Just because a coffee maker is app-connected doesn't mean it's a wise purchase. Grafting useful smart abilities onto a quality drip brewer is a wiser approach. That's exactly the tack Behmor took with its new $329 Behmor Connected Coffee Brewer and the result is a compelling yet expensive coffee maker. Using the same hardware powering the Brazen Plus, one of the few coffee makers to meet the SCAA's rigorous brewing standards, even without smarts the Connected Coffee Brewer creates a mighty tasty cup of coffee.
Behmor's mobile app unlocks the brewer's real potential. Through the app you can control the coffee brewing process, right down to water temperature, presoak time, and the type of roast right from your phone. It doesn't have every feature I'd like to see on a high-end coffee maker, no scheduling, for example, and it hurts to pay a $100 premium for a brewer that's missing anything. Behmor is on to something with the way it's using smarts, but I can still think of a few high-end, nonconnected brewers I'd recommend before this one.
If the Behmor Connected Coffee Brewer looks familiar, perhaps you've seen its doppelgänger, the Behmor Brazen Plus. Basically both products are identical in terms of physical footprint and mechanical brewing components, and that's a good thing. The most compelling attribute of the Brazen Plus is its ability to brew drip coffee at proper temperatures and hit its grounds with hot water for only as long as necessary. This ability helped the machine earn the coveted SCAA certification, which only a handful of home drip brewers enjoy. These include heavy hitters in the coffee maker and kitchen accessory world such as Technivorm, Bonavita and Oxo.
One big difference with this new brewer, gone is the old school interface which relied on tiny buttons and a minuscule LCD screen. Instead the coffee maker has just one visible control -- a big, circular key ringed by a bright LED light. The LED will also change colors to communicate where the appliance is within its brewing cycle. Similarly a small connection symbol is designed to blink when the brewer is actively trying to connect to your wireless network or in setup mode.
The bulk of the brewer gadget towers over its squat thermal carafe. Its 40-ounce (1.1 L) metal pitcher is also on the petite side, and it holds less liquid than the carafes of competing models, which typically come in around 45 ounces (approx 1.3 L).
The biggest update to this coffee maker over its predecessor is a built-in Wi-Fi radio. So equipped, you can now control the new Connected Coffee Brewer via the Behmor companion mobile application (Android and iOS).
Why bother adding integrated smarts in a drip coffee maker? The first benefit is easier operation through your phone's bigger screen and the app's cleaner menu interface. Both this machine and the previous Brazen Plus offer powerful ways to tweak brewer settings (down to atmospheric elevation). The Brazen Plus, however, requires you to navigate its settings using a stamp-size LCD and tiny physical buttons.
By contrast I found the app's spartan UI refreshing to flip through. After completing the brief setup process, your brewer (represented by coffee cup icon) will appear at the center of the app's dashboard. Tapping it will either show its current status (brewing stage) or prompt the software to present you with three options, "Brew," "Buzz," or "Craft."
Click through any of those and you end in a wizard which walks you through making a pot of coffee. Each choice though offers a varying degree of control. For example hitting "Brew" will ask you whether your coffee is packaged or fresh and to identify its roast level (light, medium, dark). The brewer will then automatically adjust its water temperature and presoak time accordingly. All you have to do is provide the water, grounds, and the amount of coffee you'd like (6 to 8 cups).
The "Craft" option gives you command over all the brewer's parameters. Though you can't save recipes created here for later (a feature Behmor says is in the works), you do have the option of assigning it to the "Quickstart" function. Pressing the coffee maker's single physical button will now engage your custom brewing profile.
I really like what's tucked under the "Buzz" menu. Here you'll find Behmor-approved recipes to match specific coffee beans and roasts. While I used the app there were only three so-called "Joe's Brews" for African coffee, medium and dark roasts named after Behmor owner and product inventor Joe Behm. Still it's a unique application of smarts within a connected coffee machine and one I think is actually useful.
Once brewing commenced both the coffee maker's LED and screen showing the phone app shone in matching hues; orange for water heating, blue for active brewing, and pulsing green when the cycle had completed. The app also sends a push alert when it's time to enjoy your coffee.
For all its high-tech slickness, I did notice some rough spots within the app. It provided no feedback for how much time remained in the brew process. Behmor explained that this function will exist in the final application. There's no way to see the current water temperature within the reservoir either, a stat the older Brazen Plus displays on its LCD. The same goes for being able to set the brewer to make a pot of coffee at a certain time, another ability the Brazen Plus has in its repertoire. Behmor says it expects to bring this feature online soon.
Coffee I made with the Behmor Connected Brewer was every bit as good as the batches I made with its predecessor. In some this machine even surpassed other competing coffee makers in flavor and smoothness. Using the "Brew" wizard and selecting "packaged" beans of medium roast level, the Behmor made coffee that tasted very smooth, but weak. It's no wonder since the brewer automatically sets the brew temp to a low 195 degrees Fahrenheit.
Brewing my test beans (Costco Columbian Supremo, medium grind) using the "Craft" setting at a temperature of 204 degrees (F) with a 15 second presoak, yielded better results. The coffee had a touch of bitterness but was smooth, with complex notes of chocolate and cinnamon. Reflectometer readings backed up my taste buds with samples of from this pot measuring in at a high TDS (total dissolved solids) percentage of 1.36 percent. This translates to an admirable extraction percentage of 21.6 percent.
Since brewing outstanding coffee is a balancing act of pulling out just the good flavors and not the bad, ideally you want an extraction percentage of between 18 and 22 percent. Anything under and you risk making a sour, weak brew. Pushing extraction beyond this range increases the chances of the taste turning bitter and astringent.
Choose Joe's Brew for dark roasts and you're in for a treat. The app describes this recipe, which calls for a brew temp of 204 degrees (F) and a longer 45 second presoak, as "velvety" and "chewy." I must agree. Coffee made with these settings was deliciously rich, silky smooth, and full-bodied. TDS readings were also right in the goldilocks zone, too, at 1.3 percent with an excellent extraction of 20.3 percent.
Behmor must have improved its thermal carafe design, too. The steel container kept its contents hot (above 150 F) for a full 4 hours. This beats the short 2 hours of heat retention I logged from the Brazen Plus. Of course the Dutch-made Technivorm Moccamaster KBT 741 preserves heat for a marathon 6 hours.
One big issue I have with the Behmor Connected Brewer, the same I have with the Brazen Plus and Oxo Barista Brain 12-cup Brewing System, is it must heat its water first before brewing begins. That takes extra time, about 4 to 5 minutes. Factoring in another 4 minutes or so for actual brewing and you're dealing with a typical brew time of 10 minutes plus. That's an eternity compared with the Technivorm Moccamaster KBT 741 and Bonavita BV1900TS that go from start to full pot in 6 minutes or less.
Until now the smart coffee makes I've tested have either turned out bad-tasting coffee, like the $150 Mr. Coffee Smart Optimal Brew, or were capable but astonishingly expensive like the Philips Saeco GranBaristo Avanti ($3000). The $329 Behmor Connected Coffee Brewer is the first app-controlled coffee maker I'm actually tempted to buy. Not only does the machine make superbly tasty coffee, the connected app makes it easy to tweak the various settings that make that great coffee possible.
Its software is a little rough around the edges. And I wish all of the features found in the $229 Brazen Plus, like scheduling, came over to this model. Software can always be updated, so the Connected Coffee Brewer could always improve. For now, if you have $300 to spend on a fancy drip machine you'll still be better served by the $180 Bonavita BV1900TS.