Making Coffee with the Classic Karlsbader: What Will You Think of Next, Germany?

Review of Karlsbader Kanne

Loyal Coffeeness readers have probably noticed that I have talked about many different ways to make coffee, but I haven’t yet mentioned the Karlsbader Coffee Maker.

Honestly, I’m not entirely sure why I haven’t talked about it yet. After all, this special little coffee pot is all about making good-tasting coffee. While it looks like something a little old granny would have in her kitchen, that’s all part of its charm, and I think it looks great.

It’s also a quintessentially German gadget, and many people outside the country have never heard of it. However, that’s also true for many Germans!

Maybe the reason I avoided it is because it’s essentially “just” another way to make pour-over coffee. In that sense, it’s not too different from a Chemex or a Woodneck coffee maker. However, one big difference is that the Karlsbader Coffee Maker manages to make coffee without any kind of paper or cloth filters.

You will also have to shell out a decent amount of money to get this device. So wouldn’t it just be easier and cheaper to get something like the Hario V60? Let’s take a closer look.

What’s the Deal with the Karlsbader and Bayreuther Coffee Makers?

Before we get into more details about the Karlsbader coffee maker, perhaps we should sort out a few terms and names that get thrown around when talking about these devices.

Essentially, both the Karlsbader Coffee Maker and the Bayreuther Coffee Maker are nothing more than branded coffee strainers or coffee filters. The coffee strainer is comprised of a coffee pot that includes an attachment with its own permanent filter. They are also both very German, but you can find them in other countries.

Once upon a time, in a Germany far, far away, the Walküre porcelain factory in the city of Bayreuth developed a special coffee pot that has managed to keep the same shape to this very day. It’s a small, pot-bellied, Art Nouveau–style coffee maker made of glazed white porcelain.

porcelain filter

The factory named the device “Karlsbader Kanne” (German for “Karlsbad Coffee Pot”), or simply the Karlsbader Coffee Maker – thereby associating it with Karlsbad, a high-class spa resort area in Germany. Sounds fancy, right? This clever branding worked excellently from the very start, and some of the top coffee houses in sophisticated Vienna were the first to notice this new device.

One other thing that makes the Karlsbader coffee maker special even to this day is that you can use it right at your table. Good luck trying that with a pour-over coffee maker or some other preparation method. You just know something’s going drip or spill on your tablecloth. That would surely cause the ladies and gentlemen from the upper crust of society to turn up their powdered noses and get into a tizzy or even a full-blown swoon. Well, nobody wants that.

In years past, the company even focused on the pot-bellied shape in its advertisements, claiming that it made the coffee taste better. However, the company seemed to forget that claim in 2007 when it introduced the Bayreuther Kanne, also called the “Bayreuther Coffee Maker.”

The Bayreuther Coffee Maker is actually just a Karlsbader Coffee Maker that is straightened out and streamlined. For some people, the shape recalls Soviet-era East German dish designs. These days, we just call it “minimalist.”

To summarize, the Karlsbader and the Bayreuther are coffee strainers, but not all coffee strainers are from Karlsbad or Bayreuth. The Bayreuther Coffee Maker is an updated, modernized version of the Karlsbader Coffee Maker, and both of them make coffee without using additional filters. However, how do they work, exactly?

lid of the pot

Strainer for Karlsbader Kanne

Making Coffee with the Karlsbader – A Guide

Making a coffee filter out of porcelain is actually a great idea. Porcelain is hygienic, completely taste-neutral, great at maintaining temperature, and more environmentally-friendly and durable than plastic.

Since there’s no other “middle man” between the ground coffee and the finished product, the coffee pot can really highlight that pure coffee taste. On the other hand, there are a few drawbacks that come with using the Karlsbader Coffee Maker.

Karlsbader Kanne Ground Coffee

First of all, you will need to be a bit more precise when it comes to grinding your coffee and heating your water. Additionally, if you use crappy coffee, you will notice right away. In other words, when using the coffee pot, bad coffee will taste even worse.

The filter or strainer component of a Karlsbader Coffee Maker is comprised of a double-layered strainer made from porcelain. As you can imagine, it is pretty difficult to make a finely-woven sieve from a material as solid and tough as porcelain. It is certainly less fine than a filter made from paper or cloth.

The Karlsbader Coffee Maker tries to make up for that problem by using a two-layered strainer. This strainer also goes a long way toward explaining why the coffee pot is relatively expensive. That’s because the more holes a piece of porcelain has, the more likely it is to break when the porcelain is fired in a kiln.

Even if the manufacturing process goes off without a hitch, you will still be left with relatively large holes. That also means that you will need to use very coarsely ground coffee with a Karlsbader Coffee Maker. If you use a coffee grinder with 10 settings, you will want to use level 10.

exact grind coarseness for the Karlsbader Kanne

Coarseness

As a consequence, that also means that you won’t be able to use pre-ground coffee you buy from the store. In other words, you will always need to freshly grind your coffee beans to use in a Karlsbader Coffee Maker. However, that’s a good thing, actually, since I always advocate for freshly grinding your beans.

Making Coffee with the Karlsbader – Settings and Amounts

If you manage to get your hands on a Karlsbader Coffee Maker, you will need a proper coffee grinder, and possibly a kitchen scale, as well. At least when it comes to the grinder, you are in luck – even cheap grinders can generally do a coarse grind much more effectively than they can do a fine grind. However, you might have some issues with how uniformly a cheap grinder does the job.

Let’s first get an understanding of the basic settings and amounts that you will need to know when using a Karlsbader Coffee Maker.

The original Karlsbader Coffee Maker comes in two sizes: 0.38 liters (about 12.8 ounces – a single serving) and 0.85 liters (nearly 30 ounces – for two people). The Bayreuther Coffee Maker comes in 0.35 liters (12 ounces) and 0.7 liters (24 ounces).

  • For the 12-ounce version, you will need around 3.5 tablespoons (22 grams) of ground coffee. As you can guess, you would more or less double this amount to 7 tablespoons (44 grams) if you’re using the 24-ounce coffee pot, and you would use a little over 8 tablespoons for the 30-ounce coffee pot.
  • Grind your coffee to be very coarse. At least so coarse that it won’t flow through the strainer.
  • For best results, get your water temperature as close as you can to exactly 203 degrees Fahrenheit (95 degrees Celsius).
  • Brewing time = pouring time + 30 seconds wait time + flow time

How to Use the Karlsbader Coffee Maker

Do you have everything ready? Then let’s get going – and, yes, this technique is very similar to any pour-over method. It’s not sooooo special, after all:

  • Pour the coarsely ground coffee into the strainer.
  • Place the strainer on the pot.
  • According to the manufacturer, you should then place the “water spreader” on top of the strainer.

Pouring Water

However, for the time being, we won’t actually use the water spreader. That’s because we won’t just be dumping the hot water wherever it may splash and then wait for it all to flow through the strainer. Instead, we will use our good pour-over filter technique so that the coffee “blooms.”

  • Pour a little water evenly onto all of the ground coffee. Wait for about 30 seconds, when the grounds should begin to swell up. This “blooming” effect releases lots of great aromas all at once, and you will definitely want to have them in your finished coffee.
  • Once the coffee has bloomed, you can place the water spreader on top of the filter section. Carefully and gradually pour in more water until the pot is full.

Of course, porcelain is opaque, so it’s difficult to know how much liquid is inside the pot at any given moment – that also means it’s hard to tell when the pot is full. However, there are a few tricks to “measure” the amount of coffee you’ve made.

One option is, after heating the water in an electric kettle, you can “measure” it by pouring the water into a gooseneck pitcher (assuming you know how much the pitcher holds). You can also measure the water before you boil it in an electric water kettle. Finally, if those other techniques don’t work and you just can’t take the suspense, you can carefully lift up the strainer to see how much coffee is inside – it’s just not a very precise method.

Once all the water has flowed through and the pot is full, remove the strainer, put the lid back on the pot, and serve the coffee right away.

What Kind of Coffee Should I Use with a Karlsbader Coffee Maker?

As always, when it comes to coffee beans, I’m hesitant to give you any “commandments.” That is, aside from the perpetual coffee commandment: You should always buy your coffee beans as fresh as possible. (This is also the case for pour-over coffee makers or French presses.) Otherwise, you can basically use any coffee brand or blend that you like.

Why is that, exactly? Well, the Karlsbader Coffee Maker is sort of in a world of its own. That’s because it combines two other worlds: the direct-contact brewing you would get with a French press and the filtering you would get with a pour-over coffee maker. So any coffee can potentially work well, as long as it’s good coffee.

When using the Karlsbader Coffee Maker, I have the best results when using complex roasts that go in more than one direction. For example, if a roast is both chocolatey and fruity, or flowery and crisp, or somewhat harder or somewhat softer, then it will likely work very well in the coffee pot.

This device is also a good way to discover the differences between various coffee processing techniques and how they affect the final taste.

Getting Past the Hype of the Karlsbader Coffee Maker

When it comes down to it, there’s really not much to the Karlsbader Coffee Maker. However, as we know from experience, the simplest things often make the best coffee. That’s completely aside from the fact that hipsters in our generation might hype it up into a trendy sensation.

The main point is clear: The Karlsbader and the Bayreuther coffee makers are in a special class, along with other preparation methods, like the Chemex or pour-over coffee makers. These coffee pots are manual coffee makers that force you to carefully prepare your coffee with attention to detail.

Letting Soak

The Bayreuther Coffee Maker, in particular, has managed to turn an essentially old-fashioned gadget into a modern piece of art that’s beloved among coffee hipsters who get teary-eyed every time they see a beautiful picture of one on Instagram. However, for some reason the Karlsbader Coffee Maker isn’t trending as much as the V60 pour-over or the Chemex, even though they are structurally quite similar.

I would wager that many people aren’t quite confident enough to use a coffee maker that has such a coarse-meshed filter. Sure, it’s possible that the coffee from your coffee pot might sometimes have a distinct grittiness or even crunchiness. Plus, the coffee pot is comprised of several parts made of porcelain, a material which isn’t exactly known for being indestructible. You will definitely get a bit of sticker shock when you check out the prices for the different parts.

Once you get past all the smoke and mirrors, though, in the end, the biggest advantage of the Karlsbader Coffee Maker is simply that you don’t need to use an extra filter. That means you will be able to enjoy pure, unadulterated coffee. However, you can get a similar taste by using other preparation methods, as long as you are careful to rinse out the paper or cloth filter beforehand.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Here’s one more quick overview of the advantages of the Karlsbader Coffee Maker:

  • All-in-one coffee preparation – no other pots or carafes needed.
  • High-quality porcelain, with a chic design.
  • Hygienic and taste-neutral porcelain filter.
  • The same taste advantages as you would get with a pour-over coffee maker.
  • Pure coffee taste.

We also can’t forget to mention some of the drawbacks:

  • Individual parts can break or chip easily.
  • It’s rather expensive.
  • Only minimal differences when compared to pour-over coffee makers.
  • Requires very precise preparation.

In other articles about the Karlsbader Coffee Maker, the authors seem to always complain that you need to buy a coffee grinder. I don’t share that complaint, of course, but I have often complained about how many grinders do a bad job when set to a fine grind.

Classic: Karlsbader Kanne

However, you don’t want a fine grind here, anyhow. The bigger issue is getting your grinder to give you even and uniform ground coffee. If it doesn’t, then you will get that aforementioned crunchiness and generally poor results. When it comes to preparation, the Karlsbader Coffee Maker is not for the sloppy or lazy among us – it sets very high and exact standards. I welcome that.

Conclusion – Karlsbader Coffee Maker

Ultimately, the Karlsbader Coffee Maker is a niche product, along with something like the AeroPress. Both devices try to combine different worlds of coffee preparation to get new results. The AeroPress makes a kind of mix between pour-over coffee and a “manual espresso,” while the Karlsbader Coffee Maker is essentially a pour-over coffee maker that is also reminiscent of a French press.

We don’t need to worry about whether these combination methods are really necessary. After all, nobody is forcing you to buy “device A” or use “method B.” However, if you are a true coffee fan, you should try everything at least once.

There is one more thing that sets the Karlsbader Coffee Maker apart from other methods: the basic principle. Its coffee-strainer concept was already around even when our great-grandparents were just a twinkle in the eyes of their parents. If something manages to stay around for several centuries, it can’t be that bad, right? After all, to this day we still think that wheels and steam engines are pretty cool.

I would love to hear what you think. Have any of you heard of (or do you possibly even own) a Karlsbader or Bayreuther coffee makers? What’s your favorite coffee to use with it, and how would you describe that “pure, unadulterated coffee taste”?

Let me know in the comments below!