Despite some big claims, this flashy countertop coffee maker didn't make a meaner mug of joe in our test kitchen.
A year after introducing a steam-based drip coffee maker, Remington's iCoffee brand is back with a new single-serve brewer designed to compete with Keurig. Touting SpinBrew technology, the iCoffee Opus Single-Serve Brewer promises pod-based coffee with less of a bitter aftertaste, as well as the freedom to brew whatever brand of K-style pod you like.
The emphasis on that last bit stems from the fact that the latest generation of Keurig brewers, dubbed "Keurig 2.0," won't brew anything other than Keurig-branded pods. That positions iCoffee's cup-blind brewer as a Keurig 2.0 alternative, but with plenty of other alternatives that also won't discriminate between K-Cups and Knockoff-Cups -- including the existing batch of Keurig 1.0 brewers -- it isn't alone in that regard.
That puts the pressure on iCoffee's performance to set itself apart, and after taste-testing more coffee than I care to admit, I'm not convinced that it does. At $140, it's a perfectly fine single-serve brewer, but not an exceptional one. Shop around, and you'll find better value and more feature-rich designs.
The iCoffee Opus is a glossy, slick-looking brewer with a black, boxy build and stainless steel accents. Blue LEDs shine up through the 75-oz. water reservoir -- and down into your mug during the brew process. The look is less homey than it is techie. From a distance, you might mistake the thing for a gaming PC.
It isn't a bad look for a coffee maker by any stretch, but for some, it might be a touch ostentatious. It'd be right at place in a dorm room, but I have a hard time imagining it blending in with most kitchen decor.
The tech that iCoffee is trying to highlight is its SpinBrew technology. Put simply, the Opus will shoot a 360-degree spray of water within the K-Cup during the brew cycle. The company's claim is that this agitates the grounds, allowing the water to permeate them more evenly. According to iCoffee, this produces a less bitter brew.
The other feature that's front and center is Dial-a-Brew, which is just a rubbery knob that you can turn to adjust the size of your beverage. This is nothing groundbreaking -- pretty much any single-serve brewer will allow you to select the specific size of your drink -- but I did appreciate iCoffee's approach here. The dedicated knob and LED display look a bit luxurious, and feel the part, too. Turning a knob just makes more sense than repeatedly jabbing your finger into a touchscreen.
|iCoffee Opus||Keurig K500||Cuisinart SS-700||Bunn My Café MCU|
|Brew time (8 oz. cup)||53 seconds||49 seconds||46 seconds||42 seconds|
|Drink size range||4 - 12 oz.||4 - 10 oz.||4 - 12 oz.||6 - 14 oz.|
|Brew temperature range (F)||N/A||N/A||187 - 192||N/A|
|Brews off-brand cups||Yes||No||Yes||Yes|
|Brews Vue Packs||No||Yes||No||No|
|Brews fresh grounds||Yes (reusable cup sold separately)||No||Yes (reusable cup included)||Yes (brew head included)|
|Reservoir size||75 oz.||80 oz.||80 oz.||N/A|
|Suggested retail price||$140||$190||$200||$170|
SpinBrew and Dial-a-Brew aside, the iCoffee Opus doesn't actually offer much by way of features. There's no way to adjust the water temperature, nor are there any presets for things like iced beverages. It doesn't come with its own reusable cup, like the Cuisinart SS-700 does. You can't brew entire pots from a single pod, the way you can with a Keurig 2.0 brewer like the K500 . It won't "pulse" the brew process for a slower, stronger brew, like the Editors' Choice-winning Bunn My Cafe MCU will.
Still, there's something to be said for simplicity. If all you want is a countertop machine that'll quickly brew an acceptable cup of coffee each morning, you'll probably be perfectly satisfied with the iCoffee Opus. Those wanting more control over the brew process, however, might want to look elsewhere.
Without unique features, the pressure falls on iCoffee's performance, which the company hails as "game changing" on its website. Unfortunately, our taste testers begged to differ with that claim.
At first sip, coffee made in the iCoffee Opus tasted more or less like any other single-serve brew, which is to say weak, and somewhat watery. I did, however, find that a mug of iCoffee java did taste slightly less bitter than a mug of the same coffee brewed by the Bunn My Cafe MCU, which isn't all that bitter-tasting to begin with. Right off the bat, that at least lent some credence to iCoffee's SpinBrew performance claims.
Subjective taste testing isn't enough, though, so I borrowed the refractometer that my colleagues Brian Bennett and Jared Hannah have been using for their in-depth reviews of high-end drip coffee makers. With the refractometer, we're able to take a close, objective look at what's going on in each cup that we brew.
The chart above plots out coffee quality based on strength and extraction percentage. Using our refractometer, we can find where a particular cup of coffee falls on the spectrum. Ideally, it'll land in that orange square, which serves as sort of a Goldilocks zone -- not too weak, but also not too strong. Not too bitter, but also not too bland.
Single-serving coffee makers will never brew anything strong enough to hit that target (believe me, if we find one that does, we'll let you know all about it.) Even with its Editors' Choice Award distinction, the Bunn My Cafe MCU lands low on the chart, well into the weak part of the spectrum. However, the iCoffee Opus scored even weaker -- and also scored as a slightly more bitter-tasting brew, despite what my own taste buds had told me. So, why wasn't I tasting the extra hit of bitterness? The answer was actually fairly simple. With weaker, more watery flavor, the iCoffee's bitterness simply wasn't coming through as strong.
The Dial-a-Brew feature also turned out to be a bit of a culprit here. With some closer scrutiny, we realized that it wasn't terribly accurate, dispensing about 1.7 ounces more water than we were requesting with each cup. Perhaps this is a calculation on iCoffee's part to compensate for the fact that some of the water will get absorbed into the grounds (more still gets lost to evaporation), but at any rate, we were ending up with more water in our mugs than we wanted.
That meant we needed to dial it down. For an 8-ounce cup of coffee, the closest Dial-a-Brew setting was actually 6.5 ounces. That produced a cup that was more on par with what Bunn was putting out, but the refractometer still saw it as inferior. You can see the results for yourself -- the blue "iCoffee" dot on the chart above represents a cup brewed at that 6.5-ounce setting. Cups brewed from the 8-ounce setting were too watery to register, falling well below the bottom axis with a TDS score of 0.68.
The bar for single-serve coffee isn't terribly high. Even the best brewers we've tested won't brew anything all that strong. What you're really getting out of these appliances is convenience, and in that regard, the iCoffee Opus Single Serve Brewer does a fine job. If you want a quick cup of coffee in the morning, it'll dish one out at the press of a button in less than a minute.
Still, this is a brewer that promises game-changing single-serve coffee quality, and neither our taste buds nor our refractometer were able to detect anything of the sort. If you're looking for a Keurig alternative, and you like the way iCoffee looks, feel free to spend $140 on it, but don't expect a better-tasting brew, and don't expect the sort of features you'll find with worthy competitors like the Bunn My Cafe MCU or the Cuisinart SS-700. For my money, I think I'd rather have either of those.