Tool Test

Efficiency Has Its Also-Rans

Kippy Pan Holder.
Kippy Pan Holder. (Nikki Kahn - The Washington Post)

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By Bonnie S. Benwick and Joe Yonan
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Gift givers, take notice: We food people have high standards when it comes to kitchen gadgets. We demand function over form and utility over gimmickry, so if you're wrapping up something for us that has lots of bells and whistles, make sure it's worth the price tag.

Our standards are strictest, naturally, when it comes to things we know well. Translation: Don't give a coffee aficionado a machine that doesn't let him grind his own beans. For some, no amount of convenience is worth a sacrifice in taste.

With that in mind, we put some trendy high-end gadgets through their paces alongside cheaper, lower-tech approaches that we suspected might just win out. In all but one case, they did.

Let's start with coffee. One-cup-at-a-time makers are getting a lot of attention, but the fact is, they simply don't make very good joe. If it's super speed and convenience you're after, a cold-press system lets you brew a rich concentrate that can be added to boiling water whenever you want a cup. And it tastes great.

One of the sillier things we've seen recently is an electronic voice-activated grocery list generator. Seriously, you can't just scribble things on a pad? Turns out you can. And while those silicone oven mitts look nifty and promise the ability to grab an egg out of a pot of boiling water, that's not nearly as common a kitchen task as pulling a pan out of a hot oven. When it comes to that, we've had better luck with a pair of inexpensive rubber grippers.

In four sets of tests, high-end did beat low-end in one. For vacuum storage, some smaller countertop and handheld devices are going up against the classic (and pricey) Food Saver, but as far as we're concerned, its position as the gold standard remains secure.

Coffee 'Systems'

- SENSEO SUPREME

(MODEL NO. 7832) COFFEE MACHINE

About $140

Upside: Somewhat stylish; parts are easy to clean. After initial setup, it's easy to use. The machine dispenses accurate amounts and shuts itself off automatically after one hour. Coffee is premeasured in single-serve paper pods.

People who like the over-roasted taste of Starbucks coffee may like this brew. Pods widely available at Wal-Mart, Target and Amazon.com.

Downside: Directions could be clearer. Coffeemaker must be protected from freezing; user must keep track of calcium-deposit maintenance. For use only with Senseo coffee pods, never loose coffee grounds; this is not for those who prefer their beans freshly ground or who want to choose from a variety of sources.


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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