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Bunn Trifecta - First Impression

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The Bunn Trifecta is way more impressive in person than what I’ve read about or seen in pictures. The fact that this machine is hand-made and is primarily composed of metal attests to the craft and durability. This thing looks and feels sturdy. Many have said that the Trifecta is not a very attractive looking unit and I would have to disagree. The simple, gray, industrial look of this machine matches much of the aesthetics I’m seeing in more and more specialty coffee shops. The look of this machine will obviously fall under preference, but I felt the Trifecta’s design struck a balance between classy and sturdy. It’s not too flashy as to clash with any shop’s décor or machines, yet definitely too stylish to go unnoticed.

As for usability, it took some explanation but two of us here in the office were operating it with ease within 30 minutes. Operating and dialing in a specific coffee, however, are two different things. While letting it brew on the default settings will produce a decent cup on almost any given coffee, one needs to become familiar with the various brewing parameters before they can really dial in the machine for the coffee they are using. This brings us to the actual brewing functionality of the machine.

There really has been nothing quite like the Trifecta. The closest comparison in production would be the Clover brewer, a by-the-cup brewing machine that costs nearly three times as much. With the Clover brewer you only have three variables you can control: serving volume, temperature, and brew time; but the Trifecta has eleven controllable variables. These eleven variables are: Water Temperature, Brew Volume, Pre-Wet (time it takes to fill the grounds with the given water volume for pre-infusion), Pre-Infusion (% of total water volume that you want used to pre-wet the grounds), Fill Pause (how long you let it pre-infuse), Brew Time, Turbulence On (how long the air-bubble agitation lasts), Turbulence Off (how long between turbulence cycles), Turbulence Power (1-10 scale), Press Out Power (1-10 scale), and Press Out (how long the press out is).

The closest comparison to the Trifecta in brew method would be the Aeropress. To say, however, that the Trifecta is an automated Aeropress on steroids would be an understatement. The controls that a barista has on an Aeropress are all included within the ten brewing parameters of the Trifecta. Often these parameters are left to the barista’s memory to reproduce on any given brew attempt. With the Trifecta, these parameters can be stored on up to 26 different coffee profiles.


Cup Quality

This machine did take me a couple of attempts to dial in on the coffee I was using. After a few attempts however, I brewed the best cup of Ethiopian Haile Selassie that I had tasted to date. The portafilter-like handle that the coffee is ground into uses a fine mesh metal which allows through some finer sediment (think French-press) on brews that used a longer brew time or finer grind. On this particular cup, however, the little sediment left in the bottom of the cup was barely noticeable with an already heavy bodied natural Ethiopian coffee. The brew really brought out the light, fruity, acidic notes on the front end of this coffee while tapering off to a bit of a toned-downed finish. Now the great thing about the Trifecta is that a cup of coffee can change on almost every sensory level by changing one of the ten parameters. If you want to tone down the acidity or bring out some sweetness, you can tweak the parameters until you get the desired result.


Rumor Mill: The Plastic brewing cylinder.

There have been some questions about the choice of the plastic cylinder brewing chamber on the Trifecta. Many have complained that it will be harder to clean and may start to cloud up over time. There is a good chance that there will be some clouding that occurs over time, but this can be combated by running the rinse cycle after every brew and cleaning the chamber a few times throughout the day.

As for the reason behind the heavy-duty plastic instead of glass, many have speculated that this was to prevent it from being easily broken when dropped. This seems to be only half the story according to our Bunn representative. The other (and possibly more important half) of the story was that the plastic had to be used in order to handle the amount of pressure being pushed through the chamber.

*During our experimenting with the device, we dropped the plastic piece while trying to remove it for a cleaning. While plastic may not be ideal for brewing, it does seem to be the wiser choice for the Trifecta brew cylinder. Only time will tell whether or not Bunn decides to experiment with designing a glass cylinder thick enough to withstand the pressure. I imagine the cost of replacing a glass cylinder or two after each breakage would convince any skeptical shop owners to stick with the plastic.


Cost

As of yet, I have been unable to find any other online retailer that sells the Trifecta besides us. At $3,190 (with free shipping), the Trifecta won't be breaking any home coffee maker selling records, but would be quite useful in a commercial setting. Trading out your auto-drip machine for two or three of these machines would deliver a drastic difference in beverage quality at a reasonable price point. In comparison to the other brew-by-the-cup machine on the market (the Clover), which appears to go for around $11,000, the cost on the Trifecta becomes more and more appealing. To view our online listing of the Trifecta for technical specs and purchasing, click here: Prima Coffee Bunn Trifecta.



Summary

From our quick look at and tasting from the Bunn Trifecta, it doesn't appear to be merely a step in the right direction for by-the-cup brewing, rather it looks like a revolutionary addition to the specialty coffee market. There are no other machines at the moment which give the barista the ability to control and save so many brewing parameters for brew-by-the-cup coffee. The machine looks well made and sturdy. The eleven brewing parameter variables give the barista an infinite amount of possibilities to bring out the best in their beans. With the ability to reach ideal extraction levels for a coffee in around two minutes, this machine would fit nicely into a medium to high volume shop looking to offer specialty coffees at higher price points for on demand brewing. While this method isn’t as “hands on” for by the cup brewing as a syphon bar or pour-over bar, it does look fancy, and there is no lack of skill or knowledge needed on the baristas end to dial in parameters that produce an incredible brew on any given coffee.

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Comments

Nice bag of beans guys!!!!! Thanks for the plug!

Here are some questions I addressed about the Trifecta on Barista Exchange:

How does it taste in comparison to french press or melita or hario or clever?
- Tastes very similar to an aeropress. On a finer grinder or longer brew time, there are some fines that make it through giving it a similar mouth feel/body as a French press. There are more observations on the First Look I wrote up on prima-coffee.com blog.

Can you take some panels off and post some pics of the insides?
- There are two main access panels.
- The top lid, which can be lifted straight up after removing 2 screws under the top section next to the LED's. The black plastic splash panel is removable. Simply remove the drip tray to access 2 screws.
- See the parts manuals on the trifecta listing on our website http://prima-coffee.com/content/trifecta

What's it made out of?
- Aluminum covers most of the machine. There is a plastic covering around the display on the front. The brewing chamber is a thick plastic cylinder and the brewing handle is also plastic.

Does it have a water tank or does it heat the water on demand?
- It has a 20 oz. hot water tank to brew quickly and efficiently.

How long does it take for the water to change temperature?
- Because of the minimal size of the tank and 1450 watt heater recovery is complete by the end of the brew cycle.

What generates the bubbles?
- A DC air pump.

How long does it take to change the parameters?
- You can cycle through the parameters and change them right after you brew. We didn’t notice any type of wait or hold-over time between brews for us.

How many parameters do you have access too?
- 11 – Josh in his previous comment said 13 but he must have included grind size and weight.
- These eleven parameters are: Brew Water Temperature, Brew Volume, Pre-Wet (time it takes to fill the grounds with the given water volume for pre-infusion), Pre-Infusion (% of total water volume that you want used to pre-wet the grounds), Fill Pause (how long you let it pre-infuse), Brew Time, Turbulence On (how long the air-bubble agitation lasts), Turbulence Off (how long between turbulence cycles), Turbulence Power (1-10 scale), Press Out Power (1-10 scale), and Press Out (how long the press out is).

Does it use off the shelf parts from Bunn's other machines or is everything custom made?
- Most of the electronics, valves and pumps are standard parts. The housing is obviously unique.

How is the software loaded and updated?
- Remove the front plastic splash panel and attach a USB programmer via a serial ribbon cable. A 2 minute operation.

Can it connect to the internet?
- No

Will it break if it falls over?
- Although due to the fact that these haven’t been around long and are just beginning to make it out on the market, I don’t know any other coffee brewing machine that wouldn’t break if it encountered a substantial fall. I assure you that this is one heavy and solid unit, it would take a lot to knock it over.

Is it 120vac or 208vac?
- 120v is default but there is a 230v model.

How heavy is it?
- 41.7 lbs

What is the amp draw?
- 11.45 Amp

How many cups can you make per hour?
- Hard to estimate considering one can adjust the total brew time from anywhere from about 30 seconds to over 3 minutes. I would say an average total brew time would be around 2 mins 30 secs. Add in about 2 minutes of set up (grind, lock-in, select profile, and clean-up) and that brings it to about 4mins 30 secs of total time. For buffer time we’ll add 30 secs so calculate it at 1 brew every 5 minutes if you are going non-stop. That would get you 12 cups per hour. I’m sure that once someone has the hang of it then the cups per hour could go up to almost 20 or more.

Can it replace a bulk drip brewer?
- Yes, although you would probably want two or three machines. We’ve had one guy order three for us for his drip coffee bar already. I would recommend a higher price point per cup in relation to the specific coffee you are asking. This would work best if your market understands the correlation between specialty coffee lots and the higher price point they demand. If not, this may be a good excuse (partly because of the show it provides) to move them into paying more for specialty coffees.

How long does it take to pay off $4000 if you only make 3 cups an hour with it?
- Well we offer this for $3,742.50 so I’m going to go off of that price. Most shops that use the Trifecta will be offering the cup produced at a higher price point then a traditional cup of joe. They might even offer special lot coffees at different price points (a la Intelligentsia or Grumpy) which could be as expensive as $8 bucks a cup. I’ll pick a decent priced brew at $3 a cup and use the daily hours from a shop that is open from 7 A.M. to 9 P.M seven days a week. With these variables the total amount of time it would take to recover the cost of the Trifecta would be 30 days.

Is the coffee that much better than a Clever Dripper that a struggling coffee shop should spend the extra $3980 to get one?
- That’s kind of a loaded question and is somewhat comparing apples to oranges so I’ll try and answer it in two parts. First, as to cup comparison between Clever and the Trifecta it is somewhat a matter of preference. With the paper filter on the Clever you’re going to retain some oils and any fines. With the metal mesh filter on the Trifecta you will keep the oils and, according to your parameters, will probably get some fines that come through. Preference is preference; I love the Clever and I love the Trifecta. With the coffees I tried on the Trifecta I feel as if the cup it produces is just as good if not better than a cup I could brew on the Clever.

- As for the struggling shop buying a $3,742 machine, I would probably recommend this for medium-higher volume shops although you would be throwing out a lot of wasted coffee if you are brewing every 30 minutes on a drip machine and that wasted coffee cost could start to add up.

Can a person walk right up to it and make a decent cup or is there a learning curve?
- Yes and yes. As I stated in the First Look, you can set this thing on the default profile and get a decent cup, but to really pull out the best from each coffee it takes a bit of knowledge about the bean you’re using and how the different parameters affect that bean.

How much training would it require for a cafe staff?
- It depends on what you’re okay with getting by on. My assumption is that there would be one person (shop roaster, owner, coffee buyer) that would work with the machine and figure a profile he thinks works best with the coffees the shop is selling. He would then create a profile (you can have up to 26) for those coffees which the barista would just select and then brew. Ideally each barista would learn about the parameters and begin to slowly tweak the profiles on his own.
- You could also just set it on default and brew everything on it if you didn’t want to mess around with the parameters, but where is the fun in that :)

Can you work the bar and still handle the Trifecta or will someone else need to handle the Trifecta orders?
- Depends how high of volume a shop you are. If you can easily run the bar with one I don’t believe this machine would set you back. If you’re brewing by the cup on a v60 or syphon then you have to stay with the brewing method the whole time, but with the trifecta once you have dialed in the machine (or selected the profile you have saved for the coffee you are using) you can grind, lock it in and walk away until it is done.