Supercharged Coffeemaker Design


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[T]he design appeal of automatic drip brewers has always hovered somewhere between toaster ovens and the old sponge in the sink you’ve been meaning to chuck out. While other appliances settled into a timeless aesthetic­—think of a KitchenAid’s sports car curves or a Cuisinart’s bare boxiness—automatic coffeemakers were always clearly of a specific time. Much of this comes down to the technological complexity of coffeemakers, which kept any one model from becoming a household standard, and the fact that anything with a heating coil will have a brief life.

The result was that coffeemakers were the odd, ugly man on the countertop.

This past year has seen a big push to knock coffeemakers out of that design ditch. The Ratio was the first of this batch and with it Mark Hellweg brought a Nordic-meets-Apple sensibility to brewers. Then in August Williams-Sonoma imported the Wilfa Precision machine from Norway and introduced US consumers to Tim Wendelboe. While it seemed to come from nowhere, Wilfa’s been around since 1948 and has a range of gorgeous coffeemakers. Then this week the manual-brewing darling Chemex jumped into the mix with the Ottomatic.

The Ratio. (Photo: Clive Coffee)
The Ratio. (Photo: Clive Coffee)
The Wilfa Precision. (Photo: Williams-Sonoma)
The Wilfa Precision. (Photo: Williams-Sonoma)
The Ottomatic. (Photo: Chemex)

Each of these machines puts a premium on clean lines. There’s no boxy water tank hanging off another box. Nothing angles out from the base and the tank, showerhead, basket, and carafe are part of a unified piece of design. So often coffeemakers look like multiple teams went off to solve different problems and came together with a roll of duct tape to connect it all. None of these feels like the finished look was ever shunted aside. The Precision, with its how-does-this-thing-work mystery, looks like the design came first and the engineers had to puzzle a coffeemaker into it. Instead of an expectation that these will be shoved in a corner with the flour canisters and the toaster, these are display pieces in the same way as a stand mixer. When the design is this good, you’ll rearrange your countertop around a machine.

Cory Eldridge is Fresh Cup’s editor.

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