Pros: Great machine, high brew temp, built like a tank.
Cons: Lacking extra features.
I began looking for a very high quality drip coffee maker a couple of years ago as a convenience option in my kitchen. I am a big fan of the vacuum brewing method of coffee preparation, but vacuum brewing takes longer to setup, has more cleanup and it's difficult for anyone in the house that doesn't know how to use the vacuum stuff to fix a pot of coffee.
One of the key challenges in brewing a good pot of coffee is getting coffee brewed at a high enough temperature that full extraction of the coffee grounds happens. Most home level coffee makers brew coffee about 20-40 degrees lower than this optimal temperature and produce bitter under-extracted coffee. This is even more apparent if you are brewing higher quality freshly roasted coffee beans.
Primary Features and overview
I was immediately attracted to the Kitchenaid Pro Line Coffee Maker due to its use of a powerful 1350 watt heat pump to ensure that the coffee is brewed at the optimal temperature. The heat pump is basically a large thermoblock device that rapidly heats water up to a very high temperature and is the same sort of technology found in entry level espresso machines as well as the large commercial coffee brewers that you see at Starbucks and other big chains. The Kitchenaid Pro Line brewer is the only one that I could find that uses this technology and is available for retail sale in the U.S.
The Pro Line stuff is all very expensive and for this reason I held off purchasing one of these coffee makers for several years waiting to see if another manufacturer would produce a high quality "pump driven" coffee machine at a lower price.
I was in Williams and Sonoma, one of the only retailers to carry this product, when I discovered that they were having a 20% off sale on the Pro Line product, apparently they do this a few times a year and it's a good opportunity to save some money on these machines. I quickly purchased the coffee maker and ran home to set it up.
While unboxing the machine I noticed the very heavy cast construction and plating on the unit. While it is made in China (origin of many cheap quality products) the unit definitely feels solid and I believe it will last quite a long time. Kitchenaid also backs up the unit with a 2 year no hassle exchange warranty in which if anything goes wrong with the appliance they will immediately ship you a replacement.
Another thing I observed while unboxing the unit is that this unit includes a real water filtration system. While quite a few mid-level coffee makers include a basic water filter that the water is dripped over before brewing, the Kitchenaid is the only one I've seen that includes an actual high quality filter (similar to a Brita or Pur) that the water must pass through on its way to the reservoir. After approximately 60 full pots of coffee the filter will have to be replaced, you will be alerted by a tone and an icon on the display. You don't have to use the filter, but if you choose not to use it the "replace filter" icon on the unit display will stay lit.
The functionality of this unit is very straight forward with basic functions and a few thoughtful features. The water reservoir on this unit is filled from an opening at the top of the front of the machine which is very convenient, no sliding the coffee maker out just to fill the reservoir only to have to slide it back under the counter after adding water. Since there is no clear window to view the water level the unit uses icons on the front display to show you how much water you have added, and sounds a loud tone when the reservoir is completely full.
The coffee carafe that ships with the unit is one of the nicest ones I have ever seen for a home coffee maker. The carafe is made from double walled insulated glass and is definitely strong enough to survive the occasional bump against other solid objects in the kitchen. The carafe includes both black and orange colored snap on lids to identify the pot as regular or decaf. The carafe is also a very thoughtful non drip design that pours coffee very smoothly without leaving a dripping mess. Kitchenaid also sells an add on warmer with a second carafe if you do a lot of entertaining or want to brew one regular pot and one decaf within minutes of each other.
Unit programming is very straight forward with a simple digital clock and the ability to set an automatic start timer. Real coffee afficianados wouldn't be caught dead leaving their freshly ground coffee in the machine overnight so I haven't had a chance to try this feature. The machine features tones that sound when coffee brewing is complete, as well as when the machine shuts itself automatically. The tone volume can be set at one of two levels or completely disabled.
The brewing basket is a heavy duty stainless steel job with a large solid black handle. A plastic insert for the coffee filter drops into the metal basket and the whole thing slides smoothly into place on the coffee maker without anything having to "lock" together. The whole thing has the feeling of an industrial kitchen appliance rather than a simple home coffee maker.
The real test of any coffee maker is how well it brews, and the Kitchenaid is no slouch. The coffee maker employs the use of a very good showerhead (as opposed to a drip system) to make sure the coffee grounds are evenly saturated during the brewing process. Also as previously mentioned the brewing temperature is a very healthy 220 degrees. This results in a rich, smooth cup of coffee, especially from freshly ground fresh roasted coffee. You truly get that hot rich coffee that you long for from your favorite Starbucks or other gourmet cafe. Many coffee makers perform admirably in their first few years of service and then as they get older the heating element starts to fade and the performance suffers. The heat pump design of this unit should prevent that from happening for a long, long time. The unit brews a full pot of coffee in about 5 or so minutes and makes a lot of hissing, steaming, gurgling noises while it does the brew. Some users of earlier versions reported a puddle of water forming under the front of the machine during the brew process from the steam buildup, but I have not experienced this behavior.
Once the coffee is brewed and the tones sound to let you know that it is completed the coffee is kept hot on the warming plate. One thing to note is that the warming plate for this machine has two settings. The lower setting keeps the coffee at a "conventional" temperature which means that it will start to cool off somewhat after the brew, the second setting keeps the coffee extremely hot, which means that after brewing the coffee will actually continue cooking in the carafe and might become bitter after a while. It would be nice to see a machine of this quality employ a system that brews directly into a thermal carafe and the option to shut off the warming plate entirely.
The Pro Line unit employs a system of four blue lit lamps to show you how long the coffee has been brewed, the lamps light up for 30,60,90,120 minute increments and after 120 minutes the unit shuts itself off.
One of the biggest beefs with this unit is that there is no "pause and serve" feature to pause the coffee brew while you serve yourself a cup. While this is a handy feature it does interfere with the brewing process and it is not at all surprising that on a "pro level" machine Kitchenaid has chosen to avoid it.
All in all I can highly recommend this machine. It brews extremely high quality coffee and does so very consistently. I fully expect to get years of excellent service out of this unit. The features it includes aren't spectacular, it won't pause and serve or grind up your beans for you, but if you hanker for a cup of piping hot, properly brewed coffee, you will love the performance of this unit. The front fill reservoir, heavy duty carafe and water filter just complete the experience.
Highly recommended for the coffee nuts out there.