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September 5, 2012
When one thinks of a machine or device designed to make the best coffee possible, the list can be one of extremes. Risking generalities in this regard (which are rarely valuable), you will find them from the very simple and affordable to the complicated and expensive. At the financial low-end (simple and inexpensive) are manual pour-over devices and press pots. At the other end of the spectrum are espresso machines (in the price range of a nice used car). In between you will find that there are many hundreds of choices, and most will make a drinkable beverage (some, barely so). The greatest number are drip machines, and a good portion of those would better serve the coffee-drinking public as paper weights or hot-water-service devices than as coffee makers. High quality, drip coffee makers are a rare breed. As of the writing of this review, the SCAA currently only lists the following four brewers as meeting their certification standards for drip coffee makers:
- Technivorm Moccamaster ($280-300)
- Lance Larkin BE 112 Brew Express ($350)
- Bunn HG Home Brewer ($100)
- Bonavita 8 Cup Exceptional Brew Coffee Maker ($140)
(Note that the certification process is currently suspended for scheduled review by the SCAA and is set to resume late this summer. The certification parameters can be read HERE on the SCAA.org website.
The Technivorm is highly touted by many who are serious about their coffee, and the Lance Larkin can be plumbed. The common thread among them is that none have any adjustment to allow the user to control brewing parameters. You can vary the ratio of water:coffee, and you can adjust your grinder to taste, but the same can be said of an $17.41 (shipped) Mr. Coffee TF5 (no comparison of the quality of the machines' construction nor the beverages they produce is meant to be inferred).
Up to this point, drip machines were simply a matter of putting the ground coffee into a basket or paper filter, filling the machine's reservoir with water, and pressing a button or flipping a switch. Joe Behm saw that this area of brewing had not been seriously addressed by any company and moved to fill the void.
FILLING THE VOID As you may have read in my review of the Portland, 2012 SCAA exhibition, one of the highlights was Joe Behm's "Brazen" coffee maker. I had read about it before leaving for the show and it was on my "Must See" list. At the show I had some time to sit and talk to Joe on a number of subjects, and it was fun just to reminisce and socialize during a few slow minutes. The excitement and dedication in his attempt to make the Brazen the best drip-brewer available was apparent. He was already well established in the home-roasting appliance market with the very affordable "Behmor 1600." The Behmor Brazen has the potential to make an even greater impact in the coffee brewing world.
The Brazen, displayed on a pedestal at the front of the Behmor booth was a real eye-catcher! I like the Brazen's, "space-age" design; contemporary without looking dated. Its stainless and black colors give it a classic yet modern appearance. Imagine the Seattle Space Needle being redone with a more contemporary look and modified to make coffee.
Before the Brazen's arrival here at the "EspressoMyEspresso Laboratories and Research Center," all I had to go on were the specifications and other information on the Behmor website. In preparation to using the Brazen I read about its features and functions. These first are likely to be found on other coffee makers:
- Insulated Stainless Steel Carafe
- Stainless Steel Water Reservoir
- Maximum Capacity: 1.2L / 8 Cup (a full pot)
- Auto-Timer (to have coffee ready and waiting at a desired time)
- Rated 1400w/ 120v/ 60hz
- Manual Water Release Feature allows you to use the Brazen as a hot water dispenser.
- Full Saturation Water Dispersion Spray head
That's prettty common stuff. This next list of functions will easily gain your attention. In terms of drip machines, these are unique to the Brazen. None of the four SCAA certified drip brewers (nor any drip brewers I found) can claim these features:
- User-adjustable Brew Temperature in a range of 194° to 208° F, in 1° F increments. You could almost stop reading there and go buy one, but read on:
- Pre-Soak function - User selectable dwell time between the end of the presoak and the beginning of the brew cycle.
- User-entered Altitude - The altitude is entered by the user and this value, along with the Calibration function is intended to compensate for the drop in temperature at which water boils as altitude increases above sea level. - On Board System Temperature Calibration - This addresses the issue of component tolerances and drift. Since electronic components can change value over time, the temperature accuracy of the Brazen would suffer without this function. It is recommended to perform this calibration every 6 months in order to maintain accuracy.
- Power Controlled "Temperature Glide" - To avoid temperature overshoot, the Brazen has a custom-programmed electronic control that works much like a "PID" system (but it is not user-adjustable). It decreases the power to the heating element as the programmed temperature approaches in order to limit overshoot. From what I have seen, it virtually eliminates it.
- Memory (on board, non-volatile) - stores system settings so a power outage will not have you starting all over again (other than clock time).
As you can see from those specifications, Joe has spent a lot of time and effort over the last four years, along with numerous trips to the factory in China, in an attempt to create a world-class drip brewer. We should be hearing more in that regard as Joe has designed the Brazen to meet or exceed the SCAA Brew Standards and will be applying for SCAA certification this year as soon as the program is restarted.
For more details, you can download the PDF manual as well as the informational PDF brochure which more-fully explains the Brazen.
At the exhibition, Joe had promised me a review unit when they were available. Over the four months since the show ended I had checked his website and Googled "Behmor Brazen" a number of times but had seen nothing about availability, so at the end of August 2012, I E-Mailed Joe asking if there was any Brazen news, and he immediately E-Mailed me back stating that my timing was perfect as they were just coming off the assembly line! He asked for my address, and about one or two days later, one was on the way to me, and he indicated that it was one of the first ten shipped (directly from the factory to me) to be put into the hands of users! I feel special [breaks into song with harmonica accompaniment and dance number]! While it was winging its way to me I received a fresh shipment of green for my personal larder, and so I roasted a 250 gram batch of Colombian and cleared a space on my coffee cart for the Brazen.
ARRIVAL At twenty pounds this is not some flimsy, plastic appliance. At its $200 price tag this will not be replacing the coffee makers that the "average" coffee drinkers' buy at the 'Mart stores. But being $100 less than the Technivorm, and considering the Brazen's set of features and accuracy as outlined above, it will draw serious attention from those who want to put the best possible taste into their cup. You know these people. They are the sort of folks who read this website! If we consider the specifications alone, the Brazen is not only the best brewer in its class; it is the only brewer in its class.
The Brazen is nearly 16" tall so counter space without overhead cabinets needs to be set aside for access to the reservoir and while brewing. The insulated stainless carafe eliminates the need for a hot plate (as if anyone serious about coffee would use one!). It would seem that the "Timer" function, allowing one to fill the reservoir with water and the brew basket with coffee in the evening in order to have coffee ready in the morning would be in conflict with a precision brewing device (having the ground coffee out all night). But even the geekiest may find this feature handy occasionally. Leaving on a 4:00 AM fishing trip tomorrow morning? The coffee will be ready.
UNPACK and SETUP The well-packed-for-shipping Brazen arrives with its various parameters set, but for best results it is a good idea to go through the settings and adjust for your preferences. The "Mode" button cycles through various functions and the up and down arrows adjust the parameters for each of those functions:
1 - Automatic Time Set like an alarm clock, this is the time at which the Brazen will begin a brew cycle. Both up and down changes are possible so you aren't forced to cycle all the way around again if you miss your desired value. The "Set" button cycles between hours and minutes in this mode.
2 - Pre-soak Time How long between the end of the pre-soak and the beginning of the brew cycle. The volume of water used for presoak is not adjustable.
3 - Brew Temperature range of 190°F-210°F (88°C-99°C). When in this mode, pressing the "Set" button cycles between F and C.
4 - Clock Current time. Sets in the same manner as the Automatic time function.
5 Calibrate (see next section below)
One more press of the "Mode" button returns to the "Automatic Time" setting.
Note that clock time is not retained in the event that power to the Brazen is interrupted. The "Auto" time you have set will be remembered, but auto mode defaults to off when power is restored.
All buttons are clearly marked and intuitive to use.
CALIBRATION After initial cleaning and assembly of the Brazen, and possibly the setting of the clock, but before brewing coffee, it is important to calibrate the machine:
1- Fill the reservoir up to the .6L/4cup level mark, leave the reservoir cover off, insert the filter basket and filter holder, and put the carafe in place on the base..
2 - Select "Calibrate" from the Mode menu as mentioned above.
3 - Use the Up/Down arrows to enter your altitude. I am at 2125 feet above sea level. The altitude setting is in steps of 250 feet, so I started with 2250. Rounding up or down in such instances will yield approximately the same results (within a few tenths of a degree I was told by a Behmor technical representative).
4 - Press "Start." The Brazen takes care of the rest of the calibration process. It boils the water in the carafe for about two minutes, and that's it.
During "Calibration" the water boils to help the Brazen "learn" the boiling point. Note the "lock" and "unlock" indicators for the reservoir lid.
BREW GUIDANCE The manual includes a lot of good information to help you create a foundation for best results. As with all brewing methods, various parameters can be adjusted to create the taste in the cup desired.
1.2 L- 8 Cups
8-10 Tablespoons (60-70 grams)
.9 L - 6 Cups
6-10 Tablespoons (45-52 grams)
.6L - 4 Cups
4-5 Tablespoons (30-35 grams)
As shown here, the water levels are marked in the reservoir eliminating the need to pre-measure the water. The .6L level is also used for the Calibration function. In regards to the .6L level, in the manual on page 5, part 1c, it states:
"Calibration Fill Line (.6L - 4 Cups) Best used with Manual Release." What that is attempting to say is that if you wish to brew the half-pot volume of water, you should use the manual release function for slightly better temperature control. That method helps prevent a slight temperature overshoot when using such a small volume of water. I brewed a half pot without the use of manual release and it worked just fine.
GRIND If the Brazen's gold filter is being used, finely ground coffee is not recommended as it may clog the filter. A grind between a standard drip coffee and a French Press should be used. If using a paper filter, a grind for a standard drip coffee may be used.
PRE-SOAK The manual gives some starting figures for the pre-soak time.:
- Fresh roasts under 3 days - pre-soak of 1½ minutes
- Roasts over 5 days old - 30 seconds
- Pre-ground coffee - default setting of 15 seconds.
Very fresh coffee will bloom excessively. This is when the gasses are released from the coffee and the resulting "foam" expands the bed of ground coffee and, for those who have brewed a full pot in a Bunn B-10 or A-10 brewer with fresh coffee will attest, this can make a huge mess all over the machine and the counter. The long pre-soak will help eliminate that with the Brazen.
MANUAL START (NON-AUTO) When you want to brew coffee, and have prepped the machine (coffee in basket and water in reservoir, press the "Start" button and the machine will heat to the programmed temperature and begin brewing with the pre-soak first then the brew cycle. Just like that.
BREWING A POT - HERE WE GO! The machine arrived too late in the evening for me to make a pot of coffee, so I did the unthinkable. After running the calibration function, I washed all the removable brewing parts and set the machine up to have a pot of coffee ready for me in the morning. That involves pouring the desired volume of water into the reservoir (which has a huge opening making that chore very easy and neat), and filling the gold filter basket with the desired amount of ground coffee that will (ughh), sit overnight in the basket. Possibly not the best test to start with, but it's been a rough two weeks and I needed to play with my new toy.
Settings I used: - 6 cups (.9 L) of water (half pot)
- 55 grams of ground coffee, Colombian at around a city+ roast, 4 days post-roast, coarse ground on my Baratza Virtuoso.
- 1:15 pre-soak time
- 202 F. brew temperature
- Two borosilicate Bodum glass coffee mugs each with two Joulies awaiting.
- Timer set to brew at 7:05 AM.
The timer came on at the preset time this morning and the water heated. It took 4:12 to heat from room temperature to the set 202 F. I could hear the heating of the water slow during the last :30, the "Glide" function to avoid overshoot in action. The pre-soak took the programmed 1:15. The actual brew time was 4:00. The brew cycle is just that, cycling the flow of water in a 30 second cycle, with fifteen seconds on and fifteen seconds off. Total time for the half pot from cold start to ready to sip was about 9:43.
Through the process the display kept me informed. Once the temperature reached my preset of 202, the display held that temperature throughout the brewing process. The pre-soak time showed a countdown timer, during the brew cycle the word "Brew" flashed on the screen, and at the end of the brewing cycle the display returned to its at-rest state, only showing the current time. Auto function was also disabled automatically to avoid false starts. All in all, the interface and feedback from the display was well thought out.
Upon removal of the filter basket I could see that, thanks to the design of the shower head, the coffee was still level in the basket. I could see the slight depressions formed by the water where it had struck the coffee from the many "nozzles." The coffee appeared evenly "soaked."
SIP THE COFFEE It has been years since I made a "pot" of coffee. It has normally been an espresso-based beverage or a brew from the Espro Press around here. I mention this because espresso as well as any full-immersion method has the potential to give more body in the cup. The Brazen made a very nice cup of coffee. Smooth flavor, only a slight amount of sediment in the bottom of the carafe (and in the last cup poured) using the gold filter, and a hint of sweetness to the coffee, but less body than I am accustomed to.
I sent Joe the parameters I used and mentioned that the cup lacked a bit of body, and he recommended grinding a bit finer and increasing the temperature two degrees ever get advice like that after writing Mr. Coffee a letter?). With temperature control being so critical for all methods of brewing coffee it makes you wonder why there are so few drip brewers with temperature control. How many? Just one that I know of- this one! Next pot, 204 degrees! When? On the way out of the house this morning my wife said, "Let's have another pot tonight." That's when!
So we did. I brewed a pot to have with dinner which was made with coffee ground about 6 clicks finer on the Baratza and brewed at two degrees hotter. The difference was remarkable! After the first sip my wife took she immediately remarked at how much better it was than this morning's cup. I found the body was very satisfying and the depth of flavor had greatly improved as well. Smooth with a hint of natural sweetness.
CLEANUP Getting the basket to a trash receptacle is easy. The grip on the filter holder makes it easy to carry, and it's drip-free since it has the "interrupt" shut-off valve on the bottom. The filter holder is ribbed inside, so a soft brush will be a helpful when washing it. The grounds were dumped out of the gold filter, and it washed easily. The carafe is all stainless inside, so along with the removable plastic lid it washed easily as well. The opening is samll, so a pot brush will be handy. Be sure to rinse it as soon as you are done which will help make the task of washing it easier.
The carafe has a plastic bottom that drops into a depression in the base to perfectly align the carafe under the basket.
The filter basket has a perfectly-placed pull designed into the bottom-front that makes removal and insertion quite intuitive. The lid of the carafe has a silicone seal and the pour spout has a release valve operated by a thumb lever at the handle. Even the pour spout's valve is silicone sealed.
There is no safety switch to assure that the filter basket is in place. If you forget to put the basket in the machine, and the brew function begins, be prepared to sip a good portion of your morning coffee off the counter top. There is a spring-loaded pin that interlocks with a hole in the filter basket which holds it securely in place.
The internal shape of the carafe is such that to get the last of the coffee out you will need to tip it almost to the point that it is upside down.
The lid's seal (seen above) eliminates most of the worry of spilling or dripping. The pour is a bit slow, even when the carafe is full, but the control of the flow as well as direction are both very good. The "fill" opening of the carafe's lid does not seal but it is located so that you would have to pour with disregard to get it to spill.
I am not a fan of blue back-lighting. While this color of LCD panel lighting seems to be popular, blue is the most difficult color of lighting for the eye to focus on. My artistic senses would have me choosing a white back-light to better match the black and stainless simplicity of the rest of the machine.
When at rest (idling and off, but plugged in) I measured an electrical consumption of about .08 amps at 125 volts AC using my Kill-O-Watt meter.
You are able to adjust all parameters even after the timer is set for auto brew. A nice feature if, for example, you forget that you changed coffee and want to use a different brew temperature.
There is a list of the altitudes of major North American cities in the owners manual, but the two largest U.S. Cities are not included. Not a problem. Google Earth makes finding your altitude easy. Hover over your specific location and the altitude is displayed on the bar at the bottom of the Google Earth window. The manual mentions using Wunderground.com to find your altitude, but depending on your location this may not be accurate. For my rural location, Wunderground was off by around 1600 feet using my community's name, and off by about 1200 feet using my street address.
The carafe interfaces with the filter basket to supply an interrupt feature to avoid dripping when the carafe is removed for serving. But if the carafe is removed to early in the brew cycle, the basket can overflow which can result in a wet counter. Having the visual indication on the display as to when the brew cycle has completed is a very nice touch.
In the maintenance instructions the owners manual states:
"If the reservoir is not draining in under three minutes, you can run a cleaner through to remove mineral deposit build-up from your water. Remove mineral deposits as Follows:
a. Fill the reservoir with water and a household coffee machine cleaner/descaler to the MAX level (the ratio of water to descaler is 4:1, per the cleaner instructions). I found this a bit confusing. The term "Cleaner" is normally used to refer to a detergent for removal of coffee residue which would be good for the carafe and the filter basket and the basket holder). "Descaler" is usually an acidic product to remove hard water scale (lime and calcium for the most part). To add a bit more confusion, the reservoir cover is marked "WATER ONLY." We understand, but I think they will be getting technical-support calls on this one.
CONCLUSION At the 2012 SCAA Exhibition in Portland, the organization's choice for the best "Coffee or Tea Preparation & Serving Equipment" in the consumer range was the Offero coffee cup (really, guys? A cup?). While the cup allows one to better sense the aroma of the coffee, is it not more important to make a better cup of coffee first? The Brazen won the "Peoples' Choice Award" in that same category. You could scratch your head raw wondering what the SCAA was thinking. The Brazen is revolutionary in terms of drip brewing. Paul Revere made Revolutionary cups. In terms of function I think the genre was well played out even at that time.
Leaving that silliness behind, there are a lot of choices when it comes to choosing a drip coffee brewer. They come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and colors. The price range is equally wide. Anyone who has ever walked through an appliance aisle at the local brick-and-mortar has been confronted with rows of them, standing like little coffee soldiers at attention (coffee fodder?). But regardless as to how many you saw, there is nothing to compare with the Brazen in terms of control, and really, to get the best from the bean, control of brew parameters is what it is all about.
We take for granted that decent espresso machines allow us to adjust various brewing parameters. The brew pressure is adjustable on rotary pumps, and many vibratory machines have adjustable pressure relief valves. Pressurestats give us boiler temperature adjustment, and many machines now come with digital temperature control. Finally, thanks to the minds at Behmor, there is a drip machine that gives this same level of user interaction and control, and it's about time. I was never a fan of drip coffee... until now.
As far as service, Joe and Behmor are among a handful of companies universally mentioned as giving world-class service. There was a possible assembly problem with my unit and so I E-Mailed Joe. I sent him a video of the problem, and when he received the message he told me he was at the dentist and would check it as soon as he was back at the office. Later that day the two small parts I needed were on their way to me! That's service!
One member of a discussion group mentioned that he had better sell his Technivorm soon, before the Brazen is widely known, and while his Technivorm still has some value. Sounds like a wise move to me.
This article, and this entire website created by me, Randy Glass. This website started back in late-2000 when I began shopping for my first espresso machine. While I make no income from this coffee website, my little side business is my digital media company, FRCN Digital Imaging, where you will find an online portfolio of my work. The "FRCN" stands for "Feather River Canyon News" which was the newspaper I owned and operated for about 12 years in my little mountian community.
You may already know my work. I created the Hottop USA website and the Hottop coffee roaster owners manual I also created the Vibiemme Domobar Super and the Vibiemme Domobar Double owners manuals for the US importer. I recently completed and donated the owners manual for "RoastLogger" and the owner's manual for the HTC+TC4C will soon be available through MLG Properties.