Cuisinart DGB-900 Burr Grind & Brew Thermal 12-Cup Automatic Coffeemaker review: A coffee-grinder-brewer combo that could be much better
I'm sure that as long as people have made coffee at home they've dreamed of a gadget that could tackle both sides of the coffee creation equation, a grinder-and-brewer combo. Cuisinart's DGB-900 Burr Grind and Brew Thermal Coffeemaker represents the latest in the company's long line of machines which strive to do just that. At $200, the Burr Grind and Brew is certainly no impulse buy. Still, promising to take the place of both a fancy burr coffee grinder and programmable drip coffeemaker at once, it's easy to be taken in by this product's potential charms.
Unfortunately it doles out weak pots of coffee and is a pain to clean. You'd be better served buying a standalone burr grinder or even a cheap blade chopper paired with a competent drip brewer such as the Bunn Velocity Brew BT or Technivorm Moccamaster KBT .
If you ever cross paths with the Cuisinart DGB-900 Burr Grind and Brew, chances are you'll be struck with a strong feeling of deja vu. That's because this machine looks very much like every Grind and Brew coffee maker that Cuisinart has sold since the late 1990s. Taller than it is wide and with a blocky, squarish shape, the DGB-900 might not be the epitome of elegant industrial design as are, say Technivorm products.
That said, the appliance is handsomely clad in a shiny skin of brushed steel and black plastic accents. The result is the DGB-900 is sure to fit in among a wide range of modern kitchen styles and color schemes. Of course, finding a free spot in which to shoehorn this monster of a coffee machine might be your real challenge.
Towering over countertops at a height of 16.3 inches and sprawling 8.3 inches wide by 11.6 inches deep, the Burr Grind and Brew is even taller than other massive drip brewers such as the Bunn Velocity Brew BT (15 by 7 by 13 inches) and the Technivorm Moccamaster KBT (15.5 by 10 by 6 inches). Weighing a full 9.5 pounds the Burr Grind and Brew isn't a lightweight either, though this stat also includes the product's hefty 2 pound, 2 ounce thermal carafe.
Usability and features
Understandably much of the Cuisinart DGB-900's girth is a direct result of its built-in burr grinder mechanism, which is what sets this gadget apart from traditional drip coffee makers. Designed to precisely crush coffee beans down to a preset size rather than slicing and dicing based on gravity and random particle motion, burr grinders typically yield more consistent coarseness (or fineness) than bladed grinders.
The trouble is buying one of these fancy bean-crunchers will likely set you back an extra $100 or more. By packing burr-grinding hardware for less than the cost of a pricey drip brewer alone, however, the Burr Grind and Brew attempts to offer the best of both worlds without any trade-offs. The downside of this approach is a complex contraption with an intimidating amount of moving parts and pieces.
On top of the DGB-900 sits a large, transparent hopper that can hold up to half a pound of whole coffee beans. Square, bulbous, and projecting about an inch above the machine's head, it's a hard feature to miss. Removing the hopper's lid exposes sloped sides that methodically funnel beans into the maw of the circular burr grinder and its gearlike teeth. Processed coffee grounds are then pushed down a coffee chute, past the rotating filter basket cover, and ultimately land inside the gold filter basket. There the material is subjected to a spray of hot water just like it would in any conventional drip coffeemaker for brewing.
As you might imagine, the DGB-900's array of components require a bit of extra care, cleaning, and maintenance compared with simple drip coffee brewers. Even streamlined machines such as Technivorm Moccamasters rely on just a few big parts that are easy to remove and wash by hand. For example Cuisinart strongly recommends that you clear the device's coffee chute, burr grinder mechanism, and hopper after every seven to ten uses. The company even provides a special brush/scoop tool to do this.
Be warned, though, that this task is more involved than you might expect. In my case I had to get pretty down and dirty, removing bits of broken beans by hand and brushing fine coffee powder from the chute to properly clear the coffeemaker's innards. Additionally I had to remember to remove the circular filter basket cover first and pull the grind chute lever open. Otherwise coffee debris won't land in the filter chamber as you brush, which can create an even bigger mess.
To its credit, though, Cuisinart kept the Burr Grind and Brew's control panel uncluttered and simple, which makes it a product relatively easy to operate. Cleaning aside, once you fill the hopper with whole coffee beans, activate and drop in the charcoal water filter (which sits in a special wand-shaped holder) inside the DGB-900's water tank, you're almost on your way to a fresh pot of joe.
I found the trickiest part of the prebrewing process was merely filling the coffee maker's water reservoir without spilling. Due to the large size of the burr grinder on top, the mouth of the tank is relegated to a narrow channel ringing the hopper and grinding mechanism. That said, the DGB-900 does sport a handy water-level indicator on its right side with clearly marked graduations, plus a red float for precise readings.
Next you turn the grind control knob to select the correct amount of coffee you'd like to brew (cups), laid out in increments of two starting at 2 and ending at 12. Lastly hit the strength control button to toggle through mild, medium and strong brew settings, then press the on-off key and you're off to the races. The machine will then automatically channel what it thinks the correct amount of beans is through its grinder and begin the brew process.
Keep in mind you can have the DGB-900 create coffee from your own preground stash; just tap the "grind off" button before you start. Additionally, as would any programmable coffee maker worth its salt, the Burr Grind and Brew will whip up pots of coffee brewed from fresh-ground beans at the time of your choice. Just make sure its digital clock is set and it has enough water and beans to work with.
Cuisinart touts the Burr Grind and Brew's coffee grinding abilities, even going so far as saying it "grinds coffee without influencing the integrity of the bean, so the true flavor is maintained." That's well and good but the most critical step of any coffee maker is what it does with its grounds. The DGB-900 talks a good game but consistently made pots of brew that were weak and underwhelming.
Scientifically testing the machine's physical performance confirmed what my taste buds were telling me. The Burr Grind and Brew typically completed its brewing cycle in under 8 minutes (7 minutes, 50 seconds), or 11 minutes and 48 seconds if you factor in the time for it to pulverize its coffee beans. Not bad, since the specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) recommends brewing to take no longer than 8 minutes.
As far as generating enough heat, however, the DGB-900 came close but never cracked the coveted 200-degree Fahrenheit mark, another criterion the SCAA says is critical for making excellent coffee. Sadly even at the second-minute mark I measured heat levels in the Cuisinart's brew basket to still be under 150 degrees. Worse, the machine's grounds hovered around 185 degrees throughout much of the brewing process, only then topping out at 193.1 degrees by minute 8.
By comparison the Bunn Velocity Brew BT hit 195.7 degrees within 60 seconds and parked it there for its entire (and short) 3-minute, 33-second brew cycle. Likewise the Technivorm Moccamaster KBT buried the needle at 200 degrees upon reaching 2 minutes, and kept it within the sweet spot (between 200 and 204 degrees) for the rest of its 5-minute, 45-second brewing process.
Reflectometer results also confirmed the Burr Grind and Brew's watery pots of coffee. Even at the strong setting, the Cuisinart created pots of drip (from our Costco House Blend whole-bean test beans) with a low TDS (total dissolved solids) of 0.85 percent. The machine turned in the same exact TDS percentage when I manually brewed with my preferred ratio of grounds to water (grinder off) as well. And as you'd expect, bumping the strength down to medium and mild yielded weaker coffee still, with TDS numbers of 0.765 and 0.51, respectively. In its defense, the brew the DGB-900 made was not bitter, merely bland.
Ideally you want to achieve a brew with a TDS as close to 1.25 percent as possible. This a task both the Bunn Velocity Brew BT and Technivorm Moccamaster KBT come very close to nailing pot after test pot.
While the idea of combining a sophisticated burr coffee grinder and a quality drip brewer is a powerfully compelling one, I'm afraid to say the Cuisinart Burr Grind and Brew can't quite pull off its ambitious goal. Even equipped with its fancy bean processor and automatic smarts, the machine disappointed me and the rest of the CNET appliance reviews team with pots full of thin, weak-tasting java. The Cuisinart DGB-900's many parts also aren't fun to clean by hand, especially on the frequent schedule (every 7 to 10 uses) the manual advises.
That's why I strongly recommend resisting the siren call of the Burr Grind and Brew by splurging on a fancy burr grinder ($100 to $130) then matching it with a high-performance coffee machine. Both the Bunn Velocity Brew BT ($170) and Technivorm Moccamaster KBT ($299) are great examples, along with the Bonavita BV 1800TH ($180), which like the Moccamaster bears the SCAA golden-coffee-cup seal of approval. I'd also argue that for your typical morning pot, forgoing a burr grinder altogether in favor of a cheap $20 blader will be just fine since proper brewing of fresh grounds is ultimately more important.