Great value.....Makes an EXCELLENT Brew........If you make a QUICK and EASY modification.....
Positive Product Points
Cool looks, great cup of coffee, easy setup, consistent results, fun to watch it do its thing! EASY to fix the brewing hold time issue if you can use a hacksaw.
Negative Product Points
Took a little work and research ( This site was very helpful ) to work the flaw out of the design. Once the unit is modified, it works perfectly.
Cleaning does take a little longer than a drip machine.
I bought my machine ( Starbucks Utopia, 10-12 cup model ) on a whim because they were clearing them out. I initially found the same issues with it as others had posted on this site. So I put in away for a couple of years, using it only as a back-up. I pulled it out one day recently because I had run out of filters for my Chemex coffee maker. It was still completing the brewing cycle too fast, so I decided to search the web for any helpful info. I discovered that the machine was not performing the proper brew timing from what I read on other reviews. So the engineer in me was peaked for a challenge. I ran the machine through its cycle several times with just water. I timed the cycles and measured the water temperature in the upper chamber with a digital cooking thermometer. I found that not only was the contact time ( hot water up in the upper chamber ) only 1.5 minutes, but it was also only achieving 155-160 degrees F. ( Thus causing a very weak brew ). After reading that someone had improved the performance by slightly tipping the base, I deduced from that information that you were altering the amount of water remaining on the heating element. I tried it that way and it instantly changed the contact time to 4 minutes and the water temp reached 205 degrees F. consistently. The timing control of the unit is obviously achieved by a HIGH temperature switch in the heating element. Armed with that data, I decided to modify my machine to get those results without "tipping" the base. I shortened the downtube on the upper chamber by 3/16 of an inch, thus effectivly raising the remaining water level on the heating element. With this simple modification the coffee maker runs a perfect 4 minute contact @ 205-210 degrees F. in the upper chamber every time. This also completely changed the force at which the coffee was drawn back down by ( Vacuum ), because the lower chamber ( pot ) has much hotter steam in it, it takes longer to cool. The net result is a VERY SMOOTH gentle "drop" into the lower chamber, instead of the original powerful "WHOOSH" as the cooler steam collapsed too quickly. This should take away the problem of the "short-lived" filter. You also now only use the NORMAL amount of grounds to get the desired strenghth of coffee that you like. I personally use 1 Tablespoon per 4oz of water for a good robust brew ( and I like espresso ). All you have to do is cut 3/16 - 1/4 of an inch off of the end of the downtube in order to fix a manufacturing flaw. A sharp ( CLEAN ) hacksaw works perfectly ( just cut the end SQUARE!!! ) otherwise the stand in the base for the top chamber won't work any longer. The end of the downtube should be CLOSE to 3/4, but NO HIGHER than, 3/4 of an inch above the heating element when the unit is fully assembled. The "FINISHED" length of the downtube measured from the bottom face of the rubber seal to the end of the tube should be 3+5/8 to 3+3/4 inches long ( This length is ONLY for the LARGE capacity model 10-12 cups ) . I don't know if the mini model (5 cup) has the same issue. JUST REMEMBER......The LONGER the length of the downtube, the SHORTER the brew contact time and the cooler the brewing temperature. The other modification that I made was to help the filter last a lot longer. I bought a replacement stainless-steel French press screen from "Bodum.com" for $2.95 ( the 3 cup model is the perfect size ) 2.5 inch diameter, and installed it on top of the nylon screen ($4.95) by unscrewing the plasic hook and snap assembly and placing it on top and reassembling the pieces. This works great by protecting the nylon from all the force of the coffee grounds pressing on it during the vacuum cycle. I get my machine clean by using a (cheap) foam glassware cleaning wand. It has a 10 inch plastic handle and a foam "mop" head sphere, 3 inches in diameter. I just use a little dish soap and water, stick the "mop" in and swirl it around the sides.... Easy. It reaches everywhere in the pot.....no problem. I also use it on the top chamber. It only takes me 5 minutes to clean the whole unit!!
I hope this helps someone else get the results they expected ( and paid for ) with this GREAT coffee maker!!!
Three Month Followup
Still working GREAT!! Not sure if I still need the extra filter protection because the drop force back into the pot ( lower chamber ) has been consistantly very soft. I will try it for a while with out the screen and let you know my results. I suggest experimenting with different coffees and grinds to find the one ( or ones ) you like best with this coffoeee maker. It extracts the coffee from the grounds so well that it REALLY matters how you adjust your recipie!
One Year Followup
I am still using it daily with very predictable results. It has been very dependable, absoloutly no problems with it. It is also uses the coffee very efficiently, you end up using about 25% less grounds than you would making the same coffee with a drip machine. I did stop using the extra protection on the filter as it was not needed with the softer drop of the finished coffee. I actually use the same filter for about three to four months with daily soap and water cleaning. I still highly reccommend it.
Oh..... to the person who ended up wearing the used coffee grounds when trying to remove the snap-in filter...you simply take the upper chamber off of the pot, take it to the kitchen sink. Remove the lid off of the upper chamber and while running a little water onto the grounds, hold on to the upper chamber with one hand and gently lift straight up on the filter ring with the other. It pops loose REALLY easy and the grounds flush right down the drain with the water...no problem. :o)