Automatic Pour-Overs: Do They Make a Better Cup of Coffee?
There's a new generation of coffee machines on the block, and they all promise a morning brew that's as good or better than your current method—whatever that is. They're called "automatic pour-overs," and they combine the convenience of drip with the meticulousness of pour-over coffee. Let's see if they're any good.P

What's an "Automatic Pour-Over?" Isn't that Just Drip?P

Automatic Pour-Overs: Do They Make a Better Cup of Coffee?
The idea of the "auto pour-over" isn't really new, although there's recently been a bit of a gold rush on Kickstarter for them. Some of our favorite coffee makers, like the Bonavita BV-1800and the Technivorm Moccamaster, are drip machines that make good coffee and are worthy of the title. They carefully heat the water to proper brewing temperature and hold it there through the entire brewing process. The best machines even keep the water away from the storage tank after it's been heated, so it doesn't cool down too much. They also use a broad drip pattern across the coffee grounds that gives it a chance to bloom (i.e., absorb some of the water and release the oils that make coffee taste so good) before it passes through into the carafe below. P
Another coffeemaker that walks the line is the Bodum Bistro b.overGizmodo tested it not too long ago and summarily crowned as their favorite, even after a direct comparison with a Bonavita. I had a chance to test out the Bistro myself (and mentioned some of my thoughts inthis post on at-home coffee gear) for an extended period, and while it certainly had its quirks over long term use, it brewed great coffee—much better than any drip or automatic coffeemaker I'd previously used. I'm not the only one who thinks so—the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) has certified the Bistro—an award that they've only given to two other home brewers: The Technivorm Moccamaster and the Bunn HG Home Brewer. P
Another device making waves is the Ratio, a $480 machine that features heat sensors to keep the water consistently over 200 degrees F (~94 C), or just shy of boiling—the perfect brewing temperature. It also packs a uniform shower-head that evenly distributes water over the coffee grounds for even saturation. The Ratio also has a specific bloom timer. If you're not afraid of importing your coffee makers, Hario has a Hario V60 Electric Brewer that's available in Japan. There's no manual temperature control, but it uses your existing Hario pour-over gear with great water coverage and brewing time. So does this mean that the holy grail of a great coffee at the touch of a button is near? Let's take a look at where these devices excel and where they fall short. P

Where Auto Pour-Overs ExcelP

Part of what makes these types of automatic pour-overs great is that they all pay attention to the needs of the discerning coffee snob. They let us set our water temperature, set brewing and blooming times, and they work with existing pour-over systems (Chemex, Hario, Melitta, etc). Many of them are even programmable, meaning you can set them to start your coffee before you wake up, so you have a carafe of freshly-brewed coffee waiting for you. P
Some of the more advanced models, like the Marco Uber Boiler and the Luminaire LB-1 are designed for professional coffee shop and cafe environments. They draw water directly from your tap, incorporate scales to measure the right amount of water to coffee in the brewer, and allow you to finely dial in the heat and brew time. That level of high-tech wizardry is definitely something welcome in automatic coffeemakers, which largely haven't changed since...well, ever. Future models may work their way into home kitchens.P
It's pretty difficult to make a bad cup of coffee with many of these. They take a lot of the guesswork out of brewing. You don't have to learn a pour-over "style," and you don't have to set a timer to make sure your coffee is saturated, bloomed, and ready to drink. That said, they're not perfect, and the ones available today are hardly a panacea. P

Where They Fall ShortP

Automatic Pour-Overs: Do They Make a Better Cup of Coffee?SEXPAND
I sat down with Tony Konecny, co-founder of Tonx (who we've mentioned before at Lifehacker, and helped us write our Morning School series about coffee) to talk about these devices, and while he admitted the Ratio was interesting, he noted that most of the auto pour-overs on the market today suffer from some pretty significant issues.P
First, most of these auto pour-overs can't keep the water as hot as it needs to be in order to brew a good cup of coffee. Some, like the ones we mentioned above, pay attention to this, but others either don't bother getting the water up to the right temperature, or heat it but then don't keep it hot all the way through the brewing process. This leads to sprinkling not-hot-enough water over your ground coffee, and an under-flavored, under-extracted cup. P
After all, Konecny explained, coffee brewing may seem extravagant, but at the end of the day it's just the process of mixing ground coffee with hot water and then separating the resulting brew through some kind of filter—there's no magic here, as much as many of us coffee snobs would like to disagree. Many of these new machines command a high price point in exchange for not really doing anything more than you can do at home with a little attention to detailP
Also, another critical flaw with many of these devices is that they devote so much attention to the actual brewing process while ignoring other important factors that go into a good cup, including grind, water, and the quality of your coffee beansP
As Konecny notes:P
I think the engineer mentality toward coffee brewing is often re-solving the wrong problem... small iterations on the same old mousetrap without working enough on the cheese.
Presumably most of these devices are more robust and support better/hotter water temps and that alone is justification for their existence and cause enough for people to upgrade. But what about the grinder? What about the measurement of the coffee:water ratio? Making water hot and timing a pour is the least difficult part of the coffee brewing equation. We've been able to accomplish most of that pretty well since the invention of fire.P
Price is another drawback. Konecny and I discussed the Invergo, a failed Kickstarter from last year for a low-cost auto-pourover. Part of the reason many of these devices are so expensive is because they don't have the backing of large appliance manufacturers who can produce thousands of them and make money on volume. These coffee making startups often have to build prototypes to appeal to large buyers like coffeeshops and cafes first, and then build down to suit a home brewer. It takes money to get all of the certifications and testing required to get an appliance into homes safely. Right now the really pretty coffeemakers are starting to emerge, but a combination of price and poor focus are keeping them from really appealing to everyday buyers. P

The Bottom Line: Don't Open Your Wallet Just Yet, The Best Is Yet to ComeP

Automatic Pour-Overs: Do They Make a Better Cup of Coffee?SEXPAND
So should you run out and upgrade to one of these automatic pour-over machines? If you see one that's in your price range and you need a coffeemaker, sure, go right ahead. I loved using the Bodum Bistro, but when it was time to put it away and go back to my french press, the only thing I really missed was having a carafe full of coffee as opposed to a mug at a time. It made great coffee, but then again, so can I. P
If you're a home brewer on a budget, your money is likely better spent on upgrading the other important parts of your coffee-making loadout, like a good burr grinder, a kitchen scale to measure your coffee, or a less expensive manual pour-over system if you want to get into pour-overs at all. We offer up a few suggestions in this post packed with coffee gear both we and our readers love. In the meantime, keep an eye on this space. As better, more high-tech machines make their way into the market and their prices come down to consumer-friendly levels, we may see some great automatic pour-overs (like the Bistro, or the Technivorm, Bunn, and Bonavita) at price points that rival that Mr. Coffee on the shelf at your local big box store. When that happens, everyone wins.P
Title photo by Alex Ansley. Other photos by Bex Walton, and Christian Kadluba