Most helpful positive review
121 of 132 people found the following review helpful
One of the best ways to brew coffee
on December 29, 2009
This is a great product for those who want to brew the smoothest, most flavorful coffee possible! But I think perhaps some people don't want to deal with choices in how they prepare their coffee and would rather have the convenience of automation (and pre-packaged blandness)--in which case the CafeSolo, while fairly simple to use, may not be for them.
I started out with a drip coffee maker. After years of making sometimes bitter, sometimes thin, but never great tasting coffee, I looked into Chemex. I was still not satisfied with the pleasant but weak brew that resulted. Finally, I read a rave review of the Eva Solo product on a coffee specialist site. The reviewer (an editor for the site) said he found the CafeSolo to produce a better full-bodied brew than either a French press or a vacuum pot, partly because it controls the temperature so well. I like the idea of a full immersion brewing system, so I bought it and immediately produced a very strong cup of the most bitter-free coffee I've ever tasted. I never drink coffee black, yet I was able to drink the result without adding sugar, and still found no bitterness!
The CafeSolo is better than a French press in two other ways. The conical mesh filter is ideally shaped to prevent blockage (the grounds sit outside the inverted cone when you pour), yet has very fine holes. So you can use a finer grind than you would for a French press and won't get any mud in your cup or problems pouring through the filter. As others have mentioned, the pourer and lid are of excellent design. But I said the CafeSolo was better in two other ways. The last reason has to do with the perils of complete extraction.
The Problem with Complete Extraction
"What's wrong with complete extraction?" you ask. The grounds get maximum saturation, so you get the most flavor, right? Yes, and that is why the CafeSolo, or a French press, or an espresso machine will yield a more concentrated brew. But there is a price for all that, in the risk of over-extracted bitterness. If you look at how coffee tasters do a cupping, they pour boiled water into a cup of grounds, let it steep for 1-2 minutes, then gently stir and push the crust of floating grounds to the bottom while taking in the aroma, and lastly remove the remaining floating bits. Then they let the brew continue to steep and cool for another 1-2 minutes before they take their first sip. They will also repeat this tasting as it cools further. During this time, they don't stir the grounds again. That extra agitation at the end of the brewing cycle must be avoided.
Now in an espresso machine, the parameters of temperature, pressure, size of grind, and time of extraction are carefully controlled to minimize over-extraction during the very intense brewing cycle of 20-30 seconds. But during the longer 4 minute steep time of the CafeSolo or a French press, there will be an unavoidable build-up of bitter liquid and over-extracted fine particles in the grounds. With the French press, the act of pushing the plunger down forces liquid through the grounds, flushing the concentrated bitterness and fine particles into the rest of the liquid. The CafeSolo does not have a plunger. The carafe is tilted for pouring and the floating grounds settle under the inverted cone-shaped filter. The liquid flows over the grounds and through the wire mesh, as opposed to being forced through the grounds in order to exit the carafe. As some baristas have reported, the result is the closest thing to an actual cupping, only cleaner. It's for this reason that the CafeSolo tends to be very forgiving, yielding the least bitterness and the most flavor.
The Way of Coffee
Coffee making is an art. If you want a truly outstanding result, you have to refine your technique:
1) I found that I couldn't control the extraction consistently. Also my grounds would have too much fine powder. So I stopped using a blade grinder and bought a KitchenAid Pro Line burr grinder--that solved the problem. (The KitchenAid also does a great job of controlling static explosions of coffee grounds.)
2) I was not happy with the coffee beans. My coffee seemed to be lacking in rich flavor, and dark roasts seemed to have just one flavor: burnt. I stopped buying the stale beans from the supermarket and the over-roasted beans from the popular coffee houses. I tried internet suppliers (2-3 weeks since roast). For the first time, I could taste the flavor profile they described. Eventually I found a local roaster (1-4 days since roast), and my coffee has never been so rich and flavorful (both light and dark).
3) After switching to better coffee, I found that minute changes in the grind and amount greatly affected the result. I was able to fine-tune the setting on my grinder to my liking (I now use a setting somewhere between drip and French press). And I bought a small narrow glass container with markings on the side to measure the grounds. I use approx. 10 tbsp., but YMMV--the actual amount is somewhere between 9 and 10 level tbsp., depending on how careful you are (also note that I like a strong cup with sugar and arf 'n' arf). The measuring jar allows me to get a consistent amount without the tedium of measuring out one tbsp. at a time and still getting it wrong. Recently, I discovered it has one other benefit. Because I transfer the grounds from the KitchenAid's catcher jar to my measuring jar using a scoop, I noticed that most of the fine powder was left behind. This will contribute to a cleaner and less bitter cup.
***** Addendum 9/2/2011 - I have since upgraded to an even better grinder--the Baratza Virtuoso Preciso. That, in combination with a fine powder separator, made a huge difference and stripped away a layer of bitterness I was not even aware of. The coffee now turns out so well that I have had to reduce the amount of sugar I usually add (approx. 1/3 less).
4) Eventually I also came to realize that darker roasted coffees may benefit more from a higher pressure extraction, as you get from an espresso machine. The CafeSolo does bring out the most amazing flavor down to a med-dark roast, but may not be superior for a dark roast. I do get good results from Illy espresso roast, but I think I've had better Illy in a restaurant.
Ok, now for the mechanics of how I use the product to brew the perfect cup:
1) Boil 1 liter of water and pour into CafeSolo. Top with filter and lid to heat entire aparatus.
2) Boil another 1.25 liters of water. Use fresh, good tasting (filtered or bottled) water. Do not reboil previously boiled water or it will adversely affect flavor.
3) While second batch of water is coming to a boil, grind beans. Just before it boils, transfer water that was heating CafeSolo into a thermal carafe to warm it. Then pour fresh coffee grounds into bottom of CafeSolo.
4) Wait 30-45 seconds after second batch of water boils to let it cool to correct temperature. Set timer for 4 minutes and start it right before pouring water into carafe. Stir down foam while adding water until level is 1 inch below narrowest part on neck of carafe (but wait, there is a better way--see addendum, below). Once foam is stirred down and water level is correct, place filter/lid on top, zip neoprene jacket, and wait for timer to run out.
At first, I was surprised at how fresh roasted and ground coffee reacted when I poured in the hot water. There was a huge bloom of foam and grounds that would have overflowed the carafe if I didn't start stirring (I'm told fresh roasted coffee can foul some automatic drip machines for this reason). With the CafeSolo, you end up perfecting your pour and stir technique to get the lid on and the jacket zipped before too much heat loss.
***** Addendum 9-2-2011 -- I have finally switched to weighing all the ingredients. Of course, that helps to get a more consistent result. But it also helps me to reduce the time it takes to add the water. Because it was taking too long to stir down the foam to the point where I could see the true water level, I decided to reduce the quantities slightly and use the scale reading to know when I had added the right amount of water. For 64 grams of beans, I use 900-930 grams of hot water (your mileage may vary). Now my technique is to zero-out the scale with the CafeSolo and grounds sitting on it, start adding the water until the foam puffs up to the top of the carafe, immediately start the timer, then wait and stir down the foam while adding more water until the scale reads the right amount, and finally put the filter/lid onto the top.
Speaking of heat loss, Coffeegeek mentions that they measured acceptable temperatures using this jacket, whereas a French press would quickly lose 10 degrees or more within just a few minutes. I recall some consumer on a certain cooking site confidently declaring that the temp would drop too much over 4 minutes and the jacket would do no good--all without apparently validating their claims by actually using the product (genius).
5) When timer rings, pour out water from thermal carafe and pour coffee from CafeSolo into thermal carafe. Coffee is ready to drink.
If you leave the coffee in the CafeSolo, the grounds will continue to extract and the brew will begin to taste bitter after another minute (you may not notice the difference if you have too much fine powder in your brew to start with, but after improving my grinding technique, I found that just letting it sit one minute longer would cause what little fine powder remained to contribute a bitter taste to the bottom of the cup). Also, I found that mixing up the liquid by pouring it into another carafe always results in a better tasting cup. This is all relative--that first pour is still better than anything I could produce using other coffee makers.
Cleanup: Place old discarded conical metal coffee filter from now-departed loathsome drip coffee maker into sink drain. Rinse Eva filter and carafe grounds into old filter, drain and shake out into trash can. Wash inside of CafeSolo carafe (and thermal carafe, if you used one) with hot soapy water using a long flexible brush. Use hot soapy water on the mesh filter, too.
Hope this helps. :-)