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Breville YouBrew BDC600XL review: A drip coffeemaker that's too smart for its own good

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Priced at $250, the Breville YouBrew BDC600XL has a high cost of entry, but it flaunts high style and premium build quality to match. In addition, the YouBrew boasts an integrated burr to crush whole coffee beans and brew either full pots or single cups of fresh java on demand. Breville also touts the brewing smarts of its creation which approaches an almost robotic level of personal coffee-tweaking skills

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5.6

Breville YouBrew BDC600XL

The Good

The Breville YouBrew BDC600XL sports a premium brushed-metal body and a built-in burr grinder, and it makes single cups or full 12-cup carafes. The machine's water tank is both easy to reach and to decant into.

The Bad

This machine is expensive, needs constant cleaning, and brews coffee that's bitter. It also takes up plenty of counter space.

The Bottom Line

Breville's YouBrew really tries hard to please with its sophisticated design and brewing options, but for much tastier drip get the Bunn Velocity Brew BT or Technivorm Moccamaster 741 KBT instead.

Sadly though, like the competing Cuisinart Burr Grind and Brew contraption, this kitchen appliance takes on more than it can handle. The coffee the YouBrew serves remains bitter no matter which combination of its complex settings you choose. It's also a bear to keep clean. For better drip coffee, the shrewder option is the Bunn Velocity Brew BT or Technivorm Moccamaster KBT instead.

Design

I admit that when I first unboxed the Breville YouBrew BDC600XL I was impressed. Much of my initial admiration for this machine has to do with its massive size and rock-solid feel. At 16.3 inches tall and 9 inches across by 14 inches deep, the YouBrew is a mammoth coffeemaker. A

The Breville's body is encased in a thick sheath of brushed metal that goes way beyond the design treatments of similar machines. For example both the Capresso MT600 and Cuisinart Burr Grind and Brew Thermal sport handsome brushed steel chassis, too, but their metallic skins are tempered by a smattering of black plastic. The YouBrew is clad completely in expensive-looking buffed metal.

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Clad in a brushed metal skin, the Breville YouBrew has a slick, premium look. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

I was also mesmerized by the YouBrew's high-tech front panel that features a big, backlit LCD screen and is surrounded by a halo of circular buttons. Not only are most of these keys crafted with reflective surfaces complete with radio-dial concentric circle patterns, they're even lit from behind by blue LEDs. Further enhancing this coffeemaker's robotic appearance is a spring-loaded water reservoir lid that pushes free and locks with a satisfying click as well as opening softly in slow motion.

Usability and features

Just like the Cuisinart DGB-900, much of the YouBrew's large size is a direct result of its most distinctive feature, a built-in burr grinder. At the top of the machine you'll find a clear plastic hopper which holds up to half a pound of coffee beans, and funnels its contents into the mouth of the YouBrew's bean-crushing apparatus. A twisting lock mechanism sits in the middle of the hopper and covers the actual grinding elements, a pair of ceramic rings that are notched with groove-like teeth.

I strongly advise clearing the hopper completely of beans and even freeing the set of grinders from any debris before trying to unlock the hopper tray. Otherwise the hopper's twisting lock could get stuck and prevent you from opening it, a frustrating fate that happened to me. I only solved this problem by running the YouBrew's grinder as part of a fake brew cycle. Breville urges owners of the YouBrew to clean the machine's grinder and coffee chute on a regular basis as well, recommending doing so every two to three weeks. The YouBrew even comes with a tiny brush solely for this purpose, though it's stored in a special receptacle under the bean hopper. That means if the hopper lock freezes shut you'll have to use another cleaning tool.

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On top of the YouBrew is a burr grinder and coffee-bean hopper. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

After you fill the YouBrew with beans, the next step is to add water to its reservoir. This can be a challenge on other burr-grinder-equipped appliances such as the Cuisinart Burr Grind and Brew. On that model I had trouble reaching around back of the unit to decant water comfortably or without spilling. I also had to aim my pour toward a narrow opening, either that or turn the big device around partially to improve my chances of success.

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The YouBrew sports a ridiculously high-tech control panel. Brian Bennett/CNET

Thankfully, Breville found a nifty way around the YouBrew's bulky hopper and burr grinder. Flipping open the tank lid reveals a wide, shallow, channel for pouring water into the machine. It's right up front and within easy reach. I also like the YouBrew's float (highlighted in red) that provides physical feedback regarding the water level. You can read the current water in the reservoir on the fancy LCD screen too. And if this wasn't slick enough, the contraption will sound a warning if it thinks you've poured too much into the tank.

Brew it your way

The Breville YouBrew isn't your average drip coffee machine, a fact you learn from the moment you try to brew your first cup. The device offers a blizzard of choices and a dizzying array of possible selections. First you have to decide whether you'd like to make a single cup or a full carafe (12 cups). If it's an individual portion of joe you want, then be prepared to select your preferred mug size (there are nine options ranging from 7.5 to 21 ounces).

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This machine needs lots of cleaning. Brian Bennett/CNET

Next, think about how strong you like your coffee and potentially what flavor profile you're after, since the YouBrew promises the power to tweak that, too. Specifically, when brewing a single cup, the device provides five levels of flavor (from "lite" to "bold") which it achieves by steeping the grounds for varying lengths of time before initiating the full brew process. Additionally, there are seven degrees of "strength" (spanning from "mild" to "intense") that the YouBrew creates by increasing or lowering the amount of coffee grounds to water it uses.

Don't forget that as a programmable drip machine, you can command the YouBrew the night before to grind and brew coffee for the morning's enjoyment.

Performance

Despite all of its vaunted coffee-making smarts and myriad combinations for brewing, I was not happy with the quality of drink that came out of the Breville YouBrew. No matter which flavor or strength settings I opted for (either in full carafes or single servings), the drip this machine produced was consistently either too bitter, too weak, or some mixture of the two.

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The YouBrew didn't get its coffee grounds hot enough. Brian Bennett/CNET

Scientifically measuring what the YouBrew whipped up and assessing its physical performance confirmed my misgivings. Whether pausing to steep its grounds first or conducting a standard brewing cycle, the entire brew time (not counting the two minutes or so while grinding) was always seven to eight minutes.

That's on the long side, approaching the maximum time the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) recommends for quality coffee brewing (eight minutes). In my experience, however, the best drip coffeemakers I've used finish their brew cycles in under six minutes, notably the Technivorm Moccamaster KBT , Bunn Velocity Brew BT , and Bonavita BV 1800TH.

Another concern is that, unlike those other appliances, the YouBrew apparently lacks the power to heat its water supply sufficiently, or at least can't produce hot water in the goldilocks zone between 200 and 204 degrees Fahrenheit. This is yet another criteria which the SCAA says a premium coffeemaker must meet. On my tests I logged temperatures in the brew basket to still be below 140 degrees at the 2 minute mark. After 3 minutes the machine's grounds barely cracked 190 degrees and inched up to slightly above 192 degrees where temps stayed for the remainder of the 8 minute brew cycle.

Reflectometer measurements did indicate the YouBrew was extracting something from our test coffee beans (Costco House Blend whole-bean). Coffee brewed at the "intense" strength had high TDS (total dissolved solids) readings of 1.6 to 1.7 percent. At that setting though, this brew was overly bitter. Pots at "Strong" came in at a lower TDS of 0.77 but dialing down the strength bar to the halfway mark yielded the same 0.77 TDS percentage. Regardless, both carafes were weak and unpleasant. Coffee enthusiasts in the know assert that the ideal TDS number should hit the sweet spot of 1.25 percent. Of course this assumes you're extracting only the pleasantly flavored solids and not the nasty stuff.

As for the flavor (steep time) setting, there seemed to be little point to the feature since it essentially had no effect on the TDS readings. I did notice that lowering the steep time for single cups did blunt some of the bitter taste I detected. That said, even at the "mild" setting I found my coffee much too astringent.

Conclusion

I really tried hard to like the Breville YouBrew BDC600XL since it made such a good first impression. Resplendent in all its gleaming brushed-metal surfaces, blinking LED-lit buttons and big LCD panel, not to mention sophisticated brewing options, I almost believed the YouBrew could be my personal coffee-brewing robot buddy. Unfortunately, from the first cup I knew my fantasy was dead.

Sure, I tried to keep the dream alive by trying every conceivable flavor setting and strength level I could think of. At each attempt the YouBrew was underwhelming. Like the Cuisinart DGB-900, the Breville YouBrew simply can't whip up a tasty pot of drip coffee anywhere near as pleasing as those of its competition -- and with the same beans. If you really want the best-tasting coffee, I strongly advise you pass this gadget over in favor of either the Bunn Velocity Brew BT ($170) or the Technivorm Moccamaster KBT ($299). Not only are these coffeemakers more skilled at brewing, they're both a heck of a lot easier to keep clean.

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5.6

Breville YouBrew BDC600XL

Score Breakdown

Performance 4Design 7Features 8Maintenance 5