Being an enthusiast of something generally means going far beyond what outsiders would consider “necessary”. If you’re a PC DIYer that might mean throwing as much overclocked power and as many RGBs in as possible. If you’re a gearhead and have a souped up ride, that might mean constantly tuning to get the most performance and custom look. If you’re a coffee enthusiast, that means you value quality beans with a history, and pay more attention than most to brewing that perfect cup.
Since Newegg is full of rabid tech enthusiasts and some diehard coffee junkies, when a Bonaverde Berlin smart coffee maker came along that can roast, grind, and brew all in one from a smartphone command, it instantly became the new “must-have.” And heck, for almost a grand I was curious to see what all this thing could do.
A Few Things About Coffee
Before getting too far into what exactly a smart coffee maker is, it helps to run through a few notes about coffee to understand to the nuances of this great beverage.
First off, coffee beans come from the inside of a coffee fruit called a “cherry”, which has several layers of pulp and material surrounding the coffee bean when it is picked. Farmers pick the coffee cherry, and process it to remove all the outer layers of flesh in a variety of ways (broadly- wet processing, dry processing, semi-dry processing), and then it is milled, and you have green coffee beans.
Most of the time, the coffee beans are roasted to varying degrees (light, medium, medium-dark, or dark), and sold to consumers ready-to-brew, but there are some connoisseurs who like to roast their own to experience more of the process.
Once the coffee beans are ground and not used they begin to oxidize, and need to be brewed in a short amount of time to retain their freshness and nuanced flavors.
To ensure a proper brew, often times coffee pots burn the beans by focusing the hot water in one location, while more advanced machine techniques use a “rain shower” brew head to scatter the water, or humans rotate the point of contact so it prevents burning
What is a Smart Coffee Maker?
With the basics out of the way, we can dive into the specifics of what a smart coffee maker really is, and why anyone would want one. After all, it seems that the term “smart” gets slapped on a variety of products that don’t really fit the bill far more often in the last few years.
A smart coffee maker can mean a few things, but here is the bottom line– it needs to be controlled via smartphone. Basic coffee makers have been running off a schedule for decades, so where this might fly with a light bulb there’s a bit higher tolerance for a device like a coffee maker.
Unfortunately, since some devices like coffee makers, radios, and TVs have multi-step activation processes where they need to first have power to the plug then have the “Power” button engaged, a simple smart plug to the average coffee machine won’t really hack this process very well.
The Bonaverde Berlin comes with a few unique things that make it pretty advanced, the first of which is the combination of the roast-grind-brew in one machine. In fact, starting from their Kickstarter campaign in 2017 and still to-date they are the world’s only coffee roaster-grinder-brewer available, which means that paired with the smartphone functionality you can be laying in bed while the Berlin roasts, grinds, and brews an uber-fresh cup of coffee to your liking.
The Berlin Smart Coffee Maker Design
The Berlin comes in either a silver with black trim ($999) or a white with green trim model ($799), that sits 18.7” x 9.8” x 9.8“, and is actually quite large for a countertop appliance. The large height is due to the vertical nature of the process, with roasting at the top, grinding in the middle, and brewing down lower. I suppose if you are in the luxury appliance market, you want to show off your goods when people come over, and this is definitely a conversation-starter.
The construction of the Berlin is predominately plastic, which I was a bit surprised at. I was expecting some stainless steel, which really would have hit their luxury market. On the left side the machine has a water reservoir which pops out for filling, while the right side has a HEPA air filter tucked behind a door (an extra air filter is included in the kit). While air filtration isn’t a concern for most coffee makers, since the Berlin is roasting the beans it is pulling in and expelling a decent amount of air and the built-in smoke suppression is necessary.
On the front of the unit beneath the peep window where you can watch the beans roast, there is a little RFID control panel with a scanner and touchscreen button, where certain actions can be completed outside the smartphone interface.
Behind the control panel on the innards of the unit sits the stainless steel cone grinder, which catches and grinds the beans through a trapdoor after they are roasted to the desired setting. There is built-in chaff collection in the unit, as well as removable parts for cleaning.
The Berlin uses a “rain shower” brew head to distribute the hot water (up to 40oz) onto the beans, which helps to evenly extract the flavor without burning the grounds. Bonaverde sends two 300g bags of green coffee beans with their machine, and for mine they sent the Costa Rica Tarrazu along with a bag of the Ethiopian Limo.
Coffee and Tech
There are a couple ways to get fresh coffee from the Berlin, the easiest being the one you can do right out of the box without a smartphone. Remember that little control unit? The Berlin comes with a pre-programmed roast and grind setting, stored on a card that can be used for a quick and easy brew. Just wave the card in front of the unit, hit the button, and the process begins.
The main way to interact with the Berlin involves accessing Facebook Messenger for Bonaverde’s “Coffee Concierge” chatbot. This was interesting to interact with, and the steps were pretty clear. If I wanted to do the full roast/grind/brew cycle, I would simply tap the request and the bot would respond as if I was chatting with a person to move through the setup.
Through the chatbot users can select roast profiles, schedule coffee, adjust grind settings, learn more about coffee and brewing, as well as order more coffee through the Bonaverde marketplace.
The Robot Barista at Work
The first step to having my fresh coffee made by a robot was to choose the whether I wanted to just roast, roast and grind, just grind, just brew, or do the full roast/grind/brew process. After that, the next stage was to select my preferred roast profile. Each bean in the collection has a pre-calibrated roast profile along with tasting notes and information about the farm and region it came from, however any profile can be chosen for any bean.
Bonaverde uses infrared heat to roast the green beans, and the full process from roast to brew takes about 18 minutes. The roasting itself is simple, just dump the coffee into the hopper and the spinner rotates the beans while they turn from an olive green to a chocolate brown right in front of your eyes.
While the smell of fresh coffee is generally accepted as a pleasant smell, there were a couple around the office that didn’t care much for the smell that wafted up from the roasting beans. Personally I enjoyed it as did many others, and there were comparisons to croissants, butter, bread, or even bacon. Having not ever roasted coffee myself I can’t compare it to the popcorn popper method, but from my understanding that creates far more burnt aromas, and a much more unpleasant experience.
The roasting was not very disruptive (having stationed the unit at my cubicle) however the grinding was a touch on the loud side. Even still, my mini Mr. Coffee grinder at home was actually louder so all-in-all I suppose the extra material helps to dampen the sound.
Adjusting the brew strength is achieved by regulating the bean to water ratio, and I will admit that every cup I had at different strengths was quite tasty. Being a pourover man myself, I find most drip coffee makers burn the beans or wash out the nuanced flavors that I love from coffee, however I can say that the Berlin didn’t fall victim to the same fate. The resulting coffee tasted extremely fresh, and very clean from many of the off-flavors that come with a normal drip machine.
Although the service works pretty well, I would have liked to see a dedicated app for operating the machine and ordering replacement beans. There was one instance where I scheduled coffee, and it didn’t begin the process at the set time nor did it respond to repeated requests to do so through the service. While this was an isolated instance, I can’t help but wonder if the problem would have happened with a dedicated app.
Coffee Beyond the Cup
Enthusiasts of the glorious drink coffee always love a fresh cup, but you will find that most don’t just head to the local market to snag some generic or cheap beans. After all, put good in and get good out, right?
The popularity of artisan roasters and baristas has given everyone from your casual coffee drinker to hardcore caffeine head the ability to know which region their beans came from, how it was roasted, what flavor notes it has, and often times the story of the farm that it came from all by just picking up the bag. Bonaverde looks to take that awareness one step further.
Bonaverde created a coffee marketplace, where customers can purchase different green beans from growers that they partner with. This is designed so that coffee enthusiasts can enjoy a variety of beans and farms, dabble with various roast and brew settings, and contribute to the greater coffee ecosystem. Beyond that though, Bonaverde is doing something really cool with their ecosystem, which helps explain some of the luxury-level cost.
Coffee growers who sign up with Bonaverde are guaranteed a minimum 25% over production price for their beans, which is not a common occurrence in the coffee industry. Despite the warm nature of the beverage and coffee consumer community, the farmers and laborers that handle the raw ingredients are often making bare bones wages. The extra relationship with the producers and communities for fairly traded coffee is really pretty cool, gives you that warm tingly feeling, just like a fresh cup of coffee.
What is the Best Smart Coffee Maker?
The Bonaverde has some really cool things going for it, and they are surely pioneers in the coffee technology field. Their Berlin has some great features for the luxury coffee connoisseur who wants to have room to play with different variables, while getting the smart functionalities.
Saying that the Bonaverde Berlin is a unique coffee experience is no lie, and even playing with the different settings is, dare I say, fun. As this is Bonaverde’s first model, there is surely some room for improvement that I expect will be coming with their next revamp.
I would make a few minor tweaks for it to push me to the near-$1000 cost and be the best Wi-Fi coffee maker yet, as there are Wi-Fi coffee grinder/brewers without the roasting element.
A dedicated app is something I think could be beneficial to have, although I’ll admit I go back and forth on the necessity. On one hand it is nice to not have to download another app to my phone, however there is a slight wait time when chatting with the bot, and the interface isn’t as nice as standalone apps. Another area I would like to see a bit of improvement would be the overall finish of the unit and build.
It is not bad by any means, but also not nearly as sturdy as I was expecting for the price. I can understand the need to save weight since this tower is sitting countertop and might need to move every now and again, but stainless steel would class it up even more, and a thermal carafe would be a very nice touch.
All in all, for the luxury-minded coffee enthusiast who wants to deck out their kitchen with the latest tech, the Bonaverde is a really unique device. The ability to roast, grind, and brew all in one and tinker with the different settings is a great way to be more involved in the coffee experience. From a Smart Home perspective, being able to set my coffee schedule and profile remotely is avant-garde, and nobody has been able to replicate what Bonaverde has done. Their incorporation of a greater sense of community and involvement in the worldwide coffee ecosystem for coffee drinkers serves a greater good, and helps to make this a truly connected device.
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