By June 2, 2010

Bunn NHBX-B Electric Drip Coffee Maker Review

In March of this year my trusty Melitta FastBrew drip coffee maker bit the dust. The FastBrew was a great, no-frills machine that made countless gallons of coffee at temperatures higher than most of the more expensive fancy-pants brewers out there. Best of all, the FastBrew was $30 and used to be available just about everywhere.

Unfortunately, Melitta stopped making the FastBrew. I think people would rather spend money on timers, “flavor settings,” and built-in crappy chopper-style grinders, and the FastBrew probably didn’t sell as well as it should have.

When it came time to replace my FastBrew I had to turn elsewhere. I figured I might as well get the most bad-ass spiritual successor to the “no-frills, high temperature” FastBrew, and I found it in spades with the Bunn NHBX-B.

I’ll tell you up front: the Bunn NHBX uses a lot more power, is three times more expensive than the FastBrew, and is much, much more difficult to use. If you are looking for an easy to use machine, this isn’t the one for you. We made a bunch of mistakes before learning how the Bunn likes to be used.

That being said, the NHBX makes very hot, very tasty coffee very quickly. It is the FastBrew on steroids.

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Setup and Usage

The NHBX has a two-chamber water system. One chamber keeps the water hot at all times. I’m not sure what the internal temperature is, but the coffee is about 195°F when it hits the glass carafe. The other chamber is empty until you’re ready to make your pot of coffee.

You measure out 10 cups (exactly 10 cups or things get messed up), swivel the circular lid back 180°, pour the water in, and then rotate the lid back. The water from the empty chamber flows into the hot chamber, pushing the hot water through the machine, out the diffuser, and into Tasty Coffeeland.

This sounded high tech and bad ass when I bought the Bunn NHBX, but it was really hard to get used to making coffee this way, especially after twenty years of making coffee in single-chamber, pour-it-and-forget-it machines.

The first few pots were disastrous. The carafe is hard to pour and I wound up spilling enough water to short the 10 cup reservoir in the back. On a normal machine this isn’t a big deal; you put like 8.5 cups of water in and get 8.5 cups water out. Shorting the Bunn NHBX means that your next pot will be short and you have no way of knowing how much water to put in to make things right again.

Another coffee making “gotcha” is putting water in and then closing the lid out of habit. You do this all the time with your regular coffee machine, right? Well, on the Bunn there is no traditional ON/OFF switch. When you swivel the top lid shut IT’S ON LIKE DONKEY KONG and hot ass water comes flying out of the sprayer. You’d better have your basket and grounds squared away before closing that latch. 195°F water is not an awesome selling point when it’s pouring all over your hand while you are wondering WTF to do.

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Make sure you have all your shit together before closing this lid. It’s like releasing the Kraken.

Like I said before, the Bunn NHBX doesn’t have an ON/OFF switch like you’re used to. There’s a switch on the lower right hand side, but that’s used to turn the internal heater off. There’s an illuminated switch on the front, but that’s not for starting the brewing process. It’s for turning the hot plate on. More than once I turned the plate switch on and walked away, only to come back to a very warm, empty glass carafe.

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This switch does not make delicious coffee.

Making coffee

Once you figure out how to use the Bunn NHBX you are going to love it. It makes hot coffee very quickly. We are making coffee shop-quality coffee in the house, and we find ourselves brewing “just one more pot” because we like the taste so much. If company stops by, or guests want another pot of coffee unexpectedly the Bunn makes a full pot in about five minutes.

The water diffuser on the Bunn NHBX is … vigorous. As a result, you need to make sure that your grounds are evenly distributed before starting the brewing process. If the grounds are uneven, you run the risk of them flowing over the sides of the basket and into your carafe.

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Even if you settle the grounds properly you might still have a problem with overflow. The Bunn NHBX uses extra tall filters to keep the hot coffee grounds at bay, but some still escape from the basket. I originally thought the slightly thicker, “extra tall” Bunn-specific filters were marketing b.s. until I bought some and compared them with ones used at my coffee machine at work:

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The Bunn filter is on the bottom, and you can clearly see that it is bigger than a regular 12-cup basket filter.

Which brings me to my next set of opinions about the Bunn NHBX:

Cost of ownership and operation

I bought my NHBX for $90 from Amazon.com, including shipping. Retail is $130 but you probably wouldn’t pay that unless you bought it at a brick and mortar specialty store. So already you’re three times the cost of the Melitta FastBrew.

Then the filters are more expensive. I wound up getting a case of 1200 filters for $29 shipped. The last time I bought 1000 paper filters at Costco for the work machine it ran me about $10.

Since the NHBX keeps the rear water chamber hot at all times, there’s an additional cost of running the machine compared to a regular coffee maker. I used my Kill-A-Watt meter to measure the energy use of my Melitta FastBrew vs the Bunn NHBX.

The FastBrew peaked at 0.43 kw/hr.
The Bunn peaked at 2.37 kw/hr.

Is that enough to break the bank? No. But it is another way that the Bunn is more expensive to own and operate than your standard coffee machine.

Conclusion

My biggest knock against the Bunn is that it isn’t the Melitta FastBrew. Once I got past that and realized that the Bunn is a super-sized, angry, always-on alternative to the Melitta I learned to love it more.

I am very impressed by the consistent quality of the coffee it makes. The coffee continues to impress our guests and I have stopped ordering coffee from just about everywhere because the Bunn executes so well.

On the flip side, I have a page and a half of directions on the counter for anyone besides myself or Sedagive?.

The special filters and the expense of a constantly running heating element are annoying, but not deal-breakers.

The coffee maker is built very well and seems sturdy. I put the Melitta through several years of very heavy use, and I hope the Bunn can make it that long as well. Reports on the Internet indicate service life of ten years or so, but we’ll see.

Give the Bunn NHBX a look if you are interested in a very fast coffee maker that cranks out coffee at the “right” temperature that doesn’t have a lot of unnecessary features.

Strongly recommended.

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1 Comment on "Bunn NHBX-B Electric Drip Coffee Maker Review"

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  1. TCinSA says:

    I’ve used Bunn machines for about 20 years now and I would never go back to a regular brewer. I finally purchased a used commercial Bunn about 5 years ago on ebay and gave my old Bunn to my son. (You can’t kill them, although we’ve done a few repairs on them ourselves over the years.)

    You mentioned all the things you have to get used to with a Bunn, but one of the biggest things is to remember to unplug it if you are going out of town! The water in the chamber will remain heated and will evaporate off. I’m assuming that after some period of time, it could run dry. That seems like a potential fire hazard so I always unplug.

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