Friday, January 20, 2012

Bona Vita Electric Kettle

Starting off with cold water.

During last year's coffee industry trade show, I ran across a small booth with one guy. He was hawking a new drip coffee brewer that was supposed to deliver water at 200F - the ideal temperature for coffee brewing. We talked and I was very interested in bringing these brewers to our customers but they wouldn't be ready for a few months due to UL listing, importation and whatever ills plagues the import manufacturer.

Fast-foward to a couple of weeks ago and Todd finally made it out to see us with some gifts in tow: the aforementioned coffee brewer, along with their new electric water kettle. In case you haven't been following, hand pour water kettles have been all the rage in the barista ranks for the last few years. And while there are a few nice ones on the market, they're usually pretty pricey and are subject to thermal loss during use. HarioUSA has been threatening for a couple of years to import their electic Buono kettle but they've been lazy to do so, and it's such a pain in the butt to do business with Hario distributors that it's easier to just abandon their line altogether - especially when there are easier options available.

The Bona Vita Electric Kettle is one such option.

Manufactured in China, the BVEK features stainless steel construction, a nice tapered pouring nozzle, simple electronics and ease of use. The lid fits securely to the top and features pressure relief holes that can double as an orifice for your temperature probe.

The bottom of the kettle and the base are made from high-impact plastics and feature a switch, located beneath the handle, and a red indicator light to let you know when the thing is "on". Overall, construction is nice and it feels good, though the finger relief on the handle for ergonomics isn't as comfortable as you'd prefer.

Brewing a pour over with the Bona Vita.

Originally I thought I would conduct these tests in the real world of Spro, but it can be so darn busy in there that it's easier for me to take the unit elsewhere where I have the time and space to concentrate and give it a try.

The unit itself is compact and smart-looking. The design has just the right blend of stainless and black plastic, making it pleasing in the workspace. For the home user, it's absolutely brilliant. For the professional barista considering its deployment in a shop environment, there are a few things to consider.

First off, it's reasonably well-built and I do expect it to take a bit of a beating, and if you can avoid dropping the kettle, it should last quite some time. My concern lies with the number of cycles the unit is designed to take. If you're serving 100 cups per day and heating each batch of water to order (or reheating), you could be talking 75,000 cycles per year. It might take the home user a lifetime to reach that many cycles.

But that's not to discredit the Little Kettle That Can. In the few days that I've been playing with it, and the week prior being mauled by the Spro baristas, the BVEK seems like a winner. The construction is good, the design is pleasant and the price point blows even the regular Hario non-electric Buono Kettle away.

For the purposes of this test, I used the BVEK to heat 32 ounces of water from 60.7F to boiling point (212F) and the auto shut off of the unit. With an ambient temperature of 68F, the kettle started steaming (145F) around three minutes and reached 212F at 6 minutes 2 seconds. Not bad performance for a little 120volt kettle. Though, if you were using this in a professional environment, six minutes is quite a long stretch that could be mitigated by running multiple kettles constantly heating.

At Spro, we only serve 12 ounce brewed coffees. For these kinds of situations, how does the kettle perform with lower volumes of water? Typically, a 12 ounce coffee absorbs two ounces of water in the brew cycle. The next test involved heating 14 ounces of water (65.4F) to boiling, resulting in a time of two minutes and fifty-three seconds. Definitely this heating time is well within striking range of any brew cycle, roughly halving the 32 ounce time.

However, heating 14 ounces of water does not allow for cup preheating or hot rinsing of the paper filter. A twenty ounce sample of water (65.1F) took just under four minutes (3:57) to reach the boiling point.

The overall look of the handsome Bona Vita Kettle.

From an operational standpoint, there are a few more things to consider. If you're pulling your water from a hot water tank and using the kettle to stabilize temperature, then you'll experience much quicker heat times. Also, the test times here are run to the boiling point when the kettle's auto-shutoff feature kicks in. With a thermometer in hand, and the 200F goal, you should be able to shave off up to 30 seconds (or more) from the heat times.

While not as finely tapered as the Hario Buono kettle, the Bona Vita's taper provides for smooth pouring action, as well as fine stream control. Those of you used to the Buono will find the transition quite easy.

One concern that I do have with the Bona Vita is the bottom of the kettle and it's electrical contacts. Even though they are recessed and probably designed as best as possible to reduce shock, my concern is for use in wet and messy environments - especially those run by messy, disorganized baristas. Stray grounds may get into the contacts and muck things up, which is more reason for every barista to run a clean station.

Another potential problem, though a minor one, is the length of the electric cord. At 29 inches, it's plenty long for use on a kitchen counter or backbar, but if your electrical requirements require a bit of a run underneath the counter (as it is at Spro), you will need an extension cord.

In summary, the Bona Vita Electric Kettle is a winner. Either for the home user (excellent) or the professional coffee shop (very good). We will be stocking them at Spro and while they are simple on/off kettles, the next generation Todd promises me will have programmable temperature controls so that you can offer a variety of water temperatures for coffee or tea.