I can understand why people have such varied opinions about this coffee maker. The first thing that grabs your attention is the design. I happen to love it, but I could understand why others would not. If you want the basic typical industrial black or white plastic coffee maker on your counter, this is not the maker for you. I have the clear plastic unit, and while the it's a pain in the ass to clean, this is the nature of the design of all vac pots. With the upper globe in place on the unit, the maker is rather large and imposing on the countertop. Every part of the eSantos is at weird angles and curves. It may not suit everyone's taste, but it's true beauty is it's functionality.
I have read in many reviews about the length of brew time being too short and complaints of weak coffee. This is not true with my unit, and I like a strong cup of coffee. I have felt no need to remove the silicone band from under the base of the unit. I did try it that way (with the band removed), and it didn't affect the brewing, so I re-installed it.
Here are some ideas for getting the most from this maker:
1) Use finely ground coffee. I've been using the setting two notches above espresso grind on my Solis Maestro grinder. It slows the pull-down time considerably, but I get a good full cup of coffee.
2) Stir the coffee during the brewing process. I would never use the timer, since coffee gets stale very quickly once it's ground. But even if it didn't, I wouldn't use the timer on this maker. The first time I used the Bodum, I kept the plastic cover on the unit, the one meant to prevent the coffee from splashing over the sides. When the bubbles started to agitate the coffee during kickup, some of the grinds were floating on the top and never incorporated themselves into the mix. I ended up pulling the cover off and stirring the coffee before the burner shut off started the pull-down. I start stirring once about half of the water is up top so the grinds are saturated, then stir occasionally. I find I need to stir the grounds when brewing with my Hario Nouveau as well, so I think it's just the nature of the beast.
3) Right before pull-down, the burner shuts off. If you've been stirring the coffee, it should almost immediately start pulling down into the carafe. As soon as this happens, stir the coffee several times in one direction, creating a whirlpool. This will cause the grinds to settle right in the center over the nylon filter, forcing the coffee to go through almost all the grinds. This will dramatically slow down the pull-down process, but you should get good strong coffee.
4) Use plenty of coffee. You may need to use up to 25 percent more than you're used to. This can be somewhat mitigated by using a finer grind and the techniques noted above, but don't be stingy.
If you follow those instructions, I think you'll be pleased with the result.
The filter is a nylon mesh molded into a plastic frame. It looks like a baby's pacifier and is easy to clean. After brewing be sure to pull it out over the garbage, as grinds will go out the bottom tube if you hold it upright and will go over the side (it kind of "pops" out) if you tilt it when removing the filter. The filter is reusable and there's no provision for any other kind, i.e. paper. The coffee made is very similar to french press, a little cloudy but with a different kind of body. I think the difference has to do with the much coarser grind I use when making french press. I personally prefer the cleaner flavor of the paper filters used by the Hario Nouveau, but the Hario doesn't come in a large enough size for several people, and the coffee from the Bodum is excellent.
I whined about the Hario being made of glass in my Nouveau review, and now I'm going to complain about the Bodum being made of plastic. Actually, i've been able to avoid scratching the unit by only using a soft sponge to clean it, and it still looks pretty new. I've had to use a bottle brush to get all areas of the carafe clean, but if you're careful like me you won't scratch the carafe either. My water is pretty hard here in Minneapolis, so I have to run some coffee pot cleaner through the cycle every month or so or the clear plastic starts to get cloudy. I haven't had this problem with my Nouveau, though I use it less often. The fact that it's made of plastic makes it less attractive, but it also allows me to use it more often since I'm less afraid of breaking it.
The burner doesn't cook the hell out of the coffee. I normally take it off immediately and put the coffee in a glass thermal pot after brewing. I have left it on the burner and for an hour or so and it hasn't ruined the coffee, so that's a plus. The carafe also doesn't dribble all over the place when you pour like some other coffee makers I've used.