When a Kickstarter campaign moves from concept to funding to producing an actual product it’s pretty inspiring. It’s one thing to have a good idea, it’s quite another to see it come to fruition – thanks in large part to people who want to back it. Case in point: The Bonaverde Berlin Brewing System, a coffeemaker which was first introduced to the world on Kickstarter in 2013, is now a functioning product that is being delivered to backers.
A Concept Worth Building?
Berlin aimed to simplify the process of brewing the freshest pot of coffee at home. The inventors built a machine that roasts and grinds beans and then brews a pot of coffee. They also added a lot of other details along the way, which turned this beautifully simple notion into something far more complex than most people want to deal with first thing in the morning. To be fair, when the Berlin works, it performs its tasks exactly as advertised. Our summation is that it works as promised 90 percent of the time.
The Berlin’s boxy, yet streamlined design and silver coloring makes it look like something you’d see in a high-end space ship (we’re not thinking the Millennium Falcon – far too nice for that!). The largest area on the front of the machine is a black touchpad that features a scan area and an unraised, circular button comprised of dots. As such, it would probably fit in perfectly with a modern-style kitchen rather than one that’s shabby chic.
Speaking of fit, the Berlin is big. Measuring 19.5 inches high, 10 inches wide, and 9.5 inches deep, it doesn’t fit under a standard kitchen cabinet. You’ll need to find a spot on your counter that doesn’t have cabinets above it. In our case, we ended up placing it by the sink, which wasn’t ideal, as it cut into the space reserved for drying dishes. The designers managed to fit a lot into those dimensions, however. At the top of the machine is the roasting chamber and below that is the spot for the coffee pot. You fill a compartment with water that you place on the side of the machine. On the opposite side of the water is a dedicated spot for the filter.
Setting up the Berlin is fairly straight-forward. Take the separate parts out and place them where they belong. It’s all intuitive, except for the air filter, which is hidden and requires scanning. Yes, scanning, just like you do with your grocery items at check-out. There is a scanner in the front of the machine and you use it for both filters and beans. Once an item is scanned, it’s scanned – no takebacks or do-overs, which can be a bit problematic early in the morning when you aren’t fully awake.
When we first reviewed the Bonaverde, you could only use the machine with the proprietary green coffee bean packets sourced from farmers in Nicaragua, and you couldn’t purchase your own raw beans. Now, the device works with any beans, and there’s a wider variety of coffee available. The beans are delivered in pouches and have a pre-determined amount in each to guarantee perfect roasting.
When you receive your Bonaverde machine, it comes with eight packets of beans. These beans are sealed in a pouch that, once emptied, turns into the filter for the coffee machine. The pouch also has an RFID chip on it. To roast the beans, you need to scan the pouch on the front of the machine. From there, you press the button to open the roasting chamber and pour in the beans. Press the start button (note that this is not labeled), and the machine takes care of the rest. It was only through realizing that there isn’t a single button on the entire machine that we figured out that the circle made of dots on the front must be the start button.
Here’s where things get a little tricky. The process is straightforward until you get a scanning error. The RFID chip lets the machine know what it’s brewing and how many beans will be added to the roasting chamber. It’s also the method the company uses to pay the farmers for their beans. Once scanned, a chip is null and void, even if the machine never properly read the scan to begin with. You can’t scan a pouch again. If you do try and scan it again, a flashing red light illuminates under the machine. Try to scan it again and the red light illuminates again. By checking the manual, we eventually figured out that the blinking red light means that something is wrong, and we needed to use another pouch.
The reason we stumbled on this problem is that we initially had trouble setting up the machine because we tried to scan the air filter twice. After scanning, we didn’t get any indication from the machine that all was good to go. The manual says the machine will run an initial rinse of the system, and we couldn’t get this to work at all. After calling technical support, we learned that holding down the mysterious Start button for five seconds performs a system reset. Once we did that, all began to work as promised. Still, we couldn’t use the beans that gave us the scanning error because the system already accounted for that pouch.
Bonaverde will credit your account for the bad RFID, but if that’s your last pouch on a morning that you really, really need some coffee, you’re out of luck.
The Perfect Cup of Coffee?
When everything works as it’s supposed to, making coffee is a breeze. Fill up the water container, scan the beans, cut the top off the pouch, pour the beans in the roaster, place the filter in the proper container, and press the start button. About 20 to 25 minutes later you’ve got a five-cup pot of freshly brewed coffee. The roasting takes 14 minutes, grinding a minute more, and brewing finishes eight minutes later.
Roasting isn’t terribly loud. We registered it to be 62.7 decibels in our tests, which is equivalent to the sound of a normal conversation. The roasting chamber periodically illuminates while in use, so you can watch the beans change from green to beige to chocolate brown as they roast. The grinding was a bit louder, registering at 74.8 decibels, which is on par with the sound from a loud dishwasher.
Once the coffee is ready, a green light appears on the bottom of the machine. After all that time – 25 minutes is a long time to wait for coffee — you’d think it would be the best cup of java ever. Unfortunately, it was just ok, a little bitter and not too flavorful. We should note that the beans we were given are not the ones that consumers will be able to purchase from the company website at $2 to $4 apiece.
At this time, there is no warranty, although the company hopes to offer one in the future.
Overall, the Bonaverde Berlin Brewing System is an interesting idea for coffee aficionados, but it’s a little too much machine and a bit high-maintenance to satiate the average consumer’s morning coffee craving.
Is there a better alternative?
This is a first-of-its-kind machine, so the alternative would take up a lot of extra room on your counter top. You could get a separate roaster and a machine that grinds beans and brews coffee. Really, if having fresh-roasted beans for your coffee is important, you probably already have a high-end coffee machine such as a Breville or a DeLonghi for making a cappuccino at home. Otherwise, you can peruse our list of the best coffeemakers for more ideas.
How long will it last?
Hard to say how long this product will last. It has a lot of moving parts, which could limit the machine’s longevity.
Should you buy it?
When we first saw this machine in our offices, we thought we’d either love it or hate it. The truth is we’re squarely in the middle. It’s perfectly fine and an interesting concept, but it’s extremely limiting and provides no alternative way to make coffee in a pinch if something goes wrong with the beans. Plus, the coffee could taste better. At $799 for the Berlin and $2-4 for a pouch of beans that makes 5 cups of coffee, it’s just too spendy to justify the purchase.
Updated in September 2018 to note that you can now use any beans and they offer a wider variety of coffee than before.