Coffee is important. And when you make it in the morning, two elements are key: flavor and simplicity.
The Ratio Eight coffee machine makes delicious pour-over coffee with as little complication or fussing as the one-button plastic thingy you find in moderately priced hotel rooms. On top of that, it looks beautiful and has an elegant approach to brewing. But is it worth $480?
The Ratio Eight looks pretty familiar if you’ve ever used a basic drip coffee brewer. It’s not reinventing the wheel, but rather trying to improve on the no-fuss ritual of cranking out a daily pot of hot coffee to get you going. Technically it’s making pour-over-style coffee instead of traditional drip, which yields clearer coffee without as much grit or oil.
As you can see, it will look nice on your counter. The body is all aluminum and has been blasted to a slightly rough-textured finish that feels really nice in your hands, and the two supporting arms are wrapped in carved black walnut. Both the carafe and the water tank are borosilicate glass (the generic name for Pyrex), and the former has a built-in cork bottom, so you don’t need a trivet to put under it when you rest it somewhere. From top to bottom, the Ratio Eight is a thing of beauty and looks every bit the part of a $480 coffee machine. I was giddy as I set it up.
The whole thing is the brainchild of Mark Hellweg, who’s probably best known as the founder of online coffee retailer Clive Coffee. The operation is based in Portland, Ore., (of course it is) and the Ratio Eight is actually made there, too. Hellweg has definitely succeeded in creating a coffee maker that you won’t want to shove in a cabinet when you’re done with it, but the real test is the liquid that ends up in your cup.
Make a Pot
Using the Ratio Eight is pretty idiot-proof. You fill the carafe to either the half or full watermark, pour it in the tank, drop the steel cone coffee filter into the top of the carafe, spoon in your medium-ground coffee, and hit the lone button on the front. Then you either go work on that fines herbes omelette or stare intently as the Ratio Eight gets your coffee flowing.
The internal boiler gets the water up to temperature in a quick 20 seconds and keeps it at 200F throughout the brewing process, to prevent either burning the coffee or under-extracting flavor. The first spurt of water saturates the beans in a process called blooming. The hot water releases the carbon dioxide and other foul-tasting gases that build up in the beans during the roasting process, so they don’t end up in your cup. After letting the grounds-and-water mixture bubble for a few seconds, the little light switches from bloom to brew, and you’re off to the races.
Until the brewing actually began, I was nothing but impressed with the Ratio Eight. The blooming goes smoothy enough, but once that spout starts firing off at full steam, a ton of condensation builds up on the metal body and drips everywhere. Occasionally, water would hit so hard that actual coffee grounds splashed out around the machine. I want to drink coffee with my feet up on my couch, not sling it back as I wipe up my countertops.
But that coffee—boy, is it great. If you’re used to drinking normal drip or French press coffee, you’ll immediately notice how clear the liquid is and how little grit or oil settles around the edges of your cup. Plus, it’s much easier drinking than anything espresso-based. It’s pretty much exactly what I want when I think of a basic cup of coffee. The only problem is that the hour-glass-shaped carafe has no insulation, so by the time I’ve finished my first cup, the rest of the pot is cold. Microwaving my craft-brewed cup of joe just doesn’t feel right.
The Ratio Eight’s stated goal is to make pour-over coffee without the fuss. And yeah, making pour-over is a pain. You usually have to get that swan-neck kettle to a precise temperature, set up the Chemex brewer, and then precisely douse the grounds at the right pace, swirling the stream of water over the top. Pushing a button is much easier, but in this case it comes at a huge price premium. By the end of this week, the Ratio Eight will get a price increase, bumping it from $480 to $580; you can make awesome pour-over with less than $100 in equipment, and a really good drip machine can be had for under $200.
On the other end of the spectrum are high-end espresso machines that can run into the thousands of dollars without batting an attractive Italian eyelash. These pack high-pressure pumps, are meant to be used hard, and are manufactured like performance cars, so comparing them with the Ratio Eight is like knocking your Audi A3 for not being enough like a Lamborghini Aventador.
The Ratio Eight is equal parts indulgent and frustrating. The object is beautiful and makes great coffee, but it comes with a glaring number on the price tag that’s actually going up, not down, over time. It lacks some refinement around the edges, from the mess it makes to the practicality of a non-insulated carafe, choosing style over utility at almost every turn. I quickly forgot most of these problems once I was nursing a great cup of coffee that the Ratio Eight had produced, but I won’t be placing a preorder anytime soon.
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