I’ve spent the last week getting to know the Zojirushi Fresh Brew… and for the most part, I’m quite pleased. It has some foibles [which I'll get to in a moment] but on the whole it’s a very capable coffee brewer. More, it’s one of the very few home models I know that can brew 8 cups of just-roasted coffee at a proper 2 tablespoons per cup ratio without fuss, and â€” this is important! â€” maintain proper brewing temperatures throughout the entire brew cycle.
Zoji has been making vacuum pots and the like for nearly 100 years, and they’ve been making an assortment of rice-cookers, tea brewers and hot water dispensers for decades. While this is, I believe, their first home coffee brewer, they’ve got more than a little experience in kitchen electrics. They’ve put that experience to good use.
If you’ve ever brewed up a thermos full of coffee using a big Melitta filter cone then this setup will look pretty familiar. For all intents and purposes, the Fresh Brew simply adds an automated hot water delivery system to the mix… with a few improvements.
Improvement number one: not only does this system brew into an all-stainless thermal carafe [no hot plate here, thankyouverymuch] but it also insulates the brew basket. What good is it, after all, to heat up all that water if it’s just going to get cold while you’re brewing? This is huge! This is important! This is… well, I’m excited about it, okay?
Improvement number two: the Fresh Brew features an accurate gauge of water volume. When it reads that you’ve got 8 cups of water in the brewer’s reservoir, it means it. Mind you, we’re talking 6 oz. cups of water — that’s the way the coffee world measures a cup [unless you're Bodum and then it's 4 oz.].
Improvement number three: the Fresh Brew is patient. The biggest pain about the manual pour-over method is that you’ve got to wait to add more water, especially if the coffee is really fresh. Fresh coffee blooms with its charge of CO2! Faced with a full basket of coffee that was literally fresh from the roaster the Zoji didn’t overflow, nor did it heave grounds into the water dispensing shower-head. More, the grounds were thoroughly saturated; no dry spots.
So where’s the foibles?
Like a great many autodrip brewers the feeder tube that comes from the Zoji’s heating element to the shower-head takes a straight path right through the water reservoir. For most brewers this is a game-over situation… the heating element simply can’t overcome the heat exchange that occurs en route to the brew-head. On the Zoji, the heating element *does* get hot enough… provided that the water you’ve placed in the reservoir is not too cold.
Example A: In the office using the “unchilled” spigot on the water cooler, I draw off 48 ounces of water for the reservoir and brew a pot. Throughout the brew cycle water temperatures in the brew basket range between 195 and 200 degrees F. The result is a lovely pot of Ethiopian Yrgacheffe that is sweet, floral and lemony.
Example B: At home I draw off 48 ounces of water from the water filter in-line with the refridgerator. The temperature of the water in the reservoir is about 40 degrees F. and the resulting temperature in the brew basket never tops 185 degrees F. The result is an icky pot of the very same Yrgacheffe that is bitter, murky and flat.
The moral: mind your initial water temperature and you’ll do just fine.
All in all, the Zojirushi Fresh Brew is capable of making 8 cups of coffee that’s on a par with manual pourover methods. Better, really, as it insulates the brew-basket to better maintain water temperatures.
The Zoji Fresh Brew was recently spotted on sale at Amazon.com for $49.99.