Monday, July 12, 2010

Best Insulated Thermal Table Top Carafe

We recently reviewed unbreakable French coffee presses. We were pleased to end up with a stunning winner. But - it is not possible for us to leave our coffee in this beautiful French press for more than a few minutes without having it turn bitter. We would like to be able to keep our coffee, once it is brewed -or, for that matter, any hot or cold beverage,- in an insulated carafe that is as good looking as our coffee press, and that warrants being left on top of a table surrounded by guests with good taste. What is the best insulated carafe that is good looking enough to do the job?

We would like to find a carafe that will not die out on us quickly, so our preference is for no glass liners, but a vacuum double wall stainless steel construction. The price to pay for sturdiness is heat loss: glass liners are more efficient at keeping contents warm longer. We feel, however, that this is an appropriate compromise. To keep liquids hot (or cold) as long as possible, proof the carafe with boiling hot water (or ice-cold water, for a cold liquid) for a couple of minutes before emptying it and pouring the coffee in. Other attributes that we look for as good fit and finish, the ability to avoid spilling any of the contents were spilled, decent stability on a flat surface, one-handed pouring, easy clean-up, and, if possible (but unlikely for stainless steel), a dishwasher-safe product.

We quickly discarded the very large majority of insulated carafes due to a combination of remarkable ugliness and poor reviews. However, we still wanted to report on those carafes with good looks or good reviews - or both:-)

Good looking, but bad reviews or missing features

These products had attractive lines but were poorly reviewed or missing essential attributes.

The Copco Thermal Capacity Brushed Stainless Steel Carafe is a high capacity, 2 quart stainless steel carafe. Its looks are decent, although not quite as stylish as we would like. Its reviews are only fair, although several of them stigmatize its inability to retain for heat for too long, which could be due to wrong expectations for a double wall stainless construction. However, several reviewers nick it for its poor construction and finish: "looked like it was a reject", "connector attaching the bottom of the handle to the body of the carafe was shaky and insufficiently anchored and pulled loose the first time", "coffee tastes tainted from the metal", "lip around the inside of the collar it is impossible to get the water out after cleaning."

The Frieling EMSA Auberge Quick Tip has a very interesting look, appearing that a postmodern remake of a Victorian classic - the result looks really good. Unfortunately it uses a glass liner, and its exterior is mostly chrome-plated plastic. It also appears to have quality problems and heat leaks, understandable for a stainless model but unacceptable for a glass liner product: "if the top hadn't came apart the first time I used it and if it would hold the heat (leaks air from hot coffee within) I would be thrilled with it."

The Mega Thermal Capacity Brushed Stainless Steel Carafe looks elegant and stylish, with its long, curvy profile and its matching spout and handle. However, its lid and possibly its spout are plastic. It lacks enough reviews to be validated by users - its only review complains about heat retention, which is possibly due to wrong expectations for vacuum double wall construction.

What a pity the Oggi Aluminum Soma Insulated Pitcher is not built with better quality! The specifications call for a brushed aluminum exterior with a "super strong" thermal liner, assumingly not glass. The carafe looks really sharp and the price is goo ($30). Unfortunately, the "extra strong insulated liner" apparently is not extra strong: "We purchased 4 carafe's for a huge meeting. When we put ice in one of them, the inside immediately shattered into a million pieces. Later that day, we experienced the same with another pitcher."

This Oggi Thermal Carafe with Press Button is another exciting, snazzy design by Oggi which lets us down for quality reasons. This model appears to be all metal, or mostly metal, and uses double wall stainless construction. But one user reports two consecutive rusting models, and another reports a stuck lid: "I found the interior of the carafe between the thermal compartment and the exterior shell had rusted on the sides and the bottom... The second carafe performed the same way, including the rusting of the shell", "if there is a way to unscrew the top, like with any other carafe I've ever used, we could not figure it out." Based on these reviews from these two Oggi models, we would be very hesitant to buy any Oggi products that would come without large numbers of positive reviews.

Ugly but good reviews

These models had really good reviews but the design was not good looking enough as a table piece.

The Nissan Thermos comes in 2 shapes and many sizes. We like the  taller, thinner $45 32 oz model (there are more sizes available) which we found more compact, although more industrial and less stable than the more traditional fat belly model reviewed below. Nissan Thermos construction is vacuum double wall stainless steel, and is probably the most well known brand name in the insulated thermal arena, with an excellent reputation for high quality and robustness (we previously reviewed their iconic thermos bottle).The quality of this particular model is impeccable:" it is very well built... will last a long time (15 years so far)." It has a screw-top lid which does not leak at all if screwed down when upset:"with the lid fastened down, I haven't had any leakage issues, even with the thermos upside down or on its side in my backpack for extended periods." Because of the screw-top, this model is more appropriate for portable uses than the fat belly model below: "great for camping, cold weather snow machining, fishing and hunting." The heat retention is very good: "this carafe kept my coffee hot for 550 miles/12 hours." The low number of parts makes it easy to clean: "clean up is easy." One review complains that the carafe drips:"no matter what you do except take the lid totally off the liquid spills." All in all, an excellent carafe, but a design that is better suited to backpack than table use.

The Nissan Thermos fat belly $45 34 oz model (there are more sizes available, including the 51 oz model). greatly lacks elegance but compensates for it with excellent functionality. It comes recommended by Cooks' Illustrated, and gathers an excellent set of reviews. It uses the same vacuum double wall stainless steel technology as the previous Nissan model, extremely robust. Its wide base and fat belly give it great stability. the thumb stopper allows for one-hand pouring for all but the smallest hands"thumb-operated pouring lid is ingenious","Lever-action mechanism works well." The lid is fairly leak-proof: "it doesn't leak, like other carafes I've purchased." Heat retention is excellent: "I have put coffee into it on Friday morning, and the coffee is still warm on Monday morning. If you leave coffee in it overnight it will be HOT the next day."One user measured heat retention after proofing the carafe with hot tap water at 183F: "temperature at filling: 173F, ambient temperature 72F, 2 hrs: 166F, 3 hrs: 161F... Heat retention performance is excellent in my estimation." A loss of 13F in 3 hours is really top notch. The very wide base allows for a very short carafe:"quite compact, a boon for my limited counter space","this carafe was only half the size of my original! So I filled up my old carafe with water and poured it into the new one; and there was room left over; wow!" Unusually, this stainless steel product is dishwasher-safe, but it may not be the right thing to actually put it in the dishwasher: "while the product is described as dishwasher-safe, you don't want to put it in the dishwasher. The exterior has a clear coating that will dull and chip off in the dishwasher. The best way to maintain it is to scrub the interior with a bottle brush, and, if you use detergent, rinse very thoroughly."  Opinions are shared about clean-up: " not very easy to clean", "comes apart easily for the occasional thorough cleaning." This is an top notch product with a pedestrian design.

Where Nissan is the modern reference for insulated containers, Stanley is what we all grew up with, and is still making thermal containers.  The Stanely ErgoServ comes in two versions, the $55 Stanley ErgoServ Tea Carafe, and the $50  Stanley ErgoServ Coffee Carafe, both in one liter size (other sizes are available, such as the 1.5L model). The tea carafe comes with a removable infuser, a useful addition, although some users do not agree with its design: "supplied tea infuser which fits inside has no perforations on its bottom half, so hot water does not penetrate where the tea leaves sit","plastic infuser insert","infuser can be a little tricky to fill... and empty","there is no means to pluck the infuser out of very hot water." The Stanley models have few reviews overall, and the reviews are overall good. The carafes allow for comfortable one-handed pouring with the thumb lever: "thumb valve works great", "handle is perfectly balanced and the thumb valve is very nice." Heat retention is good: "very nicely insulated", "very well insulated." Usability is good: "sleek design, weight/balance, and comfortable grip." Robustness is good: "nearly indestructible." The carafes are dishwasher safe, with the exception of the lid. Clean-up is easy: "It is easy to clean","lid comes apart so that you can really clean it well","really doesn't show any fingerprints." Some users had trouble figuring out how to remove the stopper, and complained about the lack of cleaning directions. While there are too few reviews to truly validate these Stanley models, they appear usable and well built, but we object to the large amount of plastic and the inelegant look.

The $27 Zojirushi Premium Thermal Carafe (here is the standard model) is a brushed stainless model with inner glass lining, made in Japan by the highly reputable Zojirushi company. It contains a little over 1 quart of liquid (the 2 liter model also has good reviews, although not quite as good). While it is not recommended by Cook's, which did not like the appearance of the carafe and found it difficult to hand wash, It receives many excellent reviews, both about the longevity and quality of the product, and about the heat retention (although few reviews feel that it does not retain heat as long as others, maybe glass-liner models): "I was leery at first, thinking this would keep my coffee hotter than a couple of hours. I thought that way until 24 hours later, when I poured out the old coffee, it was steaming hot","was amazed at the convenience of being able to brew coffee in the morning and still be able to drink it 12 hours later","truck driver for 32 years and I've seen a lot of thermos/carafe products. This is one of the best ever","carafe keeps the water near boiling for at least 5 hours. When I leave the water in it for 24 hours, the water is still warm enough for me to make tea with it","for those who pay attention to where things are made, this product is made in Japan","we got this to keep warm water near our baby's changing station. I put hot water in on a Thursday night at 8pm or so and used it little by little over the next few days. Saturday morning at 7am the water was still warm enough to use." Several reviewers have owned their Zojirushi carafe for more than a year. There are a few complaints that focus on the push button system which gets stuck after a while, and about the lid construction which can retain water: "thumb lever, a small, cheap component, is permanently frozen","after pushing the handle knob to open, what I get from the spout is little more than a trickle","push button on the lid sticking in the open position", "lid accumulates water that won't come out." Other users work around the water lid problem by periodically putting the lid in the dishwasher. One user has a brief guide to debug all issues raised by other reviews: "Button sticks? Top probably not fully in place. Base gets loose and leaks a bit? Carefully unscrew the base,carefully wash and dry the bottle and insides then simply do a careful reassembly. Left over condensation in the lid. Several products on the market to clean out any bad stuff. Then simply run several carafes full of water through it 'till smells fresh.. Want it to keep coffee or water a bit hotter? Simply let a carafe of hot water rest in the carafe while you prepare a pot of hot water or your choice of drink and it starts hot and stays hot for a bit longer." Despite its excellent reviews, we are not ready to recommend it because we feel that the glass liner is fragile, there are too many parts in the carafe, and the looks are less than impressive.

Good looking and good reviews, but flawed

The $30 Leifheit Columbus Chrome Carafe is a very good looking 1 liter insulated carafe: "what makes this pot nice is its design", "sleek modern design is oh la la sexy","very nice looking, modern design, lightweight", "elegant looking - designed with some thought." It is well insulated: " I finally found a carafe that keeps hot beverages hot", keeps my beverages warm for about 8-9 hours", "keeps coffee hot for a very long time." Unfortunately, the insulation is fragile glass and the chrome is plastic: "actually plastic", "even though it's chromed plastic, it does appear to be shiny stainless steel", "plasticky-chrome look which kind of undermines the otherwise very stylish shape. I wish it were real metal." So do we.

Best of the best: good looking, good reviews, good fit and finish

We love the elegant, long-necked style of the $65 Frieling Emsa Eleganza.  The Eleganza comes in several sizes - our favorite is the 34oz model, which we find large enough, yet still compact.The fit and finish for this vacuum double wall stainless steel carafe is impeccable. The reviews are outstanding, although not as numerous as you would like. Most users can pour one-handed holding the handle and the thumb stopper, although a person with a very small, weak hand may need to use both hands on the larger 44 oz model. Heat retention is very good: "Even after six or eight hours, it is still hot enough that I am not even temped to microwave it","I fill the carafe with hot water from the tap and let it sit while the coffee is brewing. I fill it with fresh coffee at 7:15 AM. Later that night I empty the carafe, about 10:30 PM, in preparation for the next morning. When I pour the remaining coffee out at 10:30 PM it is still very warm - amazing!" The fit and finish and functionality of this German-made carafe are high: "quality of this item is superb","could not be more pleased with the looks and performance of this unit","great quality, function, and style." Reliability is superior, and very few reviews have breakage issues. Finally, the looks of this carafe are exceptional: "looks so elegant on the table", "this beautiful carafe is worth the money", "styling is very attractive", "it is beautiful and should be used exclusively at home."

The Frieling Eleganza shows outstanding styling and excellent fit and finish. We feel that it represents the best there is today in table top insulated thermal carafes.

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