I must confess that I've been thinking about purchasing a Royal for a long time, but didn't really think anything could justify the price. Then I (belatedly) found out about the "deal" Patrick offered CoffeeGeek members. My interest was more than sufficiently rekindled enough to cause me to purchase one. Basically, the reason I bought one was because of its looks. Once I noted, from Mark Prince's review, that the Royal is capable of making excellent coffee, I was sold, because I already believed it to be the most beautiful coffee maker I've ever clapped eyes on, especially the Versailles model (the more ornate one), which I ordered. To emphasize the point, this is the only coffee maker my wife has ever asked me to leave on the counter top...
After reading Mark's review, I had a couple of questions, so I e-mailed Patrick. He responded very quickly and was very helpful, so I ordered one. The next day, I received a tracking number by e-mail from the state-side parties affiliated with Patrick, so they're obviously on the ball and doing an excellent job, too. Five business days later, it arrived in perfect condition, thanks to the excellent packaging process, as described in Mark's review and shown in his pictures.
Some of the issues I'll describe next are very similar to ones noted in Mark's review, but the repetition only serves to confirm his observations - in addition, I'll describe what I've done to compensate for the "imperfections" I've found.
First of all, the only "weakness" I've found in the Royal is extraction times that are shorter than they should be to achieve the perfect cup of coffee. I didn't expect the Royal to make better coffee than my Hario vac pots, because I didn't really think it was likely that any coffee maker which "automates" any part of the process (the extinguishing of the heat source in the case of the Royal) could reliably make better coffee than the fully manual control allowed by Hario, and similar, vac pots. As it turns out, I may have been mistaken in this assumption, but more on that later...
I brewed several batches of coffee with the Royal in its "out of the box" state, using 24 oz of water with 6 rounded tablespoons of coffee, ground to a few "notches" above the espresso mark on my Solis grinder. This is the exact same amount of water and coffee, and grind, that I use with my Harios and cloth filter. Extraction times ranged from 1:30 to just under 2 minutes. For my taste, you really can't get optimum flavor and body with extraction times this short - I like them to be between 3 and 4 minutes. It's almost always right at 4 minutes with this combination in the Hario. I was able to increase extraction time to about 3 minutes by grinding the beans much finer, just under the espresso setting on the Solis, but this tended to plug the Royal's filter on occasion, and always resulted in more sediment in the cup than I ideally prefer. I realize this "problem" of short extraction times can be compensated for by increasing the amount of coffee used, but this shouldn't be necessary. I focused my efforts on two things: filter height and burner shut-off time.
First, I felt that if I could get the filter closer to the bottom of the brewing glass, it would help on two fronts: It would slow the progress of the brewed coffee back into the pot (the "southbound" trip), and it would also increase the agitation of the grounds in the slurry. As Mark mentioned, Patrick offers a good explanation as to why the filters (sometimes, but not always, apparently) sit so high: the brew glass is handmade, so tolerances have to be high enough to allow for variations. In my case, the easiest way to lower the filter was to raise the glass, so I wandered around the local Wal-Mart until I found some cork coasters, which I trimmed to the size of the indentations in the base. Three coasters glued together provided just the right height and the cork material actually looks like it belongs there. Just this change alone increased extraction times about 20-25 seconds. Also, it does appear to increase the agitation rate, as well, so I think this is a very worthwhile enhancement, when necessary.
Next came increasing the burn time during brewing. As Mark mentioned, there are basically three ways to accomplish this: 1) manually hold the counterweight during brewing, 2) raise the height of the burner, and 3) increase the weight of the pot. After lots of experimentation, I don’t think any combination of the latter two approaches can increase burn time more than 10 seconds or so. I glued together two of the aforementioned coasters, again, after cutting them to the right size, and placed them under the burner. I also made a small weight to sit on top of the filler plug that adds the maximum amount of weight that will allow the pot to reliably rise at the end of the “northbound” trip, but I not sure the addition of weight is worth the trouble.
Still, using the above two “enhancements”, and playing with the fineness of the grind, I’m now consistently getting perfect (for me) extraction times of 3:30 or so. On my Solis, this requires a setting a couple marks above the espresso indication. Body is excellent, and sediment in the cup has not been a problem at all. It’s a little more than with a Hario and a cloth filter, but much less than any French press I’ve ever used.
I should also mention here that, while it seems like I’ve focused a lot on some “negative” aspects of the Royal, this is primarily due to two things. First, when something is as beautifully engineered as the Royal is, it’s natural to focus on its shortcomings. Second, there are very few things I own that haven’t been tweaked, modified, or “souped up” in some manner. I just rarely leave anything stock, so my first thought after getting my hands on the Royal was about how to improve it. I’ve got a few other things I want to try, too, but one thing at a time…
Another comment on Mark Prince’s review: I’d suggest that anyone who roasts their own coffee take his “suggestion” that you pour a couple ounces of boiling water on the grounds to pre-wet them not so much as a suggestion as a requirement. I’ve noted that the Royal does an incredible job of agitating the slurry, which must contribute to the high degree of “bloom” in fresh-roasted coffee, if you don’t pre-wet it. My first batch ran completely over the sides of the brew glass, even though I wasn’t brewing close to the full capacity, because I forgot to pre-wet the grounds. I haven’t forgotten since, and it hasn’t happened again, either.
As for clean-up, the Royal does require some tender care. I wasn’t able to find the product Mark recommended, but the local Wal-Mart did carry a product called Maas Metal Polish (www.maasinc.com) that does a great job of shining the copper and seems to leave a protective coating that slows down further staining and tarnishing. Since the only real cleaning that’s necessary for the pot is flushing with clean water, I don’t even bother to remove it from the stand. I simply pour a few batches of hot water through it right where it sits. This keeps the outside of the pot a lot cleaner than handling it does.
So, to revisit something I said earlier, when I ordered the Royal, it wasn’t with the expectation that it would make better coffee than my Harios. I hoped it would ultimately make coffee as good, but didn’t expect that, either. But I’m now convinced that, with just a little tweaking, it’s fully capable of making coffee at least as good, if not better than traditional vac pots, which I already prefer to any other type of coffee maker. Maybe it has something with how good the Royal looks doing it, I don’t know – some blind taste tests are planned to try to pin that down. In the meantime, though, the Royal is greatly exceeding expectations. Its ability to brew near-perfect coffee, look drop-dead gorgeous doing it, and provide plenty of conversation fodder for any guests you might have, all at the same time, is quite an accomplishment.