The product's full name, which hardly flows trippingly off the tongue, is Chef's Choice Electric French Press-Plus. For the purposes of this review, we'll call it the FP+.
Edgecraft, which markets consumer products under the Chef's Choice brand, brings an unimpeachable reputation to the table. Edgecraft makes the Chef's Choice line of kitchen knives, which arguably are the best high-end production kitchen knives made anywhere in the world, at least the equal of any line of kitchen knives made in Solingen, Germany, or Seki, Japan. Among electric appliances, the Chef's Choice model 120 electric knife sharpener is a superb instrument that defines its own category, and many regard the Chef's Choice waffle maker to be the best consumer waffle maker ever made. Edgecraft has the FP+ made for it in Germany and markets it in the United States under the Chef's Choice brand. The Chef's Choice brand name on the FP+ sets the expectations bar very high, and the performance does not disappoint those expectations.
The FP+ is a bit of a schizophrenic: one may regard it as either an electric kettle that happens also to be usable as a coffee maker, or, alternatively, as a French press (or presspot) coffee maker that can be stripped down for use as an electric kettle. Let us look at the FP+ first as an electric kettle, and after that we shall proceed to its second personality.
In our review of the Lovegrove Kettle (a stovetop kettle) elsewhere on this site, <http://coffeegeek.com/reviews/accessories/lovegrove>, we noted that, "In our kitchen, countertop real estate is jealously conserved, and sacrificing any of it to YACA (Yet Another Countertop Appliance) is a commitment not undertaken lightly." With the superb Lovegrove Kettle on hand, the FP+ had a huge task to earn its spot on our counter, and proved equal to the task.
The category of electric kettles breaks neatly into two subcategories: old-style kettles using electrically resistive coils, either immersed in the water or immediately under the floor of the kettle, to generate the heat needed to boil the water in the kettle, and new technology "solid state" electric kettles, where large surfaces -- the floor of the kettle itself -- heat virtually instantaneously. As to the latter, think of the (unwanted) heat your new generation computer CPU generates, and consider how someone who intentionally wanted to generate such heat could make an uncomplicated printed circuit that would generate heat in the manner that you wish your CPU did less of. The solid state electric kettles, as a class, heat water faster even than a typical microwave oven can heat the same amount of water.
For a given actively heating surface area, the speed of a solid state electric kettle is very closely related to the wattage of the unit, and for a given wattage, the speed is very closely related to the area of the heating surface. The wattage and active surface heating area of the FP+ are about the same as for the legendarily fast Bosch-Siemens Porsche Design electric kettle (until recently sold in North America as the Toastmaster 596P). Both the Bosch-Siemens and the FP+ will bring a full liter of water from tap temperature (about 51 degrees F. or 10.5 degrees C. in our house) to a full boil in under four minutes -- faster than, for instance, the Bodum electric kettles, which have a smaller active heating surface. There are a few -- but very few -- faster electric kettles, for instance, the 3 kilowatt Russell Hobbs 3123; but the FP+ is at the top of the second tier of kettle speed.
The FP+ is a "cordless" electric kettle. That is, the kettle removes for pouring from the unit that supplies power to it. The kettle can be placed on the power connector throughout all 360 degrees of rotation.
Among fast electric kettles, however, even aside from the presspot option (which we'll get to below), the FP+ is unique. Every other electric kettle is made primarily of stainless steel or high-temperature plastic. There are those (we are not among them) who are certain that they can taste the metallic edge that boiling water in a stainless vessel is thought to impart; and plastic is renowned (or notorious) for imparting a taste to beverages stored in it.
Except for the heating surface at the floor of the FP+, the entire surface of the FP+ that touches the water to be boiled is made of borosilicate glass. The FP+ is the only "mostly glass" electric kettle. Moreover, it is priced well below the Russell Hobbs 3123 or the Bosch-Siemens Porsche Design kettles. Simply as an electric kettle, therefore, the FP+ is an outstanding value.
But the FP+ is more than an electric kettle. It is supplied with at least two (for reason unknown, ours was supplied with three) tops: one (or, in our case, two) of these tops are "just" tops, but also are an integral part of the safety system. They lock onto the handle of the pot to retain water vapor, steam, and heat inside; but they also have a hole that feeds steam (when the water boils) directly to a paddle that, from the steam pressure, mechanically shuts off the unit when the water comes to a full boil. (The unit _can_ operate with the top in the unlocked position, in which case, the top would blow off, relieving pressure, when the water boils.) The tops also have silicone seals with rake-like perforations near the pouring spout to give a final filtering-out of any stray coffee grounds.
There is also a boil-dry shut-off circuit in the unit.
But there is another top supplied. This one has an integrated stainless plunger screen just like that in the larger Bodum and Bonjour presspots.
NOTE: the one-liter (32 oz.) Bodum presspots are slimmer (smaller diameter) than the FP+. The FP+ has the same brewing _capacity_ of the one-liter Bodums, but has the cylinder _diameter_ of the 1.5 liter (48 oz.) Bodums. Although the height and diameter of the FP+ are similar to the 1.5 liter Bodums, unlike the Bodums, the top third of the FP+ is not used for boiling water or brewing coffee.
The technique that Chef's Choice recommends for brewing with the FP+, set out in good detail, with excellent illustrations, at <http://www.edgecraft.com/french.html>, will immediately strike veteran presspot users as -- well -- different. Whereas with a pour-over "manual" presspot, one pours the hot water over the coffee grounds, in the FP+, the coffee grounds are added to the top of the hot water.
Experienced and sharp-eyed presspot users will note other departures from traditional nonelectric presspots. First, Chef's Choice recommends the use of a _lot_ of ground coffee per pot. Second, when the brew process begins (and throughout the brewing process), the water temperature -- if Chef's Choice's directions are scrupulously followed -- is several degrees higher than _can_ be achieved, even employing pot preheating, in a manual presspot, and (perhaps) hotter than optimal for the best-tasting extraction. See the temperature chart at <http://www.edgecraft.com/brew.html>. Third, Chef's Choice's recommended steeping time is definitely on the long side compared to Bodum's recommendations for their manual presspots.
As a result, if one follows the recommendations of Chef's Choice religiously and scrupulously, one will end up with a very strong, and possibly overextracted, pot of coffee.
However -- and this is a salient point -- at every point, except the top-loading of the coffee, it is possible, through stinginess and sloth, to duplicate with the FP+ what the normal procedure would be with a manual presspot. In a manual pour-over presspot, it is virtually impossible to begin the brewing, or to maintain throughout the a brewing, a _very_ high temperature -- perhaps anything exceeding about 195-200 degrees F. -- which is well below the temperature gradient illustratedfor the FP+ on the Chef's Choice website chart.
We are told -- but have not confirmed for ourselves -- that the high brewing temperatures achieved in the FP+ are optimal for tea, and the plunger does a good job of straining tea leaves, as well.
However, if one wants to reduce coffee brewing temperatures in the FP+ to a level similar to those encountered in a pour-over manual presspot, one needs only to wait a couple minutes after it has come to a boil (212 degrees F.) before scooping in the coffee. Similarly, if one wants to use less coffee than Chef's Choice recommends, that is easy, too. Plunge earlier than Chef's Choice's recommended five minutes? Why not?
After some experimentation, we found that we could duplicate with the FP+ anything that we could do with the Bodum manual presspot, with similar taste results. The reverse was not true, however: we could not duplicate with the Bodum the coffee that we could make in the FP+ following Chef's Choice's recommended procedure. As it happens, we have chosen, based on our taste, to use our FP+ to make Bodum-like coffee; your taste may differ, and you may prefer the Chef's Choice recommended taste, which cannot be duplicated using the Bodum.
We always decant the brewed coffee immediately into a thermal carafe (see the review of the Rotpunkt thermal carafe on this site), rather than leaving it on the grounds to continue to extract.
When it comes to clean-up time, the FP+ is decidely more difficult to clean than the manual Bodum, because the FP+ can neither be put in the diswasher nor immersed fully in soapy water. Water should not be allowed to stand on the electrical contacts on the outside bottom of the kettle; if some accidentally gets in there, it should be wiped off immediately.
And now we come to the most negative aspect of the FP+. When used as a French press, some of the coffee grounds invariably and inevitably get between the outer edges of the heating base and the silicone seal that joins the glass sides of the kettle to the heating base. No matter how scrupulously the kettle is cleaned, with no matter what brush used, some individual grains will remain. The next time water is boiled in the kettle, the violent bubbling at the heating unit will spring the left-behind grounds free, whence they will circulate in the boiling water. The total quantity of these grains is very small, and the taste has previously been extracted from them, so they will not affect the taste of whatever it is that the water is being boiled for. But the water _will_ have unsightly black specks in it, an aesthetic disaster.
If you are a devotee of French press coffee, the FP+ will provide you with a wider range of variation of the parameters to optimize your brew than any other presspot in the world. Even if French press coffee is not your thing, the FP+ scores as a super bargain for a high end electric kettle.