. Oh oh.

I left the MT500 to do it's stuff, then I checked it out again when I heard the last bits of steaming water spray over the grounds .I should point out that this is fairly quiet brewer In fact, there's almost no heating-type noises (crackles, metal flexing, kettle 'buzz") from the MT500, which is good. Almost all the noise comes from the spray of the water and its movement up the pipe from the heating system in the bottom.

When I checked the slurry up top after the water delivery was completed, all the grounds were saturated, which is good. Not great - I'd like to see them saturated in the first few minutes, but better than some brewers I've tried that left mounds of un-extracted grounds in the corners and rims of the filter. This is actually more of a problem with permanent filters than with paper, in my experience. Perhaps paper filters do a good job of leeching liquid up to the unsaturated grounds, I don't know.

Another minute or two, and the thermal carafe was ready to take to the table. I didn't do any initial temp tests, but instead just served the stuff. It was a hit. Everyone agreed the coffee was excellent and full and rich (thank you, chef!). The also agreed it was hot enough, and when two people had seconds some 30 to 40 minutes later, they were very pleased that the coffee was almost as hot as the first cup. Thermal carafe, I love you!

First Few Days with the MT500

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I liked the feel and solid build of the MT500's control panel. Click it!

After this initial success, I experimented with the brewer a bit, and started some temperature measurements.

The good news: Yes! We have a brew temperature winner! Initial measurements show 93.8C in the brew basket at the 4 minute mark for a 10 cup brew! Praise the stars and pass the sauce!

I'll do more comprehensive temp testing for the Detailed Review, including minute by minute analysis, as well as long term testing of the carafe temperatures. But for now, colour me happy.

I've done 8 brews in this unit at this time of writing - five full 10 cup brews, one 7 cup brew, two 5 cup brews, and one 3 cup brew, Capresso's recommended minimum.

Uh, don't brew 3 cups in this brewer. 'Nuff said about that.

At 5 cups, using the 3-5 cup adjuster control, it's not too bad a cup, but for real quality, the 10 cup brew rocks. One thing that you must remember with any brewer, including this one is to stir your completed brew before serving. With this unit, you simply make sure the lid is tight, and swish it around a bit.

And hey you, don't bogart that carafe - if I catch one of you using the MT500's stop and serve feature (if you remove the carafe while the unit is brewing, it stops the flow of coffee while you pour), I'll label you a quality coffee thief!

The seven cup brew wasn't much to write home about. Not bad per se, but not as good as a well swished 10 cup brew (or a bogarted mid-brew sampling from the 10 cup brew, heh heh).

Wrap Up

As always, please remember - this is not a review. It's a rambling bunch of nonsensical words I like to pass off as a "First Look". Anything and everything I've written about is subject to change for the full Detailed Review, including the colour of the machine and the voltage. Okay, those things will probably stay the same, but almost everything else is subject to change.

So far, colour me impressed with the Capresso MT500 Auto Drip Brewer. Two crucial good things are going for it - a thermal carafe and proper brewing temperatures. And it looks darned good doing it as well, always a perk and plus for me, the shallow person I am.

For the Detailed Review, we'll be stacking this brewer up against a few other models and brewing methods, including a Capresso CoffeeTEC (First Look and Detailed Review coming soon), a Saeco Latte (the ones that did brew at proper temps - some don't), and the old, good-boy standby, the manual drip brewer (we'll use a Hario dripper with a cloth filter for this test). We'll look at all sorts of factors, including performance, ease-of-use, cost vs. value, and of course, taste of the final product when we do the full evaluation. I hope my test bunnies are up for drinking a LOT of java in the next month or so :)

CoffeeGeek would like to thank Dan Hughes for supplying us with this machine. The Capresso MT500 sells for $169, and is available in many retail outlets in the United States, as well as through Amazon. I've been a bit down as of late with the whole "brewer" scene, and the MT500 seems to be a diamond in the rough, from this First Look anyway.

First Look rating: 8.6
Author: Mark Prince
Posted: March 10, 2003
feedback: (21) comments | read | write
This first look and all its parts are ©2001-2011 CoffeeGeek.com and the first look in part or in whole may NOT be reproduced in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from the author or this website. This includes all photographs. For information on reproducing any part of this first look (or any images) or if you would like to purchase a printed version of this first look for commercial or private use, please contact us at info@coffeegeek.com for further details.
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