A first class instrument capable of awesome, jaw dropping results.
Positive Product Points
a very short learning curve
no disposable filter paper or cloth to wash and condition; gold plated siphon tube
very fast extraction
kickdown is automatic
sweetness to the brew that is very different from the French Press
fast clean up
by allowing 5 to 10 minutes extra, can be used on a daily basis
almost bullet proof and nearly indestructible; an heirloom to be
tin plated kettle internal maybe inert and less reactive than stainless steel
stunning presentation at the table.
Negative Product Points
grinder dependent that requires a higher end grinder
the metal which composes the bulk of the kettle is a mixture of copper and plain brass (called massif) which is soft and easily marred
makes enough coffee for 4 or 5 people max, not for large parties of people
There are many different reasons to buy a vacuum pot for coffee brewing. One of the more commonly cited ones is the resulting clarity of the brew, as in crystal clear. I don't drink out of glass cups and the minimal sludge at the bottom of the cup in using a French press has never been an issue for me. With the Royal, there is fine silt, but much less than from a French press. If you don't like that, then scratch the Royal from your list of vacuum pot candidates.
Initially, I was not nearly impressed by the look of the Royal, once unpacked, as others have been. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the reddishness of the massif did not get me excited. Couple that with the easily scratched surface that requires careful cleaning, one might conclude that it is not worth the price and perhaps the Cafetino would be a better choice with its stainless steel components and lower price. One could say that the Royal is a throw back to times that have long since vanished. There is an aristocratic air to it that maybe anachronistic in most settings - unless one has the interior space of an older, high end French restaurant with its old world flavor.
Do read the manual, first, before proceeding with its use. What follows is not typical usage for the Royal. It is an attempt to generate a full throttle, in-your-face coffee that makes someone think: WOW!
The actual brewing cycle is very short with an attendant very short kickdown time. The standard amount of grind into the crystal vessel is around 60 grams for a full load of 800 ml. I home roast and the output from 3 oz of green beans with the Hearthware Precision is approximately 2.6 oz or 74 grams. I always use that output in the Bodum 8 cup French press and saw no reason not to do the same with the Royal. The extraction time cannot really be fiddled with all that much and it is unnecessary. Given its brevity, the evenness of the grind becomes a necessity. Hence, a higher end grinder in the $200 retail range is needed, in my opinion. I use a trusty La Pavoni PGB/C for my French press and decided to also use it with the Royal. This grinder has no doser so that the grind can be directed into the crystal glass brewing vessel. It is a matter of trial and error to determine the proper fineness of the grind. It is not the fineness required for espresso nor the coarseness of the typical French press. The only variable that I am controlling is the grind - not attempting to lengthen the extraction time or even presaturating the grind with hot water.
The gold plated siphon and the cover for the crystal glass vessel are removed and set aside. Measure and pour 750 ml of preheated water into the metal kettle. It is easier if you use a funnel. Be sure that the spigot is closed and in off position. Raise the kettle via the balancing bar and position the lid of the denatured alcohol filled burner so that it is behind and held open by the bottom of the kettle. Light the burner. Be sure that the removable stop is fingered tightened and set in position. Grind the coffee either directly into the crystal glass or transfer it manually while the kettle is being heated. Position the grind inside the vessel so that the gold plated siphon will easily slip into place. Most of the heating time is spent bringing the metal kettle up to temperature. It takes about four minutes. Put the gold siphon to place prior to the four minutes being careful to make sure that the siphon's stopper is sealed against the kettle's hole. Somewhere after the four minute mark, the extraction process will begin to transfer the heated water into the crystal glass. Take a wooden chopstick and stir the grind into the incoming heated water, being certain to thoroughly wet the grind. Once there is enough water into the brewing vessel, you can rotate the crystal glass vessel to help saturate the grind. If you use more than 750 ml of water, the initial bloom could overflow the rim of the crystal glass, especially if you are using freshly roasted beans. At about the six minute mark (it could be longer, dependent upon ambient temperature), the process, including kickdown, is completed.
What ends up in the cup is amazing. It is a no holds barred, intense cup because of the optimal temperature extraction. A revelation! The coffee has body and, with some beans, a syrupy sweetness that is startling. There is a purity of flavor that has to be experienced, words cannot do it justice.
The Royal is something that can be used daily. Although the Royal has the looks, it is what is in the cup that is truly stunning. Think of the Royal as a fine, high quality instrument with incredible resolution. Durable. Heavy duty. Professional. The Royal takes a back seat to nothing.
In terms of esthetics, you will either love it, hate it, or get used to it. In terms of function, it is superb. Whether or not it is better than any other vacuum pot, I don't know. For the moment, the ability to emphasize the more attractive flavor/taste components of freshly roasted beans is unique to my palate and will relegate my tried and true French press to storage. The Royal will spoil you and make one an even more discriminating coffee consumer (or is that snob?). If one is reasonably careful, the Royal should last a lifetime. The Royal Balance brewer is nothing less than first class.
The defining moment in coffee is what occupies the space in the cup and how it tastes. This IS coffee. Brilliantly designed and executed by Patrick Van Den Noortgaete, it is both elegant and simple. The Royal Balance brewer is a tour de force in coffee makers - a stunning achievement and well worth the cost.
Bought directly from Patrick via e-mail. I had to wait for its arrival in San Francisco. All questions answered by Patrick. Shipment was immediate and was in Los Angeles in two days.
Three Month Followup
See the above add-on for my one year plus comments. I would also like to emphasize that there is no substitute for a high end grinder such as an Anfim doserless. What is equally important is quality home roasting which at this point comes down to a Hearthware I-Roaster. The I-Roaster is certainly a quantum leap over the Gourmet and Precision, both of which I have used and both of which are now non-functional. The I-Roaster in conjunction with the Anfim and Royal Balance Brewer produces an awesome cup of coffee that is head and shoulders above what the Precision or the Gourmet did in the past. 6/27/2004
One Year Followup
It is eight years later and the Royal is no longer made, although there is a knock-off available. I have gone to a Behmor 1600 roaster that works fine and an Anfim doser-less grinder. As to cleaning, one should not use baking soda because this will eat up the tin lining inside of the metal vessel. Instead one should use sodium percarbonate (available online), about 1 teaspoon into 600 or 700 ml of hot water. As to the actual technique of using the Royal, what I now do is a bit anal so don't bother unless you really want to go through a slight minor hassle. The usual dosage is somewhere between 73 grams and 75 grams, dependent upon the degree of the roast. Currently, I put 600 ml of hot water into the metal brewing vessel and light the wick, grind 73+ grams into the glass vessel, then pour 200 ml of hot water directly into the glass vessel, swirl that around until completely saturated, connect to the metal vessel via the metal siphon, wait for most of the water to transfer over into the glass vessel, stir with a wooden chop stick (do not hit the metal siphon because if it hits the glass, it will break it) and totally get all of the grind into the water, then wait for kick down. Total volume of water in the metal vessel approaches 800 ml (grind absorbs and retains water). The result, IMHO, is much better extraction. The addition of 200 ml of hot water is equivalent to adding hot water into a French press to saturate the grind and get the "bloom" before adding the rest of the hot water. All of this is just a matter of trial and error. If you want less silt, then do a coarser grind and that is what I have evolved to. I do not find any drawback to what I have written in this add-on commentary. It appears that the original Royal's are now heirlooms, but completely functional and still with stunning results.