I'll admit it: I'm a coffee snob. I wasn't even that invested until I became friends with two roasters. Fast forward a few years and I have equipment in my kitchen for six different brewing methods. Yes, it's a bit much. However, that still didn't stop me from being enticed by the Acaia Pearl Bluetooth-equipped scale, which aims to make the daily ritual as consistent and accurate as possible. Do you really need a $129 gadget to help you make better coffee, though? Or will a cheap kitchen scale and timer do the job just fine? After a few weeks with the priciest "Pearl Black" model, which sells for $150, I'm not ready to give up my budget gear just yet.
Acaia's coffee scale is a rather minimal plastic affair. The device is a 6.25-inch square that sits just an inch tall. There are only two markings on the top side: touch controls for power and tare, with a USB jack around back to recharge the gadget as needed. I've been using the black model for over a month, and I've yet to plug it in after the initial charging session. Indeed, Acaia claims the scale will last between 20 and 30 hours before you'll have to do so. Considering it usually takes between five and 10 minutes (depending on the method) to brew my morning cup, it's no surprise I've yet to reach for the power cord.
Besides a USB cable, the only other included accessory is a rubber pad, which sits on top of the unit to provide a nonslip surface for your brewing vessel. It also offers a layer of heat protection between the scale and your Chemex or coffee cup. When you power on the device, you'll see a numeric display for weight. With another press of the power button, the scale toggles between weighing mode and a timer/weighing mode. As the names suggest, the former will only display the weight, while the latter also displays a timer. To start or stop the timer, just give the power button another tap. While you have to flip between the two modes on the scale itself, you have the option of starting and stopping the timer from within the companion app.
Launch the application and you'll be greeted with an activity feed from other Acaia users. It's a bit weird to be following people I don't know, but at the same time, it's interesting to see what other folks are brewing. The application allows you to log details about a particular brewing session, including method, grind, ratio of beans to water, water temperature, brew time and more. When it comes to nailing that water-to-grounds ratio, there's a converter tool to lend a hand. Select your desired ratio and input the amount of water or coffee you plan to use. The app handles the math for the other measurement. You can also use the software to monitor your "bean stash," as Acaia calls it. Here you can enter details about the coffees you buy and rate them. It's one way to keep track of which varieties you like, if you're obsessive about that sort of thing.
Honestly, I found myself using those features sparingly. The one part of the app I frequently returned to was the remote scale tool. Basically, it provides a timer and weight figure on your phone, in case you need to walk away during the brewing process. I found it very useful when using a large Chemex to keep an eye on my status. The bigger brewing vessel partially blocks the display when it's centered on the scale, so being able to rely on my phone allowed me to keep my pours precise.
You can also swipe through several preprogrammed brew methods on the remote scale screen. This gives you some visual feedback as to how much coffee has been brewed. For example, you can give it a quick glance and see that at the current weight, the Chemex is half full.
After several weeks of using the Acaia scale to make coffee every morning, I'm convinced the gadget doesn't offer much benefit over my usual cheap kitchen scale and timer. Sure, it has a sleek, compact design and the companion app offers some cool features, but I really only used the scale and timer. There's a slightly cheaper version of the Pearl that'll save you $20, but for the extra money the black model adds a higher-contrast display. For folks who are into obsessively tracking their brewing process and drinking habits, I can see where the Acaia devices and app might be appealing. Personally, I couldn't get past the fact that my usual scale and timer cost less than half what the black Pearl does -- and they still make a stellar cup of coffee.