Many multifunction kitchen gadgets skew toward gimmickry. This versatile new coffee maker from Oxo not only makes excellent coffee, but it also offers an impressive variety of brewing and water heating options you may actually have a use for.
The $300 Oxo Barista Brain Brewing System has the chops to consistently brew a masterfully delicious pot of coffee. Equipped with an internal scale the coffee maker also lets you make coffee, using traditional grounds, in portions. You can tell it to serve small portions, as few as four cups, or to go ahead and make a whole 12-ounce pot. Since it also functions as an electric kettle complete with precise temperature control, the Barista Brain will serve tea drinkers as well.
Yes, it's more expensive than most higher-end drip machines, but you get plenty of hot beverage-related utility for that added cost. The fact that it makes a truly excellent coffee and it's easy to use make it that much easier to recommend. The only major drawback is a longer-than-average time to make a full pot.
When I pulled the Oxo Barista Brain 12-Cup Brewing System out of its box and laid it down on my countertop, I immediately knew that I was dealing with a unique appliance. Standing 15.9 inches tall and spanning 14.7 inches wide by 7.5 inches deep, the Barista Brain is absolutely massive even compared with other monster-sized drip coffee makers. For example the Barista is larger than the gargantuan, which up until now was the biggest home coffee maker I've ever grappled with.
To its credit, though, Oxo did an admirable job disguising the Barista Brain's substantial footprint. Unlike the Bunn Velocity Brew BT's uninspired blocky and plastic construction, Oxo's machine was honed to take up as little countertop real estate as possible given its assorted features. For example the product's base is just an inch thick, which tricks the eye and creates the illusion of sleekness.
The same is true of the Barista's lack of a thick tower unit or other bulky central structure. Instead there's a slim brushed-metal pole that bisects the machine and rises upwards from the brewer's base. Connected to this pole's right side is a big, flat-bottomed brew basket which accepts paper basket-style filters of the 8- to 12-cup variety.
Below the filter sits a squat thermal carafe that's vacuum-sealed, double-walled and crafted from stainless steel. It also holds a maximum liquid volume of 60 ounces (12 5-ounce coffee cups) and is designed to keep its contents hot for hours at a time.
Occupying the left side of the brewer is its largest single component and something Oxo can't easily conceal, a humongous glass kettle. Big enough to contain a full 60 ounces of water plus a little extra for good measure, the flask has graduated markings ranging from 4 cups (20 ounces) to 12 cups (60 ounces).
This vessel rests on a thick cylindrical pedestal which also houses the Barista's heating element, backlit LED display, and control panel. Encased in a shell of shiny piano-black enamel, the pedestal, as is this entire machine from Oxo, is quite attractive and sophisticated in appearance. I also appreciate the signature rubbery coating on both the kettle and thermal carafe handles, a trait for which Oxo kitchen gadgets are well known.
Boil or brew a little or a lot
Don't be fooled by the Oxo Barista Brain 12-Cup Brewing System's simple controls. Even though the appliance features just one physical interface, specifically a dial with a button at its center (called the "Oxo button"), the control handles all of the brewer's numerous functions.
Before you use the Barista Brain for the first time, you'll have to calibrate the scale embedded inside its kettle pedestal. Thankfully the calibration procedure is straightforward: just remove the kettle from its base, and press the Oxo button while you plug the machine into a power outlet. When the dial surrounding the button glows red, you can let the button go, unplug the device then plug it back in.
The weight of the kettle now logged, the electronics powering the Barista Brain can now sense the exact volume of water you add. More impressive, the coffee maker's screen will display how much water you'd like to push to the filter basket during brewing and what quantity you'd like to remain in the kettle. Turning the dial clockwise ups the coffee volume (in 2 cup increments) while swiveling it in the other direction does the opposite.
Have time for just four cups this morning, no problem. Maybe you'd like to drink a few cups but also have hot water on hand to whip up a bowl of oatmeal. Not to worry, the Barista Brain can tackle this, too. Another nice touch is how the base of the brewer automatically detects the presence of the thermal carafe, thanks to magnets in both carafe and base. Another coffee maker has the same ability, the, but it costs almost twice as much.There's a drip-stop mechanism, too, which works to prevent leaks when you remove the carafe.