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There are plenty of big names among coffee makers, but among American mass-produced models, one name stands alone: Bunn. For more than a century and a half, Bunn has stood as an icon of fast and easy American coffee, and they have continued to make quick-brew coffee makers to this day.
So what’s the story behind one of America’s most enduringly popular coffee makers? We’ll tell you, and we’ll also help you decipher their line of home brewers. In 2019, Bunn made subtle changes to their line of coffee makers and substantial changes to what those brewers are called. This has created some confusion among consumers. We’ll sort it out.
But first, our pick for the best Bunn coffee maker on the market today:
A brief history of Bunn
Bunn has been a name in the American coffee industry since way back in the 1840s, when Jacob Bunn started a grocery store in Springfield, Ill. A young Abraham Lincoln was an early customer of Bunn’s store. As the decades passed, the Bunn family’s business continued to grow and expand until, by the 1950s, it had become one of the most prominent coffee maker and beverage dispenser companies in America, earning global standing.
Bunn flourished in the booming post-war U.S. economy. George Bunn, a descendent of Jacob, found a way to use paper filters with their coffee makers, and the rest is history. One of the first major models invented by the company, the Model X, was invented in 1963 and featured filter paper and a slot to manually add hot water.
This led to the establishment of the Bunn-O-Matic company, and with it, a slew of further innovations. For example, 1972 saw the advent of the first drip coffee maker with a built-in hot water boiler for household and commercial use. That legacy of innovation continued into the 21st century, with 2005 seeing Bunn release its first models for tea bag boiling as well as coffee capsules.
Bunn has become one of the biggest coffee maker distributors in the world, pairing with McDonald’s and KFC in the mid-2000s while Bunn-O-Matic joined HOFEX—a food, beverage, and hospitality services trade show—in Hong Kong in 2011.
For well over a century and a half, Bunn has been a force in the coffee making world, and as these coffee makers demonstrate, they are set to remain that way for the foreseeable future.
What sets Bunn home coffee makers apart
Bunn built its name on commercial coffee makers. Those machines on the counter at coffee shops and in the back of restaurants are often Bunns.
Commercial coffee brewers stay turned on all day. They serve a high volume of coffee, so they always need to be ready to pour a hot cup of coffee, or brew a new pot of coffee quickly.
The technology within Bunn coffee makers that allows this is an insulated stainless steel hot water tank. As long as the machine remains plugged in, it keeps the water at a steady temperature of around 200 F—ideal for brewing great-tasting coffee. When you hit the brew button, there’s no waiting around for the machine to heat up. It just starts brewing.
Bunn brings this same technology to its home coffee makers, which can produce hot coffee on demand in a very short brewing time of about three minutes.
The downside of Bunn home coffee makers
If what we’ve just told you sounds too good to be true, we should tell you that it does come at a cost: electricity consumption. The cost of this quick brew time is extra energy usage. If you want the quick cup, you need to leave your machine on all the time.
It’s not as bad as it sounds. While the machine does take 15 minutes to heat up initially, once it reaches temperature the insulation does a good job of keeping things hot, so only minimal power is required to maintain the temperature.
Some Bunn owners have used devices to measure the power drawn by their machines throughout the day, and found that it comes out to just over one kilowatt per day. That’s enough to add about $5 to your electrical bill at the end of the month.
If you brew several pots a day, keeping your machine on all day seems worthwhile.
How to save power with a Bunn coffee maker
If you only brew in the morning and would rather not draw power all day, there’s a simple solution: Buy an inexpensive timer that plugs into your wall outlet and controls when power can be drawn by your coffee maker.
If you set it to turn on 15 minutes before you wake up in the morning, your coffee maker should be good to go for breakfast. Then you can have it power down around the time you leave for work.
Understanding the Bunn coffee maker line
Almost all of Bunn’s home coffee makers carry the “Speed Brew” name. But if you’re shopping around, you’re going to come across “Velocity Brew” and wonder about the difference.
Speed Brew vs. Velocity Brew
The Bunn Speed Brew line is simply the updated version of the Velocity Brew line, which was renamed in 2019. You will still find plenty of Velocity Brew machines for sale, but there is little difference between the two.
The main modification was a redesign of the spray head that distributes water over your coffee grounds. The new design aims to extend the time that your ground coffee stays in contact with the hot water.
How they’re named
As you research Bunn’s home coffee makers, you’ll come across the following terminology:
- High Altitude
Here’s what they mean:
The “Platinum” designation simply means that the machines come with double-wall vacuum thermal stainless steel carafes, rather than glass carafes. These machines have no warming plate. Instead, the carafe rests in slight depression in the base. The power switch is located on the right side of the base.
The “Elite” machines are similar to the Platinum in aesthetics, but come with a glass carafe and a hot plate. On these machines, you’ll find the power switch located on the front of the base, toward the right.
The “Classic” operates using the same engineering and technology as the Platinum and Elite models, but has quite a different look. It has a slimmer base under its warmer plate, and you won’t find a power button there. The power switch is located on the front of the stainless steel upper panel.
The “Select” is the least expensive model and is closer to the Classic than the others. It’s appearance, however, is much more rounded than even the Classic.
Some of Bunn’s coffee makers are designated “High Altitude.” They are identical to their corresponding regular models, with one exception: In a high altitude coffee maker, the thermostat accounts for the fact that water has a lower boiling temperature at high altitude. For example, at sea level water boils at 212 F, but at 5,000 feet it boils at 202 F.
If you live in a mountainous state such as Utah, Colorado or New Mexico where many cities are over 5,000 feet in elevation, having a coffee maker that understands this is helpful. Under normal circumstances, 200 F would be an ideal temperature for brewing coffee, but if you’re in Aspen or Santa Fe, the water would be well past boiling by then. It would treat your beans harshly.
Does Bunn make a single serve coffee maker?
Bunn makes a single serve coffee maker called the My Café. We haven’t tested it, but it’s compatible with both coffee pods and ground coffee. It can brew cup sizes ranging from four ounces to 14 ounces.
5 best Bunn coffee makers at a glance
5 best Bunn coffee makers in detail
Now, without further ado, let’s take a look at our top five Bunn coffee makers:
One of the most important things to consider when choosing a home coffee brewer is how fast it operates. Let’s be honest, while we love coffee and you may like to think of yourself as a coffee connoisseur, there are even more of us who drink it to jolt ourselves out of early morning grogginess.
Taste is obviously paramount, but you don’t want to wait around when you’re sleepy in the morning to experience that taste, nor do you want to do so when you’re in a hurry to have a quick cup before dashing off to work.
That’s why one of the biggest selling points of the Speed Brew models from Bunn—and the Bunn Speed Brew Elite—is the fact that they can brew coffee incredibly quickly. This model can brew a pot in as little as three minutes, which should be fast enough for even those slowest to wake up in the morning.
If you aren’t a morning person, the fast brewing speed of this model can be a lifesaver.
If you are a morning person, first, lucky you, and second, this model can help perk you up all the faster before you zip off to work.
This brewer has some capacity, too. It can brew between four and 10 cups. While you may have to wait a tad longer for the 10, even that brews pretty quickly, meaning you can avoid early-morning arguments over who gets coffee first. There’s enough coffee for all.
This machine sets itself apart from others in the line by being incredibly sturdy. The Elite is aircraft-carrier strong and built to last. With its durable stainless steel and plastic frame, out of all the models on our list this one has the least chance of being cracked or otherwise physically damaged.
What’s more, you can get a version of this model that’s specially designed to brew coffee at higher altitudes.
The Elite models can have problems dealing with finer coffee grounds. Fine coffee grounds provide more resistance to water, and the force and speed of water flow in this model mean it could be susceptible to overflow if the grounds are too fine. Of course, you don’t want to grind too fine anyway, because those tiny grounds can easily become over-extracted and bitter. Stick to medium.
As long as you can keep this in check, this coffee maker is a great choice and its high-altitude sibling represents the ‘peak’ of coffee brewing.
- 10 cups in three minutes
- Incredibly sturdy
- Can brew at high altitudes
- Can overflow if grind is too fine
The Speed Brew Classic has most of the same selling points as its Elite cousin, but with a slightly different look and it just feels a bit less solid.
The Classic’s nice features include a drip-carafe with a lid and spout that makes it easy to pour and reduces spillage. It also features a flat-bottomed filter and funnel.
We’d bet that this model is also quite durable, so you don’t need to worry about replacing it any time soon.
One quibble we’ve seen about the Classic is that on some units, the carafe doesn’t fit as snugly on the hot plate as it should. This doesn’t seem to be a problem on most units, so perhaps it was a temporary manufacturing glitch that has since been rectified.
Still, that’s a small issue that doesn’t seem to impact the unit’s operation or the coffee’s taste, so if you like your coffee jet black and brewed at jet speed, this model may be a great choice.
- Makes 4 to 10 cups of coffee incredibly fast
- Well-designed lid and spout on carafe
- Fantastic all-around performance
- Inconsistency of carafe/hotplate fit
Here we have another coffee maker that excels in brewing a lot of coffee in a quick and timely manner. The Speed Brew Classic Thermal also brews up to 10 cups, and can likewise do so in about three minutes. Even better, it has the endurance to match that speed. Even the fastest runners or race cars slow down over time, but the Speed Brew does not.
The Classic Thermal is able to provide that quick coffee without sacrificing an inch or drop in the way of quality. Its spray head works to extract flavor from the coffee grounds evenly as it pours out, resulting in a consistent flavor that’s as good months and years into service as it was the first day you plugged it in.
Of course, its signature feature is its good thermal carafe, which keeps your coffee hotter longer. It will keep coffee hot for about two hours after you brew it, so if you’re busy racing around the house getting things done but don’t want to worry about your coffee getting cold, this is a good option.
The Thermal version takes up a little more space in your kitchen—about an inch more in height and half an inch in depth—but it comes in at just over 15 inches tall, which gives you about three inches of clearance under your cabinets. You’ll want to pull it out to fill the tank, but that’s probably the case with all these models.
In the balance of form versus function, this model definitely skews more toward the latter. To be honest, it doesn’t look all that elegant.
Still, as every fairytale will tell you, “It’s what’s inside that counts,” and that’s certainly true when it comes to coffee makers. With its great speed and ability to keep coffee hotter for longer, this model can make your morning coffee feel like a magical potion to wake you from your doldrums.
- Brews quickly
- Can brew up to 10 cups
- Keeps coffee hot for up to two hours with its stainless steel carafe
- Slightly pricier than other models
Think of the Speed Brew Platinum Thermal as the sturdy, thermal-carafe version of the Elite, which certainly makes it worth a mention.
It can brew a full 50-ounce pot fairly quickly and does so with the benefit of a thermal carafe that helps keep the coffee warm for more than two hours. The stainless steel is highly durable as well, and it also features a good spray head for coffee extraction.
We’re not sure the thermal carafe is worth the jump in price, but you may feel differently. Regardless, it’s a good, long-lasting coffee maker.
- Sturdy stainless steel frame
- 50-ounce capacity
- Good spray head
- A bit pricey
Our last model wasn’t designed for the home, but we wanted to include at least one commercial coffee maker because we know that’s how some of you roll. Besides, even Bunn’s home coffee makers have commercial DNA.
Typically an office machine, the Bunn VP17-1 is about as compact as any commercial unit Bunn makes, so there may be a place for it in your kitchen. But do some measuring first—this thing will need about a foot and a half of depth on your counter, and the same amount of head room.
You plug it in and its heater makes a low humming sound as it takes about 15-20 minutes to heat up. After that, you’re good to go for as long as you leave it plugged in.
This machine brews fast! It does a full 12-cup carafe in less than three minutes. (Beware that the carafe is sold separately, so you should count on adding 10 per cent to the cost.)
You have to act fast when you’re brewing as well. This machine has no brew switch—you just pour cold water in the top and it does its thing. Like, immediately. We don’t advise using the coffee carafe to fill the water tank, because it starts brewing so quickly that you probably won’t be able to get the carafe back under the dispenser in time. Fortunately, the machine comes with a plastic jug for filling the tank.
This coffee maker does well with coffee that has been pre-ground for a drip brewer, but because the water flows so quickly through the funnel you’ll likely get richer coffee if you use a finer grind.
We know how hard it can be to find a plastic-free coffee maker, and if that’s what you’re looking for then the Bunn VP17-1 might be your solution. Everything that touches hot water is made of stainless steel, with the exception of the funnel. The good news is, you can buy a compatible stainless steel funnel for it instead. It has a wider opening than the plastic version—which makes the water flow even faster—but Bunn makes a special nozzle that you can buy and screw into the hole to slow the flow down.
With those two simple additions, the VP17-1 really can be the rarest of things: a drip coffee maker that keeps plastic away from your hot water.
- Always ready to brew (until you unplug it)
- Brews very quickly
- Can be plastic-free with a couple of modifications
- Heavy and somewhat imposing in a small kitchen
- Doesn’t come with a carafe
- Noisier than Bunn’s home machines
What to look for in a Bunn coffee maker
Here’s a quick rundown of things to consider when shopping for one of these models:
Cost: Bunn home coffee makers are surprisingly uniform in price. Usually there’s only about a $50 difference between their most basic model and the priciest. They basically go up in $10 or $20 increments as the models become more sophisticated.
Dimensions: Again, there isn’t much to choose from here. With the exception of the commercial machine, they all have the same basic shape and differ by only a couple of inches in any direction. If space is really tight, consider a Classic or Select model.
Speed of brewing: The Speed Brew models are clearly head and shoulders above most coffee makers at a super fast three minutes. Just keep in mind that they need warmup time when you first plug them in, so get that wall timer if necessary.
Performance: The technology is similar in all models and they all make good coffee. Remember, if you’re getting weak coffee from a Bunn, it likely means you just need a finer grind because they flow so quickly.
Build quality: Those made with stainless steel tend to fare far better and last longer than their mostly plastic counterparts.
Capacity: Most here can brew 10 cups, while the commercial-grade machine can brew 12.
Ease of use: All Bunns are designed to be easy to operate, but consider the number of parts and how much disassembly you’ll need to do for cleaning.
Ease of cleaning: Like all drip coffee makers, Bunns will develop limescale if you consistently fill them with highly mineralized water. You should descale your machine every couple of months with a water/vinegar mixture to remove any deposits.
Our choice for best Bunn coffee maker
There is no denying that the Speed Brew models with their 10-cups-in-three-minutes speed are the best overall units. Each of them has pros and cons as described above, but it’s the Bunn Speed Brew Elite that we choose as the overall winner because of its all-around performance.
That said, if you’re shopping for a company break room, or you’re just a big coffee drinker with a big kitchen, you might want to give the industrial-strength VP17-1 a second look.
No matter which option you choose, one thing is for sure: Bunn coffee makers are here to stay.