I‘ve been trying to locate a good drip coffee maker with a thermal carafe for more than a year.
Sure, I can get my own thermal jug and simply pour the coffee into, but the cool thing about the Barista Aroma is that (a) the thermal carafe is stainless steel (not the more commonly found plastic jugs) and (b) there is no heating element at the base of the coffee maker -- so this means it‘s literally a plug-it-in-and-forget-it coffee maker: you insert the carafe, start the coffee maker, and you can walk away and leave it: there‘s no remembering to turn off the coffee maker, no hassles with pouring the coffee into another carafe, no stale coffee.
It really is the best drip coffee maker I‘ve owned. Yeah, there are better ways of making coffee -- plunge pots, vacuum brewers, or whatever is the latest trend -- but sometimes you don‘t have time to mess around with the more esoteric stuff. You just want it dump a batch of coffee in the filter, press ‘Brew‘, and forget about it.
Anyway, I had my eye on the Barista Aroma since December, 1999 when Starbucks ran a 99$ sale on the thing. Of course, I wanted one as soon as I saw it in a brochure, but oddly enough it was -- and remains -- virtually impossible to come by. I don‘t know if it‘s because they sold out all the stock they had or if the coffee maker had design problems -- but after calling around to various Starbucks stores and then to the Starbucks catalog, I found that, no, there were no more Aromas in stock -- anywhere.
And, if that wasn‘t bad enough, they had no idea when these things were actually going to be in stock. At Christmas time I was told they should get a shipment in around March, 2000. In March, I was told it would be closer to May. Now -- May, 2000 -- I‘m told that it won‘t be until the end of the summer.
What was the deal? I asked.
Out of stock, they said. Hard to keep in stock. Supply problems.
Well, it was weird. It‘s only a coffeemaker after all -- and an expensive one to boot -- so you‘d figure, well, just manufacture a bunch more and restock the channels. How many people are gonna flock to Starbucks and spend $149 bucks on an 8 cup coffee maker?
A lot, apparently.
So imagine this: last weekend I‘m in my Starbucks buying beans and, lo and behold, there‘s a single Barista Aroma sitting all by itself on a shelf. I couldn‘t believe it.
I checked the price -- and, yeah, it‘s a damn expensive coffeemaker.
Then I checked the box: was it a return? Broken?
Nope, factory sealed.
So I head toward the cashier with the Aroma and my credit card. The cashier spots me. "Hey," she says, "are you the couple that called me yesterday about that?"
Er, the ‘couple‘? Huh?
"You called from out of town, right? You were wondering if we had this in stock?"
Um. Well, actually ... "Listen," I say. "I‘m in kind of a hurry."
"Uh-oh," the cashier says. "You‘re not the couple that called?"
"Well, I‘m here now, they aren‘t -- " I flip down my credit card -- "and I‘m ready to buy it."
The cashier has an ethical dilemma. Me, I feel bad, too. We both kinda look at each other.
"Well," says the cashier.
I‘m overcome. "Okay," I say, "I‘ll put it back."
"No," she says. "That‘s okay. They were supposed to be here yesterday."
"And, I mean, it was ... you know ... just sitting there..." I add.
She shrugs. "Okay, what the hell. Too bad for them."
She takes the credit card, rings me up, and that‘s that.
I get it back home, rip it out of the box, and take a look. It‘s a *big* coffee maker. The steel carafe looks as though it should hold more than 8 cups -- but that‘s okay. I ordered a 2nd carafe from Starbucks 1-800 warranty -- 50 bucks including shipping. They have the extra carafe‘s in stock -- but not the coffee makers. Go figure.
The construction of the Barista Aroma is pretty solid. It‘s all plastic except for the steel jug, but it feel pretty solid. There‘s a removable water reservoir which is pretty nice -- saves the countertop from being splashed with water.
There‘s a little ball-float which indicates 4-6-8 cup markings on the reservoir.
There‘s a "splash proof" control panel and clock at the foot of the coffee maker. Everything is controlled by buttons. The documentation indicates that while the control panel is covered with rubber and is splash-proof -- it is not water proof. So if you spill a bunch of water on it, there‘s a chance you‘ll render the whole coffeemaker inoperable. And at $149 for the whole deal, that would most definitely suck.
The control panel has buttons for setting the clock, programming a brew-time, and a brew-start button.
The filter holder has a latch which needs to be pressed down to release the holder. The holder then swings out and reveals a plastic filter "carrier" which is removable, as well as the filter holder itself, which is also removable.
Again, everything is plastic here. Lots of latches and catches. So long as everything works and doesn‘t break, you‘re okay, I guess.
It‘s cone filter and uses #4 filters.
The water reservoir needs to be tilted back slightly to be removed. It‘s a little difficult, but if you wiggle it, it comes out.
In order to brew, you must stick the steel carafe in so that the spout goes straight in and fits into a recessed latch at the back of the machine. The coffee is then brewed directly into the spout of the thermal jug. If you don‘t have the spout aligned correctly, the coffee maker won‘t brew, period. There‘s no indication that the spout is set correctly -- you just kinda have to do it by craning you neck down to look or by feel -- so this is minor irritation. It would have been nice if there was a "click" that let you know it was set right.
The thermal jug itself is very nice. It has a nice lid which a big push button that either opens or closes the jub. Sort of like a ballpoint pen: push it once, it‘s closed; push it a second time, it‘s open. It‘s very nice.
The handle on the jug is rubberized and feels good in your hands. And, as if all this wasn‘t enough, the jug actually pours without dripping. After years of Krups and Braun coffeemakers with ill-designed carafes that *always* drip on the counter when you try to pour slowly, this is the first jug that actually pours without so much as a single drip.
This along is worth the high price tag.
The jug keeps the coffee piping hot for about 3-5 hours. After that, the coffee stays pretty hot -- just not as hot as it was when it was first brewed.
Since there‘s no heating element in the base of the coffee maker you can, as I mentioned, just brew it and then forget about it. Last weekend, I brewed a full 8 cups in the morning, let it sit in the jug all throughout the day without drinking it, and when I went back to it in the late afternoon it was pretty damn hot -- maybe not ‘piping‘ but, heck, hot enough to enjoy.
And how does the coffee taste?
Well, pretty much the way most drip coffee tastes. Which is to say if you get good beans and good water, you‘ll make a damn fine cup of drip coffee. It tastes pretty much the way that coffee from any Krups or Braun maker tastes: pretty good. It‘s maybe not as flavorful as a french press or as potent as a moka pot or as refined as a vacuum cup but it‘ll do.
Overall, I think this is the mother of all drip makers. From reading usenet postings, I understand that this is a rebadged Black and Decker. This may account for the stock problems, I‘m not sure.
But whatever it is, if you‘re in the market for a good quality drip maker, want to spend around 149 bucks, and are able to find this guy in a local store -- by all means, snag it and take it home. You won‘t be disappointed.