Hamilton Beach sent me their “The Scoop” single serve coffee maker to try out. Longtime readers know that I’m not keen on single-serve machines. I completely understand wanting to make only one cup of coffee, but there are so many ways to make a truly excellent cup the manual way; my favorite ways are with an Aeropress or Clever Coffee Dripper. My complaint is primarily with machines like the Keurig brewers or Nespresso machines that sell you wildly overpriced, stale, questionably-sourced coffee in hideously wasteful little packages. Nespresso hasn’t really caught on in the U.S. as it has in Europe, but everyone and his brother here seems to have a Keurig brewer. Thus, insofar as I have talked about them at all, I have tried to encourage alternatives to K-Cups that use fresh coffee purchased by the consumer.
For those who haven’t jumped on the Keurig bandwagon yet but feel the need for some sort of single cup machine, I encourage a good look at The Scoop. It’s a better designed machine than a Keurig, dead simple to use, far cheaper up front, and you will make better coffee with it.
First off, The Scoop is an attractive, sturdy, and sleek machine with a smaller footprint than the typical Keurig brewer; the two are shown side by side on my desk on the right. The Scoop retails for around $60, whereas most Keurig brewers retail for over $100.
The Scoop has a number of features that make it easier to use (and clean) than a Keurig. The water reservoir holds up to 14 ounces of water. The minimum amount of 8 ounces is held in a marked depression in the main reservoir. You just fill your mug with water and dump it in the top. It’s not only easy to see see how much water is too little or too much, but because the reservoir is shallow it’s easy to wipe clean. However, since you probably won’t store water in The Scoop like you would in the water tank of a Keurig, it is unlikely to get any filmy build up. This can occur in a Keurig, and their water tanks and lids are not dishwasher safe, so you have to find a way to thoroughly clean the inside walls of the Keurig’s water tank.
There are three parts on The Scoop that are part of the brewing process and come in contact with coffee: the filter well, the filter holder, and The Scoop brew basket. All simply lift out to rinse clean, and are dishwasher safe.
On a Keurig machine, the K-Cup holder can be snapped out, taken apart, and put in the dishwasher. However, the housing in which the holder sits is part of the machine and cannot be removed. I have found that it accumulates a lot of oily gunk, especially if flavored or dark roast coffees, or chocolate, cocoa, or sugary beverages are made in the machine. There is no easy way to clean the inside well of this housing, as the close-up of one of my machines shows. I have never succeeded in getting it clean despite forcing damp paper towels down from the top or up through the hole, and some of this residue ends up in every cup. Blech!
Both machines can accommodate a travel mug up to nearly 7.5 inches inches tall. The cup rest on The Scoop, however, can be flipped upside-down so that a coffee mug is elevated close to the stream of coffee (right), preventing splashes and premature coffee cooling.
The Keurig has small advantages on only two fronts. The Keurig drip tray holds 8 ounces, for those who completely forget to put a mug on the machine. The Scoop’s drip tray is really just for drips. And The Scoop’s power cord is ridiculously short at 24 inches. Okay if it’s on a kitchen counter, but impractical if you want to put it on a table and have the cord reach a standard wall outlet. At work, I have to put The Scoop on the floor under a desk. Note to Hamilton Beach: If you want to compete with Keurig for office coffee, make The Scoop with a longer cord!
As noted above, the reservoir accepts between 8 and 14 oz of water. Whatever you put in, comes out. This is true whether or not you use the “regular” or “bold” brew setting. The difference between the two settings is the pace of water flow, with brew time slightly slower on the bold setting.
The brewhead/showerhead has five holes that cover the whole bed of coffee, which is placed in brew basket, which can be used as a coffee scoop. The bottom of this basket is a fine stainless mesh filter. It is larger and has more surface area than Keurig’s own My K-Cup reusable coffee filter basket (shown here side by side). I found I could put up to about 16-18 grams of coffee in The Scoop’s brew basket, but only around 14-15 grams in the My K-Cup (pre-fab K-Cups themselves hold between 9 and 14 grams, depending on variety). For comparison, typical maximum amounts held in K-Cup alternatives are 10 for EZ-Cup, 14 for Ekobrew, and 11.5 for Solofill. More on coffee volume shortly.
The Scoop basket sits in a filter holder that also has a fine mesh bottom. This serves to remove even more fines, shown in the photo. Still too much for you? It turns out that the round filter papers used in Aeropress brewers fit nicely in the second filter and can act as a third filter if you desire. Use a little less coffee in this case, and/or a slightly courser grind, or it will slow the brew down enough to create overflow.
To use, pour your water, scoop your coffee, shut the brewhead and push either the regular or bold brew buttons. The Scoop does not brew under pressure — this is a quick drip method. On the regular setting, The Scoop brews 8 ounces in about 90 seconds, and 14 ounces in 2 minutes 15 seconds (plus 15 seconds to warm up from a cold start; subsequent consecutive cups are faster). The “bold” setting is only slightly slower, adding 15 seconds to an 8 ounce cup and 1 minute to a 14 ounce cup. Note that on “bold,” the brewer pauses and resumes brewing.
This machine comes with two scoops, so you can make a second cup directly after the first without having to clean out the first scoop.
Best practices for good-tasting coffee
Weak and/or stale coffee are probably the most frequent complaints about cup quality from a single-cup brewer. With The Scoop, if you use your own freshly ground coffee, staleness isn’t an issue.
The Scoop allows the use of more ground coffee, which helps overcome the weakness issue.* The 16-17 grams of coffee I use (two tablespoons is about 15 grams) is more than recommended by Hamilton Beach for a 14-ounce cup, and I make an 8-ounce cup with it. One caveat — this amount of coffee, especially if it is freshly roasted and blooms a lot, will leave grounds on the brewhead. Be sure to check the head and wipe the grounds off if needed. The rubber gasket on the head also comes right off to be rinsed and goes back on easily. Or use slightly less coffee ground a bit finer. I’ve had decent results with around 14 grams, made it too strong with 17 grams, and fit up to 19 grams. Don’t throw up your hands after a couple tries — experiment with different amounts and (if you grind your own coffee) various grind levels; these may need to be adjusted depending on the coffee variety as well.
I don’t know how inclined the typical single-cup user will be to tinker further (especially if it adds time to the process), but here are my further suggestions:
- I’ve found, since I use a finer-than-drip grind, that the first 10-20 seconds of liquid is often clear. A little of this may be water left in the machine innards, but I think what is happening is that the water is flowing off the top of the dry grinds until they become saturated. The simple solution is to start the brewer, and as soon as the first drops come out, hit the brew button again, which stops the flow of water. Lift the brew head and wait until the water sinks into and wets the grinds (you can stir a bit if you’re in a hurry). Then re-close the head and resume brewing. This 1) improves extraction, 2) prevents dilution by eliminating plain water going into the cup, 3) helps prevent blooming coffee from depositing grinds on the brewhead, and 4) reduces the chance of overflow. It only adds 20 seconds or so to the process, unless you want to do it more than once, which would probably improve extraction even more.
- Preheat the brewer by running a cup of plain water through the machine first. This can serve to pre-warm your mug and clean off any residue on the brewhead and filters, if you are not a meticulous housekeeper. It might even add a degree to the water temperature.
- Use the bold setting. An extra 15 seconds probably doesn’t make a lot of difference, but every little bit helps.
Brew time and water temperature are two other variables that factor into the strength/proper extraction of coffee. The brew time is still a little abbreviated with The Scoop. Brew time can be lengthened a bit by grind, volume, and the addition of an Aeropress filter. Of course, it would be simple for manufacturers to make a machine that brews four minutes. However, people who buy these machines complain that two minutes is too long. What can I say? If you are that impatient, don’t complain about your coffee. You don’t expect to roast a turkey in an hour, so don’t expect great coffee in under four minutes.
Coffee should be brewed at 195 – 200 degree F, or just off a boil. Most home coffee makers fail at this. According to the Hamilton Beach blurb, The Scoop “Brews hotter than the leading competitors per SCAA standards,” which suggests it brews at 195+. I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the thermometer I used to measure the coffee in the cup, but it read 180-185 degrees F from The Scoop (1300 watts) and 170 from a Keurig (1500 watts for the B60) using a My K-Cup. I assume that pre-heating The Scoop by running a cup of water through before brewing, and then using warmer water might also bump up the temperature a few degrees.
Concluding thoughts, including cost and convenience
After a few weeks of testing, I found that coffee produced by The Scoop lacked some body and fullness, but was superior to any cup I’ve made in a Keurig with a pre-fab K-Cup or any alternative device, and comparable to many cups I have made with a standard pourover cone. It’s never going to be as good as a carefully made manual cup. But I’ve read hundreds of comments and reviews from aficionados of single-cup brewers, and price and convenience often seem to trump flavor and quality. Further, the taste profile preferred by these consumers is generally that of grocery store or Dunkin/Starbucks caliber. This is achievable and exceedable with The Scoop.
A few words about cost. Obviously, The Scoop is cheaper up front than a Keurig. Others have done elaborate price comparisons of K-Cups versus very high quality coffee, a burr grinder, etc. and found them to be equal. Frankly, I don’t see most people that are attracted to Keurig brewers making that particular leap. Thus, the typical single-cup consumer will pay less per cup using The Scoop than a Keurig with K-Cups (about $0.33/cup using $9/lb coffee, versus $0.50 to 0.65/cup for K-Cups), in addition to the savings from the original machine purchase.
As for convenience, you will have to dispose of a scoop of grounds. I’m always flabbergasted when I read comments from people who tried various K-Cup alternatives and cannot cope with the “mess” and “hassle” of two tablespoons of grounds. I wonder how they manage orange peels, candy wrappers, or dirty dishes.
The Scoop is replacing the Keurig brewer at our office. That tells you what I think.
*Many consumers confuse roast level with “strength” of coffee, where a dark roast equals strong coffee and a light roast equals weak coffee, a misconception perpetuated by roasters that label dark roasts as “bold.” Really, weak coffee is primarily under-extracted and lacking body because it is less concentrated with fewer solubles. I drink light roasted coffees and used them in my tests of The Scoop.