Not even wine snobs are as hardcore as coffee snobs. To pour a great glass of wine, you need a corkscrew and some money. To pour a great cup of coffee, you need beans, gear, time and patience. There is a process, you see. It is complex and requires study. Any gray areas must be marked off as personal territory and argued over. Nothing unleashes righteous indignation in otherwise pleasant people more than coffee.
Recently, the venerable kitchen-and-housewares brand Oxo stepped into the bean brewer fray. For a few decades, Oxo just made products without power switches. But the company recently began making things that plug in. These small appliances are sold under the sub-brand Oxo On. Among the various coffee gadgets in the On line are the Conical Burr Coffee Grinder With Integrated Scale ($199) and the Barista Brain Nine Cup Coffee Maker (also $199). Neither of these products are new (both have been out for a year) but with many readers and acquaintances raving about them, we’d be remiss if we didn’t give them a proper review. Besides, who doesn’t love drinking a bunch of coffee and calling it work?
Both products are touted by Oxo as scientifically precise, with the grinding and brewing processes matching the guidelines of the Specialty Coffee Association of America, the trade group widely considered to be coffee culture’s standards-bearer. I tested them with frozen name-brand beans as well as freshly roasted beans that went into the grinder only a couple days after roasting.
The grinder is excellent. Fill the hopper with beans and the integrated scale only releases precisely enough coffee beans for the number of cups you want to make. It measures out the whole beans at roughly eight grams per cup. If you find that ratio too strong or weak for your taste, there’s a dial on the grinder that you can set to automatically add a bit more beans per measured cup, or a bit less. OXO claims that the grinder has also been designed to keep the beans from heating up during grinding, and grinds in a uniform consistency to keep everything smooth. In my testing, these claims check out.
The coffee maker works the same way electric coffee makers have worked for decades: you put a paper filter in the brew basket, you put coffee in the filter, you pour the water in the reservoir, and you press a button. In a few minutes, you have a steamy pot. But OXO does everything more precisely than grandma’s old Mr Coffee.
Even though you’ve already measured our the amount of grounds and water you want to use, you have to let the coffee maker know the volume you want to brew; between 2 and 4 cups, or between 5 and 9 cups. Why? Because OXO has designed this coffee maker to mimic the pour-over method used by baristas at fancy coffee shops. The hot water (heated to about 200 degrees Fahrenheit, per the SCA) travels out of the reservoir and rains on the grounds in scheduled intervals, including an initial pour specifically designed to create a bloom. If you’re making more than four cups, the intervals are dosed out over a longer timeframe to better extract the optimal amount of flavor from the grounds. When OXO claims the coffee maker is scientifically designed to produce a great cup of coffee, this is the process its talking about. We’ve seen other fancy machines that add a bloom stage, like Technivorm’s Moccamaster and the programmable brewers from Behmor. In Oxo’s case, the precision pays off, with pots of coffee of varying volumes that uniformly taste good.
With both the grinder and the brewer, the added complexity means added bloat. The grinder looks like a mini grain silo parked in front of a slightly larger grain silo. The coffee maker is more like a double-wide grain silo. They take up a lot of space in my kitchen—too much really. My kitchen isn’t tiny, but counter space is always precious, so the oversized footprint is a pain.
While the grinder and brewer can dose out the amount of beans and water needed for the desired number of cups, the size of a cup in the Oxo world is frustratingly small. One “cup” of coffee, as measured by the maker, was enough to fill only half a mug. For a long time, I thought I was doing something wrong, until Oxo explained its measurement for a cup of coffee is 4.5 ounces. For a standard mug, two measured cups equals roughly one standard mug (almost always 8 ounces). Sure, just do some simple math and adjust your volume as needed, no problem. But I point it out because the machine claims to brew nine cups per carafe, which could be misleading if you’re buying this thinking it’s a high-output piece of machinery. Brewing a full pot will only yield around four and a half mugs of coffee. This issue is not limited to just Oxo brewers, but the company might have considered a more realistic measurement system in the name of user-friendliness.
8/10—A very solid grinder that’s just slightly too big.
Coffee Maker Rating
7/10 —Makes a very nice cup of coffee, but it’s quite large. The measured cup size is misleadingly small.