Every so often a product surprises me by performing better than I thought possible. Case in point, the $100 Braun BrewSense KF7150 coffee maker. Judging from its comparatively low price and modest appearance, I assumed that this kitchen gadget lacked the chops to whip up pots of excellent drip coffee. Boy, was I wrong. Time after time, the BrewSense KF7150 transformed my lowly test beans into quality joe, the type I've only coaxed from more expensive drip machines.
Sure, Braun did make some trade-offs to keep the cost down. Like the$140 Bonavita BV01002US, another aggressively priced coffee maker, the BrewSense KF7150 doesn't feel as sturdy as luxury models. It also relies on a glass carafe and hot plate combo instead a thermal carafe. If these are deal breakers then consider the $190 Bonavita BV1900TS and $299 Technivorm Moccamaster KBT 741, both premium models aimed at the gourmet set.
A rectangular block, 14 inches tall by 8 wide, with rounded edges, the BrewSense is lightweight, made from mostly black plastic. Adding a touch of class is a thin skin of stainless steel that covers three quarters of the coffee maker's chassis.
A square, perforated metal lid flips open to reveal a water tank and a plastic filter basket. The basket accepts either type #4 paper coffee filters or the bundled gold tone permanent filter. You can brew up to 12 cups (5 ounces each) of coffee, the appliance's maximum capacity.
On the front face is a control panel with a tiny LCD screen, with an illuminated digital clock. Nine buttons run along the bottom edge of the panel, with a circular power key under that. These buttons let you perform various functions such as starting a brew immediately or scheduling one in advance, setting the clock's time and engaging the machine's cleaning cycle.
Instead of a double-walled thermal carafe, a basic glass carafe rests on a base at the center of the coffee machine. An electric hot plate below it provides warmth to brewed coffee inside the container. You can set the hot plate to operate at different temperatures: low, medium and high. This arrangement isn't ideal if you don't drink your coffee quickly and often leave it sitting in the pot for hours at time. That's because the carafe isn't air tight and brewed coffee's subtle flavor quickly fades when exposed to oxygen.
Be careful pouring from the carafe too aggressively as well. I found that if I tilted the container at too sharp an angle, liquid tended to spill and drip along its sides. Filling the coffee maker's reservoir with water can be tricky too, since its opening is quite a small target.
Speaking of flavor, the BrewSense KF7150 makes coffee with plenty of it. I used my trusty test beans (Costco Colombian Supremo) ground medium-coarse with an Oxo burr grinder. I also brewed with the same water-to-coffee ratio, 40 ounces water (1.2 liters) to 2.3 ounces coffee (65 grams) I always do.
To gauge its strength, I measured coffee samples with a refractometer. From there I calculated the average percent of TDS (total dissolved solids) from the BrewSense to be 1.5 percent. According to the Specialty Coffee Association of America's test protocol, properly brewed coffee should have a TDS percent of between 1.15 and 1.35. The beverage should also exhibit an extraction percentage between 18 and 22 percent.
SCAA research has determined anything outside this range yields unpalatable results. Coffee that's under-extracted (less than 18 percent) is likely sour, weak or both. Over-extracted coffee tends to be unpleasantly bitter and tannic. Based on my numbers the BrewSense clocked an average extraction of 23 percent, just outside the ideal range but still a very good showing. It's a similarly impressive result to the Bonavita BV01002US.
Most important, however, is the BrewSense KF7150's excellent temperature control. With thermocouples I confirmed that temperatures in the brew basket climbed quickly, typically hitting 197.6 degrees Fahrenheit (92 degrees Celsius) within 64 or 65 seconds. During the entire 7 minute brewing process, temperatures hovered around this mark yet never exceeded 201 degrees Fahrenheit (93.3 degrees Celsius). While not perfect, that's still very close to SCAA doctrine.
Of course my taste buds didn't detect anything out of place. Coffee from the BrewSense tasted every bit as rich and delicious as the drip made with the Bonavita. It was pleasantly sweet, with no bitterness to speak of.
For a very reasonable price compared to luxury coffee machines, the $100 Braun BrewSense KF7150 consistently makes a mighty fine pot of drip. That's a feat I never expected from this relatively affordable, plain-looking machine.
This appliance isn't as easy to fill with water as its better designed competition though, and its glass carafe also makes a mess if you pour from it too quickly. Still, you'd be hard-pressed to find an automatic coffee maker that creates java this tasty at a price this low. Home coffee drinkers who can't live without a thermal carafe should consider the $190 Bonavita BV1900TS or $299 Technivorm Moccamaster KBT 741. These products have insulated pitchers, are more durable and easier to use.