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Oxo Barista Brain 12-cup Brewing System review: Oxo's Barista Brain might be the world's most versatile drip coffee maker

Brew a little, a lot, or somewhere in between.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

And in the instance when you have no interest in making coffee, the Barista Brain is designed to operate as a standalone hot water heater. Simply twist the kettle counter clockwise on its base to separate its spout from the coffee brewer connector. Still sitting on the heater, in this arrangement the glass pitcher will now operate as an electric kettle but with precise temperature control (between 174 and 212 degrees Fahrenheit).

This particularly comes in handy when brewing specific types of tea. As a matter of fact Oxo labeled the circumference of kettle pedestal with suggested water temperatures depending on the tea leaf you plan to brew. For example, when brewing black and herbal teas a full boil is best (212 F), while green tea requires the lowest heat (175 F).

Performance

One of the few home drip coffee makers to enjoy the Specialty Coffee Association of America's (SCAA) seal of approval, and as the only 12-cup machine with the distinction, the Oxo Barista Brain 12-Cup Brewing System consistently makes excellent pots of java. The machine handled my particularly challenging test beans (Costco House Blend, medium grind) very well.

This dark roast easily becomes bitter and unpalatable if brewed improperly, but the coffee I made from the Barista Brain was quite drinkable with a deep, rich flavor, mellowed by hints of chocolate. That said, this brew had some bitterness on the back end. Refractometer readings backed up my taste buds. I measured the mixture to have a high percentage of total dissolved solids (TDS), 1.87 percent. According to the SCAA, the ideal drip should shake out somewhere between 1.15 and 1.35 percent.

Running the same beans through my burr grinder at a slightly coarser setting improved matters. One pot in particular had a lower TDS percentage of 1.6 percent, which translated to an extraction percentage of 23 percent. That's just a hair over the golden extraction range of between 19 and 22 percent which the SCAA has determined yields supremely delicious coffee. I agree. This batch had all the richness of previous ones yet none of the bitterness.

The Oxo Barista Brain 12-cups makes very good coffee and a lot of it.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The Barista Brain 12-Cup had no trouble brewing lightly roasted coffee either. Running my go-to light roast through the machine, Heine Brothers Eithiopia Yirgacheffe, yielded a spectacular java beverage. Just as delicious as when I brewed the same beans through both the Bonavita BV1900TS and Technivorm Moccamaster . I was treated to sweetness along with flavors of blueberry, anchored by rich chocolate notes.

I'm sure much of the key to the Barista Brain's brewing success lies in its quality temperature control. Specifically the SCAA stipulates that brew temp should hit 197.6 degrees F within the first minute of brewing but not exceed 204.8 degrees. Also vital is for a coffee maker to expose its grounds to water for somewhere between 4 and 8 minutes.

Thermocouple readings I took within the brew basket confirmed that the Barista Brain came close to the mark. The grounds reached 185 degrees F within the first minute then hit 196 degrees F by minute number two. The temperature stayed within 5 degrees of this number (196.3 to 200.6) for its swift 5-minute-and-13-second brew time. This time is especially fast considering it created a full 12 cups (60 ounces) during the interval.

There are a few weak points in the Barista Brain 12-cup's performance. First of all, since the machine must first heat its entire water supply before actual brewing begins, the total coffee making cycle is long -- on the order of 15 minutes and 30 seconds or so. That's an eternity compared with the Bugatti of the drip coffee world, the Technivorm Moccamaster, which typically goes from cold water (45 ounces) to fresh pot of hot joe in 5 minutes and 30 seconds flat.

Additionally the Barista Brain's thermal carafe cools much faster than the Moccamaster's vessel. While the Moccamaster can keep its coffee piping hot for over 6 hours, Oxo's machine dropped below 150 degrees F after 2 hours.

Conclusion

Choosing a premium drip coffee maker is a challenge. With as much as $200 or even $300 on the line, it's understandable to want to select the best performing coffee brewing hot rod out there. If that's your goal then the $300 Technivorm Moccamaster is the clear victor. I'd argue, though, that sheer java brewing prowess isn't the final deciding factor, especially when picking between the $300 Oxo Barista Brain 12-cup Brewing System and Technivorm's longtime champion.

Both appliances have been anointed by the SCAA and offer a nearly identical level of superb coffee brewing. But while the Barista Brain takes longer to transform water into black gold and can't keep its carafe hot for as long, its list of features such as flexible brewing volumes and electric kettle functions put it over the edge. And if all you want is the same caliber of coffee brewing in a much more affordable machine, the $190 Bonavita BV1900TS has your needs covered.

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