Bunn quality with a thermal carafe, very hot coffee, coffee house brewing method, Made in USA
Negative Product Points
Carafe's heat retention could be better, $40-50 premium over the glass carafe version
I decided before the 2002 holiday season to upgrade my home coffee making capabilities with new equipment. I had been using a basic Krups 10-cup, cone filter model for a few years partnered with a "George Foreman grinder" (actually, a unit made by Salton just like George's grills). While the grinder was technically a burr-type, it wasn't the good conical variety, and the burrs seemed to have dulled considerably over the years. Cleaning it was hard, it was noisy, and you had to gently (or not so gently) shake it while in operation to keep the process moving forward. I finally replaced it with a Bodum Antigua which, despite its own shortcomings, is a significant improvement over the old Salton. But this isn't a grinder review.
I read lots of reviews and comments on various drip coffee makers in trying to find a replacement for the Krups. I wanted a thermal carafe model to end the coffee-cooking problems with the Krups. I also wanted a timer to try to speed my morning routine when necessary (eventhough I realize that grinding the night before reduces the effect). I eventually settled on the Starbucks Barista Aroma. Despite my best efforts, I couldn't get a cup of coffee that I was satisfied with. Ultimately, I returned that unit and went for the new Bunn Thermal model.
This is essentially the 10-cup home-use Bunn model, slightly redesigned to accomodate a thermal carafe. While I was initially weary of having a full pot of just-off-the-boil water sitting on the kitchen counter with my kids running around, this seems to have been an unfounded concern. The unit is extremely stable and well-contained. In fact, making their hot chocolate and my wife's tea has been a lot easier with the instant availability of said hot water.
In a nutshell, this machine lives up to the reputation of Bunn. The coffee tastes superb. I enjoy Starbucks coffee and this unit finally delivers that kind of taste in home - no kidding. Of course, since this unit utilizes the same hot water + flat bottom filter method as the coffee shops, it probably shouldn't be surprising. The coffee is very hot and well saturated with flavor. I just can't say enough about how great this stuff tastes.
It makes the coffee so quickly that having a programmable timer is a moot consideration. All you need is 3 minutes worth of patience in the morning (or anytime) and you get a steaming hot cup of fresh coffee as your reward.
Is the thermal carafe worth it? The stainless steel carafe does a "good" job of keeping the coffee hot for about 2 hours and warm enough to drink for about 3-4. This isn't as good a job as the Starbucks model which had engineered a more tightly sealed lid. Obviouly, as with all thermal carafes, you *must* preheat with hot tap water to minimize the initial heat loss from the coffee into the carafe. Still, I wonder, for the difference in price between the thermal and glass carafe models, if it might have been cheaper and more effective to use a seperate thermal carafe/flask with the less expensive glass carafe machine. Oh well.
One potential issue with this Bunn is that the filter basket and the filters don't seem to be big enough to accomdate 10 cups worth of coffee. I haven't made more than 8 cups so far, and examining the basket afterwards, I can see that the grinds were washed up the sides to the very edge of the filter. Adding another 3 tablespoons or so for a 10 cup pot would probably create overflow. But increasing the grind size (which I experimented with) results in a weaker product.
Finally, one feature I really like about this product that I think is truly worth mentioning in this day and age - the "Made in USA" label.
Three Month Followup
Three months and still very pleased with this unit. Specifically:
- The taste of the final product - The brewing speed - The durability of the machine
I have found a good grind setting on my Bodum Antigua (three clicks right of the espresso setting) to give what I consider to be coffeehouse-quality flavor and texture.
The only complaints I have are two:
It would be nice if they had added a "brew button" like they have on the commercial models so that you could fill the reservoir ahead of time and prevent "accidental discharge." It's a usability issue since one doesn't normally associate the closing of a door with starting a process. At least I don't. For me, it took at least one accident to learn to put the carafe under the brewer before closing the revervoir lid (which is what triggers the brewing process). An accident with water this hot is never good.
I wish the carafe would keep the coffee hot longer. The carafe's thermal retention isn't great. If I were to consider this purchase again, I think I would opt to save the extra cash on the thermal version of the Bunn and instead buy a high quality thermos to compliment the glass carafe model.
That said, it remains, in my experience, the best home brew drip maker out there. I noticed another review that was critical of this machine and Bunn in general. I would say to that that it's important with this machine and Bunn's process to adjust the grind of the coffee for control of flavor/texture of the final product. I can produce as "thick" a cup as you like.
One Year Followup
The Bunn continues to impress a year later. Brewed coffee is still hot and delicious. I do wish there were fewer steps in the process - pre-heat the carafe, fill a water pitcher with filtered water, fill the brew basket, dump the hot water from the carafe and place it into position, pour the fresh water into the machine and close the lid. Some of this is because of the Bunn's process and some is simply a fact of life with a thermal carafe. Heat retention of the thermal carafe is still a little disappointing. And I am still not sure that it's worth the $140 price I paid, but knowing how good the result is, if this is the price for good coffee at home, that's fine with me.