A Barista In PJ's

Gourmet brew is invading the home, with countertop machines that can deliver fancy espresso drinks and foamy milk--even freshly roasted beans. But for the serious coffee fiend, the goal is still to come up with a decent cup of joe without having to shed pajamas. So we subjected the new crop of coffee makers to the ultimate test: a week's worth of this addict's morning cravings. 

Monday: I assembled the Hamilton Beach BrewStation the night before and, ignoring the "6:15" illustration on the box, set the timer for a more indulgent 9 a.m. The machine drip-brews into a plastic reservoir that dispenses a cup at the push of a button. Other companies make carafe-style drip brewers with a built-in bean grinder--another good anti-mess innovation--but the BrewStation made a richer, less acrid cup of coffee. 

Tuesday: Early to bed and early to rise make a reporter more-or-less able to figure out how to use a two-chambered automatic vacuum brewer. Hot water rises up into the grounds, where it roils pleasingly until cooling air below sucks an eruption of richly brewed coffee through a filter and back into the carafe. Bodum and Black & Decker make similar versions. Pick Bodum for design appeal and brewing time--about 8 minutes--Black & Decker for price ($30 cheaper, with a 14-minute wait). 

Wednesday: Hump day is a good day for a strong jolt, so I went with the Krups Moka Brew. A heating element forces pressurized steam through tightly packed grounds, emulating the silver stovetop espresso brewers favored by Italians and artsy types. The system delivers the most robust coffee of the lot, just this side of true espresso. 

Thursday: Ugh, a headache. And no, I don't want to talk about why. Running late, so I opt for the ultimate in automation. Melitta and Keurig both offer single-cup machines that pump hot water through premeasured coffee packets in under a minute. But when it tastes as if it came from a vending machine, does convenience really matter? 

Friday: Definitely too much coffee this week, and my stomach needs a break. Enter the Toddy Cold Brew system. "Brewing" with cold water--plan ahead, it takes 12 hours--extracts less acid and different flavors than hot brewing. Drinking it black, my spartan brother dismissed it as "diner coffee without the 'ouch.' " My more voluptuary girlfriend, coaddicted to milk and sugar, says she'll never drink anything else. Guess that means it'll be sharing space with the Moka Brew, my pick for the best of the lot. 

Note: U.S. News & World Report published the following editor's clarification in their 2/16/04 issue:

"Although it takes 12 hours to make a batch of espresso-like concentrate for the Toddy Cold Brew system mentioned in "A Barista in PJ's" [January 26], it can be refrigerated up to 10 days and used to make a fast cup of coffee. The user mixes one part concentrate to three parts boiling water."

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