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the quickshot review - eva solo cafe solo
Eva Solo Cafe Solo
Author: Mark Prince
Posted: February 3, 2005
QuickShot Review rating: 9.1
feedback: (37) comments | read | write
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Eva Solo is a brand name for a company called Eva Denmark. While Eva Denmark has been around since 1913, the Eva Solo brand name was introduced in 1997, and for the past eight years they've been rolling out new unique products every couple of months. They have a variety of slogans for their products, but the one that I like best is "for the one who knows that true beauty comes from within". Hey - that's me!

Eva Solo markets high end (in both price and style) products for cooking, serving and living, featuring everything from coffee makers (the subject of this QuickShot Review) to credit card holders.

The subject of this QuickShot Review is the Cafe Solo coffee maker, first introduced on March 1, 2003, and designed by Claus Jensen and Henrik Holbaek for Eva Denmark. The product has won a variety of design awards, including the Design Plus 2004 competition and Grand prix de l'art de vivre in 2003.

So let's acknowledge one thing - the Cafe Solo is a beautiful work of art. But how does the product actually perform as a coffee maker? That's what we hope to find out in this review.

Out of the Box

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The Eva Solo Cafe Solo ships in a rather attractive box that is best described as "well laid out" when you remove the outer carton. How it would ship is another issue - I worry that some of the parts might come loose and fly about in the box - make sure your shipper is packing this thing properly.

There's cutouts for holding the carafe with it's neoprene jacket, for the filter / no drip spout, for the carafe lid, and for the stirring spoon. There's also a very good product manual inside that contains a surprisingly good amount of information about not only the brewer, but coffee in general and coffee preparation in particular.

In fact, while I push the "RTFM" around here a lot (read the freakin' manual), this one is a no brainer - it's a good read! It's like a mini book on good coffee, and is enjoyable to peruse over a cuppa. I highly recommend reading it, and you can - Eva Solo has the manual online (pdf format, 1mb).

Manual

I've mentioned the parts that come in the box; let's get into more detail. The carafe itself is made of heat resistant glass, and features a wide base with a ripple pattern in the glass, an Eva Solo trademark (think of a water dripping into more water, creating rounded ripples). The total volume of the carafe to the lip is 1.25 litres (about 40 ounces); but you won't be adding that much water to your brew.

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Filter Funnel
Filter assembly with its patented pour spout.
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Eva Solo "Flip Top Lid"
Doesn't really flip, but really does the job.
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Rubber thingies
Coffee flows between the nibs. Nibs keep it in place.

Surrounding the carafe is something that at first seems like an aesthetic, but it really isn't - a neoprene jacket, complete with a zipper. Neoprene is what keeps divers warm in water (things making sense now huh?) and neoprene is what is keeping your coffee hot with this brewer. I'm actually surprised that we don't see this more often - neoprene zipper jackets for press pots and chemex brewers and manual drip coffee makers - hrm, maybe there's a new business out there for someone handy with a sewing machine...

The filter assembly seems at first fairly simple, but some brains are built into it. I noticed near the top of the steel mesh portion there were bigger holes drilled about a centimeter or so apart, and I wasn't quite sure what they were for - but I found out quickly they are to allow for easier air flow (the tiny mesh holes can plug up with water) when you're adding the filter and pouring the coffee - smart design stuff.

The filter funnel is made up of three segments: the steel mesh filtration part, a rubber gasket, and a stainless steel cone which serves as a signature design item for many Eva Solo items (more on this below).

The tiny lid that goes on top of the filter assembly is also an example of great design. They call it the "flip top lid" which isn't a good explanation of how it works - it doesn't flip, per se - instead, the lid pivots a bit on it's tiny rubber neck to allow coffee flow easily. The star pattern of the rubber seal sits firmly inside the filter funnel with a little push down on the top. Overall it's an excellent design that keeps a lot of heat inside the carafe while allowing for easy pouring.

Lastly in the box, there's a nice plastic (beefy type) spoon for stirring the coffee during brewing. I'm a bit surprised that a measuring spoon wasn't included though. It's no big deal for the CG office - after all we have dozens of tablespoon sized scoops that come with all manner of products. Still, it's a bit of an omission.

Using the Cafe Solo

Press pots, vacuum brewers and the Cafe Solo all use a similar brewing method: total immersion brewing. What does that mean? It means that all the coffee is in contact with all the brewing water for the same period. In my opinion (and an opinion shared with most coffee professionals), total immersion brewing is the best way to make coffee outside of espresso. It allows for full and complete extraction, especially when proper water temperatures are used. Auto drip machines can't hold a candle.

The big difference between the Cafe Solo and the presses and vacpots of the world is that the ground coffee is never separated from the brewing water after the brew is done. Is this a bad thing? Yes, if the grounds remain in contact with your brewed coffee for more than 15 or 20 minutes. I'll talk about this more below.

Brewing with this device is extremely easy.

  • Preheat the carafe while you boil up at least 1 litre (32 ounces) of water.

  • When the kettle is about boiled, grind up enough coffee to add between 8 and 10 tablespoons to the emptied carafe. (the Cafe Solo manual says 45 to 60 grams; considering a tablespoon is roughly 7 grams, their recommendation is 6.5 to 8.5 tablespoons). What kind of grind? Looking at the filter funnel's mesh housing, I went with a grind that's finer than a press pot, but not as fine as an auto drip grind. Too fine, and too much sludge will pass, especially in the first pour (after five or ten minutes, most of the sludge settles in the bottom of the carafe).

  • Gently pour water covering all the ground coffee, until you see the grinds at about 1 inch below the narrowest part of the neck. There may be much blooming (foam buildup) if you're using fresh coffee - simply stir a bit, and add more water if necessary.

  • Stir the mixture for about 10 or 20 seconds.

  • Zip up the neoprene, put the lid on the filter funnel, and wait 4 minutes.

  • Serve. It's just that simple!

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Preheating Carafe
The instructions recommend it, and so do we - preheat the carafe with hot water before brewing.
Adding Coffee
The Cafe Solo brews approximately 32oz, and we like to use one rounded tablespoon per 4oz of water - or 8 tablespoons (and one more for the chef).
Adding Boiled Water
Pour your boiled water right after the kettle is done - the flow through the air will reduce the water temperatures to about 200F - ideal for brewing.
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Watch for Bloom.
If you use fresh coffee like we do (ground just before brewing), there will be noticable bloom. Pay attention to the water level, but don't let the bloom overflow.
Bloom Redux
This is a good level for the water - as you can see, the grounds accumulate on top - stirring will fix this.
Stir it Up
Stirring will settle the bloom, and futher mix the ground coffee with the water. Stir gently for about 20 or 30 seconds.
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Add the Filter
Add the filter once stirring is done, zip up the neoprene, then wait for four minutes.
Almost ready...
The neoprene jacket does an exceptional job of keeping the brewing coffee hot. This kicks butt when compared to press pots.
Mmmm Coffee
Yowsa - 4 minutes is up, time to pour! The excellently designed lid automatically "pops" open to allow coffee pouring. The double lip design of the carafe prevents any spills.
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My first cuppas with the Cafe Solo were brewed with La Perla de Oaxaca and Tres Santos Colombian, both from our official coffee supplier, Intelligentsia Coffee. I hadn't been having much success lately with the Tres Santos in drip brewers, but I have to say it came through in spades in the Cafe Solo. Intelligentsia says there's cherries in them thar Tres Santos, but I never tasted it before, using the traditional drip method. In the Cafe Solo, these flavours came through almost magnified - the brewer did that good a job of highlighting the best stuff in that bean. I was sold from that moment onward as to the brewing ability of the Eva Solo product.

A few days later, I roasted up some 2003 Kona I have, and after a three day rest, I gave it a go in the Cafe Solo. Again, I was not disappointed. The first cup was muddy because of the grind I used, but the second cup was everything a perfect Kona can be - a delicately smooth coffee with flower and chocolate notes that just blew my mind. Just to be sure, I brewed the same bean in an auto drip I'm testing and yeah... er... no, none of those flavours the Eva Solo brought out were present.

Temperatures, timings and usability

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Mesh Filter
The mesh is strong and durable, but can be "crinkled".
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Gasket
Eva Solo branding is all over this product.
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Spoon
Even the stirring spoon gets into the branding act. Nice touch.
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Matched
Match the brewer with a good thermal carafe - heaven!

I ran some minor tests on heat loss during the brew period and for 10 minutes past, for three brews. I found the neoprene does a good job of retaining heat. I measured a 95C starting temperature before stirring, and an 88C temperature (average over three measurements) after the 4 minute brew. By comparison, a press pot can go down to as low as 73C after four minutes.

After 10 minutes (14 minutes after first adding water), I was measuring an average of 82.5C in a full carafe with the neoprene zipped up, and the filter lid in place.  All in all, the neoprene design does an adequate job of keeping your brew hot during the brew period and after.

One thing I did discover is that there's a sweet spot in the timing for when coffee out of the Cafe Solo is good - between the 4 minute mark and about 12 minutes (after adding water). Longer than that, and the coffee really starts to show signs of bitterness and over extraction. It's even more noticeable in this device than with a press pot because in a press pot, the ground coffee is mostly separated from the brewed coffee (although by no means completely).

This is where a good thermal carafe comes in handy. Eva Solo markets some, and they are expensive, but the match up perfectly to the brewer. I bought one and use it regularly with the Cafe Solo when making coffee these days. It keeps my coffee relatively fresh and hot for up to an hour, and keeps it hot for hours more.

Bottom line on this part? Well, you've got options: drink all the coffee within 10 minutes of brewing (helps to have friends); brew a half batch instead of the full amount (you can brew pretty much any amount of coffee in this device, up to 1 litre or 32 ounces - I've brewed as little as 350mls (12oz) and it tasted nearly as good as the full 1 litre (32oz) batch); or you can pour the coffee into a preheated thermal carafe.

In terms of usability, there's not too much to say other than it's an insanely simple brewer to use. One feature of note though is the double lip design of the brewer - the carafe's lip, and the filter funnel's metal lip. It's not just to make the brewer look unique - nope. It's also function, baybee. Patented function!

See, Eva Solo patented this design of a pouring "system" (for lack of a better word) and uses it on all of their carafes, brewers (they have a tea maker too) and anything that pours. Heck, the sugar and creamer set I have from them features this design. Why is it patented? Because it's a no drip pouring design. And it really works. I found it nearly impossible to drip coffee anywhere other than where I was pouring it. The super thin lip on the stainless steel traps liquids, forcing them to run down the side of the metal into the gap where the gasket meets glass. Nifty stuff. I love it when stuff looks good and works better.

I do want to share a minor note about the filter. The metal mesh portion is sturdy and has seen at least 25 brews so far on our test unit, but it is a bit bent in places. How? When cleaning the filter funnel, it's normal to grip the mesh portion while cleaning the stainless steel lip. A few times, I gripped it hard enough (which isn't very hard) and bent the mesh creating creases in it. Not anywhere near enough to tear the mesh because it's heavy duty quality, but enough to screw up the aesthetic look of the funnel just a smidge.

Speaking of cleaning, it's really is a snap and puts vac pots to shame. Everything is dishwasher safe, save for the neoprene jacket. The filter rinses easily, and the rest all goes into the dishwasher between uses. Hand washing is a snap as well, though you do need a scrubber brush to reach inside the glass carafe. Even the jacket can be washed in your washing machine with cold water (leave out to dry though).

Conclusion

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What a coffee maker. It made my Kona sing. It showed me cherry flavour in a Colombian coffee. It's looks sexy and techie at the same time. And it has its own clothes!

The Eva Solo Cafe Solo is a primo coffee making system. Last year when it was around $100 US online, some grumbled that was a lot of dead presidents for what amounted to glass, metal and rubber (and neoprene). The thing is, for high quality design asthetics you often pay a premium - look at Allesi products if you doubt me. But with the Cafe Solo, there's smarts behind the aesthetic design, and some of the smarts make the design look even better.

At $100, I'd say this product was worth the money. At the current price of $80 or so, it's definitely a quality coffee brewer, producing a brew so vastly superior to almost any $80 auto drip coffee maker that it should almost be criminal. And at the $53 Cdn dollars ($40USD) price I paid, it is criminal - a steal!

We highly recommend this brewer. It's so popular at CoffeeGeek that our news editor and one of our writers also got units. We happily give it a 10 out of 10 - given its brewing method, there's almost nothing can think of to improve it's output and value, except perhaps the inclusion of a measuring spoon and maybe another $10 or $15 drop in price.

Want this brewer and want to help out CoffeeGeek? Buy it from Amazon and their affiliates. The brewer is available in two sizes: the Eva Solo Cafe Solo 1 litre model, and the smaller Cafe Solo 0.6 litre model. Current best prices are $80 for the large model and $75 for the smaller version.

QuickShot Review rating: 9.1
Author: Mark Prince
Posted: February 3, 2005
feedback: (37) comments | read | write
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