Pros: Stylish, functional, feature-packed. Easy to use controls.
Cons: Could brew hotter. Permanent filter looks delicate. Post-brew coffee dribble. Condensation drips.
The Mr. Coffee Classic Edition Coffee Maker was introduced by Mr. Coffee in 2007 in celebration of 35 years of automatic-drip coffee machine manufacturing. It is not clear if this anniversary-edition coffee machine will remain on the market in 2008 or beyond, but for those in search of a coffee maker as stylish as it is functional, model MRX35 (coffee bean brown), which but for color is identical to model MRX36 (red), is hard to beat.
This 12-cup coffee maker produces a particularly smooth cup of coffee when paired with freshly ground coffee beans and operated in conjunction with the chlorine-removing water filter disk. (The water filter disk is standard to other Mr. Coffee models of the water-filtering type, and costs about $3.99 for a package of two at stores such as Target or Walmart.)
For those who expect to serve or consume a full pot, the very first order of business when selecting a new coffee maker is to avoid confusion or disappointment over capacity. Coffee makers do not define "cups" in the way a baker would (8 oz). Coffee maker manufacturers use the term, instead, to refer to as little as 4.5 ounces of coffee or as much as six ounces, all of which are less than a measuring cup but greater in capacity, in turn, than 3.5 ounce demitasse cups, which are traditionally used to serve espresso or Turkish Coffee.
The Mr. Coffee Classic Edition Coffee Maker has a brewing capacity of 60 oz., which works out to five ounces per carafe cup -- or 7.5 standard eight-ounce cups per pot. In the age of jumbo travel mugs and super-size gourmet coffee drinks, this may seem like a stingy amount. Yet in practice, coffee maker manufacturers have been using these definitions for many years. This, of course, begs a curious comparison: In the 1990s when Americans began shopping for home computers en masse, monitors were the source of similar confusion. A typical CRT screen might be advertised at 15 inches measured on the diagonal, whereas the actual viewing area might be as little as 13 inches. A consumer lawsuit caught media attention, and shortly thereafter manufacturers began disclosing the "actual viewing area" on retail boxes. Make no mistake: I am not one to advocate lawsuits. If, however, coffee maker manufacturers would voluntarily adopt a standard unit of measurement -- or at least adopt package labeling practices that would disclose their own definition instead of burying brew capacity information in a user manual, selecting a coffee maker would be that much easier.
Now that the formalities are out of the way, it is time to examine what the Mr. Coffee Classic Edition Coffee Maker has to offer. Cracking open the owner's manual for the first time reveals that the decanter, decanter lid and permanent filter, unlike some coffee makers, are dishwasher safe (top rack only). Additionally, the coffee maker will alert users with a flashing red light when it is in need of cleaning. The recommended descaling interval is 40 brew cycles for hard water and 80 brew cycles for soft. There is a button that will activate a "Special Cleaning Cycle" when desired.
At first glance, there are seemingly a lot of controls on the front of the unit -- a gadget geek's dream machine, no doubt. Fortunately, the 12-button layout is intuitive and clearly labeled with a combination of text and LED indicator lights. Consequently, I found no need to consult the user manual in order to figure out how to operate the coffee maker's many features. (Of course, I may be biased about its ease-of-use because my previous Mr. Coffee shares some of the same bells & whistles.)
What I like best about this coffee maker, other than the 1970s retro styling, is the timer that begins to count down once the coffee has completed the brew cycle. I had considered the more highly touted Cuisinart or Braun coffee makers because these brands seem to have a higher-than-average following among review-writing coffee consumers, but my previous Mr. Coffee also featured this patented "Fresh Brew Timer", and having grown accustomed to it I found myself unwilling to give it up despite my previous experience with Mr. Coffee model FTX20, which sadly provided only two years of useful service.
Specifically, the Mr. Coffee Classic Edition Coffee Maker countdown timer provides an analog-style clock representation of how much time remains before the warming plate shuts off (2 or 4 hours, depending on user preference). In my opinion, Mr. Coffee's implementation of the Fresh Brew Timer feature is much improved over the likes of the KitchenAid Java Studio, which merely illuminates a series of 30-60-90-120-minute lights once the brewing cycle is complete (the first of which illuminates even if the pot has completed only seconds beforehand). When the Fresh Brew Timer shuts off, the back-lit LED returns to an analogue-style clock display (complete with second-hand).
A convenient feature that was included on my previous Mr. Coffee machine has also carried over into the Mr. Coffee Classic Edition Coffee Maker -- an Audible Ready Signal to indicate when the brew cycle is complete, and later to confirm that the warming plate is shutting off. This reminder is handy when you really want that second cup of coffee but don't want to pour a cup only to find that it sat too long in the decanter. Some users may find this signal annoying -- in which case the option exists to simply turn off the alert tone -- but in my experience the tone is not as jarring or loud as a microwave beeping, and certainly nothing compared to the shrill sound of a kettle whistling on the range! Meanwhile, yet another feature that dovetails with the former is the ability to turn the nonstick warming plate up or down using the front-mounted slider switch below the decanter. Providing you remember to use it, this flavor-saving feature effectively eliminates the possibility of scorched coffee.
An aspect that I appreciate about this well-thought-out design is the water reservoir placement, which in my opinion is equaled or exceeded only by the few coffee makers on the market that presently offer a removable water reservoir (such as the Sunbeam Heritage coffee maker or the Michael Graves design sold in Target stores). Whereas most coffee makers place the water tank on the back, this one is mounted on the left side, and is accessible via its own flip-up hatch, which runs from front to back. Because the reservoir extends from front to back, it isn't necessary to lean or reach over the coffee maker to make sure you aim the carafe correctly. The design also provides good separation from the brew basket assembly, such that it would appear less likely for grounds to backwash into the reservoir in the event of a mishap. Similarly, the water-level indicator window is located on the front side, so there is no peering around the side or corner of the machine to read it.
At this point, it bears mentioning that while this particular coffee maker may appear from the photo illustration to be somewhat boxy, the overall footprint is less deep and not as broad as many coffee makers of the same capacity. In terms of height, the unit actually sits a bit lower than many current models on the market -- which makes it easy to tuck under a low-hanging kitchen cabinet. The overall dimensions are approximately 10.5 (L) x 7 (W) x 12 (H).
Mr. Coffee's designers appeared to have succeeded in lowering the profile because the clock and push-button controls are mounted to the left of the decanter as opposed to having been vertically oriented either below or above the pot. The location of the controls, incidentally, also provides another benefit: The LCD clock does not fog up during use because it is not in the path of the escaping steam. This is notable because my previous FTX-series Mr. Coffee maker positioned the LCD display above the carafe and below the steaming brew basket lid, which eventually resulted in drops of condensation that I was unable to remove once it formed behind the glass. The control placement on the Mr. Coffee Classic Edition Coffee Maker, by contrast, reduces the possibility that an accident will result in fried electronics, which is a distinct possibility on models that mount the controls beneath the warming plate. (Ironically, most coffee machine manufacturers describe the electronics as "splash resistant" and not waterproof.) With the Mr. Coffee Classic Edition Coffee Maker, neither of these concerns are an issue. The only conceivable way that liquid may reach the control panel, for that matter, is if it were to be spilled down the front while pouring water into the reservoir. While that's always a possibility, chances are the unit would better survive a mishap involving cool, clear water much more likely than hot coffee. Fortunately, this scenario seems unlikely because the carafe features a relatively foolproof drip-free spout.
There are two unique features that make the Mr. Coffee Classic Edition Coffee Maker a standout. First, is the inclusion of a pale-blue ambient light, which if switched on generates a modest night-light effect emanating from the back of the coffee maker. (Once the LED burns out, it is unclear from the owner's manual if there is a user serviceable replacement for the light.) The second unusual feature is the inclusion of a "Cup Rack" that is situated on the top right of the machine behind the metal guard rails. The area, which is covered by a removable silicone pad, is passively heated as the coffee brews into the pot. While the area is too small to squeeze more than one large coffee mug, it is, however, large enough to heat up my stainless-steel mini tea/creamer pot so that my usual problem of making my hot coffee lukewarm with ice-cold milk is avoided because the milk has time to heat somewhat on the silicone mat as the coffee brews. (Of course, zapping the cold milk in the microwave would accomplish the same had I previously thought to do so.)
Another feature this unit has is a brew-strength selection (regular or strong). I am not certain if this is Mr. Coffee's equivalent to the 1-4 cup flavor/aroma enhancement setting found on some competing coffee makers, but I intend to contact Mr. Coffee to find out. Personally, I find the flavor satisfactory when left on the regular setting (as illustrated by a coffee mug icon on the right corner of the LCD screen).
In my own tests, the Mr. Coffee Classic Edition Coffee Maker seems to brew a full pot in roughly 10 minutes, and it dispenses the freshly brewed coffee from a permanent basket-style filter (included) into the decanter at about 165-170 degrees (growing hotter or cooler thereafter depending on the warming plate setting). Therein lies the biggest downside I've noticed thus far: I expected the coffee to enter the pot at somewhat higher temperatures if only because it is rated at 1,100 watts. (By comparison, inexpensive coffee makers are generally about 900 watts.) Unfortunately, the brew doesn't enter the decanter much hotter than my previous Mr. Coffee maker, which I recently decided to replace because the coffee my previously-reviewed FTX20 has been brewing unpredictably alternates between normal (excellent flavor), weak (bitter) or over-extracted (burnt).
Of course, nothing is perfect and it would be unrealistic to demand as much. Nevertheless, one potentially serious design problem with the Mr. Coffee Classic Edition Coffee Maker can be triggered simply by removing the decanter. Angling the handle of the decanter too sharply upwards before it clears the slide-out filter/brew tray above may snag the bottom lip of the assembly, causing it to move forward. I made this mistake during the initial rinse-water cycle, and I quickly learned to keep the decanter as level as possible while removing it from the warming plate in order to prevent hot liquids from dripping on the warming plate or counter top. On the one hand, because of the tight fit necessary to ensure that the coffee brews into the decanter instead of onto the warming plate, this isn't the easiest coffee pot to remove from the machine. On the other hand, it isn't so snug as to cause the entire machine to drag across the counter while attempting to remove the decanter (contrary to my experience with a KRUPS thermal-carafe FMF5 that I returned prior to purchasing this model).
At first blush, it was also my impression that the Mr. Coffee Classic Edition Coffee Maker Pause 'n Serve function was faulty because it began to drip a bit onto the warming plate, which is something I would rather not put up with given that Mr. Coffee warming plates are prone to peel or rust despite their nonstick coatings. To my relief, I can no longer duplicate the problem upon subsequent use. Perhaps the spring-loaded Pause 'n Serve mechanism simply took some time to break in. Regardless, I have my doubts that the Pause 'n Serve design on this unit will be as reliable as the virtually infallible lever-activated Pause 'n Serve mechanism on my old Mr. Coffee machine. Unfortunately, current coffee maker shoppers have little choice but to buy a machine with similarly configured Pause 'n Serve mechanisms. Perhaps this is because manufacturers have reacted to consumer complaints across various makes/models in which rear-mounted Pause 'n Serve levers are said to create too much spring-back, which occasionally results in an empty or partially filled carafe moving out of proper alignment with the flow of coffee (prompting the dreaded brew-on-counter effect).
While we are on the subject of the Pause 'n Serve function, it should be noted, finally, that the Mr. Coffee owner's manual, like most others, indicates that users have no more than 30 seconds during which to remove the decanter during mid brew -- otherwise the incoming water may back up and overflow the brew basket. Little over two years ago when I bought my short-lived Mr. Coffee FTX20, the owner's guide, as I recall, didn't issue any such warning. I can only guess that the enormous number of coffee maker reviewers complaining about spills and overflows have prompted manufacturers to be a bit more forthcoming about the limitations of this feature. As evidence to this observation, the troubleshooting section in the MRX35 owner's manual is a bit more extensive than I recall of older coffee maker product guides. Better yet, the owner's manual appears better organized and more clearly written than what I recall of past product literature of this type.
In closing, I hesitate to make any predictions as to the durability of the Mr. Coffee Classic Edition Coffee Maker because I haven't owned it for long. Whereas normally I am inclined to take more time evaluating a product before reviewing it, if I were to delay I suspect that this 1972-2007 anniversary model will disappear from Internet and retail store shelves. (As it stands, I found my unit on clearance at Kohls department store.) Given its catchy styling, coffee bean brown color scheme, groovy daisy-shaped walnut Mr. Coffee logo inlays and brushed stainless steel accents, I would have to say style was as much a factor in my purchasing decision as this coffee maker's many features. I hope this machine holds up for many years to come -- for it not only brews a good cup of coffee, but is quite the conversation piece.
The break-in period has long since past, and with it there have been some unpleasant developments. Other reviews on this model report dripping from the top right-hand corner near the brew basket tray. Condensation builds up during brewing and water drips from the top right corner to the bottom right corner. Now I can say that the same drip has developed on my unit. Secondly, the coffee maker seems increasingly prone to dribbling coffee from the brew basket after the brew cycle is complete. Removing the decanter during this dribbling process causes coffee to drip on the warming plate which, if tolerated, will eventually cause the warming plate to rust.
At first, the issue was simple enough to resolve: Let the decanter sit two or three minutes after the ready tone sounded to allow the coffee to finish dribbling into the pot. For the most part, that approach still works. But it isnt foolproof. Recently, I left the decanter in place roughly 15 minutes and still it began to dribble after removing it from the warming plate. As a result, the second work-around I've developed after the brew process is complete is to slightly displace the decanter without removing it entirely from the warming plate. This changes the position of the convex spring-loaded Pause 'n Serve mechanism so that any coffee that is trapped in that area will drip into the pot instead. (This dribbling problem is not to be confused with using the Pause 'n Serve feature mid way through the brewing process, which thankfully seems to work without a hitch.)
Heat from the brewing process appears to expand the junction between the right side of the brew basket tray and the upper right corner of the outer housing (refer to product photo if you are uncertain what area this refers to). When the coffee maker cools, the gap closes. During the brew process, however, heat and pressure from steam forces an opening between the plastic seams of roughly 3-4mm, and eventually roughly one tablespoon-worth of condensation begins to drip onto the bottom right corner (fortunately it does not hit the warming plate).
I believe this observation ties in to my early but previously unmentioned impression that unlike most coffee makers the MRX35 emits virtually no "huffing and puffing" during or at the conclusion of the brew cycle. Well, apparently it was creating just as much hot stream as any other coffee maker, and during the break-in period it began to travel the path of least resistance.
As for why the coffee dribbles out of the brew basket after the machine has signaled that it has completed brewing, I haven't quite figured that one out. At this point, the problem with hot coffee dribbling off the Pause n Serve onto the warming plate may be as brief as one minute after which it is possible to remove the decanter with no dribbling or as long as 15 minutes post brew. I can only guess that by the end of the brew cycle a heat-induced distortion or a slight lowering of the plastic brew tray has developed, which, in turn, forces the convex Pause 'n Serve mechanism to slightly hang up on the concave portion of the decanter lid (trapping a few tablespoons of coffee that remain behind).
In closing, Mr. Coffee should have used an underlying metal band or reinforced plastic frame to keep the outer housing from separating from the brew basket tray on the upper right side. Unfortunately, it would appear the designers reserved the brushed metal bands that rim the top and bottom sections for purely aesthetic purposes. Alternately, the designers should have allowed the steam to vent from the top as most coffee makers do so that condensation would not form around the outer perimeter of the brew basket to the extent that it increasingly seems prone to do. Therefore, if Mr. Coffee continues to market this machine in 2008 or beyond, I would suggest they make a modification to the design to reinforce the thin band of plastic that rims the decanter/brew basket area. In the meantime, I am forced to take one star off my original four-star rating, for an overall rating of average.