In March of this year at the IHHS in Chicago, I encountered the people from iCoffee and was impressed with the coffee they were making on the show floor. I recently finished testing an iCoffee machine myself and am no less impressed now than I was at the show.
What Makes the iCoffee Machine Different?
In my original article about iCoffee I discussed the history and background. In this piece I want to focus on the functional review of the machine, because that is what you really want to know – does it live up to its claims?
The shape, design, and operation – including filling the water and coffee basket – on the iCoffee machine will seem very familiar to anyone who has ever used a drip coffee machine. The designers wanted the coffee lover to feel comfortable using the machine for the first time. In fact, it looks so familiar that, as I skeptically approached their display booth at the show in March 2013, I assumed it was “just another” coffee machine.
Like a standard drip coffee maker, the iCoffee machine is programmable and has a 12 cup capacity carafe with a musical tone to signal the start and end of the brewing process. The plastics are all high quality, BPA-free, and iCoffee will offer interchangeable colored drip baskets.
The iCoffee machine technology focuses on how the coffee is handled inside the brewer, where the real action takes place. They choose to forego the tradition shower head drip used by most coffee brewers instead seeking a more finessed result and rich flavorful coffee.
First, the coffee is steamed to evenly apply proper moisture and heat. Second, their six patented SteamBrew rotational hot water jets further steam, tumble and stir the coffee, releasing the flavors without the acidic and bitter aftertaste. This bitterness is most often mistaken for strength.
The process continues in cycles of steaming and saturating until coffee begins to drip through the fine mesh gold tone filter into the carafe.
Because they created a new way of extracting the coffee, iCoffee created a viewing window to allow the coffee lover to observe the SteamBrew process through the BrewView window. This back lit visual aid reinforces the new method within the framework of the familiar.
iCoffee Machine Claims and Tests
The company states that a full flavor pot of coffee can be achieved using 15% less coffee than you normally use.
Due to the sophisticated extraction method and fine mesh of the gold tone filter, they also state that the machine is less dependent on the fineness of the grind.
They claim to be better than single serve, drip and even French Press brewing methods that produces a less acidic, bitter coffee.
To verify these statements, I tested four conditions, running multiple cycles of each to make sure that the results I experienced were consistently achievable.
– Varying coffee roasts & grind coarseness
– Head to head with a quality drip machine
– Head to head with pour over brew
– Head to head against French Press
Coffee Roasts & Grind Coarseness
I conducted several stand alone tests with varying roasts and grinds to determine how the iCoffee machine handled them. I used everything from bold French and dark espresso blended roasts to light & medium single estate roasts. I ground beans with both electric and manual grinders producing varying grinds from fine to one batch that would have been considered coarse even for a French press.
The iCoffee machine processed them all very well, producing a full flavor, not bitter, cup from every grind and roast. The very coarse grind I spoke of showed differently than the same coffee brewed with a finer grind, but was still an enjoyable cup of coffee. A regular drip machine would not have been able to produce a palatable coffee from that very coarse grind setting.
As for the claim that you can use 15% less coffee, well I did use less and found that it was hard to tell a difference in the finished cup.
Note: in one iteration where I brewed only four cups of coffee, I found the extraction was a bit less than full. I assumed that it had something to do with how the jet stirrers function in relation to water volume, that they work better with a certain amount of water. This is not to say that the finished brew was not good; it was delicious, but the flavors were a bit muted compared to other tastes using the same coffee. The reality is that most of us don’t make that small amount of coffee in a drip brew machine so I am guessing that won’t ever be a problem.
Against Top Drip Brewer
The head to head drip brewer was against a nationally available brand-name international company (I won’t say who), but this company is one of the top 2 or 3 drip machines you can buy. I have always enjoyed the coffee this brewer produced and felt it would provide a great test.
I filled the baskets with the same amount and grind fineness of coffee, both using a gold tone filter. I filled each machine with water appropriate for a 10 cup pot of coffee and pushed start on each machine.
The iCoffee took 9-10 minutes to finish brewing while the other drip machine took 6-7 minutes.
The finished product was not even close. The iCoffee machine produced a remarkably smoother, less bitter cup of coffee. Without the bitter sensation in the mouth and palate, you can really appreciate all the flavors of a coffee. Tasted side by side, the bitterness of the other drip machine was so noticeable; I was amazed how long it lingered on the tongue and mouth.
While I didn’t rig the machines with probes to test the temperatures dripping into the carafes, I did measure the coffee temperature in the cup. In the cup I poured immediately after brewing completed, the iCoffee had a temperature of 180, hot but not scalding. After 5 minutes in the cup, iCoffee was still 18-20 degrees hotter than the other machine. Given the same cup temperature, room temperature and time elapsed, this means iCoffee is brewing hotter.
There were subsequent tests between the two made with 8 cups and aside from brew times, the results were the same.
Against Pour Over Method
In this test I wanted to see how well iCoffee would stack up against what many consider to be the best brew method for the home: pour over coffee. Pour over brewers [like Chemex or Hario] are a procedure laden process that true coffee connoisseurs feel most fully extract the full flavor of coffee without bitterness or acidity. My friend Tommy, who brews in this style daily, handled the pour over. We used two different single estate coffees, one a city roast from Mexico, the other a darker Vienna roast from Costa Rica.
The brewed results of both tests were close enough to make a fair comparison, but in the end the pour over brews were more refined. It is remarkable though that a drip machine could brew a coffee that can be discussed in the same breath with a properly made pour over brew. We both found the iCoffee machine produced a heavier mouth feel and for the first time, the natural fat/oil content in the bean was noticeable in the finished cup. This isn’t a bad thing per se just that the paper filter in the pour over filtered this out almost completely.
Against French Press
In this test, I made French Press coffee the way I normally do and the way I think most people do, which is to put the ground coffee in the bottom of the carafe, pour heated water over the grounds, put the press lid on top, wait 4-6 minutes then press down the plunger. French presses produce a full flavor brew, but can tend to produce too much bitterness. If one were to take a hands on approach to a French press extraction [bloom, stir, infuse, etc] you could produce a more refined coffee, but like I said most of us just don’t do it.
In the finished cup, iCoffee produced a smoother, less bitter coffee with less sediment passed into the cup.
Speaking of sediment, iCoffee claimed no sediment was passed through to the pot, but I found this not to be true. There was some very fine sediment in the pot and cup as the coffee sat, but it was not coarse or crunchy as French press or even some drip machines allow. The sediment levels were more noticeable with finer grindings, so if you find there is more sediment than you prefer, try a coarser grind.
Final test notes:
I was going to test against a single serve machine but after tasting the first batch of coffee I made with the iCoffee machine, there was no point. No single serve brewer can produce a coffee as rich, full flavored and smooth as this machine can.
I also did not test it against other methods of brewing like Aeropress; while I know Aeropress creates a smooth, non-bitter coffee on par with iCoffee, I felt this test was basically accomplished in the pour over comparison.
Something else to consider about iCoffee machines. If you enjoy iced coffee, you will want this coffee maker. Because it has no bitterness extracted, the iced coffee is more enjoyable. Both my wife & I were impressed how much better iced coffee made with the iCoffee leftovers tasted.
I have sampled coffee made by the best automatic drip machines available and as you can tell, from just about every other brewing method possible, but I honestly believe there is no automatic drip brewer on the market right now that will brew coffee as well as iCoffee. Period.
The coffee brewed in this machine is smooth, balanced, full flavor and not at all bitter, except any slight bitterness that would be inherent in certain roasts. Everyone who has tasted the iCoffee machine brew comes away impressed by what it can do. One person told me that if he didn’t know the coffee came from a drip machine, he would have thought it came from a manual process served in a high end coffee house.
The combination of price, convenience and high quality results make this ‘a must own’ for a home brewing coffee lover. Regardless of whether you like bold blends or refined single estate coffees, the iCoffee machine will ensure the best flavor possible. The real beauty is that you don’t have to learn a new way to brew, it works like any other drip machine you have ever used.
Now three years from the initial review, the iCoffee machine is still brewing as it did at the time of the original article publication. I don’t find the brew basket all the difficult to empty when it comes time to clean the machine, as I learned to hold the solid plastic “front” and “back” areas to get a firm grip on the basket, then I tap the grounds into my mulch pit. When I return to the house, I rinse any remaining grounds clinging to the sides down the sink as I wash it.
I do still wish the carafe has a removable lid on it. After cleaning, it can be a challenge to allow the carafe to dry inverted without falling on its side in the drying rack, or as has happened to some, breaking. I most often use one of the two brew basket inserts as a support to steady the carafe assembly. Not sure if the most recent models have changed this, but for machines like mine, it is a minor frustration.
iCoffee Availability Update
The iCoffee is now available for retail purchase at:
– All Bloomingdale’s locations &
– Frontgate Catalog & Frontgate on-line
– Bed Bath & Beyond
– Sur La Table
To keep up with the ever growing list of retailers, check the iCoffee Where To Buy page.