Wi-Fi smart features work with Alexa or Google Assistant
Luxuriously styled and with a steep price tag to match, the $388 GE Appliances Cafe Specialty Drip Coffee Maker definitely makes a statement. It's aimed squarely at coffee connoisseurs who would otherwise spend big bucks on a Technivorm Moccamaster, a Breville Precision Brewer or even a
Like those other products, the Cafe is designed to brew excellent cups of joe. It also works fast, whipping up our standard 8-cup test pots in under 5 minutes. The Cafe brews big too, capable of churning out full 10-cup carafes with each run. And the Cafe is one of the first products in GE Appliances' new push onto kitchen countertops. As such, it boasts modern smart capabilities, specifically
connectivity, app control and support for
and Alexa voice assistants.
All that aside, splurging this much on a home coffee maker is overkill. If you're willing to give up smarts and the Cafe's fancy copper accents, the Oxo Brew 8-Cup does the same job for a fraction of the price. I'd argue that for most shoppers this is what really matters.
Slick and pricey styling
There's no denying that GE Appliances put a lot of time and effort into the Cafe's design. The liberal use of stainless steel and copper screams that this coffee maker is high-end. Even the machine's polycarbonate sections feel premium and texturally dense.
That said, the Cafe's general layout follows that of other high-performance
. A tall water tank sits on top of a tower that houses the brewer's controls and heating system. To the right of that is a large brewing chamber. Inside you'll find a removable filter basket along with a gold mesh filter. The basket accepts No. 4 paper coffee filters, too.
Below that is the Cafe's vacuum-sealed thermal carafe. All of this rests atop a rectangular base. It's very similar to how the Oxo 8-Cup, Bonavita Connoisseur and Technivorm Moccamaster brewers are arranged.
What sets the Cafe apart, besides the copper trim, is its
display. It's embedded just below the brushed-metal surface of the heating tower's front face. These LEDs spell out the time of day plus brewing parameters you can select. I admit it looks pretty slick. Neither the Connoisseur nor the Moccamaster has a display of any kind. It also puts the Breville Precision Brewer's basic LCD to shame.
Smarts are nice, but not that useful
Like many brand-new kitchen appliances, the Cafe coffee maker comes with built-in smart capabilities. The brewer has an internal Wi-Fi radio to link to home networks and ultimately the cloud. Through the SmartHQ app you can schedule automatic brewing times, and you can also configure either Google Assistant or Alexa to control the Cafe with your voice.
Honestly, though, the appeal of smart functions in a coffee maker is lost on me. Setting up any machine for automated, scheduled brews or on-demand, voice-activated brews means you'll need the coffee ground and ready to go ahead of time -- and that forces you to sacrifice some flavor. Remember, the minute you grind coffee beans, the potency begins to deteriorate. Once exposed to air, ground coffee's subtle aromatics start to slide downhill fast.
If you're a coffee snob like me, the idea of letting coffee grounds sit overnight is anathema. For best results, you'll want to grind right before you brew.
Performance and taste
When it came to brewing performance, the GE Appliances Cafe absolutely crushed it. On the machine's default Gold brew cycle, the coffee maker flew through its brewing cycle with impressive speed.
The machine finished my typical 40-ounce test pots in an average time of just 4 minutes, 54 seconds. That's the second fastest time I've ever clocked from a home brewer. It's also well below the 8 minutes or less the Specialty Coffee Association recommends for outstanding joe.
Only the Bunn Velocity Brew zips through carafes with greater speed, in 3 minutes, 33 seconds. To be fair the Velocity Brew heats its water supply continuously so as coffee makers go, it's really an entirely different animal altogether.
The Cafe brewed faster than the Technivorm Moccamaster KBT-741 as well as the Oxo 8-Cup (both coming in at 5 minutes, 45 seconds). It beat out the Bonavita Connoisseur, as well (6 minutes, 25 seconds). My standard test brew ratio is 40 ounces (1.2 liters) of water to 2.32 ounces (66 grams) of medium ground coffee, though I adjust it if otherwise directed by the manual.
Brew speed isn't everything. Precise water temperature control is also necessary for great coffee. The recommended water temperature range (197 degrees Fahrenheit, or 92 degrees Celsius, to 205 F/96 C) is critical to proper brewing. Fortunately, the Cafe kept a tight grip on its water temperatures.
During the first minute of brewing, the average temperature inside the filter basket was 168.9 F (76 C), according to my thermocouple readings. That's not as fast as the Oxo 8-Cup (190.3 F, 87.9 C) but it's speedier than the Bonavita Connoisseur. The Connoisseur had a lower average temperature at the 1-minute mark (147.9 F, 64.4 C).
By the 2-minute mark, the temperature inside the Cafe's filter hit 198.9 F. After that, the Cafe really parked the temperature needle. Heat levels barely fluctuated, staying within 1.6 degrees for the rest of the brew cycle.
Refractometer readings, a tool that measures the amount of coffee dissolved in the liquid, echoed the Cafe's rock-steady performance. Across three runs using my standard test amount of 66 grams of coffee grounds, the Cafe achieved tightly grouped TDS (total dissolved solids) percentage results: 1.3%, 1.4%, 1.2%. That translates to an average extraction percentage of 20%. That's smack-dab in the middle of the ideal range, commonly held to be between 18% and 22%.
Coffee that the Cafe whipped up tasted great too. Cups I sampled were well-balanced, with plenty of lovely coffee flavor. Best of all, they lacked any hint of bitterness.
The appliance's thermal carafe delivers too. Temperatures inside the pitcher stayed hot (above 150 F) for over 4 hours. That's longer than the Oxo 8-Cup (3 hours, 45 minutes) and in line with the Bonavita Connoisseur. At 6 hours, though, the Technivorm Moccamaster still reigns supreme.
I can't deny that the GE Appliance Cafe is an exceptionally good drip coffee maker. It brews beans fast and with outstanding results. It's extremely easy on the eyes and crafted with care, too. Unfortunately the Cafe is also extremely expensive. That alone makes it hard to recommend over our current Editors' Choice Award winner, the Oxo 8-Cup (now $136).
Still, if you were looking to spend the amount of cash required for a Technivorm Moccamaster ($309), perhaps consider splurging. For $80 more, the Cafe nets you faster pots and updated design, plus