Aqua Optima Aurora Water Dispenser

Hands-on gadget review: Aqua Optima Aurora

Image credit: Aqua Optima

Hot and chilled water on tap without the hassle of additional plumbing. Convenient, but how do the green credentials stand up?

Working from home is great. I’ve been doing it for more than 20 years, not just since Covid. But one of the things I still miss is ‘water cooler moments’. Not just to chat with co-workers, but to grab a drink instantly.

At the touch of a button, the Aqua Optima Aurora dispenses refreshing cold water and also near-instant steaming hot water for cuppas. Both are filtered. It’s like a worktop version of the boiling/chilled water taps you can have installed at the kitchen sink. And there are pros and cons to this alternative.

The cons are that it takes up worktop space: it’s about the size of a coffee machine (336mm x 221mm x404mm HxWxD). And you need to refill its reservoir regularly, whereas boiling water taps are plumbed into the mains.

The pros are that it’s cheaper than a boiling water tap and doesn’t need installation. Also, you get to choose the volume dispensed. You can simply press a button, leave the cup there and get on with things... so long as you know the volume of your cup. I soon learned that 300ml of boiling water is perfect for my mugs and 500ml of chilled water is perfect for the big glasses. But its 200ml minimum is a bit too much for my smaller water glasses. You can’t tailor the volume, just pick from a list: 200-400ml in 50ml increments then 500ml and 1,000ml.

I liked the machine’s adjustable drip tray. You can move it up to lift smaller cups to the perfect height for no splattering or go low for large cups. I even found that I could remove it completely to fill my cafetière or a saucepan with hot water. I did start using it to make pots of coffee but the habit of boiling the (1.7 litre) kettle if I needed to fill a big pan was harder to shake.

Water temperature can be chilled or 40°C, 60°C, 80°C, 90°C, 95°C or steaming. I guess 40°C is good for hand-washing clothes but it’s the higher temperatures that are most useful. 90°C for green teas, 95°C or steaming for black tea. And 95°C is ideal for coffee.

Initial setup is straightforward and a lot like a water filter jug. You just soak the filter cartridge and then rinse it. You can refill the water reservoir two ways: you can take the tank off and take it to the sink using its built-in handle for a top-up; or you can leave it in place and simply pour water from a jug into a fill hole in the top. It’s worth refilling promptly so the chiller doesn’t have to work too hard: it takes 40 minutes to cool down from room temperature initially. The machine is only loud when the chiller is working hard. Capacity is an impressive 3 litres.

You need to replace the filter cartridge every 100 litres and a little light on the machine’s front panel indicates when this is necessary. There’s also a light to warn when it needs descaling. The filter removes impurities including microplastics. The cartridges are affordable; at the time of writing, a six-pack cost £20. They estimate you’ll need one a month, so that’s a bargain for six months. Aqua Optima proudly showcases TerraCycle recycling its used filter cartridges, which you can return for free. The materials are shredded and used to make new products.

The other pro is, of course, environmental. The energy-use picture is good when you compare its boiling water with a kettle. Kettles tend to need filling with a minimum of 500ml and everyone puts a bit too much water in, which is boiled wastefully again and again. Then there’s the times we forget the kettle has boiled and reboil it. That’s wasted electricity (and money).

The Aurora is rated 2.1kW and takes just under a minute to make a quick cup of tea because it only heats the right amount. Most kettles are rated much more, at 3kW, and you boil them for longer.

Quantifying the energy use for the chiller is more complex because it’s easy to keep a filter jug in the fridge door. It’s hard to say how much extra energy it takes to keep that cool and how much is lost all those times you open and close the fridge door to fetch water.

But it’s not as simple as electricity use. If you buy bottled water, then swapping to a filter is of course a huge environmental improvement. Meanwhile, the question with all products is how much energy and materials went into making them and how long will they last? Build quality seems good. If your kettle dies and you choose to replace it with the Aurora rather than a new kettle, the lower energy-use over its lifetime might make up for the extra materials. But if you’re going to have a kettle too, then like many kitchen appliances, it’s an indulgence.

In my household though, it proved a popular addition to the kitchen. I call it ‘the teen machine’ because my teenagers love making their own drinks with it. Sure, they’re old enough to use a kettle safely, but it’s convenient to make cuppas with ease. And they drink far more cold water when it’s dispensed from a fancy machine. They no longer empty my ice cube trays on a daily basis. And they do refill the Aurora when necessary. The kitchen appliance you didn’t know you needed? Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but the teenagers would certainly say it’s a favourite. And a child lock protects small children from scalding themselves.

At the time of writing, and despite being new, the Aqua Optima Aurora could already be found online for nearer £150, so it’s worth shopping around for a bargain.

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