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Capresso CoffeeTEC First Look
Author: Mark Prince
Posted: August 14, 2003
First Look rating: 8.4
feedback: (5) comments | read | write
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You know, I love gizmos. I love 'em. Sometimes, I can't resist them.

It is with this in mind that I was very happy to accept one of the most gizmo-laden coffee brewers available today - the Capresso CoffeeTEC coffee brewer, as supplied by Aabree Coffee. This brewer is a swiss army knife of coffee brewers. It brews. It heats. It froths. It times. It filters. It dices. It slices... okay, it doesn't do those last two things. I would need a grinder to do that.

It sure is cool looking though.

Out of the Box

Capresso sure can pack up the goods. They know the value of catching the "average consumers' eye" in the department store or Williams Sonoma, and the boxes all of their products arrive in are adorned with heaps of artsy photos and little "power plugs" about the machine's features and benefits. I can't fault this, partially because I admit I'm drawn to this myself. In fact, my weekly trips to London Drugs always finds me trolling the small appliances aisle, and I have to admit, even the Krups and Braun machines tempt me with their packaging.

But the big difference between Krups and Braun, as compared to Capresso is this - with many Capresso brewers, there's actual substance inside the box. At least that was the case with the Capresso MT500 coffee brewer we've been testing... I hope it's the same with the CoffeeTEC.

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GoldTone nylon filter included
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Milk jug included!
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Hoses included! (these are for drawing straight from a carton, and cleaning out the system)

Inside the box, you'll find a very plastic, yet very impressive looking and complex machine - It's shaped wider than most coffee brewers, and there's a lot of dials and parts. On the left side of the brewer sits the filter area, and something that draws major bonus points from me - a high quality stainless steel carafe. It's the same carafe design used with the MT500, but the steel is brushed instead of polished.

You'll also find the permanent filter - a "gold tone" filter. It isn't real gold like the SwissGold filters, but it's a step up from paper filters. The trade up is better extraction from the coffee and more environmentally sound. The trade down is it is messier and a bit more of a challenge to clean.

On the front middle portion of the machine, you notice Mission Control... er, the control panel. I swear the first time I saw this, I thought it had a built in radio, but nope - instead, it has some really cool dials that have multiple functions and movements - not only do they "dial", but they push in as well, serving different functions.

The machine comes complete with a charcoal-based filter "plug", helpful instructional manual and a video. Watch the video. Read the manual. 'Nuff said.

I was antsy to get the first use out of the way, so here goes.

First Use

With all automatic drip coffee makers it is a good idea to run a few batches of water through the machine before brewing for the firs time, and I did this. I admit the control panel confused me at first - by my count, there's five indicator lights, three dials, and 13 different "clusters" of text on the front of the machine. What do I press? Turn? Dial? Probe?

Fortunately, the manual and the video help you out. And really, I was having a blond moment, because the machine is easy to use if you just stare at it for a few moments. There's three dials, the big one controls steam (we'll get to that). The top left dial controls three functions - on / off, small portions brewing, and putting the machine into auto (brew at a later date) mode. The right side dial also does three things - dialing left sets the hours (either for the timed brew, or the real time); turning right sets the minutes, and pushing the dial turns the program timed mode on or off.

If you're a long time reader of this website, you know how I and everyone around here feels about "timed brewing", as in grind now, and time the machine to start brewing 8, 10, 12 hours later for when you wake up. Bad, bad coffee lover if you ever do that. In fact, you are not allowed to call yourself a coffee lover if you do that kind of deadman's torture to the ground coffee. You're better off drinking tea. Or go buy instant. (with all of this said, I will, unfortunately, have to test and comment more completely on the timed brew aspect in the Detailed Review. I ain't lookin' forward to it).

Okay Mark, move on. Let's talk about my first brew with the product.

Because I ran some water through the machine and it was heated up inside (the inside is stainless steel, not aluminum like many coffee brewers), the machine was hot, and this might have had an effect on the brewing temps - I would soon find out.

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Excellent quality stainless steel carafe does the job

The first 10 cup (50 ounce) brew into the stainless steel thermal carafe was, in a word, sweet. 30 seconds in I was measuring 190.1 in the brew basket, already 10F higher than some Braun and Krups models I've tested in the past. By 3 minutes into the brew, it was 198.3F, and around the completion of the brew, I was measuring 203.7F in the basket. That's phenomenal. It really is.

I've been despondent over the (sad) state of coffee brewers on the market today, with their 180-185F brewing temps, their baking the coffee as it sits on the hot plate, but this Capresso model, along with the recently tested Capresso MT500 have redeemed brewers in my eyes.

And the coffee? Well, it helps that I used Intelligentsia Milo Flon fair trade coffee from Nicaragua, but the coffee was gooood. Real good.

Still, it wasn't "blow my mind" good.

I had a look at the machine's innards a bit, and specifically the dispersion pattern and the "spent grounds" shaping in the basket, and this is where I noticed room for improvement. Keep in mind, it does a good, really good job of brewing, but there were under-extracted portions in the filter basket that would have been aided by a better dispersion pattern of brewing water. But this was a very early observation - you'll have to wait for the detailed review for more on this.

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Not a very well designed dispersion screen. Other two holes are for steam release.
Top button "pops" open the filter chamber (a metal spring pushes it)
Stop-brew spring loaded funnel at the bottom of the filter basket.
The built in "froth aider" steam pipe mixes steam with air.

First Few Days

I tested three other elements of the machine during my first few days. One was brewing temps from a cold start. It was a bit lower than my initial brew, but not much - after 30 seconds, the internal basket temperature was 132.8F, but after two minutes, it was at 191.3. By the fifth minute, we were over 200F, and it's all good. A total ten cup brewing time is 7:21. And that number repeated itself in four timed 10 cup brews. The exact same time!

Another element I tested was the "half-brew" mode the machine has, or as the promo literature calls it, "electronically controlled Aroma Setting". I don't place much stock in this, and the one half-pot I brewed was okay, but not knocking my socks off.

The third element I tested was, of course, the milk frothing abilities of the machine. I don't want to get into too much details here, but it's a nice feature for the person who wants a little snobbery... uh, variety in their coffee making. It works as advertised too. Within 10 seconds or so of the finished brew of coffee, the little green light comes on, showing that steam is ready to go.

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Reservoir can be filled in place, or removed.
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Dual level reservoir - main chamber is for brewing water; small lower chamber is for steam water.

You can draw milk in a couple of ways with this brewer - straight from the included 32oz milk container, or with a different attachment, straight from a milk carton itself. Measured temps on the frothed milk, when the "froth control dial" (a rubber dial that minimizes the flow passage for the drawn milk) is full open, the steamed milk was around 140F. A bit cool, but hotter than another "brew and froth" coffeemaker I've tested - the Saeco Cafe Latte.

I did run one quick "torture test" for the steamer - I ran it dry. It kept going with pretty forceful steam for 3 minutes and 16 seconds. Not too bad. Of course, you can make it last longer simply by adding a few ounces of water every couple of minutes to the water reservoir.

One other thing you probably don't know about this machine - it has a pump. A vibe pump. It's quiet, but it's there. It feeds the tiny "froth express" system inside the machine, keeping the steaming power full for the entire 3 plus minutes of steam. This is probably the quietest pump I've ever heard on a brewing machine, be it coffee maker or espresso device. Companies like Francis! Francis! or Isomac should take note.

I mentioned something above - add water. I want to talk about the water reservoir a bit. It's an ingenious design, with two valves, and two "stages" in it. There's a small little section at the bottom, then a wider, much bigger section at the top. The top portion has one valve, and this valve is used to deliver brewing water. The smaller section in the bottom has another valve, and that delivers water to the steaming system. Very cool!

Wrapup

Things were looking good for this brewer. First, it was hitting the right temperatures and then some. That gets a 12 out of 10 in my books.

Next, the stainless steel carafe is very high quality and "does the job". I especially like the brew through design, which means you don't have to put a lid on after brewing, or tighten down the lid. I did some temp retention tests for this carafe in my MT500 testing, and it's good - it retains heat very well, losing only about 10 to 15F in the first two hours.

Third, there's a lot of little things, things that won't make this First Look, but will be discussed in the Detailed Review, that I like, including push button access to the filter group, easy viewbility and removability of the water reservoir, the carafe's lid, the multiple milk drawing and cleaning tubes for the steamer, and much more. Basically I'm very impressed by what I previously thought was an "expensive toy", at least in these early days. But "bring on the pain" as they say for the full Detailed Review test. There, we'll find out if the machine has any serious flaws.

CoffeeGeek would again like to thank Aabree Coffee for supplying us with this machine for a long term review, and for subsequent comparisons with other brewers. The Capresso CoffeeTEC sells for $199, is available in white or black, and is available without sales tax and shipping charges are included at that price. Just make sure you get a decent grinder to go with this brewer if you're so inclined to buy.

CoffeeGeek's parent company, WebMotif Net Services Inc., has done business with AabreeCoffee's sister company, EspressoPeople in the past. Specifically, WebMotif designed and built the EP website. This relationship has absolutely no bearing on the objectivity of this First Look or subsequent Detailed Review.
First Look rating: 8.4
Author: Mark Prince
Posted: August 14, 2003
feedback: (5) comments | read | write
This first look and all its parts are ©2001-2014 CoffeeGeek.com and the first look in part or in whole may NOT be reproduced in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from the author or this website. This includes all photographs. For information on reproducing any part of this first look (or any images) or if you would like to purchase a printed version of this first look for commercial or private use, please contact us at info@coffeegeek.com for further details.
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