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Oxo Barista Brain 12-cup Brewing System review: Oxo's Barista Brain might be the world's most versatile drip coffee maker

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Many multifunction kitchen gadgets skew toward gimmickry. This versatile new coffee maker from Oxo not only makes excellent coffee, but it also offers an impressive variety of brewing and water heating options you may actually have a use for.

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Oxo Barista Brain 12-cup Brewing System

The Good

Both advanced electric kettle and premium coffee maker, the Oxo Barista Brain 12-cup Brewing System makes huge pots of scrumptious coffee plus tea or hot water on the side.

The Bad

While it makes great coffee, the Barista Brain 12-cup must heat its water first before brewing, which translates to a longer total brew cycle than other coffee machines. Coffee in the Barista Brain's thermal carafe also cools after 2 hours.

The Bottom Line

Those who desire the most flexible and feature-rich coffee maker that brews java well and functions as an adjustable water heater for tea will find the Oxo Barista Brain 12-cup Brewing system very hard to resist.

The $300 Oxo Barista Brain Brewing System has the chops to consistently brew a masterfully delicious pot of coffee. Equipped with an internal scale the coffee maker also lets you make coffee, using traditional grounds, in portions. You can tell it to serve small portions, as few as four cups, or to go ahead and make a whole 12-ounce pot. Since it also functions as an electric kettle complete with precise temperature control, the Barista Brain will serve tea drinkers as well.

Yes, it's more expensive than most higher-end drip machines, but you get plenty of hot beverage-related utility for that added cost. The fact that it makes a truly excellent coffee and it's easy to use make it that much easier to recommend. The only major drawback is a longer-than-average time to make a full pot. For more options take a look at other high-end coffee makers we've reviewed. 

Brew huge, medium and small coffee batches with the Oxo Barista Brain 12-cup (pictures)

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Design

When I pulled the Oxo Barista Brain 12-Cup Brewing System out of its box and laid it down on my countertop, I immediately knew that I was dealing with a unique appliance. Standing 15.9 inches tall and spanning 14.7 inches wide by 7.5 inches deep, the Barista Brain is absolutely massive even compared with other monster-sized drip coffee makers. For example the Barista is larger than the gargantuan Bunn Velocity Brew BT , which up until now was the biggest home coffee maker I've ever grappled with.

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The Oxo Barista Brain 12-cup is a huge coffee maker that brews it big.

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To its credit, though, Oxo did an admirable job disguising the Barista Brain's substantial footprint. Unlike the Bunn Velocity Brew BT's uninspired blocky and plastic construction, Oxo's machine was honed to take up as little countertop real estate as possible given its assorted features. For example the product's base is just an inch thick, which tricks the eye and creates the illusion of sleekness.

The same is true of the Barista's lack of a thick tower unit or other bulky central structure. Instead there's a slim brushed-metal pole that bisects the machine and rises upwards from the brewer's base. Connected to this pole's right side is a big, flat-bottomed brew basket which accepts paper basket-style filters of the 8- to 12-cup variety.

Below the filter sits a squat thermal carafe that's vacuum-sealed, double-walled and crafted from stainless steel. It also holds a maximum liquid volume of 60 ounces (12 5-ounce coffee cups) and is designed to keep its contents hot for hours at a time.

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On the left side of the machine is a large 12-cup glass kettle for boiling water.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Occupying the left side of the brewer is its largest single component and something Oxo can't easily conceal, a humongous glass kettle. Big enough to contain a full 60 ounces of water plus a little extra for good measure, the flask has graduated markings ranging from 4 cups (20 ounces) to 12 cups (60 ounces).

This vessel rests on a thick cylindrical pedestal which also houses the Barista's heating element, backlit LED display, and control panel. Encased in a shell of shiny piano-black enamel, the pedestal, as is this entire machine from Oxo, is quite attractive and sophisticated in appearance. I also appreciate the signature rubbery coating on both the kettle and thermal carafe handles, a trait for which Oxo kitchen gadgets are well known.

Boil or brew a little or a lot

Don't be fooled by the Oxo Barista Brain 12-Cup Brewing System's simple controls. Even though the appliance features just one physical interface, specifically a dial with a button at its center (called the "Oxo button"), the control handles all of the brewer's numerous functions.

Before you use the Barista Brain for the first time, you'll have to calibrate the scale embedded inside its kettle pedestal. Thankfully the calibration procedure is straightforward: just remove the kettle from its base, and press the Oxo button while you plug the machine into a power outlet. When the dial surrounding the button glows red, you can let the button go, unplug the device then plug it back in.

The weight of the kettle now logged, the electronics powering the Barista Brain can now sense the exact volume of water you add. More impressive, the coffee maker's screen will display how much water you'd like to push to the filter basket during brewing and what quantity you'd like to remain in the kettle. Turning the dial clockwise ups the coffee volume (in 2 cup increments) while swiveling it in the other direction does the opposite.

Have time for just four cups this morning, no problem. Maybe you'd like to drink a few cups but also have hot water on hand to whip up a bowl of oatmeal. Not to worry, the Barista Brain can tackle this, too. Another nice touch is how the base of the brewer automatically detects the presence of the thermal carafe, thanks to magnets in both carafe and base. Another coffee maker has the same ability, the Ratio Eight , but it costs almost twice as much.There's a drip-stop mechanism, too, which works to prevent leaks when you remove the carafe.

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Brew a little, a lot, or somewhere in between.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

And in the instance when you have no interest in making coffee, the Barista Brain is designed to operate as a standalone hot water heater. Simply twist the kettle counter clockwise on its base to separate its spout from the coffee brewer connector. Still sitting on the heater, in this arrangement the glass pitcher will now operate as an electric kettle but with precise temperature control (between 174 and 212 degrees Fahrenheit).

This particularly comes in handy when brewing specific types of tea. As a matter of fact Oxo labeled the circumference of kettle pedestal with suggested water temperatures depending on the tea leaf you plan to brew. For example, when brewing black and herbal teas a full boil is best (212 F), while green tea requires the lowest heat (175 F).

Performance

One of the few home drip coffee makers to enjoy the Specialty Coffee Association of America's (SCAA) seal of approval, and as the only 12-cup machine with the distinction, the Oxo Barista Brain 12-Cup Brewing System consistently makes excellent pots of java. The machine handled my particularly challenging test beans (Costco House Blend, medium grind) very well.

This dark roast easily becomes bitter and unpalatable if brewed improperly, but the coffee I made from the Barista Brain was quite drinkable with a deep, rich flavor, mellowed by hints of chocolate. That said, this brew had some bitterness on the back end. Refractometer readings backed up my taste buds. I measured the mixture to have a high percentage of total dissolved solids (TDS), 1.87 percent. According to the SCAA, the ideal drip should shake out somewhere between 1.15 and 1.35 percent.

Running the same beans through my burr grinder at a slightly coarser setting improved matters. One pot in particular had a lower TDS percentage of 1.6 percent, which translated to an extraction percentage of 23 percent. That's just a hair over the golden extraction range of between 19 and 22 percent which the SCAA has determined yields supremely delicious coffee. I agree. This batch had all the richness of previous ones yet none of the bitterness.

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The Oxo Barista Brain 12-cups makes very good coffee and a lot of it.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The Barista Brain 12-Cup had no trouble brewing lightly roasted coffee either. Running my go-to light roast through the machine, Heine Brothers Eithiopia Yirgacheffe, yielded a spectacular java beverage. Just as delicious as when I brewed the same beans through both the Bonavita BV1900TS and Technivorm Moccamaster . I was treated to sweetness along with flavors of blueberry, anchored by rich chocolate notes.

I'm sure much of the key to the Barista Brain's brewing success lies in its quality temperature control. Specifically the SCAA stipulates that brew temp should hit 197.6 degrees F within the first minute of brewing but not exceed 204.8 degrees. Also vital is for a coffee maker to expose its grounds to water for somewhere between 4 and 8 minutes.

Thermocouple readings I took within the brew basket confirmed that the Barista Brain came close to the mark. The grounds reached 185 degrees F within the first minute then hit 196 degrees F by minute number two. The temperature stayed within 5 degrees of this number (196.3 to 200.6) for its swift 5-minute-and-13-second brew time. This time is especially fast considering it created a full 12 cups (60 ounces) during the interval.

There are a few weak points in the Barista Brain 12-cup's performance. First of all, since the machine must first heat its entire water supply before actual brewing begins, the total coffee making cycle is long -- on the order of 15 minutes and 30 seconds or so. That's an eternity compared with the Bugatti of the drip coffee world, the Technivorm Moccamaster, which typically goes from cold water (45 ounces) to fresh pot of hot joe in 5 minutes and 30 seconds flat.

Additionally the Barista Brain's thermal carafe cools much faster than the Moccamaster's vessel. While the Moccamaster can keep its coffee piping hot for over 6 hours, Oxo's machine dropped below 150 degrees F after 2 hours.

Conclusion

Choosing a premium drip coffee maker is a challenge. With as much as $200 or even $300 on the line, it's understandable to want to select the best performing coffee brewing hot rod out there. If that's your goal then the $300 Technivorm Moccamaster is the clear victor. I'd argue, though, that sheer java brewing prowess isn't the final deciding factor, especially when picking between the $300 Oxo Barista Brain 12-cup Brewing System and Technivorm's longtime champion.

Both appliances have been anointed by the SCAA and offer a nearly identical level of superb coffee brewing. But while the Barista Brain takes longer to transform water into black gold and can't keep its carafe hot for as long, its list of features such as flexible brewing volumes and electric kettle functions put it over the edge. And if all you want is the same caliber of coffee brewing in a much more affordable machine, the $190 Bonavita BV1900TS has your needs covered.