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Smarter Coffee 2nd Generation review: This brewer will disappoint both coffee and smart-home fans

Neither coffee fans nor smart-home pioneers will like this connected brewer.

Brian Bennett Former Senior writer
Brian Bennett is a former senior writer for the home and outdoor section at CNET.
Brian Bennett
6 min read

The app-connected Smarter Coffee 2nd Generation coffee maker sounds great in theory. It automatically grinds and brews pots of drip from whole beans. It also works with Alexa and the Google Assistant to create coffee through simple spoken commands. It doesn't make terrible coffee. It costs $250 in the US or £180 in the UK, which converts to about AU$310.


Smarter Coffee 2nd Generation

The Good

The Smarter Coffee 2nd Generation grinds beans and brews hot pots of drip coffee to order. It links to a companion app and works with Alexa, Google and IFTTT.

The Bad

It's expensive. Its smart functions are limited. Setting it up is a pain. It brews weak or bitter coffee. It doesn't have a thermal carafe.

The Bottom Line

Pass on the Smarter Coffee's disappointing output and limited smarts for the more useful and capable Behmor Connected.

Unfortunately, it's a pain to set up. Voice commands only turn it on and off. And worst is the brewer's settings, which try to hide its critical flaw. It grinds far too little coffee when it brews anything. I'd steer clear of this product. If smarts are what you're after, then choose the $329 Behmor Connected Brewer instead. It makes excellent coffee, and it is way more flexible and easier to operate. Of course, you could save money and get the $190 Bonavita Connoisseur instead. It's as simple as it gets, but creates truly fabulous drip, regardless of its lack of connected-ness.

A new kind of grind and brew

As coffee makers go, the Smart Coffee 2nd Generation is attractive enough. The few of its sections that are basic black plastic are balanced by shiny brushed steel. The appliance certainly has enough height. Its tall, boxy body is a throwback to old Cuisinart Grind and Brew models from decades past.

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The Smarter Coffee 2nd Generation is an app-connected grinder and coffee-brewer combo. 

Brian Bennett/CNET

Like those early grinder-equipped machines, the Smart Coffee has a bean hopper on its top. Other appliances such as the Breville YouBrew BDC600XL took the same design approach. Instead of a complex, LED-lit control panel, the Smarter Coffee has just four buttons. Each key corresponds to functions on a small LCD screen they surround.

These options start the machine, select its "strength" level, and set the amount of coffee you'd like. Additionally you have two main brewing choices. You can grind and brew from the coffee maker's bean supply, or brew directly from grounds inside the filter.

Smarter Coffee

The coffee maker's control panel has just four buttons.

Brian Bennett/CNET

The grinder itself has a knob for choosing how coarse or fine you'd like it to grind your beans. The grinder's feeding mechanism works well. Many automated coffee makers I've used needed an extra push at times from a human hand. Not so here. Beans in the hopper always found their way into the grinding chamber without added assistance. 

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Here's a look at the top of the Smarter Coffee. You can see the bean hopper and the knob that controls the grind size.

Brian Bennett/CNET

Below the control panel is a compartment for the permanent filter and filter basket. You can use this cone-shaped fine mesh metal filter or supply your own paper ones. Underneath that sits the coffee maker's 1.5-liter (51 ounces) glass carafe. It rests on a hot plate that keeps the pitcher hot for 40 minutes.

On the brewer's back side is its 1.5L water tank. Be sure not to overfill it. If you do, a hole at the tank's max fill line will overflow the excess all over your kitchen counter. The tank's tiny lid is another spill hazard since it's easy to miss. 

Smarter Coffee 2nd gen_water tank
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Smarter Coffee 2nd gen_water tank

To fill the water tank, you have to aim for a tiny opening.

Brian Bennett/CNET

Smart but just slightly

Getting the Smarter Coffee up, running and linked to a phone through its app is painful. Part of the process asks you to hold your handset's screen up to a small sensor on the coffee maker's front. The phone's screen then flashes in coded bursts to communicate your Wi-Fi network details. It took four attempts before my Google Pixel XL could talk to the brewer.

On my home network it never successfully connected. Only when I brought it back to the office did it link back up to my phone and the application. That said, I had to create a separate account. The blinking sync method also refused to cooperate. Ultimately I had to use the app's barcode scan function. Thankfully the coffee maker's box -- and printed barcode -- were still nearby.

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Smarter Coffee 2nd gen_app

The coffee maker works with Alexa or Google Assistant, and starts brewing automatically when you step through the door.

Brian Bennett/CNET

Once the coffee maker is linked through the application, you can adjust all of its main coffee brewing settings. You can also enable the "auto-brew" feature, which communicates your location to the coffee maker (via your phone's GPS). It then will automatically tell the machine to start brewing a pot when you enter and linger (2 minutes) in a certain place. I tried it and as advertised, the Smarter Coffee started up a few minutes after I walked into the office.

The auto-brew function assumes that the appliance is clean and topped off with water, and that its carafe is empty. That's a lot to take to take for granted.

The coffee maker works with Alexa and Google Assistant, by way of skills you activate within their respective mobile apps. Neither are sophisticated. Essentially they do one thing: turn the coffee maker on and off (start and stop brewing). For more complicated commands such as setting up a schedule for different days and times, the Smarter app is the way to go.      

Performance and taste

You can buy an incredibly good drip brewer like the Bonavita Connoisseur for $190. Any machine that costs more better make coffee that's at least as good, tastier, or do it faster. I'm sorry to say that's not the case with the Smart Coffee 2nd Generation.

First, the machine is slow. Sure, the coffee maker does grind its own beans. It's not a long process though, requiring from 30 to 45 seconds. The Smarter Coffee shares a trait in common with other brewers such as the Behmor Connected, the Brazen Plus that it's based on, and the Oxo Barista Brain 12-Cup. That is, this coffee maker heats its water first before brewing. The approach helps water reaches the ideal temperature but also adds extra time to the process.

Bonavita and Technivorm products don't do that. They have electric heating elements powerful enough to bring water to boil on the fly. They brew quickly, completing the task in less than 6.5 minutes. By default, the Smarter Coffee preheats for 3 minutes. The entire process (grinding, preheat and brewing) can take anywhere from 9 to 15 minutes.      

Up close with the Smarter Coffee 2nd Generation grinder-brewer

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The biggest problem I have is the Smarter Coffee's weak output. Worse, it does it on the sly. Set to medium strength and medium grind size, only 2.035 ounces (57.7 grams) of grounds land in the Smarter's filter. This is for a big 1.5-liter (50.1 ounces) carafe, mind you. To brew drip coffee properly, I typically use 2.3 ounces (65.2 grams) for 40 ounces of water (1.2L).

And bumping the strength setting to "strong" in fact does the opposite. The coffee allottment drops to 1.7 ounces (48.2 grams). Perhaps this is why each pot I made was drinkable, but was also either watery or had an unpleasantly bitter aftertaste. Refractometer readings matched what I tasted. Full pots at "strong" had a TDS percentage (total dissolved solids) of 27 percent. Based on the low coffee-to-water ratio, it's clear this method pulled out more bad flavors than good. In other words, it was over-extracted. The ideal range is commonly thought to be between 18 and 22 percent.

Dialing down my water level to 40 ounces (1.2 L) at the "strong" setting removed the bitterness. This coffee had bland and muted flavor (1.0 percent TDS). But with some experimenting, I was able to make a decent pot eventually. I set the machine to "medium" and the coarseness to "maximum," then set the brew size to 12 cups. I stopped the coffee maker after the grind, dialed the brew amount back down to 5 cups, then upped the preheat to the max (5 minutes).

Technically over-extracted at 30 percent (1.9 TDS), it tasted like a good extraction to me. My cup was packed with deep and yummy coffee flavors, yet no bitterness. Still, this is basically a hack. No one should have to go through all that, especially from a pricey connected brewer.        

Don't be a sucker for this smart coffee maker

One day the world will enjoy a completely automated coffee robot that looks after itself entirely. It'll be ready to brew excellent pots of drip anytime and anticipate when you'd like to drink it. Moreover, it won't cost too much money. The $250 Smart Coffee 2nd Generation is a long way from this dream.

If it wasn't so pricey, made good coffee and offered useful smarts then perhaps it would have a shot. As it stands, you're better off saving your cash and getting the $190 Bonavita Connoisseur. It's simple to use, clean and brews like a champ. Those with money to burn that want a smart coffee maker, consider the $329 Behmor Connected. If you can grab one for under $200 all the better. It makes quality joe and works with Alexa, plus it tweaks brewing parameters to match your beans. 


Smarter Coffee 2nd Generation

Score Breakdown

Performance 6Design 6.5Features 7Maintenance 5