Behmor Brazen Plus review: Lots of brewing control but makes smaller pots that cool too fast
Building a quality drip coffee machine is not easy, especially one that meets the SCAA's grueling brewing standards. Behmor, however, with its Brazen Plus, manages to do just that. Even more impressive, though, is the amount of control over the coffee making process the Brazen Plus provides, from selecting the exact water temperature you want to choosing how long you'd like to presoak your grounds before full brewing begins.
But for all its outstanding abilities, the pricey $229 Brazen Plus is far from perfect. It takes a while to brew compared with other kitchen coffee machines and the pots it makes are smaller than average. To get the same caliber of coffee out of the Brazen Plus, you'll also end up using more grounds. That's why even though the Brazen Plus is compelling, particularly to people who love to play around with their coffee, more affordable gadgets such as the $190 Bonavita BV1900TS and $170 Bunn Velocity Brew BT are shrewder alternatives. Take a look at other high-end coffee makers though to help you decide.
Editors' note: this product is now unavailable. For other coffee great maker options take at our current list of favorite models.
With its cylindrical top, circular stainless-steel base and three-legged body, the Behmor Brazen Plus is no ordinary-looking coffee maker. Indeed, the contraption's odd tripodal frame reminds me of some sort of alien device of war, or perhaps an advanced fusion reactor. The bulk of the gadget positively towers over its squat thermal carafe too. This isn't entirely an optical illusion, either; the coffee machine's 40-ounce metal pitcher is on the petite side. In fact it holds less liquid than the carafes of competing models, which typically have room for about 45 ounces (approx 1.3 L).
Another clue to this machine's unusual qualities is a large LCD panel placed in the center of its front face. Backlit by a bright blue LED and surrounded by a phalanx of square buttons (eight in all), this screen is hard not to notice. While not as futuristic as the Breville YouBrew's almost robotic control surfaces, the Brazen's console definitely conveys complexity and electronic smarts.
Beneath the display you'll find a wide (at least in relation to the small carafe) plastic filter basket. It either accepts the bundled gold permanent filter or optional paper filters of the flat-bottomed 10-cup variety.
Standing at 15.5 inches tall and 8.5 inches wide, the Brazen Plus isn't small, either, looming over shorter coffee makers such as the compact Bonavita BV1900TS (11.5x10x6.75 inches). That said, the Brazen's 8.1-inch depth translates to a smaller overall footprint than true countertop monsters such as the Bunn Velocity Brew BT and Cuisinart Burr Grind and Brew.
Much of the Brazen Plus' girth stems from its top-mounted water reservoir. Contained underneath a flat lid, unlike the clear or black plastic water tanks you'll find in most automatic coffee makers, the Brazen boasts one crafted from shiny stainless steel. It definitely adds a touch of class to an otherwise mostly plastic appliance.
Usability and features
As you might expect from such a complicated facade, using the Brazen Plus for the first few times is no walk in the park. This is definitely a machine with a learning curve and where reading the manual is not merely a shrewd move but a downright necessity. That's doubly so if you want to harness some of the Brazen's more unique abilities.
In fact the first thing Behmor advises new owners to do after unpacking the coffee maker is calibrate the device. Specifically the Brazen Plus will boil a set sample volume of water and simultaneously compare readings from its internal thermometer. Frankly it's the only machine I know which asks users to perform such a task. The same goes for entering your current elevation (in feet) since altitude (and as a result atmospheric pressure) will affect the boiling point of water.
Additionally, within the Brazen Plus' menu screens is the option to select the brewing temperature -- i.e., how hot the water inside the tank will get before hitting the grounds (190 to 210 degrees Fahrenheit). Likewise you can set a timer for how long to presoak the coffee grounds prior to the full-blown brewing process (15 seconds to 4 minutes).
And if this isn't enough tweaking for you, the Brazen Plus also boasts a manual release function that allows its owners to decant hot water into another brewing container such as glass French press jars or Chemex brewers. The bonus here is that you have complete command over the temperature of your water source. Be advised that though I found this feature to be useful, it is tricky to use. My main gripe is it's hard to tell when the function is engaged or shut off -- not ideal when handling piping-hot liquid.
From the moment I ran its calibration program I knew the Brazen Plus had the power and skill to brew coffee like a champ. The machine transformed its sample of calibration water into a bubbling froth in no time and handled similarly when whipping up fresh pots of coffee. While it took 5 minutes and 24 seconds to heat its supply of cold tap water (40 ounces, 1.2 L) up to 200 degrees (F), the actual brew time was consistently around 5 minutes, 30 seconds, well within the 4 to 8 minutes the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) recommends. Of course this also doesn't count the presoak time which in my case was the default setting of 15 seconds.
Altogether that does come to a rather long wait time of about 11 to 12 minutes from start to finish. It's a while to twiddle your thumbs especially compared with the total brew times of other machines such as the Bonavita BV1900TS, Technivorm Moccamaster KBT 741 and Bunn Velocity Brew BT. These devices brewed full 45-ounce pots in about 6 minutes or less. In fact the Bunn managed the feat in a lightning-fast 3 minutes, 33 seconds, though it games the system a bit by continually preheating its water supply before brewing.
In terms of heating water the Brazen Plus is not only fast but also accurate. Temperature readings I measured inside its water tank mirrored what the coffee maker's LCD proclaimed. Of course, data from my laboratory-grade digital thermometer arrived much faster that from the Brazen's display (about 2 to 3 seconds ahead).
Coffee I whipped up in the Brazen Plus from our challenging test beans (Costco House Blend whole bean, medium grind) was also very good. With the brew temperature set at 201 degrees Fahrenheit, cups I sampled were rich, earthy, almost buttery. Most importantly I detected no hint of bitterness, which is a common failing of lesser brewers.
Analyzing my results with a refractometer confirmed the prowess of the Brazen Plus. Coffee brewed in this manner consistently turned in a superb TDS (total dissolved solids) percentage of 1.28 percent. That translates to an extraction percentage of 20.3 percent, spot on with the ideal number, commonly said to be between 18 and 22 percent.
Be advised that to reach this figure I had to use the coffee grounds to water ratio Behmor recommends (2.3 ounces coffee, 40 ounces water). It's more concentrated than my typical test ratio (2 ounces grounds to 45 ounces water). Also noteworthy is how the Bonavita BV1900TS nailed the same 1.28 percent extraction percentage with this lower brewing ratio. Essentially you'll be able to create more coffee with the Bonavita (which tastes just as good) while using less grounds.
Another weak point in the Brazen Plus' performance is its underwhelming thermal carafe. Thanks to its brew-through lid, the stainless-steel pot is never fully closed even when its top is tightly screwed in place. Because of this the carafe kept its contents hot (above 150 degrees) for a mere 2 hours. By contrast, the Bonavita's coffeepot preserved heat for almost 4 hours while the Technivorm Moccamaster KBT 741 holds the hot coffee record, with its distinctive funnel-shaped carafe keeping things steaming for an impressive 6 hours.
I must give kudos to Behmor for creating its Brazen Plus. Not only does this powerful machine boast unique coffee-brewing controls such as how hot you want your water to be and your target presoak time, it also meets the SCAA's strict guidelines for making fabulous drip brew at home.
Still, unless you're the type of person who gets a kick out of constantly tinkering with their java brewing routine, perhaps even roasts their own beans (yes, Behmor has you covered there, too), the $229 Brazen Plus is overkill. For most household coffee-making duties, the less expensive $190 Bonavita BV1900TS or $170 Bunn Velocity Brew BT are wiser choices especially if you entertain often. These faster-brewing machines make great-tasting (and bigger) pots of joe that stay hot longer.