There's a good reason the $30 Kalita Wave 155 coffee maker (£24, AU$40 equivalent) enjoys a cult following among professional baristas and nerdy home java amateurs. Within this modest-looking steel funnel lies the power to make cups of staggeringly delicious drip coffee. Just be prepared to invest the time and patience to develop the skill necessary to get the most from it.
Unlike other drip coffee funnels such as the $16 Oxo Good Grips Pour-Over, the Kalita Wave doesn't measure water for you. Neither can you take a leisurely break during the brewing process like you can when using the $40 Bonavita Immersion Dripper. This means using the Wave is a nerve-wracking affair until you've sharpened your personal coffee game. Of course it makes sipping a successful, hand-crafted cup of coffee from the Wave 155 that much sweeter. Casual java drinkers should get their morning fix elsewhere.
The Kalita Wave 155 is a deceptively simple device. The tiny coffee maker consists of just one main part, a stainless-steel funnel designed to hold paper filters for ground coffee. Built to brew a single cup of coffee, the Wave 155 is Kalita's smallest drip coffee maker. The company also sells a $38 Wave 185 that can produce double the volume of brewed coffee.
Inspired by European pour-over originator Melitta and its line of filter brewers, the Kalita Wave 155 is very similar save one important difference. Instead of a cone-shaped filter basket, the Wave's filter holder has a flat bottom. Kalita says this filter design promotes a uniform bed of coffee grounds and therefore balanced flavor extraction.
Some electric coffee makers take the same approach and for the same claimed reason, including the Bunn Velocity Brew and our Editors' Choice winner, the Bonavita BV1900TS. Due to the Wave 155's uncommon design, you'll need to supply it with proprietary paper filters made by Kalita. Still, they're readily available in packs of 100 units ($8.40) through resellers such as Amazon.
At the bottom of the Wave's funnel is a flat disc that serves as its base and suspends it over cups. Brewed liquid drips down through three holes on the base and inside the filter basket into your container of choice.
Compared with other manual single-cup coffee makers I've used, brewing with the Kalita is challenging. The first step is to drop a paper filter into the Wave 155's funnel, then place it over your cup. After that you have the option to rinse it with hot water. which Kalita says washes out any unpalatable flavors the paper may have picked up in the box.
Here is where the process gets tricky. Kalita lays out these parameters for a good brew. Use roughly 20 grams of grounds with 10 ounces water. The total brew time should be about 3 minutes and 30 seconds.
To make your life easier (and achieve consistent results) I strongly advise grabbing hold of a kitchen scale and a gooseneck kettle. I also suggest using a serious burr grinder such as the $150 Baratza Encore or the $250 Oxo Barista Brain burr grinder (has a built-in scale too).
Next add 18 to 22 grams ground coffee to the Wave filter (measured with the scale) and prep hot water for brewing. According to the SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America), your water temperature shouldn't exceed 205 degrees Fahrenheit. This is why having an electric kettle, or at least one with a variable temperature, comes in handy.
To make sure you're using the right volume of water place your cup-and-Kalita Wave combo on the scale. With the scale zeroed out you'll be able to see exactly how much water lands inside the filter as you pour. Of course, many factors can easily throw off your timing. Pouring water too quickly will shorten your brew time. The same goes for the coffee grind size since water seeps through finely ground beans more slowly than through a coarser grind.
Be advised, once you start pouring the brewing game is on and the clock is ticking. If you want an even extraction and a good-tasting beverage at the end, it's unwise to stop or pause decanting for long. In my case I only enjoyed success after I employed a combination of the equipment and techniques outlined above.
Once the stars were aligned, the results I admit were fantastic. In fact I managed to brew one cup that tasted unbelievably rich, well-balanced, and smooth. Made from a bag of my go-to test beans, Costco Colombian Supremo, I confirmed that the drink in my mug (via refractometer) had a total dissolved solids (TDS) rating of 1.4 mg/L. That translates to an extraction percentage of 22 percent, within the qualifying range of the SCAA's guidelines for what it calls a "golden cup."
Thinking of owning a Kalita? Consider carefully before committing to a purchase. While the $30 Kalita Wave 155 can brew an impressively lovely cup of drip, harnessing its full powers isn't easy. You'd better have a good bean grinder, a fancy kettle and a scale handy. Don't forget that unless you're a born or pro barista, brewing with the Kalita will take practice.
Those who love excellent pour-over coffee and can live without the fuss will be better off with the $16 Oxo Good Grips Pour-Over. It's a snap to use and always produces a magnificent cup. Still, there are plenty of coffee hobbyists out there who'd relish tweaking their brew. Just like with golf, to me a way more frustrating pastime, once you taste success you're hooked.