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Dialing in with the Bonavita Coffee Maker

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Bonavita has taken the automatic brewing market by storm—and for good reason. Its single button design makes for a simple user experience while still adhering to important specialty industry brewing standards. Although the Bonavita does most of the "hard work", there are some tricks to honing in that perfect cup, making sure the variables left in your control harmonize with those pre-determined by the machine. If you're frustrated with bitter or sour brews and want to learn how to dial in that morning cup like a pro, stick around!

Strength — How Much

Before we jump into brewing it's important to decide how much coffee is needed, as this will determine flavor concentration.The most common way to measure coffee is by volume --Teaspoons, Tablespoons, Cups, Fluid Ounces, etc. will work ok, but because coffee's density varies by roast or even origin, measuring by volume can be fairly inconsistent. We recommend using a scale for better precision and consistency.

A typical coffee/water ratio by volume is: 2 Tbsp for every 6 fl oz (¾ cup)

A typical coffee/water ratio by weight is : 1 part coffee/15 parts water. 1/14 and 1/16 are also common, and may taste better with certain coffees.

Extraction — Out of the Bean, into the Cup

First, let's touch on some science; There are three central variables that control coffee extraction during brewing:

  • Time — The duration of the brew.
  • Temperature — How hot the brewing water is.
  • Agitation — Physical force applied to the grounds.

While manual brewing devices, like pourover drippers, offer the user control over these three variables, automatic machines make brewing more approachable by maintaining control over all three. The Bonavita heats water to a toasty 200-203F, ensuring optimal solubility, then evenly agitates the grounds with a gentle shower throughout the cycle. Because the flow rate of water through the Bonavita's shower head remains the same, total dispensing time is determined by the amount of water in the reservoir.

With all these things accounted for, what's left? The most important consideration to make before allowing your Bonavita brewer to take over is grind size. Grind size, relative to the total dispensing time, is the user's opportunity to control the flavor of coffee and create harmony with those pre-determined variables. I often relate the concept of dispense time/grind size to baking, in the sense that smaller items, like cupcakes, require shorter baking times whereas larger items, like a cake, tend to require a longer baking time. Generally speaking a short dispensing time requires a fine grind and a long dispensing time requires a coarse grind. Once it's decided how much coffee needs to be brewed, we can use this rule to begin determining the grind size at which our coffee will be extracted or "cooked" best.

Grind size was, unfortunately, never standardized and can be a difficult thing to communicate, given that every grinder is different. But to get you started in the right direction the following visual examples will help you find the general range before fine-tuning.

  • image of penny and fine grinds to demonstrate grind size
    Single cup grind
  • image of penny and medium coarse grinds to demonstrate grind size
    Half pot grind
  • image of penny and very coarse grinds to demonstrate grind size
    Full pot grind

What if I'm using pre-ground beans?

If you're limited to a single grind size, don't fret. Remember that dispensing time is determined by the amount of water in the reservoir, and by manipulating the dose of coffee and water relatively we can extend or shorten brew times to accommodate the given grind size. Pre-ground coffee often requires a compromise in the total amount of coffee brewed, as you'll probably need to change your water input to find the right extraction of those grounds.

For example: Let's assume you've just finished a brew using 8 Tbsp of pre-ground coffee and 24 fl oz of water. Your coffee tastes bitter and was extracted too long—gross! In order to lessen extraction you change your dose of coffee to 7 Tbsp and change your water input to 21 fl oz. While still maintaining your strength ratio (1 part coffee to 15 parts water), you've effectively lessened the amount of contact time your grounds have with the water and therefore decreased extraction—perfect!

Fine-Tuning

Now that your grind is within the right range, the best way to dial in your coffee is to taste! Utilize the following chart, which lists the most common flavor characteristics associated with under-extracted, over-extracted, and well extracted coffee. Remember to make small adjustments and to let your coffee cool a bit before making decisions.

Prima Coffee's dial-in chart

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About three to five minutes. I know people say it's best to drink it in the first ten minutes but letting it sit for a couple minutes before giving it a taste has made a big difference for me.

Any recommendation on which grind setting to use on the Baratza Encore for this Bonavita Brewer? I've been experimenting anywhere from 14-30 but haven't quite gotten it dialed in. (Note: I'm generally making 8 cups at a time)

I wonder what exactly is going on here. I typically swirl the brewed coffee in my pot to make sure it's uniformly mixed. This may happen on its own, but slower, without swirling. I've also noticed that I can better taste sweet notes once the coffee has cooled off slightly. It seems like one of these two might explain your results.

For some reason, the dial-in chart image is no longer showing up.

Nathan - thanks for letting us know! It's back up now!

It will vary from Encore to Encore but I find 15 is ideal with mine. If you start there you should only need to adjust it +/- 2 clicks, at most. If the coffee tastes light or a bit sour, go 1 click finer. If it tastes overly strong/ashy/charcoal-y, go 1 click coarser. Repeat adjustments 1 more time if still sour or strong/ashy/charcoaly. Start with a dose of 8.25 grams/5oz cup.

I find that 1 click makes a BIG difference in flavor with the Encore grinders, so don't overdo it.

Hi Nathan-
I have really learned alot from this blog.....However, I am still having trouble getting my coffe to taste right. Maybe you can help.

I have a Bonavita 5 cup brewer which I set at the "pre-infusion" cycle
I make 4 (6 ounce) cups
Water - cold filtered - 24 ounces
Coffee - 1.41 ounces (39.97 grams)
Coffee burr ground - I have tried setting grinder to "drip grind" and I have also tried grinding a little finer as well

Coffee - Trader Joe's Costa Rican Tarrazu which is a medium Dark Roast (it should be well balanced with silky smooth finish)

My coffe is bitter or sour (I'm not sure which) and also has a weak tasting finish.

The crazy thing is, the coffee sample bar at Trader Joe's is made in a large PERCULATOR, and it still tastes better than mine!!

Can you help me unwravel my coffee dilemma

After pouring hundreds of dollars worth of coffee down the drain trying to figure out what I was doing wrong, I finally figured out that I was not letting it sit in the carafe long enough after brewing it. I would brew it, drip it, screw on the lid, pour a bit into the cup, it would taste like crap, I'd pour out the whole pot, then rinse and repeat.

I'm haven't quite dialed it in yet but I'm getting good results now following the 8 grams per cup rule at a slightly coarse grind for medium roasted beans. After it's done brewing, make sure to let it sit in the carafe for about five minutes to let the flavors fully settle.

Are you letting it sit in the carafe a bit after brewing to let the flavors settle before taste testing the flavor? That's what solved my dilema. Grind it a little coarser too in order to compensate for the sitting period.

This is interesting. How long did you let the coffee sit in the carafe? I am getting that sour taste and it's making me crazy.

8 grams per cup. Is that an 8 oz cup, or the 5 oz cup Bonavita uses?

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