Bunn Trifecta MB - Follow-up Review

From Google image search for Trifecta MB -- the plot thickens 

Can someone show me how to brew a bad cup of coffee?

I've tried. Used the wrong water, the wrong settings, had an aborted brew when the air leaked out through the top gasket. I even had some help from my grinder giving me a random grind. Each time, the result was better than I've made using manual brewing techniques. So the first lesson you could draw from this is that the Trifecta is very forgiving.

Now about that air leak. The first unit shipped to my door (in record time, I might add) eventually revealed a problem with that machine's brew chamber clamp not sealing correctly. Bunn customer support was over-the-top friendly, helpful, and responsive, particularly since I am an early adopter. They appeared to have not seen this type of defect before, in which the clamp fails to descend far enough to make a tight seal. I was promptly shipped a replacement and I can see from the second machine how much lower the clamp should have gone. My best guess is damage during shipping was the culprit--Bunn is working on a possible redesign of their protective packaging to avoid putting excessive force on the clamp (including when the customer lifts the machine out of the box--it's easy to grab the top of the machine in the wrong place).

In one sense, I was fortunate to witness this clamp issue, because it settled in my mind as to where the Trifecta derives most of its flavor-extracting ability. When the clamp was properly aligned on my original machine, I was getting a full brew. But when the occasional air leak occured, the brew would be pressed out almost to the grounds and then the top gasket would leak and the pressure would drop. The resulting cup was weak. This intrigued me, so I repeated the process, deliberately misaligning the top gasket and achieving consistent weak brews. Then when I carefully aligned the gasket so there was no air leak, the strong brews returned.


So, when someone tries to tell you it's the air infusion or the turbulence that is the secret to the Trifecta's full extraction, I beg to differ. It's the pressure, mon.

Baratza gets in on the act

Sometime approx. 2 weeks ago, I noticed that my office brews were going to pot. The results were getting noticeably weaker. Then I finally started looking more carefully at the grounds and noticed they were all over the place, size-wise. A call to Baratza elicited some stellar customer support, and I am now the owner of a refurbished unit that has all the upgrades, including the stronger gear box and lower burr support. The new unit has a beefier motor sound--actually louder when it runs without grinding beans. And my grind is back to normal. I hate to do this to Baratza, but if you want to check whether there is an issue with your Preciso burr housing or gear train or what-not, try lifting off the top burr and then gently pressing at the various clock positions of the black plastic ring at the base of the bottom burr. On my old machine, the base felt like it was spring-loaded at the 11 o'clock and 7 o'clock positions, while the 2 o'clock and 5 o'clock positions felt fixed. That's a sign that you may have a broken part. On my replacement machine, there is no give anywhere around the base.

The upshot of all this is that I remain very impressed with both Bunn and Baratza, from a quality-conscious and consumer friendly point of view. I consider the Bunn Trifecta to be an example of an effort to produce a much more robust product than is typical in a consumer coffee brewer. And Baratza's efforts to rapidly improve and respond to issues in their grinders is well-known among us coffee geeks.

Both companies are exceptional and merit serious consideration for their responsiveness and ongoing efforts to improve their products.

...here it comes...

I pity the fool that doesn't think Bunn and Baratza are a class act!

Musings while sipping Klatch Belle Espresso

We finished-up our supply of Klatch Belle Espresso the other day. In my Softbrew at work, the later efforts resulted in rich, dark cocoa-laden goodness. The roaster describes their product as a medium roast, but I would say medium-dark. I'm comparing it with Velton's Bonsai Blend, which Velton describes as medium-dark, but which definitely tastes like a lighter roast than the Klatch beans.

On the Trifecta, my results were quite different. I've mentioned in previous posts that I like my coffee strong, so I use 30 grams for 12 oz. in the Trifecta. The first thing I noticed when brewing the Klatch roast was that not all of the grounds were getting an adequate soak. Because the beans are a darker roast, there was more volume of material for the same weight as a lighter roast. So that meant the Trifecta would have to work harder to sink all those floatation devices. Consequently, I used the highest setting for turbulence--the "E-ticket ride".

On "E", the brew tasted too cloyingly caramely sweet, and with plenty of smokiness. I next tried brewing only 9 oz. and cutting down the quantity proportionally, while setting the turbulence at the minimum setting "A". Despite the low setting, the grounds seemed to get a better soak--of course, there were much fewer bits this time. But the flavor did a complete 180. This time around, both my wife and I agreed the balance was perfect and I could begin to taste some of the fruitiness. There was only the tiniest hint of smokiness and no cloying syrupiness. We experimented a bit further with the middle settings, and it was indeed a smooth progression.

I chatted with some Bunn representatives later on, and they suggested using a finer grind and smaller amount next time. But by the time my replacement grinder arrived, the Klatch beans were gone and I now had Velton's Bonsai Blend. So we continued the experiments using Velton's. I'll make no secret about which I prefer--the Bonsai Blend is still our favorite for overall balance. I do use a higher turbulence setting with Bonsai Blend--it doesn't carry the same amount of roasty flavors getting in the way, so it stands up to the higher setting. But it's early in the days since roast, so I'll have to report back in a few more days when this coffee reaches its peak.

By this time, I've gotten a firm sense of the extraction output using my Trifecta. Clearly, what Bunn says about the impact of the turbulence setting is true, but instead of telling people they'll get a sweeter brew with higher turbulence, I would more accurately say they'll get more of the roasted solids, which can include caramely bits, smokey bits, etc. I also think there's something to the notion that shorter extraction can yield higher fruitiness and acidity, proportionally. Take a look at this graph from the June 2002 issue of Scientific American:

The graph shows what happens during espresso brewing, but the results are applicable to non-espresso brewing. Toward the left side of the graph, you see proportionally a lot less of some ingredients, but more of others.  If you tried to make sense of how this translates to common knowledge (i.e., short shots tend toward sourness, long shots tend toward bitterness, in-between shots are just right), you need to factor-in something that I think is missing from the equation: our taste buds and nervous system react to various combinations of flavors in non-linear fashion. So not only does the relative proportion of flavors matter, their absolute strength matters as well--that's the effect of us not being sensitive to some values until they get over a minimum threshold. One last thing concerning the above graph: do you think the espresso brewers were using the best coffee? Maybe not.

Now here's a graph that's non-scientific but way more to my liking (from CoffeeAnalysts.com):

The nice thing about the above graph is it shows what we all take as common knowledge: the lighter the roast, the more you'll taste the acidity and "origin flavors", the darker the roast, the more you'll taste just the roast flavors. And although this graph uses roast darkness as the horizontal scale, I want you to also consider turbulence in place of the horizontal units. On the Trifecta, this graph more or less holds true for the turbulence setting. Now consider time in place of the horizontal units. I've heard that during brewing, the first flavors to be extracted tend toward the acidity, followed by--you guessed it--the origin flavors, then the body, and finally--what's not shown on this graph--the most bitter components (tannic acid, etc.). Turbulence on the Trifecta is a way of speeding this process up, substituting added friction for the slower dissolving properties of hot water.  And since most of the acidity is extracted within the first minute according to reports I've read (i.e., acidity appears to be more readily extracted regardless of brew time or agitation), the short brewing time of the Trifecta makes for an effective way to prevent bitterness while maximizing acidity. Make sense?

I'll have another cup

My wife and I have just finished an early (too soon after roast) 2 cups each of Velton's Bonsai Blend and it was too good to stop. I never could have done this before: I asked her, "Care for another half cup?" I quickly ground another 15 grams, this time using a finer setting. I poured 6 oz. of water into the Trifecta's reservoir, dumped the grounds in the brew chamber, and hit the button. Out came deliciousness that finally topped us off. We were content.

On the Trifecta, it helps to have the entire apparatus pre-heated.  It takes practically no time to dump 12 oz. of water into the reservoir and hit the button before you start preparing the grounds. The result will pre-heat the internals of the machine, plus the brewing chamber and the receptacle you place under it. Then you can pour that water into your cups and pre-heat them. I now do this whenever I brew because it makes for a much hotter cup--resolving my only major issue (if you add cold half and half, it really brings down the temperature).

The ability to choose to have another quick cup of perfectly brewed coffee... priceless.

Look, I don't mean to brag--but if you want bragging...

Warning: It has been scientifically proven that 70% of all internet users don't get sarcasm. If you feel you may be one of those people, or have a distinct dislike of Denis Leary (hey, even I don't think his stand-up routine's all that--I just want to use him as a mouthpiece for this next bit. And besides, his "Rescue Me" series redeems him from any wrongdoing)--if you find you may be completely insensitive to the sarcasm that is right now at this very moment pummelling your synapses even as I speak--that's correct, right now. It's happening right now. You're getting a full dose. Nothing? Then please, just skip this next part. Pass on it. Ixnay. Pat yourself on the back for getting this far and walk away.

Down the rabbit hole 


So this guy (who looks and sounds exactly like Denis Leary) walks into an experimental kinda high-end geeky-but-we're-reaching-out-to-the-public-just-this-once-don't-make-us-pack-our-bags-and-go-home coffee bar. And he looks around at all the foo-farah and decides to give the coffee vs. coffee + milk exhibit a try.

First he tries the coffee.

Then he tries adding some milk.

"So, mister, what did you think?"

"I don't like either. This stuff's too weak.  Why would you add milk to something that weak in the first place?"

"Well, that's partly the point we're trying to make. You wouldn't want to dilute and cover-up the true terroir flavor of this exceptional brew."

"Exceptional? You call this exceptional? My dog makes better coffee than this."

"Now, sir, maybe you're not used to tasting the acidity and fruitiness--"

"I'll give you fruity.  You see that contraption you used to make this weak stuff? Well all I have to do is grind my beans, dump them in a tube, and hit a button. And yes, sometimes I let my little pooch do the honors. I hold his little paw out and he presses the button. And you know what happens? My Trifecta brews up a cup that has twice the flavor of this stuff in one fourth the time and half the clean-up and my dog can make better coffee than you."


"And you.  And you.  And you there with the pouchy bag on a stick.  Yeah, and you."

Scene fades as voice continues on.

Now that's bragging.

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