When it comes to machines I am often lured to those which display a simplicity in design and function. I don't need a ballpoint pen that has a camera and USB memory built in, and my flashlight isn't a radio. My espresso machine doesn't have water volume programming and my car has four cylinders (two more than my motorcycle). But, the subject at hand is coffee makers. At the 2011 SCAA Exhibition in Houston I ran across a coffee maker that fits this genre of simplicity with aplomb. The Sowden Design SoftBrew Coffee Maker .
The Sowden SoftBrew has three parts - the porcelain pot, the porcelain lid, and a high-tech stainless steel filter. That's it. One, two, three.
The entire brewing system
The SoftBrew also comes with instructions and a measuring spoon (not shown here).
The porcelain is of very high quality (not that I am an expert in that realm). All edges seem smooth and all areas are well-glazed. The lip on the inside of the lid has no drain hole, so the lid will hold water after washing. Invert it after washing, and a quick wipe with a towel will do the trick there.
How does it work?
1 - I like to preheat the pot by filling it with hot water. Pour out when porcelain pot is warmed.
2 - Insert the filter into the pot.
3 - Pour the pre-measured, ground coffee into the filter.
4 - Pour in the desired amount of water. The inside of the filter has a maximum mark which is just above the level of the top of the perforations.
5 - Stir the coffee into the water and top off with water if necessary.
6 - Allow to steep.
7 - Pour and drink
It's actually just that simple. This just might be one of the very shortest reviews I have ever written. I'll wait for the cheering to cease before proceeding... Class ready? OK..
Bottom of Filter
The key part of the system is the filter. A tube of stainless steel with the bottom closed. The bottom and a good portion of the sides are perforated with holes. Lots and lots of very little holes. They are created, "using hi-tech photo-etching technology" (quote from their literature).
No, I did not actually count all the little holes, but I did do an estimate of the total:
The red square marks 0.1 Square Inch of Filter Surface
This above photo is a close-up of the side of the filter basket. The lines above are are 0.01" apart.
The red lines in the image above demarcate an area of 0.1 sq. in.
In that 0.1 sq. in. are an estimated 49 holes.
4900 holes per square inch.
The filter basket's perforated area for this 4 cup model is approximately 32 sq. in.
Total estimated number of holes = 156,800
The holes are so small and precisely placed that it takes good lighting and the proper angle to see them clearly (or younger, nearsighted eyes).
The holes are not conical as seen above. That is an artifact of the reflection from the flash.
If you think cowboy coffee made with a high-tech stainless filter instead of a sock, you have the idea. I had two samples of coffee at the SCAA show made with the SoftBrew and both were excellent, but at home I was anxious to find out how it did with my coffee. We brewed the first pot using some of my espresso blend and it made an excellent cup. Very smooth, and although I like a coffee with more body, it was quite drinkable. If you think something along the lines of drip coffee, with better saturation of the grounds for better extraction, and without the paper filter to remove the oils, you have the idea.
The only negative is that the filter will allow some sludge through much like a press pot. The amount will depend on the grind you use and the quality of your grinder, but there is no real news there. The sediment seems to be a little finer than with press coffee and is less disturbing on the palate, but still, I recommend avoiding taking that last sip.
Cleanup is akin to cleaning out a press pot, but since the SoftBrew filter system is one piece, all you need to do is lift it from the pot and dump the grounds. It is an easier task and less of a mess than a press pot since there isn't a plunger to deal with.
All parts of the SoftBrew system are dishwasher safe. Take care that the filter is not allowed to come into contact with moving parts in the dishwasher nor with pointy things. The stainless is strong and of high quality, but thin.
So as I am finishing this review, I am finishing a tall cup from my second brewing in the SoftBrew. This one was a blend of organic Bolivian and Kenyan Fairview Estate Peaberry. I ground this more coarsely than the first pot and although the coffee literally went from roaster to the grinder within minutes of cooling, it made a very nice cup.
So in conclusion, the elegant and simple lines makes it pleasant to the eye, the ergonomic design makes it a good fit in the hand when pouring, quality components (all three of them), easy to use, and it makes a very nice cup of coffee, very easily. The SoftBrew is a welcome addition to my coffee-making arsenal, and it would make a great gift item.
There are three models currently available - 4, 8, and 12 cups (rated at 27, 44, and 61 ounces respectively). They currently run around $40, 60, and $70 +shipping. I use the four-cup size to make two full mugs of about ten or eleven ounces each.