Putting Tim to the test

Clearly the Tim's brewer can make a great cup of coffee, but is the price tag worth it? Only Cameron considers buying it. The others say, even if they had one, they'd still go to Tim's.

The Toronto Star
December 26, 2001

Putting Tim to the test
Can you take the Tim Hortons experience home? We find out
Nancy Payne

LINDSAY — It doesn't take long to figure out that the Tim Hortons coffee brewer is for the no-nonsense coffee drinker.

It has no timer, no interrupt feature, no thermal carafe — and don't even think about silliness like a milk foamer or built-in grinder. Nope — this is a serious coffee machine for serious fans of Tim Hortons coffee.

But with the doughnut chain putting a major marketing push behind the machine for the holidays, it's time to ask the obvious question: Is it worth $125 plus tax — $40 more than a good-quality coffeemaker and $100 more than a basic one? Sure, it's made by Bunn, the people who make the coffee machines used at Tim's, but does it really give you Tim's-quality coffee?

I gather six coffee devotees for a blind taste test pitting the Tim's home brewer against Tim's takeout and Maxwell House made in a $25 Betty Crocker coffeemaker.

Granted, Lindsay, like so much of rural Canada, is Tim territory. We're 90 minutes northeast of Toronto, where no Second Cup would think of invading. There's a sad, smoky Coffee Time, and a brave little Country Style, but they can't begin to compete with the three full-service and one drive-through Tim Hortons in a town of 17,000.

Things heat up when someone mentions the S-word. "Starbucks is still my favourite," confesses teacher Barb Russell, who makes regular trips to Toronto. "Starbucks is about the image," sniffs Cameron Clark, a Victorian restoration specialist. "Tim Hortons is about the coffee."

My husband, comedian/writer Denis Grignon, captures the reality of life where baristas never tread: "If you said: ‘I’d like a tall' at Tim Hortons, they'd punch you. And so they should."

At least the panellists all agree on one thing — they're less than impressed with the look of the bulky white plastic home brewer. "It's huge!" exclaims my sister-in-law Jennifer Ackert, an at-home mother. "And that big logo on the front is really ugly and commercial," adds Barb.

"I think it's trying to look industrial with that square front," says Cameron, "but it would have worked better if they'd done it in stainless steel."

Denis points out the feature that's been driving him nuts since we bought the brewer: a 48-ounce plastic measuring jug you must — repeat, must — use to pour water in the brewer.

Use the pot and the coffee will start pouring out before you've finished adding the water. This isn't easy to remember with the first bleary-eyed pot of the day. "It'd just get thrown in the Tupperware drawer at our place," says Cameron.

But this jug is critical. In trying to replicate the Tim Hortons experience at home, the brewer contains a reservoir of water that, according to the manual, is kept at 93C (200F). When you pour in needed water, it displaces already-hot water that stays in the reservoir, meaning a pot of coffee is ready almost instantly.

But looks and speed aren't the deciding factors in a coffeemaker — the coffee is. We want to know if the custom spray head and custom blend grounds live up to their billing. So the panellists each take three Tim's takeout cups marked A, B or C, and fix the contents their usual way, including either 18 per cent cream or homogenized milk, just like at Tim Hortons.

Using a sugar cookie to cleanse their palates in between sips — if "cleansing the palate" and "Tim Hortons" are concepts that should even be paired — the testers rate the brews on aroma, appearance and taste.

The homebrew is made with the regulation package of Tim's house brand coffee and Bunn paper filter. The Maxwell House is made with the suggested one tablespoon of grounds per cup and a reusable metal filter.

I'm surprised to discover I like the takeout least — perhaps we ran into a bad pot of Tim Hortons coffee (though, in all fairness, it was bought from a store 10 minutes away). The Maxwell House is fine, but the Tim's brewer coffee impresses me.

With Jennifer's mother, Sandra Ackert, joining in the tasting, our six-person panel ends up evenly split, with three choosing the Tim's homebrew and three the Maxwell House. Nobody votes for the Tim's takeout.

Cameron likes "full-bodied flavour" of the Tim's homebrew. Jennifer also pegs the takeout and Tim's homebrew as tasting the same, but, along with Barb and Sandra, prefers the stronger Maxwell House. Denis writes on his score sheet: "I remain a Tim's takeout devotee, but I'm not sold on the home unit." He's astonished to learn he chose Tim's homebrew.

Clearly the Tim's brewer can make a great cup of coffee, but is the price tag worth it? Only Cameron considers buying it. The others say, even if they had one, they'd still go to Tim's.

The panellists agree with the corporate line that the home brewer isn't really competition for the great Canadian cultural experience of Tim's takeout. There's no question this brewer makes good coffee. The question is whether caffeine addicts would rather own the brewer or spend the money on 100 visits to the Tim Hortons drive-through.

As for ours, it's earned its spot on our counter, and not just because our beloved Phillips was recalled. Not only is the coffee good, but we're enjoying the covetous glances it earns from fellow Tim Hortons' fans.

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